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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Beheading Scylla (Part 1)

Beheading Scylla: Fascism in the Age of Empire

What is fascism and what does it mean to oppose it?

This is a question that everyone serious about fighting for a human community should address; if we do not, if we fail to understand the fullness of fascism's capacity for seizing the human imagination, we've already stepped into defeat.

Fascism is most simply a movement against bourgeois society, against the chaos of capitalism and for its stabilization through the attendant organs of capitalist society, the state, the workplace and the family; fascism exists totally apart from the state but can make use of it. Fascism is an anti-capitalist movement which can emerge during political and/or capitalist crisis, but does not necessarily do so. Fascism doesn't work for the capitalists, it in fact has its own plans entirely, involving the annihilation of the chaos-causing component(s) of capitalism i.e. finance capital and, finally, the working class. This 'chaos-causing component of capital' comes in different forms, but in the European context always stood for finance capital, 'the Jew', the rentier, communists and the 'parasitic men of money'.

Marx understood capitalism as a system which procures its existence from the cleavage of value into exchange and use value components. Use value can be understood as the bagel that you eat when you're hungry while exchange value is the money you pay for that bagel, which is itself a monetarization of your own labor. In other words, in the context of capitalism, use value is the direct, useful aspect of an item. Exchange value is that item's value in the context of a market, an item made equivalent to others.

The becoming of economy as a system of value, the beginning of capitalism, is classically understood with the British example of the foreclosure of the agricultural commons, which involved the evacuation of farmers from that land, its sale to capitalists and their exodus to the manufacturing centers of the city. Thus ended subsistence farming in Western Europe. From that point on, the individual confronts capital as a salesman of labor power, the one commodity which capitalism leaves him with. Capitalism is therefore a total overturn of power relations, a community of capital totalizes economic processes into universal equivalence, currency. The individual is bound to production and experiences it as an alien force, and the proletariat, a mass which is dispossessed radically, makes its appearance. [i]

Fascism emerged as a negative critique of this historical process; its European version despised the bourgeoisie but also taught a European proletariat to embrace itself as the living embodiment of socialism. For fascists, socialism is embodied in what existed before the mutilating octopus of capitalism came. And yet history would not be so cut and dry. In the context of fascism's rise to power in Europe, this mythology had to be tied both ideally to pre-capitalist feudalism and in practice to the massive industrialism of pre-war Europe. This resulted in the infamous train schedules of Mussolini and Hitler's scorched earth productivism, each grinding the proletariat to a pulp under the aegis of 'organic' 'national socialism'. Fascists point to the glory of days gone by (the Reich, the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire) where the messy money of capitalism was gone and the volk 'thrived'.

Because fascism is incapable of destroying the capital relation, when it assumes power it is charged with resolving the contradictions of capitalism. It does this practically, but also ideologically. In practice, the binding of the working class to the state takes place via the unions, which are either beaten into submission, co-opted internally or simply go over themselves, having imbibed the appeals to national unity. As institutions of capitalism and not against it, unions are mediators between capital and an otherwise atomized working class, they are subject to the tendencies that pass through both actors. Unions are charged with de-activating insurrectionary tendencies in the rank and file, and maintaining the general separateness of the community of capital which keeps it functioning. Their experience in these matters is useful to fascism when it takes power in moments of crisis.

Even the most radical post-union organizations such as worker's councils (where workers take over the means of production and set their own production schedules) were praised by Mussolini: "No social transformation which is necessary is repugnant to me. Hence I accept the famous workers' supervision of the factories and equally their cooperative social management; I only ask that there should be a clear conscience and technical capacity, and that production be increased. If this is guaranteed by the trade unions, instead of by the employers, I have no hesitation in saying that the former have the right to take the latter's place." [ii] Because fascism seeks any means towards restoring and controlling capital, even those forms which appear to be most powerful, most levelling, most imminent, are in fact tolerable, in preparation for recuperation and eventual bludgeoned submission. As long as capital is in control, i.e. as long as there exists a compulsion to produce that is alien to the decision-making of those immediately concerned and as long as the worker is separated from her means of existence, capital grinds on and the fascists are pleased.

The ideological component of fascist revolution is the necessary corollary of use-value's primacy, e.g. the eradication of exchange value. Exchange value is the chaotic component of capitalism, that which renders it unstable and prone to crises. Fascists hate the accumulation of money, the 'hoarding Jew', banks and anything else related to the power of exchange value. By annihilating exchange value and affirming use value, fascists create a socialism of men, inevitably based on blood lineage and family ties, which is the shape society takes around the subsistence division of labor. Thus, as J Sakai points out accurately in his essay 'The Shock of Recognition', fascism is at essence a movement of men. The primacy of patriarchy is bound up within an affirmation of feudalism, a divided society that, unlike capitalism's free association of dispossessed producers, finds unity in the petty ownership of men, in 'blood and soil'.

And so for fascism, blood becomes useful as the defining link between subjects and the state. In an anti-bourgeois world, where the conviviality and constituent communities that make up, yet simultaneously stand against capitalism are destroyed and suppressed, blood steps in. The third Reich resurrects the Aryan race as a substitute for the smashed capitalism of the bourgeois; pan-Arabism becomes a hegemonic discourse in the post-war oil-rich Middle East and the British Nationalist Party as well as the far right in Germany both steep in the sewage of the 'white race' in order to craft a narrative of invisible unity that can avoid the border-smashing ethics of communist internationalism.

A common myth regarding fascism is that it stands for racial supremacism. This simply is no longer true with the rise of what is known as third positionism, i.e. the idea that the world stage is an interplay of oppressor nations and oppressed nations, and therefore nations need to liberate themselves so that we can all live in global subsistence far far from the tentacles of the 'capitalist hydra' aka the WTO, the IMF, America and Israel. It's a sincere question whether the race theories of Hitler, which were based on the German romanticism of Herder, played out as supremacist even when they were in bloody progress. As a fascist manager of the capitalist state and the initiator of conquerance wars, Hitler needed to attack the British empire in all of its imperial holdings, and to that end found relationships of convenience with both the Japanese and the Arabs of the former Ottoman empire, preserving the capitalist relations of German empire that had so carefully been cultivated by Bismarck and the Kaiser. Hitler's alliances indeed came at the cost of supremacism, perhaps a goal to be 'achieved' one day, perhaps just lost to the contradictions of capitalism and civilizations.

These notes from a Berlin summit between Jerusalem-based Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, who was instrumental in organizing anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine, show the extent of this alliance:

"Germany advocates an all-out war against the Jews. This naturally includes the struggle against the Jewish homeland in Palestine, which was nothing but a national center of the destructive influence of Jewish interests. ... At the moment, Germany was in a struggle of life and death against two bastions of Jewry: Great Britain and Soviet Russia. ... He (Hitler) would carry on the fight until the last traces of the Jewish-Communist European hegemony had been obliterated. In the course of this fight, the German army would - at a time that could not yet be specified, but in any case in the clearly foreseeable future - gain the southern exit of Caucasus.

As soon as this breakthrough was made, the Fuehrer would offer the Arab world his personal assurance that the hour of liberation had struck. Thereafter, Germany's only remaining objective in the region would be limited to the annihilation of the Jews living under British protection in Arab lands. In this moment, the Mufti would be the competent voice of the Arab world. It would be incumbent on him to trigger the clandestinely prepared Arab action. ... The Grand Mufti replied that he believed everything would implement itself such as the Fuehrer had indicated."

Fascism's reach was necessarily beyond Europe. It is only now in a post-modern age of massive communication that we see the twin discourses of European and non-European fascism rising, apart in their singularities but further and further tied together in historical imaginary, virulence of hatred and nihilistic terrorism. As we will see later, fascism's affects and its sensation of 'liberation' were to spread abroad, and indeed take on a life of their own in the third world as it liberated itself from colonialism in bloody revolution. These post-World War I fascist-colony relations would prove durable.

Questions remain. When can we understand dictatorial movements of the post-colonial third world as fascist, and to what extent is this useful? How and why does fascism take effect? What are the implications of the fascist hatred of finance capital, especially for Jews and Israel? Is there such thing as fascism from above? What is the alternative to fascist anti-capitalism? Can fascism be contained by liberal democracy? Is it possible to embrace the best of bourgeois society and push towards its overcoming by a human community called communism, without collapsing into a forever-in-waiting anti-fascism?

Part II of this discussion will continue the discussion of the fabric of fascism and expand its span into the post-colonial world, demonstrating how fascism and the legacies of European romanticism have contributed to Islamist discourses in order to create a new barbarism against the Bourgeois, an embrace of death tied explicitly to the resurgence of collectivism and the suppression of the individual.

Further study:

'Anti-Semitism and National Socialism' by Moishe Postone

'Global Fascism' by Rajeev Patel & Philip McMichael

'Islamism, Fascism and Terrorism' by Mark Erikson

Matthias Kuentzel's writings


[i] The story isn't as simple in the rest of the world. Subsistence farming alongside exchange-based production of petty commodities has existed in China and Japan for centuries, as just one example.

[ii] F.L. Carlson. The Rise of Fascism. University of California Press, 1967. Third edition. p.131-132.

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