The central myth of an increasingly totalitarian reality
“In vain they try to purify themselves by defiling themselves with blood…”
The word ‘fascism’ is today a sigil of repulsion and a weapon of repression, wielded by an increasingly post-democratic Western political regime itself characterized by features widely associated with fascism, including rule by decree, repression of independent intellectuals and artists, systematic racism (under the Orwellian label ‘antiracism’), synthesis of corporate and state power, perpetual war, politicization of religion, politicization of family life, de facto regime militias and criminalization of the opposition.
This paradox presents a complex set of questions concerning the relationship between the reality of fascism and the meaning of the symbol or the word. Evidently, there is no material contradiction in something resembling a political fascism cloaked in an ideological antifascism, or the contradiction is itself productive.
The paradox is sharpest with respect to Antifa, an irregular masked militia similar to the Italian fascist squadristi or the National Socialist Sturmabteilung — supplemented by an online surveillance, propaganda and harassment operation. Supported by the corporate media, funded by oligarchs, endorsed by government authorities and given considerable leeway to operate by law enforcement, Antifa is more than just the blunt force of a street squad. It represents a widely accepted contemporary ideology defined by the affirmation of a circular central premise: that fascism is a violent brutal power that must be violently and brutally opposed.
Like the original Antifa, a tool of the Stalinist Comintern deployed initially against the ‘social fascists’ of the German Social Democrats, contemporary Antifa defines itself as ‘Leftist’ as opposed to ‘Rightist’, but the significance of the distinction is unclear. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are fundamentally directions, not substantial concepts, defined against one other, yet resembling each other the more directly they’re opposed. As Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Alain de Benoist, Albert Camus and others all recognized, no regime approximated Stalinism as much as Nazism. Likewise, nothing resembles fascism in practice as much as Neo-Antifascism. Yet in neither case is mutual recognition possible. Isn’t this strange?
There is more involved than simply cynicism or hypocrisy, even though hypocrisy and cynicism are both involved. The question isn’t simply juridical, but psychological and epistemological. The incapacity for critical analysis and self-reflection is genuine, not feigned: a failure of perception, correlated with collective social failure, resulting in an inability to reason, think and judge.
The symptom of this failure is (gnostic) ideology: not a new religion, but superstition masquerading as religion. The former marks the breakdown of the latter, and the shattering of the faculty of reason. Skeptical intelligence surrenders to polemical fanaticism. Reality loses its celestial dimension and becomes a tinny litany of mantras, scratching random impulses across the carousel of images which dominate the global videodrome and cyberspace.
In attempting to resist, and ultimately exit from this situation, no specific ideology or apparition, whether Marxism or Fascism or Communism (or Leftism, Liberalism, Progressivism, ‘Woke’, the “successor ideology,” etc.) can be configured as the enemy.
Nor is any opposition which remains on the terrain of ideology, by endorsing or opposing ideologies, whether anti-fascism, or anti-communism, or anti-Leftism or the chimera of classical liberalism, or whatever else (with the exception of Surrealism, which is not an ideology but a logical and ethical position) ultimately plausible.
Nor is the avowal of an apolitical position which systematically avoids confronting political and ethical reality behind the casuistry of meta-academic or pseudo-initiatic rhetoric ever anything except compliance. The structure of metaphysics is itself political. The enemy is ideology as such, since the problem is the defense of reason not the ideological destruction of irrational force.
At the heart of every ideology is a myth supplying motivating force for action. At the heart of antifascism is a myth of fascism with an uncertain relation to the historical reality, but an essential one to contemporary self-image. Zizek describes “a postwar European identity hitherto based on anti-Fascist unity,” with fascism taken in this context for a general term embracing authoritarian twentieth-century ideological movements in general and Nazism taken as the paradigm, despite its singularity.
According to the myth fascism is conceived as a phenomenon of the extreme right with no relation to the left, an interpretation which would have been considered eccentric at the time. In truth, Italian fascism and German National Socialism combined positions from the Left and Right, and generally leaned Left. Mussolini began his political career as a Marxist theoretician organizing Italian sharecroppers and ended it as the leader of the avowedly socialist Republic of Salò. National Socialism emphasized the subordination of the individual to the collective, enacted wealth redistribution, strongly opposed financial capital, and imposed economic interventions including the imposition of a national rent cap, a policy which last year was repeated in Berlin.
Eager to contrast themselves with fascism as far as possible, contemporary Leftist ‘anti-fascists’ argue (when they argue) that Nazism and fascism only opportunistically ‘appropriated’ the word socialism, and certain socialist policies, without truly being socialists. Evidently, this same strange claim can be applied in principle to contemporary antifascism. If the National Socialists weren’t really socialists, but the opposite of socialists, who can say that Antifa aren’t the opposite of Antifascists?
Plainly, the political reality of any movement is not exhausted by the fact of what it happens to be called, nor can the actions of its militants be justified based purely on their name. More interesting, however, is how, from a militantly ideological (pseudo-religious, or fanatical) perspective, the purity of certain names and symbols (BLM, our NHS, etc) stands above their concrete instantiations, shining with a spectral ‘inner greatness’ that remains untouched by purely accidental, fabricated, or overstated concrete details, violent crimes and systematic failure.
The determination of committed anti-Communists to exonerate the crimes of Nazism on the basis of the proposition that Hitler was fighting Bolshevism (as if that was all he did) is matched by attempts to separate an idealized essential Communism from historically contingent and perverted incarnations: so that the USSR, for example, was not “really” Communist, but ‘state capitalist’ or ‘fascist’, thus “real communism has never been tried.”
Nor can it be tried.
Just as the Messiah who arrives is always necessarily a false Messiah, every historically actualized ‘Leftism’ is invariably always penetrated and inverted by ‘Rightist’ elements, endlessly transforming beautiful revolutionary ideas into murderous police states without the logic of this cycle ever being recognized. As Hegel said, the only thing that one can learn from history is that nobody learns anything from history.
‘Fascism’, in this sense, is another name for actually-existing Communism and a variant of Communism similar to Stalinism, certain forms of social democracy and progressivism, and now Lockdownism, where Communism is not a form of politics but a Messianic tendency towards entropy (and anarchy and tyranny.)
Organized into a central party in the name of a utopian goal, whether the end of class antagonism, racial conflict, or the elimination of a deadly virus, the impossibility of achieving the utopian outcome generates inevitably dystopian results, demanding that the Party either sacrifices the impossible ambition which forms its raison d’être, or persists in sacrificing reality to the pursuit of its ambition.
Accordingly, there are two forms of anti-fascism which are opposed: a ‘right’ anti-fascism that aims at greater realism and individual liberty, and a ‘left’ anti-fascism which pushes towards more fantasy and Communism — that is, destruction. Indeed, it is precisely the increasing dystopian destruction which causes the utopian transcendent dream to radiate with ever more unearthly and seductive light.
The insurrectionary drama of the Bolshevik coup d’état, if not the history of Communism in the twentieth-century generally is misleading. There is no need for a committed cadre of self-consciously Communist professional revolutionaries, only a network of nihilistic politicians, who understand a little of the power of a symbol, want power, and are willing to use lies and violence to acquire it. Fascism, in effect the minimally viable Communism, in this sense is not a phenomenon of extremism, but a symptom of the vacuum of the centre, supplying synthetic ideological Party authority, in the absence of legitimate authority.
“Call it what you want,” remarks an exile from Castro. “In Cuba, we didn’t have Communism, we had ‘Fidelism’ and it didn’t happen overnight.” It is the absence of convictions, not the presence of fanaticism, which is decisive: fanaticism can develop slowly, almost imperceptibly. As C.S. Lewis notes, “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
This road appears whenever an individual, or a society (a critical mass of individuals) enters into spiritual and moral crisis, just as minor millenarian and gnostic cults appear when religion starts to fragment and break down. Attraction to these groups isn’t ethical or intellectual, but ecstatic and emotional. Kurt Ludecke, one of Hitler’s early associates, records his impressions on first hearing Hitler speak:
“My critical faculty was swept away… He was holding the masses, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction. The gospel he preached [was] a sacred truth. He seemed another Luther. I forgot everything but the man; then glancing around, I saw that his magnetism was holding these thousands as one… I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to religious conversion.”
Ludecke is totally indifferent to the content of what Hitler says: what seduces him is something else. But his conversion was away from religion, which sharpens the critical faculties, rather than destroys them. The resulting paranoia is inevitable.
Any self-identity based on negation is ultimately parasitic on the image of the enemy it opposes, to the extent that in their absence it becomes compelled to create them in order to retain coherence. Hence the return of anti-fascism after the end of history and in the teeth of a disintegrating Western project. Zizek speaks of a new “opium of the people” where “every little doubt and reserve is immediately pointed out as a sign of secret collaboration with fascism.” The “demonic image of a fascist threat clearly serves as a new political fetish; fetish in the Freudian sense of the term, that is a fascinating image whose function is to obscure the true antagonism.” For individual militants this antagonism is psychological. Extrapolated to a mass of individuals, the problem is political or social. But one could also ask whether the Freudian conception of the fetish is not itself a kind of fetish, the fetish of liberal individualism, or its obscure remainder, in the same way that the Oedipus complex reactivated the Oedipus myth, rather than neutrally interpreted it.
Ultimately, one confronts the problem of the location of the true antagonism, and the enigma of the ‘true’ relation towards it. Is this the true antagonism? The contemporary context is defined by the alienation and mutually hostile entanglement of political and superstitious or religious categories with, and from each other, producing conflicts within conflicts as a frustrating inability to correctly formulate political or spiritual (religious) problems.
With every false solution, the problem is compounded and the frustration grows. There can be no redemption or damnation (are they not the same thing?) in political or social terms. History is the history of power, nothing else and nothing more; every attempt to excavate a spiritual or moral meaning from secular material reality leads inexorably to the liquidation of reality and its replacement by a dream.
Antifascism, a gnostic cult anchored in a spiritualizing mythos of the defeat of Adolf Hitler, himself the leader of a gnostic cult, is no exception. In practice, irrespective of their self-aggrandizing name, their operation focusses on centrists, non-conformists, nationalists, and civic institutions, both for want of fascist targets and in line with the Leninist ‘accelerationist’ strategy; less a strategy than simply the structural logic of mimetic escalation, of maximizing contradictions to augment social tensions.
Prominent political figures who Antifa have menaced or physically attacked over the last four years, along with thousands of ordinary people, include the Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Rand Paul, journalist Andy Ngo, Fox News broadcaster Tucker Carlson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, their erstwhile apologist and ally. Also in Portland, Antifa militant Michael Reinoehl, murdered Aaron Danielson, a member of the Patriot Prayer group in cold blood, before giving an interview to Vice a few days later.
Last year, whether receiving new instructions or spontaneously gravitating to the new plague magisterium, Antifa was deployed in both the United States and Germany to menace anti-lockdown protesters, accompanied by propaganda smearing them as Nazis published in the Guardian and the New York Times. “Antifa types have become the foot soldiers of a government that, until very recently, were the class enemy,” The Daily Telegraph reported recently. “The omnipresent graffiti making vague claims about the imminent downfall of capitalism has been complemented by scrawled personal threats of violence to those not absolutely convinced of the decrees of Angela Merkel.”
All Antifascist’s targets, as well as anyone who criticizes Antifa, are identified as ‘fascists’ or ‘far-right’ to alienate them from the rights of Man, initially the right to speak and to associate — and ultimately the right to life. According to the argument, because fascists have no respect for human rights themselves, anyone designated as a fascist can be assaulted, if not murdered with impunity.
This same perverse formal structure, in which a foundational exclusion of the object from the principle that supposedly defines the subject ethically compels the subject to suspend the principle that theoretically defines them, underpins Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance, Herbert Marcuse’s repressive tolerance, and Himmler’s justification for the extermination of the Jews.
As Zizek remarks on the SS executioners:
“Most of them were not simply evil, they were well aware that they are doing things which bring humiliation, suffering and death to their victims. The way out of this predicament was that, instead of saying: “What horrible things I did to people!” the murderers would be able to say: “What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!” In this way, they were able to turn around the logic of resisting temptation: the temptation to be resisted was the very temptation to succumb to the elementary pity and sympathy in the presence of human suffering, and their ‘ethical’ effort was directed towards the task of resisting this temptation not to murder, torture and humiliate. My violation of spontaneous ethical instincts of pity and compassion is turned into the proof of my ethical grandeur: to do my duty, I am ready to assume the heavy burden of inflicting pain on others.”
An understanding is established in which the suffering (or speech) of certain categories of victims is downgraded as less meaningful than others, irrespective of the severity of the crimes themselves (or the content of their speech), but only according to the Leninist who/whom, with truth and value made dependent on proximity to the Party line.
Hence the fear experienced by Congressmen in the face of “violent riots” at the Capitol on January 6th is understood to be worth more than the murder of dozens of Americans by “mostly peaceful protesters” across the United States last year, and the destruction of the livelihoods of tens of thousands, and now millions through the lockdowns. Like the young (white) man with learning disabilities tortured by four anti-Trump (black) teenagers in Chicago in January 2017, the story of the young (black) boy murdered by BLM and Antifascist militants in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle is not widely reported, and the political beliefs of the Antifa mass shooter Conor Betts are elided and downplayed. It’s easy to imagine how these same events would be reported if the political assignments were reversed.
The next step beyond the threshold of a certain intensity of horror, aided now by the dissociative sadism of cyberspace, is to reject the idea that pain and suffering are even being caused. At this point, the moral feeling of the executioner also disappears; they become simply a knife in the hands of a butcher. Victims become invisible and difficult to mention. German indifference to the suffering of Jewish victims of the Nazis or Communist indifference to the Soviet genocide of Ukrainians now is echoed by contemporary indifference to the suffering of trafficked girls in Rotherham and other British cities, victims of illegal immigrants, or other politically protected classes, or the misery of prescription opiate addiction in the post-industrial USA.
The moral chaos of current Western lockdown policies, in which lives are being systematically destroyed in order to ‘save lives’ is also an example. What is at stake is a political calculation about the value of a life made according to the priorities of a bureaucratic Party-State machine which desires to expand. Because it grows through the destruction of society it sows divisions, disrupts communications, crushes autonomous authorities, destroys communities, and creates strife.
The riddle of recent world events is solved once the logic of the system is understood on its own terms. The servitors and functionaries of the global biopolitical machine don’t give a damn about a virus barely more dangerous than the flu; what moves them are the opportunities for bureaucratic profit which the situation has created, and the transformation of the human lifeworld into static fragments of a bloodless dream.