Fascisms: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2022

Jeremy was a dandy. At a time when young men were going hippie—growing their hair long, wearing faded, ripped blue jeans with western or tie-dyed shirts, buckskin or Edwardian vests and sandals or cowboy boots—Jeremy wore sharply pressed pleated dark slacks, pastel dress shirts with smart cardigan sweaters highlighted by the occasional ascot, and black or brown wingtips. This was 1970 and I was just such a wannabe hippie when I boarded the local Ventura city bus to sit down next to Jeremy. He sniffed in disdain at my unruly appearance and went back to writing in his notebook.

“I’m on the Prom Committee,” he said, holding his pen in the air between thumb and forefinger. “We’re developing the theme for this year’s Prom. What do you think about ‘a taste of bittersweet’?”

I had no school spirit nor had I plans to attend my high school prom so I simply shrugged. Jeremy was a walking contradiction. Everybody knew he was gay even though he was not out. He was overtly Catholic however and always wore a silver crucifix with a finely tooled image of the bloodied Jesus around his neck. Michael boarded the bus the next stop and sauntered back to where we sat. Michael was a year older and now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara where he had participated in the Isla Vista student riots that burned down the Bank of America. He wasn’t just a shaggy hippie but also a burgeoning New Leftist like myself. Michael and Jeremy despised each other. So while Michael and I chatted, Jeremy and Michael ignored each other. Then Michael happened to mention he “planned to hitchhike around Europe in the summer.”

“Spain is quite lovely, although a tad hot in the summertime,” Jeremy feigned a casual air. “I visited Spain last summer for an Opus Dei retreat and I had such a wonderful time.”

“I ain’t going anywhere near fascist Spain,” Michael snarled. “You ever hear about Guernica? Franco is a mass murdering Fascist war criminal.”

“Oh, please!” Jeremy scoffed. “Franco is not a fascist, he’s a Traditionalist. Under Franco, Spain nationalized the oil industry. But it has a mixed economy little different from other Western European countries, with a thriving free market sector.”

“Franco is a fucking dictator,” Michael said. “And you’re a fucking moron.”

“And you sir are a dupe of Communist propaganda, a shill for Moscow, a useful idiot.” Jeremy finished their conversation and went back to designing his Prom invitation.

Last column I started on Fascism’s[1] logic as the OG of Third Positionism that claimed to go beyond Left and Right; using Gabriele d’Annunzio’s militaristic Italian irredentism and his Fiume Arditi putsch as examples. D’Annunzio invented all the main fascist tropes (plebiscites, adoring rallies, ranting balcony speeches, the Roman salute, a cult of personality). His and Alceste de Ambris’s Charter of Carnaro promised a mishmash of city-state idylls (ancient Athenian democracy, the medieval Italian commune, the Venetian Republic), socio-economic chimeras  (national syndicalism, corporatist socialism), and calculated absurdities (a syndical corporation devoted to “the mysterious forces of progress and adventure,” music as a governing principle). D’Annunzio’s fascist “utopia” never made the leap from words to action. There has never been the attempted realization of any utopian Fascist society anywhere.[2]

Gleichschaltung—the “meshing of gears,” the coordination of every aspect of German society (federal states, churches, trade associations, media, private clubs, et al) and their synchronization to the will of the Nazi party and its Führer—simply infected all of German society with the power struggles within the party and its competing bureaucracies. The “left-fascist” Italian Social Republic, the insipid Republic of Salò that was a puppet of the occupying German military, drew its inspiration from the equally bogus 1943 Manifesto of Verona. Verona called for the abolition of the monarchy, the establishment of a balanced centralized/decentralized republican government,  a sovereign Constituent Assembly, an independent judiciary, freedom of press, syndical associations and factory commissions in industry that were pro-labor in orientation meant to constrain the capitalist class, the transformation of badly managed businesses into parasyndical and parastatal cooperatives, the expropriation of uncultivated lands and their redistribution to poor farm workers. This vast array of promises never existed beyond words on paper.

In 1979 Christian Bouchet’s “left-fascist” Mouvement Nationaliste Révolutionnaire (MNR) proposed a second French Revolution, a united Europe independent of the American and Soviet power blocs, opposition to “Yankee imperialism,” nationalization of monopolies and expropriation of multinational corporations, “abolition of bourgeois privileges,” taxation of capital, national syndicalism within economic corporatism, a Mediterranean-centered foreign policy, working alliances with Third World national liberation struggles, and the establishment of a strong yet decentralized state. To these quasi-leftist propositions, the MNR also combined far right demands for a defense of French and European civilization and the termination of unskilled immigrant labor.

When Bouchet transitioned his MNR into Nouvelle Résistance (NR) in 1991 an organizing strategy reminiscent of the New Left was adapted. It called for creating a “counterpower” of “liberated zones” and “concrete utopias” within the established order; a “counter-society” of cooperatives, small businesses, agricultural communes, alternative media, and artisanal enterprises as a decentralized network of alternative institutions to achieve economic self-sufficiency, subvert the legitimacy and authority of “the system,” and facilitate a unified anti-system resistance. Ultimately, Bouchet abandoned much of his so-called Leftism to join with Le Pen’s National Front under the slogan of “Less Leftism! More Fascism!”[3]

Much has been made in academic circles of the contrast between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism,” which is truly a difference without a distinction. Nazis and fascists claiming to be “leftwing” have made various excuses as to why they never achieved their fascist “utopias,” starting with the vacillating personal dictatorship of Gabriele d’Annunzio in Fiume. The Nazi “leftwing” of Ernst Röhm  and the Strasser brothers, who called for a faux anti-capitalist “second revolution,” were purged by Hitler and the Nazi “rightwing” during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Between 1929 and 1943, Italian fascists blamed the failure to fully realize Mussolini’s totalitarian fascist program (creation of the “new man” within the fascist corporate state and a unified Italy) because the authoritarian National Fascist Party had to share power with the Catholic Church and the Italian monarchy. The rump Salò Republic after 1943 was controlled by the Third Reich, so Mussolini then blamed the need to prosecute the war against the Allies for his failures to move left. And the scores of neo-Nazi/fascist “leftwing” groupuscules that emerged after the end of WWII succumbed to constant sectarian infighting and culled regroupment, not to mention a general lack of popular appeal, long before the nonexistence of their varied “left-fascist” programmatic “utopias” became apparent.

But the real reason for the failure of “left-fascism” ever being realized is because there is no true utopia possible within fascism. “Left-fascist utopia” is an oxymoron, and the difference between “right-fascism” and “left-fascism” is bullshit. There can be a rebirth or re-creation of the nation or race, what Roger Griffin called generic fascism’s palingenetic core, but this is a harkening back to a mythic Golden Age, not the desire for some future leftist utopia.

In “The Concept of the Left,” Leszek Kołakowski wrote: “Social revolutions are a compromise between utopia and historical reality.  The tool of the revolution is utopia, and the material is the social reality on which one wants to impose a new form.  And the tool must to some degree fit the substance if the results are not to become ludicrous.” Further along, he wrote: “[T]he Left cannot do without a utopia.  The Left gives forth utopias just as the pancreas discharges insulin – by virtue of an innate law.  Utopia is the striving for changes which ‘realistically’ cannot be brought about by immediate action, which lie beyond the foreseeable future and defy planning.  Still, utopia is a tool of action upon reality and of planning social activity.” Utopia is thus integral to the Left, whether Leninist, left communist, anarchist, or even social democratic. Utopia was the raison d’être for the Russian 1917 Revolution and the 1936-39 Spanish civil war. Little wonder that the generic socialist utopia of a stateless, classless, global human community of liberty, equality and solidarity has such resonance. Fascism has no comparable relationship with utopia. In Russia efforts to enforce Bolshevik policies through military means were known as war communism. A similar attempt to enforce the CNT-FAI’s policies through military means in Spain could be called war anarchism. But without a fascist utopianism there can be no war fascism. Only war.

The bombing of Guernica by the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionaria was intended to demonstrate the effect of total war. Fascism romanticizes hardened, hierarchical warrior societies like Sparta (which Frank Frost described as “an experiment in elitist communism”) and prefers a state of constant, low-level warfare. Young men are continuously conscripted into the crucible of battle, to be forged into soldiers where the weak are purged and the strong are made stronger. Returning to Roger Griffin’s insight, if utopia is replaced by rebirth, re-creation, or recapitulation, there is also genocidal war. The “liquidation-of-the-Slavic-untermenschen-to-make-room-for-the-Germanic-volk” palingenesis of Hitler’s lebensraum type of genocidal war. To paraphrase Randolph Bourne’s famous quote: “War is the health of Fascism.”

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Manifesto of Verona (1943)
“The Concept of the Left” by Leszek Kołakowski, Toward a Marxist Humanism (1968)
“Fascist Ideology” by Zeev Sternhell, Fascism, A Reader’s Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography ed. by Walter Laqueur (1976); “Crisis in Fin-de-siècle Thought” by Zeev Sternhell, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus ed. by Roger Griffin (1998)
Greek Society by Frank L. Frost (1987)
Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (1999)
“The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology” by Roger Griffin, Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerca ed. by A. Campi (2003)
The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin (2004)
Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013)
“Neo-fascist mobilization in contemporary Italy. Ideology and repertoire of action of CasaPound Italia” by Castelli Gattinara & Froio, Journal for Deradicalization (2015)
Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright (2017)
CasaPound Italia Platform (2017)
“How ‘Hobbit Camps’ Rebirthed Italian Fascism” by John Last, Atlas Obscura (10-3-2017)
“The fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the Mainstream” by Tobias Jones, The Guardian (2-22-2018)
The Darkest Sides of Politics, I: Postwar Fascism, Covert Operations, and Terrorism by Jeffrey M. Bale (2018)
“CasaPound Italy: The Sui Generis Fascists of the New Millennium” by Bulent Kenes, European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) (2021)
“Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy’s Potential New Leader” by Jason Horowitz, NY Times (9-21-2022)

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Fascism derives from the Latin word fasces and the Italian word fasci for a bundle of sticks. During the 1800s fasci also came to signify a political union, group, band or league of individuals, with most fasci being leftwing, democratic, socialist and revolutionary. The most famous of these were the Fasci Siciliani dei Lavoratori (Sicilian Workers Leagues). But in 1914 the Italian syndicalist Alceste de Ambris channeled revolutionary syndicalism into an anti-German, pro-war national syndicalist direction. This split Italian syndicalism with the founding of the Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria Internazionalista—the manifesto of which influenced Benito Mussolini who joined the group. He then fused it with Mussolini’s own Fasci autonomi d’azione rivoluzionaria into the Fasci d’azione rivoluzionaria. Mussolini reconstituted the latter into the decentralized Fasci italiani di combattimento (Italian league of combatants), which he later transformed into the centralized Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party, PNF).

As a sidenote de Ambris, ever the national syndicalist, fell out with Mussolini and his PNF. He then briefly associated himself with the leftist anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo (The People’s Daring Ones) to oppose the PNF, Mussolini and the violence of their Blackshirt (squadristi) paramilitaries.

[2] Fascism is often portrayed as having a chameleon-like ideology, a mystical synthesis of countless influences, a syncretic movement changing form to suit a variety of political circumstances. Hence the daunting task even to formulate a Fascist Minimum. Last column I settled on ultra nationalism + populist socialism + palingenesis = fascism as my Fascist Minimum. Fascism’s claim to be more nationalist than conservative nationalism and more revolutionary than revolutionary socialism gives us National Socialism, National Syndicalism, National Bolshevism, National Autonomism, National Anarchism, ad nauseam. Right away the problem arises of how to characterize military dictatorships like the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) in Peru or Pinochet’s Chile. Can they be considered fascist? Roger Griffin defined such regimes as populist ultra-nationalist which lack a central myth of national rebirth. The MNR led the leftist Bolivian National Revolution, then turned right. With Chile under Pinochet there is the added difficulty that the dictatorship embraced Milton Friedman’s laissez-faire capitalism. Whereas classic fascism (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) was big on state-controlled and nationalized sectors and corporate/state coordination, Pinochet’s Chile was a business-friendly authoritarian model that saddled Chileans with little government support and expensive private sector services.

In contrast “right-fascism” (Salazar’s Portugal, Franco’s Spain) was a combination of conservatism, corporatism and extreme nationalism in defense of traditionalist Catholicism. This “right-fascism” championed palingenetic national regeneration (Salazar’s “New State,” Franco’s “New Spain”) in alliance with bourgeois conservatism and theocratic clericalism.

[3] Generic Third Positionist “left fascism” is fond of lengthy baroque manifestos, platforms and programs which don’t amount to shit IRL. Bouchet’s MNR/NR “left-fascist” program was typical of the nationalist-revolutionary movement in its schematic appropriation of capital nationalization and expropriation from the social democratic/Leninist Old Left and the alternative institutions and dual power from the countercultural/autonomist New Left. Under the rubric of far right nationalist revolution the MNR/NR failed to realize any of its flights of fantasy as a wannabe “armed party.”  Nor does attempting a Third Positionist neo-fascist social movement in the programmatic mold of the MNR/NR fare much better.

Consider CasaPound Italia (CPI). CasaPound (House of Ezra Pound) started as a right-wing youth-based squatters movement in a piss-poor imitation of the left-wing social centers created by Italian workerist/autonomist/squatters movements since the 1960s. A group of young neo-fascists occupied an abandoned state-owned building in the Esquilino neighborhood in Rome in December of 2003. Located in a run-down immigrant area—Rome’s “Chinatown”—and serving as a provocation, the squat called itself Casa Pound, styled itself a social center, and reportedly housed 23 families with a total of 82 individuals in 2010. It offered various social services (free medical checkups, food pantry, cafe, etc) available only to native-born Italian citizens. Squats followed in Rome’s Area 19, Latina and other locations across Italy, some of which have been legalized and others evicted. As a social movement initially based in street protests and demonstrations (which frequently devolved into violent street fighting) promoting right-wing alternative institutions and cultural activities (including an “alternative rock” band), CPI took pains to emphasize that it was not an extra-parliamentary movement. CPI tried to establish a political party in 2013 in order to run in the Italian and European Parliamentary elections, and when that failed it became a legally recognized “association for social promotion.” CPI has well under 10,000 members nationally, many of whom have aged out of their youthful aspirations, resulting in the founding of an affiliated “Students’ Block.” Calling itself “extreme, high center” instead of Fascist, CPI touts it’s “beyond Left and Right” Third Positionist ideology as being influenced by “Mazzini, Corridoni, D’Annunzio, Gentile, Pavolini and Mussolini” as well as Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and “the great anarchist singer-songwriters Rino Gaetano and Fabrizio De André.” Its interminable 18-point platform (each point with scores of sub-points) is the usual mongrel mixture of leftist populism and reactionary neo-fascism. Or as CPI itself describes its “main political struggles”: “Struggles for the recovery of national, economic and monetary sovereignty with the exit from the Euro and the EU. Struggles against immigration, against the installation of reception centers in neighborhoods, for national preference in the rankings for kindergartens and social housing. Struggles for home ownership (“Social Mortgage”) and birth support (“National Birth Income”).”

The CPI is portrayed as hipster neo-fascists who’ve learned the lessons of Fascism’s disastrous past to adapt fascism to the present. “Never before has Italy seen an explicitly neo-fascist group enjoying strategic viability that CasaPound today enjoys,” writes Bulent Kenes. “Although CasaPound remains marginal from an electoral point of view, its visibility in the Italian system is symptomatic of the ability of the extreme right to assimilate populist and alternative agendas in order to increase the attractiveness of their policies.” Yet the CPI is a pimple on the ass of Italian fascism compared to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party and the Tolkienization of the hard right.

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Antiwar: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, May 2022

“Peace is not simply the absence of violence or war”—a truism I grew up with in the 1960s. When I first got politics in 1968 I called myself an anarchist-pacifist and affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee, War Resisters League, and similar organizations which promoted the concept that in order to achieve a social order based on peace, one had to use nonviolent methods. I flirted with the eastern religious concept of ahimsa and the western religious notion of turning the other cheek, as well as more formalized nonviolent practices like Gandhi’s satyagraha.  But soon the contradictions of pacifism, specifically the argument that nonviolence doesn’t save lives or guarantee peace in the short or long run, dissuaded me from remaining a pacifist. Besides, I didn’t have the integrity or discipline to practice any form of nonviolence. And while I rejected the pacifist notion that nonviolent ends require nonviolent means, I incorporated the whole “means-and-ends” argument into my anti-authoritarian politics at the time.

So I opposed the Vietnam War, not so much out of principle but out of self interest. I was subject to the draft and I didn’t want to be conscripted and shipped off to die in a rice paddy in Southeast Asia. Thus I wasn’t part of the peace movement so much as I participated in the antiwar movement. I’ll briefly discuss one small aspect of the anti-Vietnam War movement’s wide and convoluted history—the attempt to build and sustain a single, overarching antiwar organization in the US. The broadest umbrella coalition of people, organizations and issues seeking to end America’s intervention in Southeast Asia was the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe). Continue reading

Party of one: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, April 2022

Four independent workers’ soviets operated concurrently in Moscow during the Russian 1905 Revolution. Proud Soviet historians were always quick to point out that the one aligned with the Bolsheviks operated a bomb-making operation out of Maxim Gorky’s apartment. Meanwhile, the more famous 1905 St. Petersburg workers’ and soldiers’ soviet, precursor to the 1917 Petrograd soviet, had puzzling gaps in its official Soviet history until the anarchist historian Voline published The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 in 1947. In it he revealed that the soviet met in his St. Petersburg apartment.

Aside from the usual disputes over primary and secondary evidence or what constitutes historical fact, and before any arguments over what a particular history signifies, there are always the missing parts of history. What I mean is the things that happened and affected the course of history but that never got recorded in the historical record and thus were subsequently forgotten. The 1905 St. Petersburg workers’ and soldiers’ soviet met in Voline’s apartment and contributed to the development of soviet power whether or not that fact was entered into the historical record prior to 1947. So yes, if a tree falls in the forest, it makes a sound. Continue reading

Anti-imperialism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2021

I am against imperialism, be it French, British, US or Chinese. I am not an “anti-imperialist,” since that is a political position supporting national liberation movements opposed to imperialist powers.
—Gilles Dauvé

Mark Twain was an anti-imperialist, a member of the American Anti-Imperialist League (1898-1920) which opposed US annexation of the Philippines. For the League, just republican government was based on the principle of the “consent of the governed” as embodied in the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The imperialism of US territorial expansion thus violated the classical liberal precepts of self-government and non-intervention as put forward by British writers like John A. Hobson. Twain’s dark sarcasm and claims of America’s liberatory intent notwithstanding, he was neither so generous nor as damning regarding the US continental expansion of Manifest Destiny that expropriated the native peoples. The raison d’être of this type of anti-imperialism was simple; empire was bad and needed to be morally opposed.

Continue reading

By any other name: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, August 2021

I picked up an archaic paper flyer pinned to an obsolete cork board in the now-defunct Market Street branch of FLAX Art Supplies. The handbill advertised a web designer and mobile app developer—Daniel Goodwyn—who offered to teach virtually any platform or software. I wanted to learn social media to prepare for self-publishing my novel 1% Free, so I called. He was cheap. We arranged to meet at Philz Coffee on 24th Street.

“I only drink Philz coffee,” Daniel said.

We met six or seven times at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. Daniel was an evangelical Christian favorable to fundamentalism, but he wore his religious beliefs close to the vest. He didn’t proselytize. Instead, he would produce his worn King James Bible from his backpack before starting each lesson. I pulled out my Handbook of Denominations by Mead, Hill and Atwood our third meeting and we were off discussing Christianity between social media tutoring. We talked dispensationalism, cessationism, and biblical inerrancy. He’d attended 24/7 worship and prayer events, and would soon do web design for the messianic Jews for Jesus organization. Continue reading

Trump’s workers’ party debunked: “What’s Left?” January 2021

It pisses me off.

In 2015 Breitbart ran a story by Lisa De Pasquale entitled “Political Punks” that détourned the famous 1976 Ramones record cover by superimposing the heads of rightwingers Greg Gutfeld, Clint Eastwood, Ann Coulter and Gavin McInnes over the four original band members.

Blasphemy! Continue reading

The terror of history: “What’s Left?” November 2020

About paranoia […] There is nothing remarkable […] it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected […] If there is something comforting – religious, if you want – about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

I graduated with a BA in history from UCSC in 1974. That summer I went off for a 6-month program sponsored by the university to live on Kibbutz Mizra in Israel with my Jewish girlfriend. We packed a large duffel bag full of paperback books in preparation for our excursion, one of them being Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Continue reading

The populist myth: “What’s Left?” February 2020 (MRR #441)

When the axe entered the forest, the trees said: “The handle is one of us.”

—Turkish proverb

I remember a brief carefree idyll when I was fourteen. I lived with my family in Ventura, California, went to Balboa Junior High, and had teenager jobs the occasional evening, weekend or summer. But I spent all my spare time at the beach swimming, surfing and skateboarding. When I enrolled in Buena High School the head gym teacher, Mason Parrish, put all the incoming sophomores through a battery of athletic tests to determine in which sports we might excel. Parrish coached the football team, and was in the process of building Buena’s swim and water polo teams to win multiple national awards, compete in the 1968-72 Olympic trials, and field numerous Junior Olympic Champions. I was a natural in the water, so Coach Parrish recruited me immediately for swimming and water polo.

Parrish was an old school, conservative high school gym coach who began and ended every game with a Christian prayer. He required loyalty from his athletes in school and expected us to practice routines, lift weights, and train regularly outside of class on our own time. All I wanted was to have fun, swim, and go to the beach. Parrish started me in a few swimming competitions and played me in a couple of water polo games. But when he realized I lacked the dedication and drive to give him the full commitment he demanded, he benched me for the duration of the semester. Parrish was openly disappointed, my gung-ho teammates disdained me, and I still had to show up for team practice and events. I was developing, maturing and acquiring new, formative interests in my adolescent life. But my love for swimming was irreparably damaged. Continue reading

pt. 3: Jewish socialism vs Jewish nationalism: “What’s Left?” November 2019 (MRR #438)

LA’s Exposition Park, the northeastern meadows across from USC, were jammed with anti-Vietnam war protestors. The police estimated our numbers at between eight and ten thousand. The rally organizers said we had over twenty-five thousand in attendance.

It was October 15, 1969, the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. I’d never seen so many people in one place for one purpose. I was elated. I’d declared myself an anarchist pacifist in 1968 under threat of eventually being drafted. That day I was a revolutionary anarchist who’d traveled with friends from Ventura to participate in the protest.

I couldn’t hear the speeches in the huge crowd. Instead, I perused the two-score-plus literature tables that bordered the rally, noting the alphabet soup of Leftist organizations present. There were political parties (SP, SLP, CP, SWP, SL, PLP), front groups (WPC, ASFC, FPCC), New Left (SDS), civil rights (SCLC, SNCC, CORE), Black Power (BPP), feminist (NOW), labor (IWW, UE, UFW), religious (AFSC, CW, UUA), countercultural (YIPpie!, HAFC) and many others. I couldn’t get along with two-thirds of them personally and disagreed politically with nine-tenths of what they stood for, but on that day I embraced them all. They were my people. They were the Left. Continue reading

Crisis on the Right: “What’s Left?” August 2017, MRR #411

This is my overlong analysis of the crisis of the Left and the crisis on the Right . I owe the tripartite analysis of the modern American Right to Political Research Associates, which does excellent work dissecting the Right through investigative reports, articles, and activist resource kits.

———

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Yet periods of ideological decay often breed strange new variants, such as the ‘Red-Brown alliance’ in the former Soviet Union, which do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of “left” and “right.”

Kevin Coogan, Dreamer of the Day

I’m ass deep into analyzing the crisis of the Left. There are three components to this crisis, beginning with the defeat of organized labor by ascendant neoliberalism in the industrialized west (Reagan busting the PATCO unions in 1981, Thatcher defeating striking coal miners in 1984-85). Next came the collapse of real existing socialist regimes with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc in 1989-91. These two events mark the decline of Marxism broadly and Leninism more narrowly as the third component of this ongoing crisis. The present growth of anarchism and left communism and the breeding of “strange new variants” like insurrectionism and communization I consider a mixed blessing because this actually demonstrates the Left’s weakness. The relationship between the resurgence of the anti-authoritarian Left and the decline of the rest of the Left, in turn, reflects a broader relationship between the politics of Left and Right, with the “ideological decay” of the Right hinting at something broader.

If the crisis of the Left is also a crisis on the Right, perhaps I need to use the word interregnum. The sentiment of the Yeats poem, borne by the mystic, cryptofascist Irish nationalist in his reactionary politics, conveys the sense of a violent interruption between old and new orders. An old order loses its grip, but before a new order manages to establish itself there is a period of social chaos and disintegration when things “do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of ‘left’ and ‘right’.” An interregnum, by definition, is a big deal.

The Latin term interregnum originated with the English civil war to designate the period from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Cromwell’s dictatorship is sometimes considered a prequel to the bourgeois revolutions that ushered in the modern world. Most of the history I tend to fixate on—the French 1789 Revolution, the Russian 1917 Revolution, the German 1918-19 workers’ revolt ushering in the Weimar Republic, the Spanish 1936-39 civil war, etc.—also indicate relatively short-lived, national interregnums. But interregnums can also be long and slow moving, involving a much wider geographic scope.

The Papal Schism that split the western church between three contending popes from 1378 to 1417 damaged the Catholic church’s reputation and authority. Along with issues of priestly celibacy, the marketing of relics, and most importantly the selling of indulgences, the Protestant Reformation was all but inevitable. From Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses in 1517 through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Europe experienced scores of religious wars predicated on dynastic conflicts and as many as 20 million deaths due to religious violence, not to mention a continental reshaping of European social, political, and economic realities that eventually gave rise to the modern nation-state system. That’s over a century-long, diffuse, continental interregnum. Alternately, the series of national interregnums from the beginning of the first World War in 1914 to the end of the second World War in 1945 might be threaded together into a single, grand, worldwide interregnum. A global interregnum

I’m paleo when it comes to my Marxism. Interregnums fit nicely into a history propelled by class struggle and revolution. As for modes of production and stages of history, I’m both less and more orthodox. Less because I don’t think historical modes of production prior to capitalism were comprehensive, and more because once the capitalist mode of production arose it eventually became socially and globally all-embracing. And I’m definitely old school in contending that the French revolutionary interregnum of 1789 ushered in the modern world, starting with the riotous sans culotte and culminating in Napoleon’s more disciplined conscripts sweeping across continental Europe.

The first bourgeois revolution in France coincided with a wide variety of interrelated historical processes and cultural phenomena—from the Enlightenment and scientific revolution to modern warfare and the rise of industrial capitalism—to mark the watershed between pre-modern and modern eras. It also introduced our modern-day distinctions between Left and Right through the representative seating at the 1789 National Assembly. Here’s a standard high school PolySci description: “In a narrow sense, the political spectrum summarizes different attitudes towards the economy and the role of the state: left-wing views support intervention and collectivism; and right-wing ones favor the market and individualism. However, this distinction supposedly reflects deeper, if imperfectly defined, ideological or value differences. Ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism are generally seen to have a left-wing character, while notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism are generally seen as having a right-wing character.” [Andrew Heywood, Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations] The Left’s stress on reason and program in accepting modernity makes for greater structure and coherence compared to the eclectic, muddy stance of the non-rational, instinctual Right in the rejection of modernity. But it all does come down to an embrace of, versus a revolt against, the modern world.

And here we encounter a contradiction central to the Right. For in order to revolt against the modern world, the Right must simultaneously embrace it. Moderate conservatives like Edmund Burke who were terrified by the French Revolution were dragged kicking and screaming into modernity, accepting the economics of Adam Smith and the private property of Locke while demanding that tradition put the breaks on changes wrought by capitalism. Reactionaries like Joseph de Maistre advocated for “throne and altar” in a restored ancien regime—a Counter Enlightenment counterrevolutionary—yet he still admired Napoleon. The Left went full-bore into mass politics, vanguard parties, technological innovation, and heavy industrialization with the Bolshevik turn after 1917, yet another national interregnum. From Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome through Hitler’s 1933 acceptance of the German chancellorship, the extreme Fascist right responded by producing an anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist revolutionary mass politics to reindustrialize central Europe around a vanguardist, ultranationalist, palingenetic core. The Right has always been in reaction to the Left because of this central contradiction, and there are scholars of Fascist Studies who claim that Fascism was actually a synthesis of revolutionary Left and Right.

Lacking a feudal past, a universal church, and monarchist and aristocratic traditions, the Right in the United States remained confined to moderate conservative factions in the prominent pre-civil war electoral parties—Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Jacksonian Democrats. It’s been argued that the American Right actually started as a form of European liberalism. At its most immoderate, early American conservatism demonstrated strong nativist and isolationist tendencies, as with the American “Know Nothing” Party. The country’s Protestant citizenry was subject to populist Great Awakenings, rightwing fundamentalist movements, and heretical cults like Mormonism. And, of course, the prevailing assumption across the board was that the United States was a white man’s nation, owned and run by white people. Southern slave society came closest to offering a European-style Right based on aristocracy and tradition. The struggle over slavery that lead to the civil war also drove conservative elements of the southern Democratic Party into the extremism of the Ku Klux Klan’s white supremacist militia terrorism after the civil war, while much of the GOP drifted into an isolationist, laissez-faire Old Right.

Along with a revival in rightwing religious movements like Christian evangelicalism and pentecostalism, the United States witnessed its own fascist movement paralleling European Fascism between the world wars. Based on a reborn, white supremacist, mass KKK that was also anti-Catholic, antisemitic, and populist, it included the antisemitic ravings of Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh’s America First movement and sympathies for Nazi Germany, Pelley’s Silver Shirts and Christian Party, even the more demagogic leftist populism of Huey Long. The threat of an American Fascism was very real in the 1920s and 30s.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the end of the global interregnum, in large part thanks to the Soviet Red Army, it was assumed that Fascism had been liquidated once and for all. The United States assumed for itself the sole superpower and the center of empire, capable of imposing a Pax Americana over the world, except for an obstreperous Soviet Union. Some form of Cold War anti-communism became a mainstay of mainstream American politics. It should be remembered that Joseph McCarthy started out a Democrat and ended up a Republican. McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, and Barry Goldwater’s faction of the Republican Party were all radically anti-communist.

But the Right in the United States remained fractious. It included the antisemitic white supremacism of the Klan, George Wallace and the Dixiecrat revolt, the beginnings of the patriot/militia movement in DePugh’s Minutemen and Beach’s Posse Comitatus, the paleoconservatism of Russell Kirk and Paul Gottfried, embryonic conspiracy theorizing a la Bircher anti-fluoridation paranoia, Ayn Rand’s atheist Objectivism, the first inklings of Murray Rothbard’s AnCap libertarianism, and the like. In contrast to the rightwing alliance between Christian evangelicals and Catholic bishops on everything from school prayer to abortion, serious theological divisions emerged in Reconstructionism, Dominionism, and Christian Nationalism alongside religious cults like Children of God, Unification Church, Fundamentalist LDS, Church Universal and Triumphant, etc. As the Right so often mirrors the Left, American conservatism tried to force a contrapuntal unity against the perceived “international communist conspiracy for world domination.”

William F. Buckley founded the National Review Magazine in 1955 in an explicit effort to demarcate a proper American conservatism and to keep it properly policed through vicious polemics and purges of racists, antisemites, and conspiracy wingnuts. He wanted an official American conservative movement that overlapped with the Republican Party, a pro-business/anti-union conservative movement dedicated to a disciplined, uncompromising, good-vs-evil crusade against communism. Buckley thought of this as standing athwart history, yelling stop, in his version of revolting against modernity, but he discovered that policing the Right was like herding cats. It’s been argued that Buckley’s National Review conservative movement was a facade; that the Right didn’t grow less diverse or more unified under Buckley’s shepherding. Yet what ultimately vanquished Buckley and the conservative movement was the crisis of the Left that bubbled up during the 1980s, culminating in the Soviet bloc’s sudden collapse from 1989 to 1991. The United States won the Cold War and truly became the sole superpower and center of empire. Yet things fell apart and the center could not hold as another global interregnum took shape.

I argue that the crisis of the Left produced a corresponding crisis on the Right, a proliferation of “strange new variants” on the Right. The Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal rebranding of official conservatism primed the crisis, alongside the direct mail Viguerie New Right and imported rightwing countercultural currents like Skinheads. All sectors of the Right subsequently proliferated, from the Secular Right (Libertarianism, Neoconservatism) through the Religious Right (soft and hard Dominionism) to the Xenophobic Right. The latter witnessed the most explosive growth through populist movements (armed citizen militias, Sovereign Citizens, patriot groups) and white nationalist ultraright movements (Christian Identity, Creativity Movement, National Socialist Movement, National Alliance).

The most visible aspects of the growing Right—the Tea Party Movement and now the Alt.Right—are just the tip of the rightwing iceberg. Whereas the Secular Right remains committed to a pluralist civil society, the Xenophobic Right is hardline anti-democratic, with the dividing line between conservative and hard Right falling somewhere in the Religious Right. The confusing variety on the Right can barely be contained by this conceptual triad, unlike the Left’s greater structure and coherence which falls easily into antiauthoritarian, democratic/parliamentary, and Leninist categories.

The changes to global capitalism that underpinned the rise of this current global interregnum must wait until a future column. I’ll conclude by quoting Tom Robinson: “If Left is Right, then Right is Wrong. You better decide which side you’re on.”