Campism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, November 2022

“This is utter nonsense.”

The gray-haired bespectacled man gestured angrily. It was July 21, 1989 and I was standing behind the Neither East Nor West literature table at the “Without Borders” anarchist conference/festival in San Francisco’s Mission High School. I was hanging out with the THRUSH girls and Bob McGlynn as the pissed-off individual continued to point at our table’s banner.

“Neither East Nor West, huh? That sounds an awful lot like the slogan of the Italian Fascist MSI. Neither Left nor Right.”

“We’re anarchists, not fascists,” Bob said.

“Anarchists, fascists, it’s all the same.” The man delivered his verbal coup. “If you’re not for the international socialist revolution you’re for reactionary capitalist imperialism.”

I’ve recently written a couple of columns exposing the idiocy that is Fascist Third Positionism.[1] Let’s now talk about campism and legitimate efforts to transcend it. In order to discuss international politics, let’s start with an analogy.

The problem of predicting the individual motions of celestial objects in classical mechanics and physics depends on the number of objects in question. Called the n-body problem, a single body like a lone star or a rogue planet is the simplest to calculate because it’s the most stable. Two objects orbiting around a common center of gravity—a binary star system, a star and its planet, or a planet and its moon—is slightly more complex but ultimately solvable mathematically, again because of its relative stability. Add a third or more bodies and it’s impossible to predict the motions of three-plus bodies mutually bound by gravity given their initial positions and velocities. The dynamics of any such three-plus-body system is inherently chaotic and unstable. The sun-earth-moon system constitutes the archetypal example of the three-plus-body problem. “The Three-Body Problem” is also the title of a recent science fiction novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin.

Consider first the idea of a unipolar world being analogous to a “one-body” dynamic. The period between 1815 and 1914 has been called the British Imperial Century—Pax Britannica—when Great Britain reached the height of its global empire and ruled the world by controlling the high seas and the international commerce on them. The British Empire was hegemonic and its currency dominant, serving as the global cop that insured relative peace between the Great Powers of the day. Yet unipolarity is not dependent on such factors. China during the Ming and Qing dynasties dominated all of East Asia, but pursued a more limited territorial expansion that didn’t provoke rival powers into challenging China’s power militarily. The United States took over Britain’s imperial role, but when it achieved true unipolarity after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 its Pax Americana was anything but peaceful or stable. The United States has been at war for twenty-two of the thirty-two years since the Cold War ended and the world became unipolar. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and confrontation with the US and NATO has reinstigated the dangerous uncertainties of a new Cold War. A Cold War 2.0.

I’m a child of the West with the bipolar worldview set in motion by Aristotelian non-contradiction logic, fortified by Christian good-vs-evil crypto-Manichaeism, and tweaked by Hegelian Two-Camps Zhdanovian Doctrine.[2] I grew up during the Cold War (1945-1991) that posited a bipolar world of two contending power centers—a “Free World” that wasn’t free and a “Communist bloc” that wasn’t communist. Capitalist nations were expected to side with the US while socialist nations were expected to ally with the old USSR. The deadly “dance” between these two world powers was marked by quick mutual readjustments which prevented any uncontrolled escalation of hostilities or the possibility of power imbalances developing, so much so that the lack of a major war during the Cold War period has been called the “long peace.” But just because a major war didn’t occur doesn’t mean the Cold War was an era of international peace and stability. Numerous bloody “brush” wars and proxy guerrilla/counterinsurgency conflicts were fought around the globe, most notably in Vietnam and Korea. And the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction nearly devolved into nuclear annihilation during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Thus the relative stability of “two-body” dynamics in physics is not analogous to campism, past or present.

According to Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, present-day campism “approaches world politics from the standpoint that the main axis of conflict is between two hostile geopolitical camps: the ‘imperialist camp,’ today made up of the United States, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (or some such combination) on one hand and the ‘anti-imperialist camp’ of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other less-industrialized nations on the other. The anti-imperialist camp is generally defined as all formerly colonized nations and especially all avowedly anti-imperialist governments in the Global South.” This is also Cold War 2.0 politics. Campism arose from the Russian Revolution, the isolation of international Communism by world capitalism, the response of the Third International (ComIntern) to that isolation, and their usurpation by Stalin and Stalinism. The USSR attempted to reinforce the Soviet pole of campism by molding the Warsaw Pact nations in the image of Russian Communism while Mao’s split from the Soviet Union attempted to redefine campism with a Chinese-Third Worldist pole. China became the leader of the socialist camp, all Third World anti-US struggles were automatically deemed progressive, and the Soviet Union was denounced as “social imperialist.” Campism persisted despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Russia’s authoritarian embrace of oligarchic capitalism and irredentist imperialism, and China’s totalitarian turn to state capitalism and global economic empire. Thanks to the degeneration of the 60s New Left, the binary logic of campism is now entrenched in much of the Left. It is truly the anti-imperialism of fools; usually of Stalinist, Maoist, Marcyist, or Third Worldist ML hardliners, apologists, fellow travelers, or sympathizers, but more and more of social democrats, democratic socialists, and Code Pink liberals.[3]

I’ve been trying to define an anti-campist “three-plus-body” multipolar politics since 1968. My development from left anarchism through left communism to my current eclectic libertarian socialism was my attempt to sidestep the restraints of campist bipolarity. Libertarian socialism in all its diversity has remained a viable third stance between orthodox Social Democracy and Marxism-Leninism historically within the Left, as well as a contemporary alternative to campist imperialism/anti-imperialism. My support for international alliances like the Non-Aligned Movement of nations as well as grassroots organizations like Neither East Nor West (NENW) also reflected a similar multipolarity. I’ve always subscribed to the Yiddish aphorism that, whenever confronted with two equally bad choices, always choose the third.

The Cold War 2.0 logic that the planet is divided between two antagonistic power blocs—an “anti-imperialist socialist camp” and an “imperialist capitalist camp”—is now gospel on the Left. Marginalized “independent revolutionary socialist organizations opposed to both the ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ social systems” invoke the threadbare cliché of “international working class solidarity” to counter it. I recommend we bring back the left-libertarian politics of NENW as a direct response to campism instead. NENW grew out of anti-war and anti-nuclear movements, specifically the Trust Groups on both sides of the “Iron Curtain,” as well as support for the 1980 Polish Solidarity labor union. Started in the fall of 1986 in New York by anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarian socialists, NENW-NYC put out the newspaper On Gogol Boulevard in 1987. NENW groups sprang up across North America, prominent  among them Chicago NENW, Bay Area NENW, Toronto NENW, Lawrence KS NENW, Albany NY NENW, Miami NENW, and Mexico City NENW. Almost 40 groups eventually coalesced into the North American East/West Network. NENW initiated international campaigns against repression and for political prisoners, solidarity with dissent and popular uprisings, and support for workers, dissidents, activists, and counterculturalists in both the capitalist and socialist camps—an effective multivalent strategy. The NENW network and On Gogol Boulevard gradually faded after 1994 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, even though Bob McGlynn optimistically wrote in 2014:
The Neither East Nor West network remains alive, despite the demise of the East Bloc. Our focus on the East, or former “Second [socialist] World,” also served as a doorway to incorporating—in multiple and concrete ways—the concerns of the “Third [underdeveloped] World” and “Fourth World” (land-based indigenous peoples), with a particular focus on supporting activists and movements with anti-authoritarian and anti-Stalinist perspectives.
Bob died on August 23, 2016. An updated version of those neither-nor politics deserves to be revived to counter the stupidity of campism.

“Three-plus-body” dynamics in physics are inherently unstable whereas academics disagree on whether global multipolarity can ever be peaceful and stable, with classical realists squaring off against neo-realists. I consider unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity unstable and conflict-ridden to one degree or another. Perhaps peace and stability shouldn’t be the goal, but rather the aim should be the liberation and socialism that makes peace and stability possible.

 

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Imperialism: A Study by John A. Hobson (1902)
Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism by V.I. Lenin (1916 & 1917)
“The Anti-Imperialism of Fools” by Paul Berman, Dissent Magazine (1987)
Reply to Aufheben #1 by Gilles Dauvé (1997)
“The poverty of ‘anti-imperialism’ and today’s Left” by Workers’ Liberty (2010)
The Modern World-System, v. I-IV by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974-2011)
“Anarchy in Trieste: Anarchists from East & West meet in Italy” (Fifth Estate #334, Summer 1990); “Whoopie! East Bloc Explodes” (Love and Rage, April 1990); “Partial Victory for Nigerian Anarchists” (Love and Rage April/May 1993);“The Group ‘Neither East Nor West-NYC’: A De Facto Anarchist Black Cross History: The years 1980 to Spring 1994” (2013); “Neither East Nor West: How a small group of anarchists took on the Soviet Union and won!” (Fifth Estate # 391, Spring/Summer 2014) all by Bob McGlynn
“The ‘Anti-Imperialism’ Of Idiots” by Leila Shami, Leila’s blog (2018)
“Against Campism, for International Working-Class Solidarity” by Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, (Socialist Forum, Democratic Socialists of America, Winter 2020)
“Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?: Barnaby Raine on the resurgence of ’tankie’ and ‘campist’ politics” by The Breach (October 22, 2021)
“A Letter to the Western Left from Kyiv” by Taras Bilous (Dissent, February 22, 2022)
“Time to decamp from cold-war ideas” by Sheri Berman (Social Europe, March 28, 2022)
“Internationalism, Anti-Imperialism, And the Origins of Campism” by Dan La Botz (NewPolitics vol. XVIII no. 4, #72, Winter 2022)
“When My Enemy’s Enemy Is Not My Friend: Campism in Dangerous Times” by John Clarke (Spectre Journal, June 1, 2022)

FOOTNOTES
[1] Lenin formulated his theory of imperialism in 1916 which differentiates the world capitalist economy into the capitalist national centers of European empire and their exploited colonial periphery. In a Marxist anti-imperialist context, French social scientist Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in 1952 as an analog to the Third Estate of the French Revolution. Also jumping off from Leninist anti-imperialism, Mao propounded his Three Worlds Theory by 1974 in which the First World is the developed capitalist nations, the Second World is the socialist nations posing as an international alternative, and the Third World is the orthodox category of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing  nations. Starting in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein charted the differentiation of the present world capitalist economy via the consolidation of nation-states and national economies into the fully developed core region, an undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing exploited periphery, and a semi-peripheral region in between. These tripartite schemas imply a fourth geographic tier, a Fourth World in Maoism and an outer periphery in the case of Wallerstein encompassing the marginal territories and peoples incapable of consolidating viable nation-states and national economies. Fourth World in the First-Second-Third World schema refers to land-based indigenous peoples. I am old and set in my ways so I prefer the term Third World to Global South. Global South and Global North go beyond mere geography to include factors of development, power and wealth. Global South in particular is considered  a more open and value-free alternative to Third World, but it’s also less nuanced and frankly vague.

[2] Plato first used the term tertium quid (triton ti) around 360 bce. In ancient Greek philosophy, it meant something that escapes classification in either of two mutually or more exclusive and theoretically exhaustive categories. What’s left after such a supposedly rigorous, exhaustive division is tertium quid. The third what. The third something. Tertium quid might be residue, sui generis, ambiguous, composite or transcendent depending on one’s philosophical inclinations.

[3] There are a few political movements that focus on “third” as meaning an alternative to two conventional positions. Third Position refers to a number of fascist and neo-fascist political ideologies that claim to “go beyond Left and Right” or “beyond capitalism and communism.” (See White Aryan Resistance and American Front in the US.) Trotskyism long defended the Russian Revolution and the USSR from imperialist aggression while calling it a “degenerated workers’ state” in need of an anti-bureaucratic, anti-Stalinist working-class revolution. This opposition to both capitalism and Stalinism was called third campism or third camp socialism. (See Shachtmanism.) Third Way centrist political promoters in liberal Western nations seek to reconcile left-wing and right-wing policies by advocating various kinds of centrist political syntheses. (Bill Clinton’s presidency was implicitly Third Way.)

The Third Wave was a social experiment by Cubberley High School history teacher Ron Jones who hoped to create an ersatz social movement and demonstrate how Germans could have accepted the actions of Hitler and the Nazi regime during the rise of the Third Reich through the Second World War. The experiment was wildly successful, quickly spiraled out of control, and was subsequently documented or fictionalized in numerous films, TV shows, and books. “Third wave” has been used in a quasi-generational sense in political contexts as in “third-wave feminism.” And “third wave democracy” has been used to describe an international third democratic surge starting with the 1974 Portuguese Carnation Revolution and spreading to Latin America (1980s), Asian Pacific nations (1986-88), Eastern Europe (after 1989), and sub-Saharan Africa (also after 1989). The Arab Spring and various “color revolutions” are considered part of this third wave democracy.

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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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Anxiety: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2022

I’ve always been anxious. Fidgety, agitated, hyper; I was so talkative and disruptive during my early elementary school years my teachers isolated me to my own desk in the back of the class. I still rocked myself to sleep during my adolescence while listening to 50s pop music on AM radio, then early 60s rocknroll on the FM dial; a habit I had to break anticipating dorm life at  UCSC’s Merrill College. My politics turned left anarchist my senior year in high school, and stayed left of the Left ever since. I’ve always gravitated to the action faction of any organization or movement I belonged to, ultimately adopting the 2 June Movement’s mantra: “Words cannot save us! Words don’t break chains! The deed alone makes us free! Destroy what destroys you!”

“Action for action’s sake” became a political panacea, it’s own anodyne, a knee-jerk reflex that superseded critical thinking. It was an easy way for me not to challenge my ultra-gauche political analysis and avoid self-criticism. When in doubt, act. Somewhere in this political process I started self-medicating—first with marijuana, then alcohol—trying but never succeeding in slowing down, blunting that relentless “on edge” sense to my life. I was, and am still dealing with emotional pain, though I’m not quite sure the cause of it. Both my Polish parents survived forced labor camps during the second World War and my father was a falling down alcoholic. There’s a basis in family trauma for my interminable anxieties. Continue reading

American socialism revisited: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2021

Socialism for the rich; capitalism for the poor.

It’s an oft-repeated Leftist cliché that encapsulates an entire socio-political-economic analysis in a single sentence. It was first promulgated by Michael Harrington and frequently repeated by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, and Robert Reich. The gist of this argument is that capitalist corporations receive government largess in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, and favorable legislation while the general population is left to fend for itself. Big business regularly receives favorable treatment and corporate welfare from the government which allows corporations to “privatize profits and socialize losses.” The rest of us are shit-out-of-luck.(1) Continue reading

This is the modern world: “What’s Left?” September 2020

SFMOMA. Photo by Henrik Kam

I’m old.

I’m 68 years old. My dad died of a heart attack at 67 on December 16, 1993, not quite two months after his wife—my mom—died of lung cancer at 64. I look at this two ways. He lived just one month and two days after his 67th birthday. As of today I’ve lived a year plus two months and change longer than he did when he died almost 27 years ago. I’m now 13+ months past my own 67th birthday. So I’m feeling reassured.

I’m also considered old Left by “the kids” these days. That’s despite having developed my politics during the period of the New Left—the time of SDS, the New Communist Movement, a resurgent rank-and-file labor movement, and a revived anarchism. Which is doubly ironic because we in the New Left called the Left of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s—the Stalinist CP-USA and its loyal opposition the Trotskyist SWP—the Old Left. Frankly, I’m darned uncomfortable with and a bit distrustful of the current youthful Left based not on class but on non-class identities embraced by the “new” populist postmodernism. So I’m pissed off that I’m now considered a sad old Leftist anachronism. Continue reading

Reform or revolution, pt. 1: “What’s Left?” June 2020 (MRR #445)

Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

—Rosa Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution

 

I talk a good game.

Popularize and politicize social discontent. Encourage bottom up insurrection. Communize everything.

I’m switching out my usual Marxist jargon for the postmodern lingo the kids these days are into. But you get my drift. Communism now, communism tomorrow, communism forever. 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

Rob Miller, Tau Cross and the spiritualism of fools: “What’s Left?” August 2019 (MRR #435)

Music in the 60s tended to be godawful serious. The folk protest music was self-righteous and the rock and roll was full of itself. I’ve had a decent sense of humor about most things, including music, and thanks to my rather broadminded parents I was introduced early to Spike Jones and Tom Lehrer. When I transitioned to all that hippie music I appreciated the satire of Phil Ochs and The Smothers Brothers and the sarcasm of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and of course Captain Beefheart. And I enjoyed the music of various outliers, the surreal humor of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (“Yeah! Digging General de Gaulle on accordion./Rather wild, General!/Thank you, sir.”) and the playful Americana of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. When I heard that vocalist and guitarist Jim Kweskin had joined the Lyman Family, the LSD cult of banjo and harmonica player Mel Lyman, I was taken aback.

I mean, the 60s counterculture was full of cults centered around charismatic asshole men, from Charles Manson’s Family to the Process Church, Steve Gaskin’s The Farm, and David Berg’s Children of God. The New Left was little better, spawning the likes of Lyndon LaRouche, Donald DeFreeze’s Symbionese Liberation Army, Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, and Marlene Dixon’s Democratic Workers Party, one of the rare political cults lead by a woman. And let’s mention Synanon, the Élan School and Scientology simply in passing. For all the talk about spiritual or political liberation back in the day, the first kneejerk response by people seeking their own liberation was often to join an authoritarian mind-control cult. So no, I wasn’t really surprised that Kweskin was part of the Fort Hill Community in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Mel Lyman had been called the East Coast Charles Manson by Rolling Stone in 1971. I was seriously disappointed however, and I just couldn’t listen to his music anymore.

So I get it. Continue reading

Rightward and downward: “What’s Left?” December 2018, MRR #427

My wife, my friends, everybody I know is pissed that I’m not more pissed off about that horrible, horrible man Donald Trump. That I seem pretty sanguine about the hurricane of political, social, and human destruction Trump and the GOP have wrought in such a short period of time or the damage they will continue to inflict for decades to come through, for instance, the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. So, why am I not more freaked out about Trump?

The answer is that, in my lifetime, I’ve seen this nation’s relatively liberal politics go consistently downhill and rightward to the present. I first became aware of American politics writ large when I was 8 years old, when John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960. My parents had been Democrats and Adlai Stevenson supporters, so my frame of reference started from a liberal “Golden Age,” the “one brief shining moment” that was the myth of JFK and Camelot. But unlike many people who believe the fifty-eight years that followed have witnessed ups and downs, good times and bad, pendulum swings left and right, and are therefore upset, desperate, and obsessed with the rise of Trump, I see those years all of a piece, a steady right wing devolution as we go straight to hell in a handbasket. Continue reading

Political upsurge vs ideological decay: “What’s Left?” August 2018, MRR #423

Metaphors are powerful. Metaphors are poetry disguised as prose. People who use metaphors claim they’re a shortcut to truth and meaning.

Last month I used the biological metaphor of species complex to tease out additional structure and definition of the usual Left/Right political compass. In the process I promised to cover various social contexts in given historical periods that illustrate increased Left/Right political conversions and crossovers but instead managed to drop yet another metaphor by using Mao’s metaphor with politics and war. From the 1960s war on poverty and the 1970s war on drugs to the 21st century wars on terrorism and the truth, the metaphor of war has been much used and abused. Instead, I’ll use another metaphor from Mao to “put politics in command” in coming to terms with political change, conversion, and crossover socially and historically. In the process, I will renege on my previous promise by severely limiting the scope of this inquiry to the rise of and interplay between the New Left and the New Right. Continue reading