By Sean Swain
January 13, 2014
By way of introduction, some background:
CrimethInc explored the topic of fascism in their podcast #11. You can probably check that out by clicking someplace where a friend of mine has a blue line under some words, I suspect.
I responded to that podcast and presented a way to view freedom and the State, anarchism and fascism. Again, you can probably expend a calorie by clicking and checking out my full response, but I’ll give a really quick summary here. Freedom is “the absence of external regulation” (thank you, Ward Churchill), so freedom and external regulation are opposites. Where regulated, you are not free; where free, you are not regulated. Imagine freedom as one point and complete external regulation as another with a line between them, and you’ve got a continuum.
A crude illustration might appear here:
Freedom (absence of external regulation)——————-Absolute external regulation (absence of freedom)
Since the State representes external regulation, only anarchists (who oppose the existence of the State) can stand on the extreme point of Freedom. Since fascists advocate for the total transcendence of the State and a negation of all personal freedom, they occupy the opposite point.
I then managed to pose an argument that will piss off roughly 95% of the world’s population when I said that, since all other hierarchical schemes (from socialists to republicans) on the continuum all have the essential features of fascism to some lesser degree, all of them (except anarchists) are some “light beer” fascist formations.
Yeah. I put a sharpie-marker Hitler mustache on conservatives, liberals, socialists, and everyone in between. I concluded that, to defeat fascism, you must defeat the State…and only anarchists can do that.
In podcast #15, Alanis and Clara gave a fair presentation of my response. Click on the words with the blue line under them and check it out. But, again, for the super-lazy, I’ll summarize their reply to my ideas and then address them.
Alanis suggested that in addition to the continuum that I presented, we have to add another dimension which accounts for “our capacity to act and realize our potential.” This implicates the idea that even if I’m not regulated directly, the oppression of someone else “inhibit(s)…realization of our collective potential.” She also points out that fascists believe their aims and goals can only be achieved at the expense of the “other,” which then implicates racism, sexism, etc., while anarchists employ means that are consistent with self-determination, solidarity, and mutual aid.
Clara then made an important point, I think, that deserves quoting almost in entirety. She said that “characterizing all non-anarchist political ideologies as essentially more or less virulent varieties of fascism [which is really good description of what I did 🙂 ] risks eclipsing some of the specific characteristics of fascism as it has appeared over the past century—not to mention alienating potential allies in anti-fascist struggles. Anarchists can’t defeat fascism alone, but we can used shared opposition to it to introduce others to broader critiques of state power.”
After Alanis suggested that we must judge political theory separate from how it ends up practiced, Clara suggested a somewhat more complex model than my single-axis continuum. If I understand it correctly Clara’s model would have “x” and “y” axes that intersect like the graphs in algebra class, with one continuum representing something akin to my graph, and the intersecting axis representing the continuum between centralization and decentralization.
I’ve summarized those points because I want to address them more in-depth below, and I didn’t bother to recount the points where we all agreed. To recount those would serve no other purpose except to make us all seem brilliant.
And that’s not necessary…everyone knows anarchism and brilliance are correlated.
Besides, disagreement is more interesting. My disagreements follow, and I hope they are interesting.
I note that all of the arguments against my previous response arise fro ma sense that my presentation is somewhat an oversimplification. (Alanis: “…we might try to broaden our notion…by addition another dimension…”; “another key opposition between fascists and anarchists…”; Clara: “…characterizing all non-anarchist political, ideological…risks eclipsing some of the specific characteristics of fascism…”; and “…(there is) another axis we need to consider…”). Alanis and Clara don’t use the term “oversimplification” because their too polite for that, but all of the arguments they made that I intend to address seem to indicate that my single-axis continuum of freedom (“absence of external regulation”) to absolute external regulation (“absence of freedom”) lacks some necessary moving parts and whistles and bells.
From my reading, it seems that there are two principle arguments that originate from this position. The first is, my presentation omits other dimensions that must be considered, and the second—premised somewhat on the first—is that such an oversimplification leads to inaccurate conclusions that are ultimately false.
Clara suggests that rather than referring to my simple one-axis continuum, we need two intersecting axes. One continuum, by her conception, would represent “centralization” and “decentralization,” while the other would be a range between hierarchy and equality.
This model is instructive for analysis certainly, but somewhat redundant, I think, when contrasted to mine. Here, we have a range of centralization and decentralization. Of what?
Well, whatever your answer—power. Centralization of the economy (socialism) is centralization of economic power. Centralization of legal authority (the State) is centralization of political power. Centralization of gumballs is the centralization of the power to blow bubbles.
Power equals regulation. That which exercises power over something else is regulating.
We’re back to my graph. Absence of regulation at one end, absolute regulation at the other. It follows, naturally, I think, that at the fascist end of the spectrum you have a tendency of centralization—concentrating the power to regulate into fewer hands; while at the opposing end, the freedom end, you have the anarchist tendency to diffuse power in the absence of a State, the absence of a regulator.
Returning to Clara’s model, we have the other axis which ranges from “hierarchy” to “equality.” A quick point here before we proceed, but hierarchy and equality are not necessarily opposites; you either have hierarchy or you don’t, but the absence of hierarchy doesn’t automatically imply equality. But even so, let’s contrast this axis with my freedom (“absence of external regulation”) to absolute-regulation axis.
Equality corresponds easily with the idea of no bosses/slaves—an “equality” of power. Inequality always implies someone having the wherewithal to stick it to someone else. I would suggest that this concept, “equality,” can only exist in the absence of an external regulator because, if an external regulator exists, it has an unequal power. So, equality, in an absolute sense, can only correspond to the “freedom” point on my axis. And, on my axis, as you depart from “freedom,” from the absolute position, you get lesser and lesser degrees of equality as well.
Are we starting to appreciate how phantasmorific my graph is?
But, again, whenever we are on the sliding scale, equality to greater inequality, we don’t bump into “hierarchy.” As I mentioned, hierarchy is not the opposite of equality, but is the opposite of the-absence-of-hierarchy. So for that, we’re back to my graph (phantasmorific!) and we note that the position of freedom, absence of regulation, necessarily corresponds to an absence of hierarchy, and the rest of the continuum is a sliding scale of how much hierarchy sucks. Sucks a lot way over there. Sucks significantly less over here.
So, by my analysis, for what it’s worth, I like all the things Clara’s “x” and “y” axes are measuring, but I think they’re unnecessary. By any analysis, we can see the correlation between equality and freedom and decentralization (diffusion) and diversification and variation and the absence of external regulation; where the opposites of all of those great things are concentrated at the other end where Dick Chaney and Darth Vader reside.
Freedom—————————Absolute external regulation
Absence of external regulation—————————(absence of freedom)
All the good stuff on Clara’s graph—————————(and ultimate suck)
Okay. So, let’s move on to an argument Alanis made, that also implies (politely) that I’ve over-simplified. She suggested, “…we might try to broaden our notion of fascism and how it relates to anarchism by adding another dimension to our definition of freedom. In addition to absence of external regulation, we’d add our capacity to act and realize our potential. This is what makes the slogan “No One is Free when Others are Oppressed” concrete; the oppression of others may or may not serve as an external regulation to us individually, but it does inhibit our realization of our collective project” (emphasis added).
As I understand this, Alanis is saying—and I agree—that my own freedom can be diminished by the oppression of another. And before I start drawing distinctions, I first want to point out the essential truth of this, that the existence of oppression anywhere is the existence of oppression everywhere.
Everybody act accordingly. 🙂
However, I think Alanis is mixing apples and oranges. To draw a distinction, we have the question of what freedom is, and we have a separate (but related) question of whether or not your current freedom (or current lack of it) will influence or inhibit my freedom.
So, let me approach it this way. We have my freedom, my “absence of external regulation.” In the current moment, I am free. Every possible choice is available to me. And at the same time, Alanis is unfree. She’s oppressed.
But notice, our definition doesn’t change. Freedom and it’s absence is still understood by the degree of external regulation or its absence.
This is “apples”— the definition.
Now, for “oranges”— if Alanis is oppressed now, will that impact my freedom in the next moment? And the answer, of course, is yes. Alanis being oppressed now will foreclose on some of my options ten seconds from now. So, her absence of freedom will become a force that works as an inhibitor, a regulator of my freedom, by foreclosing upon some of my options. I am not free if I cannot choose what I would otherwise choose, all because Alanis is in chains.
But, again, I would suggest that my model does not need modified. You’ll note, the definition of freedom is “the absence of external regulation,” not “the absence of direct external regulation over me.” For me to be totally free, there must be an absolute absence of external regulation.
Its existence impacts me. That’s why taking down just the State of Ohio just the United States would not be good enough. As Rage Against the Machine said it in Renegades of Funk: “Destroy all nations…”
The absence of external regulation.
That’s also the reason that the cop in his police cruiser represents oppression whether he is arresting me or whether he’s eating a salami sandwich. He’s an external regulator. He’s present.
And that’s why we have to drop the bowling ball through his windshield. It’s not personal. It’s principle. His very existence drags us from our absolute position on my (phantasmorific!) freedom graph.
So, that takes us to the next argument Alanis makes, implying (politely) that my analysis is over-simplified and incomplete:
“Herein lies another key opposition between fascism and anarchist approaches to the world. Fascists believe that realizing the potential of a race or a nation can only come via authority at the expense of the Ohter (the non-citizen or the foreigner, the inferior race or religion, the sexual or cultural deviant, etc.) On the contrary, anarchists believe that we can only realize our full potential via self-determination based in solidarity and mutual aid.”
This analysis is certainly accurate, in that fascist and anarchists have a completely different orientation and method of engagement. But, I would argue, this is a result of the points on the continuum we occupy. Fascists reside on the end of the spectrum where the State is all and the individual is nothing.
So, given this orientation, racism and sexism and homophobia are a natural extension of their total State worship. Absolute regualtion translates into foreclosing on freedom, on choice, and this means homogenization of everything and everyone. A reduction of everyone, restricted to the singular example of so-called Fascist Perfection. Anything deviating from that is wrong, is a violation of the regulations.
I would argue that “absolute external regulation” on my graph would invariably coincide with an all-out war on diversity. It’s a natural consequence of fascism.
As a minor note, to support this, consider that in all of the writings by early fascists, the topic of racial purity never came up. “Everyone-bashing” was not part of the platform. Racial hatred was not a conscious component to the program, but was a natural outgrowth of it. Only later in fascism’s development were the sentiments so popularly shared by all fascists consciously incorporated into the program.
Expressed another way, a kooky belief that the State is all, and absolute external regulation is great, and the individual is nothing, typically appeals to hateful white guys…and they generally agree on killing everyone not just like themselves.
(A general principle: stupid white guys who will embrace one dumb idea will usually embrace another one. 🙂 )
At the same time, it also makes sense, referring back to my freedom-to-absolute-external-regulation continuum, that the folks on the absolute freedom (absence of external control, no State, no compulsion, etc.) end of the spectrum would have a totally different orientation and engagement—one that’s conducive to variation and variety and choice and actualization of the transcendent individual through cooperation and wonderful stuff. Not wanting to wax utopian here, because I’m far from the dreamy utopian, but it seems to me that it’s pretty self-evident: if you create a climate and social setting conducive to certain characteristics, you’ll more likely foster them; if you create an environment that is supportive and stress-free, and geared toward the relative peace and happiness of each individual, you’ll have fewer cranky, hateful people hell-bent on accumulating material shit and killing everybody.
Just an idea.
But I think we can easily extrapolate all of that from my simple two dots and a line. Lots of good things converge on freedom. Lots of bad stuff gets worse as you move further away from it…
And fascism blows chunks.
So now we progress to the second major argument that in over-simplifying (my word) I’ve mischaracterized every non-anarchist as “essentially more or less virulent varieties of fascism” and, in so doing, I risk “eclipsing some of the specific characteristics of fascism…”
Everyone But Anarchists are Essentially Fascists…(And They Suck)
I was going to try to find a nice way to make my point. There isn’t one.
Everyone who does not reject the State and who does not reject “external regulation” occupying that singular extreme point on the continuum—embraces and “essentially more or less virulent variety of fascism.” I don’t like saying that. I don’t like recognizing that. I wish it were different…but it’s not.
Except for the extreme anti-State, anti-external regulation position occupied by anarchists, the entirety of the political spectrum shares all—let me capitalize that: ALL— of the component features of fascism. All of those political philosophies—to include socialism—simply contain ALL of the component features of fascism in lesser quantities.
Something I read just today in Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism, by Michael Schmidt (p. 3-4), speaks to this very subject:
…the vast majority of historical Marxist movements strived for revolutionary dictatorship based upon nationalism and central planning. Every major Marxist regime has been a dictatorship. Every major Marxist party has renounced Marxism for social democracy, acted as an apologist for a dictatorship, or headed a brutal dictatorship itself. Even those mainstream Marxist who critique the horrors of Stalin or Mao defend Lenin and Trotsky’s regime, which included all of the core features of later Marxist regimes — labour camps, a one-party dictatorship, a secret police state, terror against the peasantry, the repression of strikes, independent unions and other leftists, etc. Marxism must be judged by history and the authoritarian Marxist lineage that exists therein: not Marxism as it might* have been, but Marxism as it has been… (emphasis added, except *).
All of those core features — labor camps, a dictatorship, a secret police, terror against the population, repression of strikes and unions and other political theories—aren’t just the core features of later Marxist regimes, but are the core features of fascism. And I’m not trying to specifically pick on socialists here, but my thinking is, socialists are the next position over to the right of the U.S. Anarchists, so if this holds true for them, it certainly holds true for every political position situated even closer to fascism.
One of the writers in John Zerzan’s collection, Against Civilization (name escapes me, but perhaps someone can plug that information in here), [Sean is referring to Zygmunt Bauman’s piece entitled “Modernity and the Holocaust“], argued that Hitler and the Holocaust were not some vast departure from the norms of swivelization (my word). On the contrary, Hitler and his ideology were an extreme exaggeration of swivelization and its norms. It was not an anomaly, a drastic departure, a disjuncture from swivelized society, but was, instead, a perfect representation of it: it was swivelization on steriods. It was more Stalin than Stalin…more Reagan than Reagan…more Obama than Obama…but it was not qualitatively “other than” anything else we experience in the swivelized world.
So, back to Clara’s point, she claims that my position “risks eclipsing some of the specific characteristics of fascism…” And I’m not trying to be confrontational here, but I have to ask: Like what? What “specific characteristics” do we find in fascism that we do not find everywhere else at all times. Racism? Labor camps? A dictatorship? Repression of opposition? Nationalism? Patriotism? Invasion? Colonization? Aspirations of global dominance?
Am I missing something?
Please keep in mind that, as Ward Churchill points out, Hitler didn’t devise his Final Solution all on his own, but was admittedly inspired by what the U.S. had done to Native Americans. And don’t forget that prior to U.S. entry into World War II, then-ambassador to Britain, Joe Kennedy, father of future president John Kennedy, advised FDR to enter the war on the side of Germany. Charles Lindbergh and Walt Disney were honored by the Third Reich, and now Disney’s corporation brings you the evening news that ignores the concentration camps called the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, maintained with your tax dollars.
Okay, that last paragraph kind of felt like a rant so now I’ll cool out on the caffeine, let go of your shirt collar, and take a deep breath. Sorry. But all of that is still true.
So, having said all of that, we now get to what might be the most important point. I’ll first quote Clara:
“…characterizing all non-anarchist political ideologies as essentially more or less virulent varieties of fascism risks eclipsing some of the specific characteristics of fascism as it has appeared over the past century—not to mention alienating potential allies in anti-fascist struggles. Anarchists can’t defeat fascism alone, but we can use shared opposition to it to introduce others to broader critiques of state power” (emphasis added).
This, I find, is one of the most prevalent ideas that anarchists espouse—the idea that socialists and other state leftists are allies of ours against the fascists. Because state leftists are further away down the continuum from fascists, and because they are sometimes positioned just to the right of us, we take that proximity as commonality. We ally ourselves with state leftists in common cause against the fascist menace. And, invariably, every single time, the socialists (aka “fascist-lights”, aka state-worshipers with all the components of fascism but to lesser degrees) stab us in the back at a critical juncture and turn the tides in favor of the fascists, with whom they share a god (the State).
Ask Buenaventura Durruti. Socialists did it in the Spanish Civil War, time and again. Then Stalin made a secret pact with Hitler, the most fascist of fascists, white Jews, gypsies and anarchists filled Nazi concentration camps.
To present an analogy:
Clara: Sean, the zombie apocalypse is upon us! We have to fight the zombies!
Sean: Okay. Who are our allies?
Clara: Those dead, rotting, shambling, drooling people over there who are trying to eat our brains.
See how that sounds? We’re going to oppose the enemy who openly aspires to racism, labor camps, dictatorship, secret police, terror waged against the population, repression, nationalism, patriotism, invasion, colonization, and global dominance? We’re going to team-up with the closet fascists to fight the outted fascists?
I would say, “Let me know how that works out for you”-except we have examples of how that works out….over and over and over and over.
I don’t want to “play nice” with someone who intends to oppress me as soon as we bump off his competition, and do most of the fighting and dying in the process. I know how this sounds, but fuck socialists. They are not anti-fascist and they are not our pals. Never have been….and we’ve got the scars to prove it.
There is no long-term benefit from working socialists, unless you’re excited at the prospect of serving time in the gulag under the next Stalin, in which case you’re already a socialist-so why are you even reading this far? And somehow socialists have us duped into thinking that we don’t have “the numbers” to engage in a purely anarchist resistance using anarchist strategies and tactics without compromising on principle and begging the socialists to de-rail our anti-state efforts.
Clara draws the conclusion that anarchists “can’t defeat fascism alone…”. And I hope that’s not true because we’re the onle ones who truly reject fascism. We’re the only ones resisting it rather than watering it down or implementing it on a slower, sneakier timeline. I’m looking around the poker table and I firmly believe we’re going to have to fight the fascists alone, simply because we’re the only ones not giving them hand-jobs at the table.
So I ask, why do we need “numbers”? Do we need a voting majority in order to hack in and melt down government databases, or to take down cell phone towers, or call in fake bomb threats to major corporations? Do we need even a sizeable minority to jam up shipping and rail and trucking; to follow home government officials from their offices? How many people does it take to find all the homes foreclosed by banks and eliminate profits with a bottle, a rag, some gas, some Styrofoam peanuts, and a book of matches? How many people does it take to pull fire alarms? To forage at Walmart? And there are just small activities that if even one million disgruntled people undertook them, the system would be disrupted. Nothing sensational.
So now consider: in the U.S., a population of 300 millions, nearly 20% are unemployed. We’re talking 60 million people abandoned by the larger system. How many tens of thousands of combat vets are coming home to find they tossed limbs down the rich man’s oil well just to get betrayed? Can’t millions of people be reached on-line almost instantaneously? French students can go out on strike to get one immigrant returned, so why can’t U.S. students go on strike…forever?
Consider also: the Roman Empire collapsed not because the socialists amassed the necessary “numbers” to bring it down; it collapsed because the barbarians, the savages, ran around naked and shit in the bushes.
Swivelization is already collapsing. It just needs a few naked barbarians. A few steaming dumps in the bushes.
Fuck the socialist. Fuck “numbers”.
With just fifty committed anarchists who want to take down the system, we can come up with a plan in less than a day that would be so thoroughly devastating that by this time next year, we’d all be squatting or living in yurts, foraging for food. Money would be good kindling. The o-zone would be looking much healthier.
Nobody would be reading Karl Marx.
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About Sean Swain: http://seanswain.org/about-sean-swain/