As much as I love Umberto Eco, if I see his 13 Ways of Looking at a Black-Shirt essay on twitter again, I am going to get a baseball bat and figure out how to use it through social media.
It’s time for a talk. I am too old to on the dirt-bag Brooklyn left, too Southern for that too. I am too young to be some Boomer nostalgia head who beats off to the pictures of naked women protesting the Nixon election or Black Panthers lining the streets with AK-47s and copies of Chairman Mao’s book. Or to be remotely convinced by Badiou’s recounts of Mai’ 68.
I said Occupy was going to be a failure a month in, and how it failed would be important. It failed in the worse way: Like 68’ers pretending that François Mitterrand would stop liberalization of the economy or stand-up to DeGaulist tendencies within the state. Kind of way, progressives speak about their involvement with the Bernie Sander’s campaign as Tulsi Gabbard talks about possible positions in Trump’s cabinet.
First, let’s deal with Eco. I am an Eco partisan and I don’t think his thoughts on Ur-fascism are without points, but he is myth-making. Interesting the semiotician most responsible for calling out our secular myths in the last thirty years ends up doing it himself. What right-wing movement doesn’t meet Eco’s criterion? Nebulous notions of the past? Selective populism? Selective modernism?
I saw the same essay applied to Neoconservatives in the Bush 43 years. When I was twenty, I even though there may be some truth to it when I was involving in the anti-war movement in Georgia. At the time, I was also reading the American Conservative and following the beginnings of a young Ew England rightist, Richard Spencer.
Lately, I see even NPR giving Richard Spencer press. I am going to admit to something: I have had a correspondence with him. I have known what Alterative Right, National Policy Institute, and Radix was doing, and even pointed people to their use of Marcuse and Adorno in their theoretical work. I pointed out that Spencer was part of getting both Alexander Dugan, the Russian Fourth Positionist, and Alain DeBenoist, the French New Rightist, into marginal counters of American political thought. He has even hoped that the Alt-Light of Steve Bannon and the anti-SJW rhetoric would propel his message to larger and larger audiences.
Liberals, in your myths, you have been more than happy to be do so. You have been kicking a gas can fire into a dry field in an attempt to scare people into voting for voting for DNC and a liberal status quo? Has it not occurred to you that your exposes may be spreading the very thing you think you are fighting?
Sure, Fascists reject modernism and have Heideggerian critiques of technology, but they also use that media better than most of their opponents. Sure, Trump and Bannon flirt with fascist like ideas, but they aren’t clearly fascists. Fascists tend to be scorned ex-leftists who cynically use Populists. Don’t believe me? Really study Italy. Study the SPD involvement with the Freikorp. Study how Chancellor Ebert, a centrist Social Democrat, aided and abetted the very militias that would form the core of both the SS and the SA. Learn how Oswald Mosley was a staunch advocate of Keynesianism. Just because Jonah Goldberg wrote a stupid book about it called Liberal Fascism equating liberalism, the left, and fascism together (and ignoring the conservative parts of the fascist coalition), does mean it was all false as scholars of Fascism like Ze’ev Sternhell have pointed out.
So your reaction is to say that Trump, since he is supported by NPI and even gives token cabinet heads to people they like–such as Jeff Sessions–must be the same as NPI will have about as much effect as when The Federalists pointed out that the CPUSA endorsed Barack Obama. If you don’t drink the kool-aid, it doesn’t work.
So if not Hitler is it better to attack Trump for being Berlesconi?
Writing for Jacobin, a magazine I have mocked in the past, Cinzia Arruzza makes some key points tangentially related to the above. Trump’s clear analogy to Berlesconi is actually weaker than it seems:
Trump and Berlusconi are both men who came to power from business rather than politics, and both have presented their inexperience with the political establishment as a mark of purity. They have both insisted on their entrepreneurial success as the most evident proof of their qualification to rule the country. Like Plato’s tyrant, they both exhibit an ethos based on a dream of continuous and unlimited jouissance and an aggressive and hubristic eros (though Berlusconi prefers to think of himself as an irresistible seducer rather than a rapist).
They both indulge in gross misogynistic and racist jokes and have reshaped public language by legitimizing insult and political incorrectness as acceptable forms of political communication and by embodying an exhilarating return of the repressed. They both revel in kitschy aesthetics and don the orange hue of artificial tanning. And they both allied with the far right in order to advance a political project of authoritarian neoliberalism and unbridled capitalism.
Yet as Arruza notes, these similarities are superficial:
Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.
These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience.
The idea that you fight all rightwing populists the same way is belied by not knowing the conditions are different for different kinds of populism. Saying one is fighting fascism by pointing out how scary Trump fans are spreads a fascist message to those who don’t yet believe it, but are primed to by alienation. Saying that you are fighting a media mogul with no real substantive politics who rules with a coalition isn’t going to work with Trump either.
Arruza does point out the problems of anti-Trumpism that anti-Berlesconism could teach us:
Mainstream Italian anti-Berlusconism has always suffered from a grave form of selective amnesia. The effects of six years of harsh austerity policies and virtually no significant social opposition have never been taken into consideration as a decisive causal factor in the consolidation of Berlusconi’s power. Nor has mainstream anti-Berlusconism ever shown any willingness to admit the substantial continuity between Berlusconi’s second government’s austerity policies and those of the center-left.
Berlusconi’s attack on labor rights was, for example, just an effort to expand the casualization of work introduced by the center-left (a goal realized years later by the center-left Renzi government through the Jobs Act). His privatizations of public services were primed by the center-left’s embrace of the notion that “private” is better.
The center-right’s immigration law, which criminalizes illegal immigration, is nothing but an amendment of the previous center-left law. Italian participation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was made politically possible by the first violation of Article 11 of the Italian constitution — which prevents Italy from participating in wars of aggression — carried out by D’Alema to allow Italian forces to contribute to the bombing of Serbia.
Most of the things Trump will use as executive power were began under Reagan, expanded exponentially under Clinton, expanded under Bush, and even MORE expanded under Obama. So the Democratic left is going to have a hard time doing anything against it because it can’t own up to its own role in this. Instead, it spreads the ideas of the far right supporters of its enemy and hides the fact that it doesn’t have any ideas of its own to counter with. Keynesian stimulus and infrastructure? Well, Trump is going to try to do that, and when it fails, he will have a GOP congress to blame. Clinton didn’t even make that promise and Sanders would have been in the same situation but with a coalition of DNC Democrats opposing him as well.
Arruza also said something that I have been pointing out in this series on her personal facebook feed:
An element of useful knowledge is coming from Trump’s election: the neo-Nazi and white supremacist right has kept grass-root organizing and coordinating over the course of the years, while the ‘left’… well was busy discussing whether yoga classes and pumpkin spice latte are instances of cultural appropriation or safety pins are instances of white paternalism and guilt, and bashing any attempt at class analysis as economic reductionism and any attempt at having strategic discussions, and developing a politics of solidarity and universalistic demands as Western imperialism. It’s time to wake up from this sleep of reason, before their clubs meet our heads.
Trump may not be fascism, but keep it up, and see what comes next. You may even be in a country where you have no say in government and win the popular election year after year The funny thing is most of it will be from free press from anti-Trumpists and people who see opportunistically see the Trump admin as way to further some stimulus and alliances to demographics like the Friends of BJP.