Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

19 January 2011

Fascism Now?

As I read Klaus Theweleit's two-volume opus Male Fantasies, I came across two sequences that reminded me of today's politics in the United States. The word fascism makes me a little uncomfortable when transferred into our current idiom, but I just couldn't help but think of the USAmerican political climate while reading these words:

From Vol. 1:
it is on the basis of a distinction made unconsciously, an opting for a stream or dam (and not on the basis of any analysis of interests of class membership!), that the fascist sees anyone different from himself as a "communist." "Girl! Raging storms at sea! Hurricane!"—this is enough. [The fascist thinks:] Only a cultural Bolshevist could have written these words. To the fascist unconscious, the distinctions it makes appear accurate—a fact that Left consciousness refuses to perceive. The argument that a social democrat is not a communist, a communist not an anarchist, and that none of these categories has anything to do with Jews, has never had much effect. The fascist unconscious perceives an essential sameness in all of the categories (and in the many others that made the spectrum of concentration-camp prisoners so diverse that Rudolf Höss tried to classify them like so much exotic fauna.)

More than anything I see this as a warning to the Left that distinctions between different factions on the Left mean nothing to those on the extreme Right, and that clinging to definitions and distinctions as though they will exempt one or the other of the factions on the Left from annihilation by those on the Right is simply foolish. So, too, does this remind me that it is the task of those who consider themselves on the Left to identify with others of those on the Left. In other words, I am a person of color, I am an oppressed religious minority, I am a transgendered person in need of medical care, I am an undocumented worker, I am a lesbian who wishes to serve openly in the military, I am an Iraqi civilian, I am homeless. If I cannot imagine these and more identifications, I am capitulating to nonsense because those on the far Right already see me as identical with those marginalized bodies. The word liberal itself is meant to marginalize in just this way.

From Vol. 2 of Theweleit:
No matter how the fascist leadership is portrayed: as racketeers (in Brecht's Arturo Ui); as stand-up comics (Chaplin, in The Great Dictator) [...] every one of these denies the nature of fascism as a popular movement (albeit not a movement of the people in its entirety).
In the early Freikorps period, the fascists were known only as work-shy "soup troops"; they were dubbed "bloodhounds" only when witnessed in action. An initial attitude of mocking arrogance (fascism as stuff-and-nonsense) then gave way to accusatory fury. Such was the development we traced in the German Communist Party's (KPD) attitude toward the Freikorps; and it was later precisely mirrored by their response to NSDAP victory: by their ill-judged "conviction" that the Nazis, incompetent as they were, would either throw in the towel after a few months in government or would be perfunctorily dismissed by a newly enlightened people. The party responded to defeat by adopting the posture of victimized innocent [...]; it limited its resistance to a few ineffectual insults imputing to the fascists a lack of aptitude for government.

Theweleit was writing in 1978.

To continue to mock those on the far Right who many (on the Left) perceive as ignorant or stupid or incapable of effective governance is to ignore a) those persons' very real popularity and b) the very real damage those persons could do if and when they achieve the power they seek. To refuse to engage these apparently ignorant or ineffectual voices and to, instead, mock them or remain bemused by them is to have already granted them power. This is the history Theweleit charts in the 1920s in Germany.