(Previously published in El Salto. Translated by Fabricants de Futur & Mark Burton, and reviewed by Manuel Casal-Lodeiro.)
Fascism is a term which is used to refer to a number of related phenomena, so in order to maintain that “fascism has come back to stay” it is first necessary to explain what we are referring to when we use the term. Fascism of the first half of the 20th Century was a nationalist mass movement, organized against the workers’ movements and foreign people, but also against liberalism and intellectualism. It had a strong authoritarian character, articulating its ideas around a messianic leadership. It expressed itself through reactionary values (traditionalism, nationalism, racism, sexism), violent practices and the identification between politics and spectacle. It encouraged a strong release of emotions (victimism, fear, feelings of belonging).
Its strategy consisted of taking over the State, which it particularly managed to achieve in areas where the State was most discredited. Fascism was not anti-capitalist, as it demonstrated when it took power, forging alliances with big capital, which found it useful in keeping the workers’ movement at bay. It really amounted to the reinvention of capitalism via the abandonment of liberalism. And so, although it wrapped itself in an ideology that idolosed environmental purity in harmony with ethnic purity, it turned out to be developmentalist in its way of operating.
On the one hand, the middle classes served as the driving force of fascism, as they tried to control the rise of the lower classes. On the other hand there were the capitalists, who knew it was their only option for safeguarding the growth of capital. There were also socially excluded sectors which attached themselves to it. Fascism appeared and grew in a context of material shortages and existential anxiety, with the common idea that there were not enough resources for everyone and that it was not possible to respond to problems through solidarity. It was therefore seen as logical that the socially superior group should be placed above everyone else.
This is this social movement which we are referring to when we talk about fascism and not any other type of authoritarianism or genocide politics. In the second half of the 20th C, fascism became a marginal, or even residual political force. However, since the beginning of the 21st C this has been steadily changing.
The conditions which give rise to the neofascism of the 21st Century
Emilio Santiago Muiño correctly asserts that “the revolt by the yellow vests in France is only the trailer for the ecosocial crisis which is going to change everything in the coming decades”. We can also add that it is a protofascist movement, although it does not necessarily have to evolve into a fascist movement. It is, because the foundations which are supporting the movement are the same as those sustaining the fascisms of the 21st C.
We are now living through the beginning of the collapse of industrial civilization. This is a provocative but justified claim. Some of the factors which are causing this collapse are the inevitable restriction of access to materials and energy, and climate change.
Some of the consequences are a reduced capacity to satisfy social needs by a market which will continue to decompose (at least in its globalised aspect), and a State which will be unable to sustain public services in the same way as they were established during the 20th C. All of these factors will allow European fascism to turn into a political reality to be kept a bay, but which is, inevitably, going to exist.
In this context of collapse, fascism is being backed by substantial numbers of the remaining middle classes who try in this way to preserve their privileges. These subjects are characterised by individualism, submission to authority, aggression, pessimism regarding human nature, simplistic solutions for complex problems and fear. However, it is also instilled from the elites, because as the systemic collapse progresses it becomes their best option to preserve their position.
However, this is a very rough sketch, and it is necessary to set out what specific factors are fueling this fascism in order to explain why it is flourishing and to set out ways in which to slow it down. We can identify eight factors.
Dissatisfaction arises from the population becoming more desperate due to being aware that their needs are not being met. This is something which will spread with the continuing decay of social services and the market, and while the population remains chained to a salaried job and the market in order to satisfy their needs. This allows violence and a submissive disposition to combine as a response to frustration, impotence and fear.
We should not think only about necessity for survival, but also other factors like security and identity. In this manner, fascism possesses a strong collective identity which gives many people meaning to their lives in times of crumbling of the old order, and also contemporary vacuity.
As a result, fascism rises because it is able to satisfy, at least partially, the needs of its social base (in many cases at the expense of groups which are designated as scapegoats). So, during its rise it plays an important role in the creation of popular bandwagons, of gangs to guarantee security or tight-knit communities which serve as an emotional refuge and which satisfy the needs of identity.
On the other hand, a basic need like freedom may be sacrificed by significant parts of the population in order to maintain the apparent illusion of an increase in security.
Although fascism is not an individualistic movement, creating instead a powerful collective identity, it is part of individualism, with populations who tend to opt for “me first”. One essential part of fascism is its inability to empathise with the human collective, and which gives rise to solutions of the “My Country First” type.
Societies which have great inequality will be more prone to fascism, too. In a context in which the means of current social control will become ever more unviable (a society of the image, consumerism, school, factory, negotiation with the social agents), the elite will increasingly resort to inciting fear and hatred, and to repression in order to maintain the current social order.
This inequality is structural, being something which is essential for capitalism to operate and, at the same time, is a consequence of its development. It is also a consequence of the life styles and of the infrastructures it has built. For example, the poor populations who live in the outskirts depend more on having a car than the rich people. And the use of a car is going to become more and more unviable as the scarcity of hydrocarbons increases. Now you can appreciate the warning signs within the character of the French yellow vests.
4. Fear of the other
It becomes much easier to justify repression in situations where the seeds of fear of the other/others have been already sewn. It helps unite the social majority and makes the ethnic persecution, typical of fascism, easy. We can say that multicultural societies but not inter-cultural societies are another growth factor of fascism. El Ejido [Translators’ note: Spain’s most far right town, where there have been cases of serious racist attacks] could be a paradigmatic example.
5. Social disorientation
The disorientated masses who do not understand what is happening are more easily manipulated with demagogic discourses which orientate their anger and frustration towards the weakest population. In the most central areas, the most well educated generation in history is not in any way prepared for what is happening.
Moreover, there is almost no conception of physical limits and survival and the protection of the environment are conceived as incompatible. This is a grave error in these Capitalocene times (a term which I feel is more accurate than the Anthropocene).
As we now think about the causes of social disorientation, we might evaluate the responsibility for stopping fascism of the majority of the so-called left. In their arguments, and above all in their practices, they are avoiding the environmental limits which areabsolutely indispensable in the world today.
The disorientation gets bigger when, for example, there are calls for growth or promises of a reconstruction of the Welfare State, which is simply impossible in the 21st C. In contrast, within fascist demagogy there are messages which express what is happening very clearly. The usual fascist slogan “There is not enough room here for everyone” hides an eco-social truth: as long as we insist in mantaining a high-life, this reduces the room for anyone else.
6. Colonial past
These fascist directions will grow more easily in States with a greater colonial history, the ones in which the majority of the population have spent generations enjoying a high level of consumption. And so, in rich Europe (the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Holland) the fascist parties are stronger than in the poor Europe (Portugal, Spain, Greece), although there are glaring exceptions (Hungary).
7. Weak democracies and authoritarian governments
Fascisms will also develop favourably in less established democracies, discredited States and of course, those that are already authoritarian. Do not forget, however, that European history demonstrates how the change from parliamentary democracy to fascist dictatorship can be very rapid.
8. Control of women
It is only through a renewed control over the female body that it is possible to keep up with the tasks of caring and, at the same time, try to maintain corporate benefits. This is reinforcing women’s lot of carrying out for free the labours of social reproduction, and at the same time, the worst paid, and most precarious, paid jobs. In a really profound way, the relationships of power on the macro scale must be reproduced at the micro level as well, and their principal mode of expression is patriarchy.
Some ideas for standing up to fascism
Fascism in the 20th C was defeated by a combination of three factors: a strong workers’ movement, its military defeat (especially in the 2nd World War) and the start of a period of growth unlike any other in history, which allowed a society of consumption to be set up and also the Welfare State. This was fueled by the start of the massive use of oil as a source of basic energy. In Spain, where fascism won the Civil War, its defeat as a movement took longer (this does not mean to say that its elite gave up their powers).
Nevertheless, this society of well-being has gone and will not come back again. It is using up the material base which sustained it: huge quantities of materials and energy, and huge drains on the planet which continue relatively unaltered. Moreover, there is no time for making any Just Transitions. That window of opportunity closed 30 or 40 years ago. The transitions are already happening in an environment of great inequalities, individualistic and colonial societies, and a lack of autonomy. All of which are determining factors impossible to stop now.
And therefore, the social setup in the 21st C is not of the 1% against the 99% (as if this equation has ever been correct), but rather the 1% + 20% fascist (just to put a figure) against the 79% who are left. The societies will be (and are already very polarized and in them the dialogue with the fascistic strata will, as happened in the 20th C, be almost fanciful. This brings with it a couple of important implications.
The first being that the social masses will have to defend themselves, not only from the elite, but in part, from themselves. Open or hidden civil wars are on the menu. Facing up to these situations through the search for the construction of just, collaborative, democratic and sustainable societies can not be done through violence.
The landscape which remained in the victorious Eastern Europe of the 2nd World War turned out to be bleak. That of Western Europe, apart from being unrepeatable, was no better if we understand how it sustained itself through the exploitation of the greater part of the globe. Violence has never opened up the way for human liberation, and as Sabino Ormazabal says: “It brings nothing more than suffering and insensitivity in the face of the pain of others. It imposes the friend-enemy dialectic, it dehumanises the political adversary, it ends up militarising rebellion, closes doors, destroys bridges which have to be re-built, throws plans off course, determines the practice of the dissident collectives, makes it easy for State violence to occur, obstructs social participation and brings about the immobility of the majority”.
However, in reality there is no such thing as two pure cultures, the violent and the non-violent. There are varying degrees according to each person, the context and the times. And so, in the transition towards a non-violent world from the situation we are in now, one option is to keep reducing the use of violence, even though it might have to be used because it is the common language. Violence will be responded to with decreasing levels of violence. Defending yourself is not the same as attacking, for example.
The way that the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) acted fits in very well with this type of action and could continue to be used as a model. Moreover, in the face of aggression you can flee, ask for help or resist peacefully. Another option is to change the boundaries of the game. For example, carry out your activities in a different part of the field or move the conflict onto a different plane.
A second implication of the equation 1% + 20% fascist versus 79% is the importance of creating broad fronts within this 79% for slowing down fascism. The hegemony of fascism will be determined according to whether this 79% forms an antifascist bloc or if a substantial part of them ends up acting the fascist. Building these fronts is complicated because, in reality, this 79% is extremely heterogeneous. In fact, within it you can find some of the agents which have set down the foundations for the rise of fascism. The most significant example is social democracy represented by the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party – broadly equivalent to the British Labour Party] (but which is much much more than the PSOE).
It has been a key factor in the increase of social inequalities, of individualism, of the loss of social autonomy, of the discrediting of the parliamentary system and social disorientation. But, at the same time, social democracy is going to be found in the 79% bloc. Can we weave these alliances together without encouraging the roots of fascism at the same time? And even if the reply to this question is ‘no’, is it still worth doing in order to slow it down? I believe that it is, as one of the characteristics of collapse is that the situations where we must choose the lesser of two evils become more frequent. What form these alliances may take is another thing.
In the articulation of the 79% it will be very important to create alternatives which allow the population to satisfy their needs, and in this way avoiding the emotions which can make fascism grow (fear, desperation, frustration). These alternatives should encourage autonomy by the people in the face of the State, and above all, in the face of the market and to be resilient in the context of the collapse. Of course, for them to be viable, it is vital to stop environmental degradation.
Although these alternatives are an essential requirement for slowing down fascism and at the same time, building just, democratic, collaborative and sustainable societies, a profound sharing out of the wealth will also be necessary. In a context of strong inequalities and the decline of available resources, only a radical redistribution will allow the avoidance of high degrees of social suffering which in turn spark desperate measures, such as fascism, among the poorest populations. This sharing out can only be achieved with tough measures and with open confrontation with the elite. There is no other way. One example might be a universal basic income of equals, where resources are obtained through very high taxes on the rich and through expropriation.
Setting out holistic discourses that allow us to understand the basic elements of our times, will also play an important part. We need to understand and demonstrate the interrelation between economic, social, political and environmental crises, and also the irreversible bankruptcy of the industrial metabolism and the opportunities that this will offer for the articulation of emancipated societies.
They are opportunities, because the collapse of global capitalism could produce social orders which are much more desirable. Projecting hopefulness for the future, the bounty of our collective work, is vital for avoiding a self-fulfilling prophecy: that which affirms that fascism in the only thing that lies beyond global capitalism. No social movement has been able to triumph without projecting the hope that they would be able to achieve it.
Promoting a widespread empathy (with people nearby and far afield, and with all other living creatures) within the fascist sector is going to be very difficult. However it can be achieved within the 79%. For this to take place, it will be necessary to articulate formal educative models, non formal models, and informal models, which seek to connect with the suffering of others.
One final idea for strengthening the anti-fascist bloc is the need to find meaning for our lives; a meaning which may pass through collective realisation, which might have an eco-centric view. On a historic level, spiritualities have occupied a determinant role in this and they can do so once more.
And to finish, let’s imagine the darkest vision: the political and social triumph of fascism. There does not exist any example in history in which those regimes have been able to continue for more than a few decades, and that is a very short time at a historic level. The need for freedom is one of the basic human needs, equally important and motivating as that of survival, security or identity, as Manfred Max-Neef argued.
Moreover, fascism will not be capable of guaranteeing security, as it rests upon inequality and we have yet to see if it can guarantee survival. So, sooner or later, social movements will burst forth to put and end to fascism. Let’s work so that it may be sooner.
We recommend further investigation around this article with some additional texts:
- “La democracia y la decadencia de Occidente” [Democracy and decadence of the West]
- “¿Decrecimiento organizado o ecofascismo? Una partida de ajedrez” [Organised de-growth or eco-fascism? A game of chess]
- “Fascistización, neofeudalismo, ecoautoritarismo…” [Fascistization, neofeudalism, eco-authoritarianism…]
- “Ecofascismo: el clavo ardiendo del capitalismo” [Ecofascism: the last straw of capitalism]
- “Ecofascismo” [Ecofascism]
- Carl Amery: Auschwitz, ¿comienza el siglo XXI? Hitler como precursor [Auschwitz, the start of the 21st Century? Hitler as a precursor].