(Swans - September 20, 2010) Noam Chomsky recently compared the current US social atmosphere to proto-fascist Weimar Germany. Among other routes, this leads to the question: what is fascism?
Formulaic definitions are useless here. But they are perhaps all we have.
The historical truth of the matter is that the fascism, or latent fascist tendencies, of today and tomorrow will have mutated in significant ways from their previous manifestations. Yet some abominable essence will be maintained. Only thus does some future event or present process deserve the continued name fascism. Absent some kind of deep structural continuity, or essence, the entire problematic of fascism becomes unintelligible.
(Essences, in other words, are not irredeemably idealistic or false, as some, mainly postcolonial, theorists maintain. Even if they were, we could not do without them in the conflicted anguish of our material world. Unless I have already misconstrued the problem of essences.)
The essence of fascism then. Erasing all of what I have written above, and even I cringe when I dare this, I'll wager that the essence of 20th century fascism was its irreducible historical singularity. An historically particular petite-bourgeoisie swerved from its broad alliance with a particular array of working-class movements towards a particular constellation of embattled haute-bourgeoisie interests. No one knows as to whether this will ever come again. In an empirical sense, it of course can't. But in a structural sense, it can.
This leads us back to Chomsky and the question of actually, concretely determining the current class structures of US society. Something that is now far beyond me.
Class is of course problematic for many in the postmodern world. This perhaps partially because of its use as the heavy artillery in an all-out, and well-justified war against "identity politics." The only problem with the aftermath of this critical sequence is that we have forgotten that class (for) itself is itself an identity. It is at least mediated by identitarian representations, by the means of communication, as it were. Who then owns the means of communication owns the class image we form of ourselves. Except that many become utter and total iconoclasts, rejecting every image of our spectacularized society -- generally leading them to the far-right end of nihilism. For even class is a nascent identity, or an image, as I have just argued above.
What is fascism? It is what we make of it. Inasmuch as we must learn from its history we must also respect its inconstruable future, if a future it even has. Or, perhaps history does repeat itself -- first as tragedy, then as farce. Perhaps Chomsky's projected renaissance of fascism in the U.S. will prove only a comic interlude before greater, more liberatory things. The Tea Partiers are at least very laughable to me, for one.
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About the Author
Maxwell Clark is, rather paradoxically, a writer living in New Haven, CT. He has been published in the Socialist Worker (U.S.), the Socialist Review (U.K.), and the decomP literary magazine. (back)