Alexander Reid Ross: Against the Fascist Creep (Book Review)

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Alexander Reid Ross
Against the Fascist Creep
AK Press, Chico, Oakland, Edinburgh, Baltimore, 2017
ISBN 978-1-84935-244-4

In the introduction, Alexander Reid Ross, who is a lecturer in geography at Portland State, explains what he means by ‘fascist creep’: it ‘refers to the porous borders between fascism and the radical right, through which fascism is able to “creep” into mainstream discourse. However, the “fascist creep” is also a double-edged term, because it refers more specifically to the crossover space between right and left that engenders fascism in the first place’.

Summing up different theories about fascism, he concludes: ‘fascism is a syncretic form of ultranationalist ideology developed through patriarchal mythopoesis, which seeks the destruction of the modern world and the spiritual alingenesis (“rebirth”) of an organic community led by natural elites through the fusion of technological advancement and cultural tradition’.

In the 390-page book he sets out to document this ‘creep’ from its beginnings to its current manifestations, from classical fascism to third positionism, national bolshevism, and autonomous nationalism. He also makes meaningful distinctions between the ‘radical right’, fringe ‘conservatives’, and neo-fascists or neo-Nazis without obscuring their many overlaps.

One of the difficult things to grasp about fascism is its fundamentally contradictory nature if one is looking at it in terms of a coherent program, philosophy, or ideology. This is something that has not been denied but rather celebrated by different fascist spokesmen, from Benito Mussolini to Armin Mohler, who emphasised that fascism rather than being bothered about its discrepancies in theory was more concerned with ‘style’. Often there is little ‘content’ besides the mainstays of self-aggrandisement of a leader or a (racial or national) collective, and the casting out of ‘foreign’ elements out of the supposedly organic body of the nation.

Fascism and national socialism have been seen by the left as a homogeneous block and were interpreted as a counter-revolutionary weapon that the bourgeoisie would employ in times of crisis against the organisations of the working class. Their ‘socialist’ rhetoric was seen as purely demagogic, their storm troopers simply as foot soldiers of capitalism and not as an independent mass movement.

While many fascist groups have historically been (and continue to be) more than willing to be used as a counter-revolutionary terrorist force, it’s wrong to see them as nothing but stooges of high finance or the secret state. Indeed, as Ross is documenting convincingly (hereby following the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell), classical fascism was from very early on drawing some inspiration from the historic left.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, for example, commonly seen as ‘anarchist’, has been appropriated by some fascists – not just within the fringe-fad of ‘national anarchism’, but at the very cradle of French fascism, the Cercle Proudhon, an important ‘think tank’ founded in 1911.

Some of the most important leaders of French fascism of the inter-war years came from left-wing backgrounds, as did Mussolini. Although this was hardly the case in German fascism, the Nazis indulged in social demagoguery, which in turn caused the Communist Party to adopt a nationalist program in 1930 – a prime example of the ‘fascist creep’.

The NSDAP came to power in Germany in 1933 and managed to consolidate its power in a very short time. The final stage of this consolidation was the so-called Night of the Long Knives, when the faction lead by Hitler murdered numerous potential competitors within the far right, amongst them the leadership of the SA, the ‘socialist’ Nazi leader Gregor Strasser, the former Chancellor von Schleicher and the radical conservative ideologist Edgar Julius Jung. Some of these ‘revolutionary’ nationalists had seen Hitler as a traitor to the ‘socialist’ aspirations of the movement and called for a ‘second revolution’. The Night of the Long Knives is an important date for those neo-fascists who see themselves in the tradition of Strasserism or National Bolshevism.

One can see the time of triumph for classical fascism in the years leading up to the second World War and the initial phase of the war. The defeat of the Axis in 1945 marked the end of the fascist epoch. Fascism had turned into, in the words of Ross, an ‘unmitigated disaster’.

To preserve their ideas in the post war period was a task of some ‘thinkers’ who took fascism into the occult realm. Tested by reality, fascism had failed, and only some die-hard bigots still clung to the idiotic ideas of the inter-war times.
Time for new idiotic ideas!

Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, and Francis Parker Yockey became the new idols of a small group of fascists who imagined themselves to be some sort of elite. Evola preached a ‘super-fascism’, Devi imagined Adolf Hitler to have been an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, Yockey tried to rally the post-war fascists under the program of his ‘Imperium’ and attempted to keep the currents of Oswald Mosley and Otto Strasser together.

The success of these figures was rather mixed, and their reach was limited to extremist sects and nutters. Most old Nazis managed to get off free and unpunished for their crimes by adapting to the Western consensus, many of them staffing the political, judicial, and economic functions in the Federal Republic. More recently, Evola in particular (but to some degree also Devi and Yockey) became fashionable in tiny circles of the neo-folk and martial industrial subcultural scenes.

In the ‘60s, the extreme right found itself in a neo-Nazi cul-de-sac until a new generation appeared attempting to ‘start all over again’ calling themselves the ‘New Right’. Rather than trying to conquer the streets and/or parliament, the ‘New Right’ proposed to work on a project of cultural hegemony, a framework they famously borrowed from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (without any of his content).

The trick of the ‘New Right’ was to present itself as ‘anti-racist’, demanding the right for different cultures to create their different homelands according to different traditions. However this seemingly tolerant attitude only masked the fundamental intolerance of homogeneous communities which essentially prohibit the presence of foreigners, the cross-fertilisation of cultures, and the absence of real individual difference.

Moving things to the present, Ross goes on to lay out the history of the post-war far-right in great detail dedicating a chapter each to the ‘radical right’, the Third Positionists, National Bolshevism, and autonomous nationalism. These developments tend to reclaim the ‘socialist’ and ‘anti-capitalist’ heritage of older forms of fascism, and thus borrow aspects of ideology – and ‘style’ for that matter – usually identified as left-wing ideas or aesthetics.

Other recent forms of the ‘creep’ between right and left can be spotted in the anti-globalisation movements and Occupy as well as in certain forms of anti-imperialism.
The book ends with a description of the current ‘new synthesis’ of the traditional radical right, the ‘alt-right’, and neo-fascism under the header of Trumpism, which has been able to create a contradictory but powerfully broad front spanning from evangelicals, anti-abortionists, pro-gunners, the Tea Party, and large parts of the GOP via Fox News, Breitbart and other media outlets, to men’s rights activists, the ‘alt-right’, the Ku-Klux-Klan, and various forms of neo-fascists.

Generally speaking there is an anti-fascist consensus on the left. But as Ross convincingly shows, this doesn’t protect sections of the left from being susceptible to the ‘fascist creep’. Often this even goes unnoticed. For this reason, this book is recommended reading as it gives a broad overview as well as countless details about the topic, its history, and its current manifestations.

However, a few mistakes did sneak in. When mentioning an ‘Arthur Rosenberg’ as a Nazi ideologist, Ross most certainly means Alfred Rosenberg, the author of Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts, who was later condemned to death and executed as one of the main Nazi war criminals. Arthur Rosenberg was a Marxist politician and historian (p.75).

Also neo-Nazi terrorist Odfried Hepp was certainly not the founder of the German Federal Criminal Police Office, the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) (p. 139). This is a completely absurd assertion, considering that the BKA was founded years before Hepp was even born. Ross’s source is an article in Lobster which merely claims that Hepp was an agent provocateur of the BKA – basing this (probably false) claim on a ‘fascinating but not conclusive article from the German press’. Ouch.

Finally, the German term ‘Querfront’ is not translated correctly. Ross translates it as ‘broad national front’, but this is incorrect. Querfront specifically means the collaboration of elements of the far right and elements of the far left, an overlapping of the fringes – exactly ‘the crossover space between right and left that engenders fascism in the first place’ which Ross writes about in his introduction.

Such rare inaccuracies and the occasional barrage of names and connections aside, the book is rich in useful data and background information about the various entry points of the ‘fascist creep’. It is important to note that fascist ideas don’t enter the left via a ‘meeting of the extremes’ (as the proponents of a ‘totalitarianism theory’ would claim), but rather via many different ideological and cultural connections. One such connection that is present but underexposed in the book is the phenomena of the left-wing anti-Semitism and knee-jerk anti-Imperialism, which lead to supposedly left-wing groups – who often have a self-understanding as ‘anti-fascist’ – adopting positions that are completely compatible with neo-fascist political views. One example is the demented view that the tiny state of Israel actually controls governmental policies of the US via an all-powerful Jewish lobby. This is nothing more than a different formulation of the paranoid neo-Nazi fantasy of a ‘Zionist Occupation Government’. Likewise, support for Assad or Iran seems to be equally shared by certain groups of both spectrums, just as in previous decades both neo-fascists and far left anti-imperialists trained for armed struggle in camps of the same Palestinian guerrilla organisations.

Against the Fascist Creep provides ample material that needs to be urgently discussed. In the current climate of rightward-lurching political discourses and the (sub-)cultural acceptance of reactionary views, we need a clear understanding of the possible overlaps of supposedly left ideas with those of the different shades of the far-right. However, anti-fascism alone cannot substitute for a thorough understanding of capitalism, which produces exactly these unstable ideologies that cross-fertilise each other. For this we have to turn to a proper critique of political economy.

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