Alexander Reid Ross, “Against the Fascist Creep” (2017) – It took a weirdly long time for me to get around to this book, as I have read many (and lousier) examples of writing on our contemporary fascists… I think part of my brain slotted it as “anti-fascism,” which obviously I support but about which I don’t feel the need to go out and keep up with the literature. Memetic association with AK Press, I suppose.
Like most of our books about recent fascism, “Against the Fascist Creep” serves as something of a primer, and also advances a thesis on what should be done. Ross, an anarchist writer, also makes some provocative statements about fascism as a whole, dipping a toe into the perennial intellectual wrangling around defining fascism. Most of the latter turns on the “fascist creep” of the title- not gross haircuts with unwholesome habits saying repugnant things to trigger the libs (though it’s presumably a happy accident), but fascist entryism into and poaching from the left. This is both an interesting subject and an invitation to some fancy footwork around definitions of “fascist,” “radical right,” “populist” (and “left” for that matter) that Ross doesn’t quite carry off- some of his definitional portions get confused and this confusion finds its way to spots throughout the analysis, where you’re not sure whether he’s talking about fascists or mere “radical right-wingers” and what either might mean. This gets especially confused around Ross’s analysis of ideologies like anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism, frequent sites both of entryism and genuine sympathy to fascist ideas from people like von Mises and Rothbard, but that don’t quite fit the categories Ross lays out…
But for the most part, it’s an interesting and informative analysis. Anarchists have, by and large, borne the brunt of fascist attempts to enter the left, from infiltration of the punk scene to “National-Anarchists” trying to get tables at their book fairs. The snob in me wants to say this might have something to do with their lack of theoretical sophistication… but the trying-to-be-better-comrade in me also has to say that it probably has something to do with the ways in which anarchists emphasize going along the grain of people’s lived experience, and that many of them have been alert to these things more consistently than, say, democratic socialists have always been.
Inter-left inside baseball aside, the space of fascist entryism is an interesting one. I go with the Robin definition of left and right- the right is about bolstering (or reinscribing) hierarchy, the left is about distributing power downward and horizontally (liberalism is about rules- I say that in jest, but only partially). But, naturally, not everyone goes with the program. Horseshoe theory is mostly nonsense, but there is a point where people on both sides of the spectrum meet up- undertheorized anti-system sentiment. AFAICT, this is what Ross means when he distinguishes “fascism” from “the radical right”- fascism has an anti-system bias, or anyway rhetoric. This is far too much of a thin reed — most fascists usually wind up liking capitalism, the police, the army et al just fine — for me to place much emphasis on. But it is useful as a heuristic to see who on the far right could try to play entryism with the left. “Radical rightists” like the John Birch Society or the Minutemen would find it tough, given their attachment to both the structures AND the symbols of traditional power. But those who can eschew the symbols — skinheads, “national anarchists,” right-counterculturalists, “national bolsheviks” et al — can make a better try, especially when people’s guards are down. Ross does a good job encapsulating many of these efforts- his narratives are clear, interesting, well-written.
I’m not going to recap them here (just read the book if you want that- there’s so many weird little groups and fashy randos running around). There is a degree to which I was right about my initial impression- in certain respects, the thesis (if not all of the content) is about the left — how it needs to be careful about fascist entryism and vigilant in antifascism — than about the right. I want to illuminate a few interesting points about the stories Ross tells-
First, the dynamic wherein fascists after the end of the war flocked to the proverbial last men standing- who tended to be outsiders and space-takers when the fascist regimes were still in good shape. So you wind up with people flocking around fascist occultist woo-slinger Julius Evola, who Mussolini would barely give the time of day to, and the few remaining Strasserites (Nazis who were a little more mad about bankers than the dominant Hitler wing of the party) or “conservative revolutionaries” in Germany, never-wases like Oswald Mosely, or National-Bolshevism, a small but surprisingly hardy and insidious germ of fascist entryism.
Call it an example of the “cunning of history,” or natural (read- the Russians killed and/or the CIA stashed away everyone more important) selection, but this, in certain ways, helped them in a left-entryist strategy more than if more competent, central fascists had survived. Strasserites and Nat-Bols can pretend to be leftists, if you don’t look too close. Followers of Evola and other cultural fascists can even more more easily infiltrate the arts and various subcultures. Their very marginality under actual existing fascism provides an alibi- they weren’t really fascists, the arguments go, because Hitler/Mussolini/whoever didn’t take them seriously and sometimes vice-versa. Of course, that argument doesn’t hold water — Strasser was also a vicious antisemite, Evola if anything wanted a crueler state than Mussolini wanted, etc etc — but that requires research and argument, and entryists look for spaces where people won’t bother with that… like countercultures, spaces where people go more by feel — the feel of rebellion, of authenticity, whatever — than by thought.
Second, even taking into account Ross’s desire to warn and energize his readership, it really is notable, when you read about them one after another, how widely fascist entryism has extended its tendrils. Not always effectively, mind- I’d say it goes wide, but not notably deep. But especially in the period between the downfall of the global oppositional, anti-capitalist left in the late 1970s and, basically, the alarms that white behavior in the wake of the Obama election in the US began to ring, people really seemed to have their guards down about who fascists are, what they do, and why they should be driven out of anywhere they take a hold. When people lose the ability to name the structures of power — which, then and now, means capitalism and what comes with it — that opens the door to all kinds of silliness, which can turn insidious where it isn’t simply useless.
Anti-system — as opposed to anti-hierarchical-structures (like capitalism and racism) — thinking took hold hard in this time, and a lot of people who should have known better flirted heavily with what amounted to red-brown politics, though it seldom called itself by that name. People knew what Gavin McInnes was, or what Jim Goad was, or what Death In June was singing about, or what the post-Soviet Nat Bols were, in the nineties just as much as today. They just didn’t care, or felt there were bigger fish to fry in the form of “the system,” generally defined more by mundanity than oppressive power… This affected a wide range of actors: European Greens, anti-Zionism, anti-globalization movements, numerous artistic and literary figures who confused edginess with insight and freaking out the squares with a meaningful goal… we’re still shaking off the aftereffects of how badly the global left managed the fin de siecle, in this way as in many others, and some of them still don’t manage this stuff very well. In part, this is because the left for decades failed to articulate a meaningful critique of fascism, either relying on a Trotskyite (or Stalinist) catechetical definition, which doesn’t have much room to develop even where it’s strong, or else basically letting liberalism turn these issues into moralism, which tend to lose their force once, well, people stop taking the moral (or its messengers) seriously. It’s good we’re doing it now. Let’s hope it’s not too late. ****’