‘The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realise that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism. One reason why fascism has a chance is that, in the name of progress, its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the Twentieth Century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge — unless it is the knowledge that the view of history that gives rise to it is untenable.’
— Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, 1940
Table of Contents
- The Return of Fascism
- Eternal Fascism
- The Fascist State and Human Rights
- Fascism and the Decay of Capitalism
- The Psychological Structure of Fascism
- From Kitsch to Woke: The Aesthetics of Totalitarianism
- Fascism, Neoliberalism and the Left
- The Camp as Biopolitical Paradigm of the State
- Humanity in Dark Times
5. The Psychological Structure of Fascism
My argument in this series of articles for the return of fascism in the political, juridical and cultural superstructure of the nation states of Western capitalism raises a question that I want to address in this chapter. How is it possible for a global economic infrastructure formed over a hundred years of increasingly rapid developments in technology and finance, including two industrial revolutions, to produce a fascist superstructure — one that should, in the classic Marxist formula, reflect, accommodate and reproduce the new relations of production it requires for capitalism to defend and enforce its hegemony over the world? How is it possible, in other words, for an emergent economic infrastructure, that is contingent upon technology and global markets yet to be developed a hundred years ago, to effect a historical regression back to the political, juridical and cultural forms of historical fascism — forms that are residual, as Umberto Eco argued, in even the most advanced capitalist societies, but which are widely perceived to have been surpassed by the irreversible clock of history? Indeed, is there any justification for using this term to describe the return of these latent but now, undoubtedly, resurgent forms of governance, jurisprudence and social practice if it doesn’t illuminate the emergent economic infrastructure to which they appear to be the response, and which is the driving force of this revolution?
My first — and obviously inadequate — response to this question is that I am trying to understand precisely how this regression back to the fascist state, authoritarian government and a totalitarian society has been so easily implemented by global corporations, so readily accepted by the populations of Western capitalism, so enthusiastically adopted by the civil institutions of previously liberal societies. Hopefully, why the global biosecurity state should favour a return to fascism is by now obvious, given the openly stated aspirations to govern the West by a centralised technocracy of financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies and information technology corporations and the organisations of global governance they form. Yet ideologies are not chosen by a financial elite. They are produced by the economic relations of production of a given society at a given stage of their development; and the question of how it has been possible to revive, implement and enforce the political, juridical and cultural forms of fascism with such ease is the one I am trying to answer in this series of articles.
1. The Production of the Heterogeneous
In this chapter, I want to look at an article that was published in two parts between 1933 and 1934, the years in which Hitler went from being appointed Chancellor of the Weimar Republic to making himself Leader of the Third Reich, eliminated his political opponents in both the Reichstag and his Cabinet, and made National Socialism the official ideology of German society at every level of the state, from schools, universities, trades unions, the press and civil service to the police force, judiciary, military and medical institutions — a process they called ‘coordination [Gleichschaltung]’. In ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism’, which was published in the Marxist but anti-Stalinist journal, La Critique sociale, the French critic and sociologist, Georges Bataille, tried to understand and explain this sudden and overwhelming success of fascism, and in particular its appeal to the working class in Italy and Germany, both of which had strong and well-organised communist parties directly opposed to fascism. To explain this unexpected historical development, he formulated what he called a ‘theory of heterology’. Bataille’s article is written in abstract and even philosophical terms, but they are worth trying to elucidate, I think, as they can tell us a lot about the particular form in which fascism has returned to the West today, and why that return cannot be understood within the outdated political polarities of Left and Right.
The foundation of homogeneous society, Bataille argues, is production, which excludes all forms of non-productive or useless activity. To establish this homogeneity between the various activities that compose a given society, a common denominator has been created. This, of course, is money, which is the calculable equivalence between the different products of social activity. Money is not only the measure of all activity, but reduces humans to the mere function of that activity; and according to its measure, each social person is worth what he or she produces. However, in capitalist economies, only the owners of capital and the means of production — that is to say, the capitalists that profit from its products — compose homogeneous society, together with the middle classes that variously benefit from that profit. In contrast, the producers of those products — the workers whose labour creates the wealth on which homogeneous society is built but who do not profit from its products — are, properly speaking, heterogeneous to society. They remain, that is to say, outside the cycle of capitalism proper, and must remain there so that homogeneous society can continue to expropriate their labour. From this heterogeneity comes the revulsion, contempt, dismissiveness, hate and violence with which the working class is treated by homogeneous society, and above all by the middle classes, for whom workers are not only another class but of another nature, unsubjugated and therefore in constant need of surveillance, regimentation and oppression.
It is in order to protect the homogeneous functioning of the productive forces of a given society from heterogeneous elements that the modern state exists. The practical application, in a democratic order, of homogeneous society’s reduction of heterogeneous elements are the various forms of parliament, upon entering which those elements more or less quickly become a part of homogeneous society. We have seen this demonstrated repeatedly by the ease and success with which nominally ‘socialist’ political parties, including the UK Labour Party, have become assimilated into the capitalist order, to which they now present not the least threat of subversion.
Periodically, however, the contradictions of capitalism in industrial and now post-industrial societies throw up heterogeneous elements that threaten to subvert the homogeneous functioning of production. Today we call these ‘crises’, but formerly they took the form of uprisings and even revolutions, as they still do in less advanced capitalist societies. When this happens, the state makes recourse to imperious and sovereign forms of authority that are not subject to parliaments and the rule of law. These include the power of a hereditary or elected head of state (Crown, Duce, Führer or Président) to overrule the legislature and even the constitution; the Church, which always aligns itself with the authority of the state in times of crisis; the police and armed forces, whose impunity from the national and international laws they claim to enforce is the clearest demonstration of imperious power; and, as we’ve seen universally employed by governments during the coronavirus ‘crisis’, emergency powers.
All these forms of authority, however, are themselves heterogeneous to the homogeneous social order, whose existing relations of production, administrative framework and juridical forms they exist to maintain and uphold. ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ is carved on the architrave of the west pediment of the entrance to the US Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC, which was completed in 1935, a year after Bataille’s article was published; but among the figures that sit in judgement above these words are symbolic depictions of Liberty flanked by Order and Authority, the latter of which is represented by a Roman lictor bearing a fasces from which the axe blade is visibly protruding. To understand the homogeneity of any given society, therefore, including a fascist society, necessarily means understanding its heterogeneous elements, how they defend and enforce its economic, legal and political continuity, and how these elements are themselves produced by homogeneous society.
Bataille is a good etymologist. To speak of what is, by definition, always seeking to escape containment within a discursive apprehension of the world, he uses the term ‘heterogeneous’, from the Greek heteros (the other of two), and genos (kind). His own project, however, isn’t to constitute a heterogenealogy (a family of others), but a heterology (from the Greek logos). Although, at the concrete level, the heterogeneous is the other of the homogeneous ‘in kind’, its abstract logos within a discourse has no elementary structure of kinship, and cannot be assembled according to a scientific taxonomy. Its forms, therefore, can only ever be spoken of in their diffuse relation to the self to which they are the other. As Umberto Eco would go on to argue in his 1995 article on ‘Ur-fascism’ — which I discussed in the second in this series of articles — whether, historically, it was the communist, the Jew or those designated by the Third Reich as ‘life unworthy of life’, or, more recently, the terrorist, the Muslim or those designated by the global biosecurity state as ‘unvaccinated’, fascism produces the other — and indeed, must produce the other — in opposition to which its own unity is formed. The heterogeneous is both the axe around which the homogeneous bundle of rods is bound to form the authority of the fascist state, and the enemy against which that axe is wielded.
For Bataille, therefore, the unity of fascism lies in its particular production of the heterogeneous, which it must constantly seek to dispel while at the same time reproducing it. And just as, under historical instances of fascism, the identity of the heterogenous elements did not matter, being contingent instead on the individual fascist state (with Mussolini’s Italy, for example, tolerating and even embracing fascist Jews for well over a decade before its alliance with Hitler’s Germany), so today the high priests of the global biosecurity state do not discriminate between those they anathematise, swinging its propaganda machine in a few months from ‘conspiracy theorists’ endangering lives to ‘unvaccinated’ medical professionals to ‘barbaric’ Russian invaders. Today, the Russian citizen living in the West who has had his assets frozen, his trade stopped and his music banned, who is forced to condemn his country and denounce his government in order to appear in public life or practice his profession, has been ostracized by our so-called ‘liberal’ populations with all the fervour and compliance they showed to the ‘unvaccinated’. What is important — what is necessary to the unity of the global biosecurity state — is neither the identity nor the culpability of the ostracised and criminalised, but rather the production of the heterogeneous social elements in opposition to which homogeneous society can unify. And to protect itself from these heterogeneous elements, no expenditure can be too great, no decree or action too violent.
At the same time, therefore, in correlation with this impoverished, abject other, the fascist state must create an imperious, sovereign force capable of protecting homogeneous society from these heterogeneous elements, whose threat, as Eco argued, is always exaggerated in order to justify the violence of fascist rule. Under historical fascism, this heterogeneous power was concentrated in the figure of the charismatic leader, whether that was Mussolini, Hitler or Franco — all of whom, in common with most of the rest of Europe, believed democracy was doomed, and the choice was between communism and fascism. Today, however, with the West citing the defence of democracy as the justification for three-quarters of a century of ensuing imperialist wars, military invasion and political intervention in sovereign states in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, not even the President of the United States (now given the title of Potus) has the absolute authority of the Duce, Führer or Caudillo. Indeed, for some time now the vaunted position of ‘the most powerful man in the world’ has been occupied by Hollywood actors, Christian fundamentalists, game-show hosts and half-senile puppets who mouth the words (and declarations of war) written by the military-industrial technocracy for which he presents the crumbling facade of democracy.
Instead, as I have argued in this serious of articles, the sovereignty of the fascist Leader has been reinvested in the global forms of technocratic governance that have assumed such power over our governments, nation states and their populations. But much like citizens under historical fascism, we are now reduced to the position of children in relation to their father, slaves to their master, soldiers to their general, subjects to their sovereign, rather than as civilians to their elected political representatives in Parliament and Government. Thus, the global biosecurity state functions as a one-way street between this new global technocracy and the nation states that administer and enforce its dictates. So although the role of the Leader has been supplanted in the new form of fascism that has re-emerged from this crisis in twenty-first-century finance capitalism, the sovereignty of fascist rule most certainly has not.
What Bataille, in this article, called the ‘psychological structure’ of fascism is the pull of attraction and repulsion between these two poles of the heterogeneous: on the one hand (the right), an almost child-like reverence for and obedience to the imperious, elevated forms of authority that exist above political parties and the law, and guarantee homogeneous society; and, on the other hand (the left), a visceral revulsion for and rejection of the impoverished, the diseased, the pathologised, the ostracised and the criminalised, which threaten to subvert homogeneous society. Both these poles, which together compose the heterogeneous elements of society, lie outside the labour force, means of production and legislative and legal administration that constitute homogeneous society.
2. From Religion to War
In proposing this theory, therefore, Bataille argued that the unity of fascism does not lie in its economic infrastructure — the forces and relations of production and property ownership, which in any case varied considerably in the countries where fascism had formed a government — but in this ‘psychological structure’; and for Bataille, that structure is determined by its distinct unification of religious and military forces. On the face of it, there was nothing new in this. For over a century now, the US Empire has invaded and bombed sovereign states to the patriotic cries of ‘God bless America’, just as before it the British Empire colonised a fifth of the globe to the chants of ‘Dieu et mon droit’. But in identifying the psychological structure of fascism in this unification of religion and the military, Bataille departed from the crude model of Marxism espoused by the Third International, according to which the ideological structure of a given society — its political, juridical and cultural (including religious) forms — are ultimately determined by its economic infrastructure.
If this were the case, why had Germany — during the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1933 the most advanced industrial, scientific, philosophical and perhaps political nation in Europe — produced an ideology as culturally, intellectually and politically regressive as National Socialism? What had the most advanced capitalist nation in Europe to do with torch-lit parades, a parliament bullied by political paramilitaries, and laws founded on pseudo-scientific notions of race drawn from nineteenth-century discourses of hereditary degeneracy, eugenics and mystical anthropology? How could the nation that in the early Twentieth Century alone had produced Albert Einstein in physics, Hannah Arendt in philosophy, Rosa Luxemburg in politics, Theodor Adorno in Sociology, Walter Benjamin in cultural criticism, Bertolt Brecht in theatre, Marlene Dietrich in acting, Fritz Lang in cinema, Arnold Schoenberg in music, Walter Gropius in architecture, Alfred Döblin in literature and Max Ernst in art, also produce Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, Josef Mengele, Carl Schmitt, Wolfram Sievers, Joseph Goebbels, Albert Speer, Arno Breker, Adolf Ziegler and Leni Riefenstahl?
This is a question we should be asking again — it is the one I am trying to address in this series of articles — in the wake of the last two years of intellectual cowardice, political credulity and cultural regression: in which science has been apotheosised by politics as a religion; in which medical reactions to disease not employed in Europe for hundreds of years have been imposed on the populations of previously neoliberal democracies; in which the most educated people in the world — the Western middle classes — have believed in the efficacy of cloth masks, plastic screens and standing two metres from their fellow acolytes to stop the spread of a respiratory virus one-thousandth the width of a human hair; in which sanctimonious liberals have avidly participated in informing on and calling for the social segregation of anyone who does not obey regulations and restrictions that not only have no basis in science, medicine or logic, but which have torn up the social contract of the West that was founded on the rule of law, democratic oversight, the separation of executive, legislature and judiciary, and the universality, indivisibility and inalienability of human rights?
I could go on listing the lies, deceptions and orthodoxies of faith under which we’ve been forced to live for the past two years, and which I have exposed in the articles I’ve written about the implementation, expansion and entrenchment of the UK biosecurity state. But the point I’m arguing here is that, as with the rise of fascism in Europe in the period between the two World Wars, the manufactured ‘crisis’ in public health that has been used to justify the imposition of the global biosecurity state has been a profoundly religious moment. The watchword employed by the ideologues of both the coronavirus ‘crisis’ and, before it, the environmental ‘crisis’, to ‘follow the science’ is — to anyone who understands the evidential procedures of scientific method — a fundamentally unscientific statement. It is, however, a deeply religious one.
Taking my point of departure from Giorgio Agamben’s commentary on the cultic practices of the biosecurity state, ‘Medicine as Religion’, I have written before about the religious foundation to the COVID faith in ‘The Religion of Medicine’, section 6 of The New Normal: What is the Biosecurity State? (Part 1: Programmes and Regulations), which I published in July 2020, and again in ‘Biosecurity as Cultic Practice’, section 7 of Qui Bono? The COVID-19 ‘Conspiracy’, which I published in February 2021. I won’t repeat their analyses here, therefore, except to say that, in opposition to science, religion apotheosises its dogma as an unquestionable Truth (with a capital ‘T’), for which it provides no proofs or arguments. And in contrast to science — which under 40 years of neoliberalism has increasingly come to resemble it — religion demands absolute belief from its acolytes, anathematises deviations from its orthodoxies as heresy, and responds to questions and challenges with censorship and punishment, for which it draws on all the powers of the secular state.
This religious, regressive, irrational, and fundamentally unscientific approach to knowledge, the debates that produce it and the proofs it requires, describes, exactly, the actions of the global biosecurity state over the last two years. That it has done so around a discourse of disease — which has never quite escaped its religious explanation as divine punishment for moral failings (something we should have learned from the reaction to the AIDS epidemic) — has made this manufactured ‘crisis’ particularly amenable to the revival of the religious dogma and cultic practices of the biosecurity state at this historical moment. Indeed, if we understand so-called ‘health measures’ — face masking, physical distancing, prohibited public spaces, proscribed actions, restricted consumptions, banned social interactions, ritual ablutions, ingested salvations — as the interdictions and practices of a new religion, they begin to make far more sense. But the construction of the biosecurity state in response to a ‘pandemic’ has also, I would argue, prepared the ideological ground for the return of fascism as the political, juridical and cultural superstructure produced by the current revolution in global capitalism.
In the recent transition from a Western world under lockdown to a Western world under the threat of war with Russia and her allies, we are seeing the political movement from the ‘war on COVID’ trumpeted by the ideologues of the global biosecurity state to the war on those who represent a barrier to its global technocracy. As I discussed in the last section, the Great Reset depends on the immiseration of the real economy to achieve the financial monopoly of a global technocracy whose geopolitical axes are in the course of being decided. Whether it’s an external war waged against enemy states outside its military alliances (the North Atlantic Treaty Oganisation or a new Moscow-Beijing axis) or an internal war waged against manufactured enemies within (the foreigner, the terrorist or the virus), war has always been a structural necessity of fascism: at once justifying the government’s removal of the human rights of citizens and the suspension of the democratic process under a state of emergency; and in doing so manifesting the sovereign and imperious character of its authority over homogeneous society.
One possible explanation of why biosecurity restrictions have temporarily been lifted in the West is that we are undergoing the transition from the religious phase of the biosecurity state, which entailed the reordering of homogeneous society according to new cultic practices and dogma, to its military phase; but both have existed side by side from the beginning, with the power of the state that for two years has been turned against its own people returning to its former function. The difference between the past 40 years of neoliberalism and the return of fascism is that, while the former directed the violence of the capitalist state externally in imperialist wars and military invasions — with El Salvador, Grenada, the Persian Gulf, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Syria being only the most well-known — in the latter those forces are being directed internally, by riot police, counter-terrorism paramilitaries and homeland security services, against the populations that vote for, fund and turn a blind eye to its violence. For the past two years, the forces that have been employed externally in wars of aggression against sovereign nations have been turned by the governments of the global biosecurity state against those who sat by and voted for them to turn the rest of the world into their killing fields. Now those fields are being expanded by NATO.
Like most on the political Left in the interwar period, Bataille understood fascism as ‘an imperious response to the growing threat of a working-class movement’. And the ability of fascism to unite religious and military authority in the politically new figure of the Leader derived from the fact that, in opposition to communism, which seeks to exacerbate the class war, fascism is characterised by the ‘uniting of classes’. This power of unification, Bataille argued, is derived from the military aspect of fascism, which erases the class differences of its recruits beneath a uniform that homogenises both appearance and actions. Of course, beneath that homogeneity is a hierarchical military structure even more stratified than that of social class, and whose head is the fascist Leader. But today, the response to COVID-19 has similarly erased the political differences of party, newspaper and electorate beneath the military flag of the ‘war on COVID’. Conservative and Labourite, Telegraph and Guardian reader, entrepreneur and environmentalist — all have united in their advocacy of restrictions, their calls for greater punishments, their demands to suspend our human rights and freedoms. Indeed, maintaining social distancing, obeying directional arrows in shops and the street and participating in collective rituals like clapping for the NHS transpose into civilian life such military forms as standing to attention, marching in formation and military parades, with the individual identity of the biosecurity recruit erased beneath the uniformity of both mask and behaviour. What is erased by fascism, in other words, is not the distinctions of class and rank but the political identity of the recruit.
3. Assimilation into the Homogeneous
Fascist unity, however, is not only the unification of military and religious authority in the Leader and the symbolic uniting of different social classes in the erasure of the political identity of the individual. ‘It is also’, writes Bataille, ‘the successful uniting of heterogeneous elements with homogeneous elements, of sovereignty, properly speaking, with the state.’ Under fascism, the democratic principle of the sovereignty of Parliament and Nation — like the previously inalienable human rights of its citizens and their bodily autonomy — are all subordinated to the state. As Mussolini wrote in The Doctrine of Fascism: ‘Everything is in the state, and nothing human or spiritual can exist, much less have value, outside the state.’ By successfully eradicating all forms of heterogeneous subversion, the historical fascist state aligned itself with the interests of the capitalists, which is to say, with homogeneous society. However, as a result of this recourse to fascist heterogeneity, which threatened the homogeneity of production based on competition and freedom of enterprise, ‘the very structure of capitalism’, Bataille writes, ‘finds itself profoundly altered’. Without Italian landowners and German industrialists being compelled to align themselves, respectively, with fascism and National Socialism, these political movements would never have formed governments. In the classic Marxist formula, therefore, the fascist state is in a reciprocal relationship with the economic infrastructure that ultimately determines its formation. That the unity of fascism is in its psychological structure rather than in the economic conditions that serve as its base, doesn’t mean that the stage of development of the global economy doesn’t provide the different fascist states with a common economic determination.
From the immense resources and productive forces squandered on the two World Wars to the vast accumulation of wealth by the most powerful commercial corporations in the world today and, most recently, the $33 billion in ‘military aid’ the US is sending to its Ukrainian puppet government to wage a proxy war on Russia, the production of the imperious, sovereign pole of heterogeneous authority is not only opposed to its impoverished, abject pole, but also produces it. The poverty of the global working class is not an unfortunate consequence of the failure of capitalism to feed, clothe, house, educate and care for the health of 95 per cent of the population of the globe, but instead the product of its success in keeping the labour force that produces its wealth from sharing in its profits. The unproductive expenditure of material and labour, whether in lockdown or the permanent state of war in which the USA has been since World War Two is, first of all, the consumption of those resources to ends that are kept from the producers of the wealth it consumes. It’s not by chance that the USA, the wealthiest nation in history, has a defence budget of $773 billion this year, but doesn’t have free health care. The labour time in which the working class can be fed, housed and educated must be squandered in producing the sovereign and imperious forms of heterogeneous authority before which they are then commanded to kneel in obedience and, eventually, convinced to revere as their protectors. We shouldn’t forget that it is the financial sector the governments of the West has bailed out with $10 trillion of electronic money to which the working class is now in debt for generations to come. In this respect, the coronavirus ‘crisis’ is a demonstration of how homogeneous society produces the poles of the heterogeneous, both the imperious and the impoverished. And yet, it is the corporate leaders of this global technocracy that have emerged from the ‘pandemic’ they declared as the sovereign and imperious authority before which the newly impoverished and abject must now bow in obedience and fear if not yet in universal reverence.
From these principles, Bataille concludes his article with a discussion of the different possibilities of the working class being joined by elements of homogeneous society (the middle classes and even the bourgeoisie) dissociated from it by the crises arising from the contradictions in capitalism. It is only as such, he argues, that heterogeneity can form a potentially subversive force of change in society. Bataille sees these possibilities being determined by the existing and historical political structure of a given society, and above all of its imperious and sovereign forms of heterogeneous authority. Italy, for example, after the Great War, had a weak monarchy that made it susceptible to fascism; and in Germany the revolution had overthrown the Kaiser and replaced him with the weak Weimar Republic that sharpened nostalgia for the authoritarianism of the Second Reich. In both countries, therefore, which had only attained national unity, respectively, 51 and 62 years before forming a fascist government, and which had emerged from the Great War humiliated and defeated, an imperious heterogeneous authority was lacking, making both nations susceptible to the militarism of fascist sovereignty. For the multinational successor states created, restored or expanded by the Treaty of Versailles from the dissolved Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires (Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Romania) the lack of a recognised heterogeneous authority, whether Emperor or Czar, was even greater. While in Spain, both the military dictatorship and the monarchy had been deposed, making way for the Spanish Republic.
The UK, in contrast, had as its Head of State a hereditary monarch who is still wheeled out today at the first sound of grumblings from the unfailingly patriotic and royalist English working class; and France had the French Revolution, to which protesters against lockdown still appeal when they sing La Marseillaise and wave the Tricoleur, demonstrating their apparently unshakeable equation of liberté, égalité, fraternité with the continuity of the French Republic. It would appear, therefore, that in a constitutional monarchy of long-standing the sovereign is so closely connected with homogeneous society that its authority has become naturalised as an unchangeable part of its structure; while in a democratic republic like France or the USA, the sovereign appears as that which has already been overthrown in the glorious moment of its founding. The imperious elements of the heterogeneous, therefore, are both immobilized and immobilising, while only its impoverished elements can bring about change. Not for nothing are the memorial statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both depicted with their hands on the fasces.
To form itself into a force for change, however, the heterogeneous elements of society must include not only that part of the working class that has become conscious of its revolutionary potential but also those elements of the middle classes dissociated from homogeneous society by its disintegration. However, during such crises the dissociated elements of homogeneous society are not necessarily attracted to its subversive elements. On the contrary, as we saw during the coronavirus ‘crisis’, in the demonstrations, marches and protests against the biosecurity state the middle-classes, and particularly those on the political Left, were conspicuous by their almost total absence. Instead, the imperative force of attraction exerted by heterogeneous forms of authority mobilised homogeneous society in the direction of the restoration of the temporarily broken contact between the mass of the obedient working class and sovereign authority, which they were only too willing to obey. Just as, in historical fascist states, the Duce and the Führer exerted not just a military authority but also a religious power of attraction over the masses, so the subjects of the biosecurity state, in Orwell’s words, have learned to love Big Brother.
These considerations, strictly speaking, lie outside the scope of this chapter, though I will return to them at the end of this series of articles. But Bataille’s conclusions on his own time, which proved to be accurate, do not offer much hope for us today:
‘In principle, it seems that revolutionary movements that develop in a democracy are hopeless, at least so long as the memory of earlier struggles against a royal authority has been attenuated and no longer necessarily sets heterogeneous reactions in opposition to imperious forms. In fact, it is evident that the situation of the major democratic powers, where the fate of the Revolution is being played out, does not warrant the slightest confidence: it is only the very nearly indifferent attitude of the proletariat that has permitted these countries to avoid fascist formations.’
Bataille is quick to add that the rapidly-changing world of concrete reality cannot be constrained by such theoretical constructions, and he holds out hope that fascism, which he says throws the very existence of a workers’ movement into question, nevertheless demonstrates what energies such a movement could mobilise when awakened to the awareness of its affective forces. Just as it’s from the ranks of the working class that an imperious sovereignty draws its means of affective action to fight its wars and enforce its laws, so it’s against this class that the entire apparatus of the state directs its powers of oppression in parliament, law court and the media, turning the ‘heroes’ in our police forces and military into football ‘hooligans’ with the stroke of a pen, the click of a camera. Nearly ninety years later, however, Bataille’s description of the indifference of the proletariat to its subversive — let alone revolutionary — potential paints a more accurate picture of the working class of the West than his hopes of a heterogeneous force that would turn the weapons of fascism against itself.
I want to end these considerations on the psychological structure of fascism and why it has returned today with a passage from a contemporaneous text that I quote a lot and which addresses this subordination of the working class by fascism — in Bataille’s terms, the appropriation of the subversive potential of the heterogeneous elements of capitalism to homogeneous bourgeois society. In 1935, in his now famous article on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’, Walter Benjamin, the German critic from whose writings my epigraph is drawn and who would himself die trying to escape from fascism five years later, wrote:
‘Fascism attempts to organise the newly proletarianised masses while leaving intact the property relations which the masses strive to abolish. Fascism sees its salvation in granting these masses not their rights, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have the right to change property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression while keeping these relations unchanged. The logical result of fascism is the aestheticising of political life.’
Nearly 90 years have passed since Benjamin’s prophetic words, and in the formerly neoliberal democracies of the West the masses have long since given up asserting their right to change property relations let alone bringing that change about. Instead they are content — or, more accurately, they demand now above all other things — their right to express themselves with the toys with which they have been distracted from their historical role and, finally it seems, enslaved by the spectacles of fascism. Of all the new buzzwords and phrases to emerge from the propaganda machine of the global biosecurity state with which the nation states of Western capitalism have spoken in one voice, perhaps the most quoted is the declaration of the World Economic Forum that, after the Great Reset, when we have embraced the Fourth Industrial Revolution and fascism is the New Normal, ‘we will own nothing and be happy’.
This was, perhaps, Benjamin’s greatest insight into our still distant present. Clarifying what he meant by the aestheticising of political life, Benjamin wrote: ‘In great ceremonial processions, giant rallies and mass sporting events, and in war, all of which are now fed into the camera, the masses come face to face with themselves.’ Benjamin was thinking of the Nuremberg rallies and the use Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, made of the new technologies of mass communication in 1930s Germany, especially cinema and the radio. Today, however, this spectacle has been reduced to the size of a smart-phone screen, by which the masses are confronted, at every moment of every day, with their own face; with ever proliferating social media platforms granting us the unlimited scope to express ourselves while doing absolutely nothing to change the property relations overseen and enforced by this technology. On the contrary, the will to self-expression is not only the ideological basis of the identity politics by which the potentially subversive heterogeneous elements in our societies are assimilated into an homogeneous order but also, as the Bank of International Settlements warned, the source of the already enormous financial power and growing political power of the handful of information technology companies that administer the global biosecurity state.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the political spectacle has lost its uses to fascism, at least not for the moment. The first two years of lockdown were accompanied, for the citizens of the UK biosecurity state, by the European Football Cup, the Wimbledon tennis championships, the British and Irish Lions rugby tour to South Africa, the delayed Summer Olympics in Japan, the Winter Olympics in China and, in the empty stadiums of the English Football Premier League, the ritual of ‘taking the knee’. Originally an act of non-compliance in protest against the systemic racism in US society, enacted during the national anthem that is played before games of American football, this gesture, which in international matches is now performed after the anthems, is another example of how the heterogeneous and potentially subversive elements in a society are co-opted into and assimiliated by the homogeneous order. Indeed, insofar as this gesture, like that of wearing a face mask, has become a mandatory ritual with which few sportsmen or women dare not comply, the left-hand pole of the heterogeneous has been transformed into the right-hand pole, and a gesture originally aligned with the impoverished and abject (the Black working-class) is now employed to uphold the homogeneous system of their oppression.
More recently, we’ve had the ritual of clapping in support of the Ukraine — a spectacle that repeats the clapping for the NHS during the first lockdown of the UK — and the corresponding ban on everything Russian, from commodities to culture. Under the political consensus created by such spectacles, Chelsea Football Club, which since 2003 has been owned by the Russian oligarch and gangster, Roman Abramovich, is now to be sold, most likely to another billionaire, but one currently approved by the UK state. In response, Thomas Teuchel, the German manager of the club, recently told the UK media: ‘There is no second opinion about the situation [in Ukraine]’. Televised to the nation on Match of the Day, a programme not normally known for commenting on military conflict around the world (it has made no equivalent condemnation of the war in Yemen or Gaza), this is the very doctrine of fascism, in which every citizen must adopt the political positions and repeat the political statements of their Government, and any deviation from that orthodoxy is censored and punished on the grounds that all heresy is a threat to the security of the state.
The fact the espousal of this view, which has been unanimously repeated by the now homogeneous UK media, is in contravention of our legal right to freedom of thought (Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and freedom of expression (Article 10), is further proof that the politically-declared state of emergency under which we have been living in the UK for the past two years has not been lifted with the formal suspension of coronavirus-justified regulations and restrictions. On the contrary, those nominally temporary measures are no longer the enforced exception and now the obeyed rule in the ‘New Normal’ under whose flag the homogeneity of the fascist state has been imposed. That they are now unquestioningly accepted by the UK public outside of any legal framework indicates how far we have descended into unthinking obedience and willing servitude over the past two years, and shows that — without us realising it — we are now a fascist society in everything but name, and ready to form a properly fascist state under the new forms of sovereign authority that rule over the global bisoecurity state.
In the previous chapter I made some predictions about the consequences of the current crisis in capitalism and the resort to heterogeneous forms of authority by the global technocracy to avert the collapse of the financial system, which included the lockdown of the real economy for two years. If fascism has returned to our politics, laws and cultures, like historical fascism it is in anticipation of the expected social and political reactions to the global plummet in living standards, not only among the already impoverished heterogeneous elements of society, but also in elements of homogeneous society. Capitalism has progressively developed the means to first crush and then seduce the working class into compliance, but it needs the middle classes to administer the apparatus of the state. This is precisely the type of crisis in capitalism that Bataille identified as having the potential to unite the heterogeneous elements of society into a force for social and political change. As I discussed in the previous chapter, the Bank of International Settlements warned that such a challenge to the ‘international global order’ should not be underestimated, and will be ‘a force to contend with for years to come’.
From this point of view, the hugely increased government authoritarianism and state violence in Western societies over the past two years was a test-case of the even greater violence and authoritarianism to come, and which the totalitarianism of the global biosecurity state is designed to control and suppress in advance. Although the economic infrastructure of the global biosecurity state, therefore, is necessarily different from the economic conditions that gave rise to fascism in Europe in the 1920s, not only has it also risen from a crisis in global capitalism that is the latest in what can justifiably and accurately be described as its long decay, but many of the superstructural forms of historical fascism have returned in the nation states of the West. As I’ve argued, the sovereign, imperious elements of Western societies are no longer invested in the fascist Leader, but have instead been assumed by the global forms of technocratic governance by which we are now ruled. Like historical fascism, the authority of this technocracy is both religious and military; but this time they are united not in the authoritarian nationalism of the nation state but in the totalitarianism of the global biosecurity state. Indeed, biosecurity, which has supplanted parliamentary sovereignty as the ultimate source of law and the supreme power in Western democracies, is the unification of religious and military power; and it’s under its absolute authority — the authority of fascism — that we are now living.
Architects for Social Housing
In the next section, ‘From Kitsch to Woke: The Aesthetics of Totalitarianism’, I’ll look at how the psychological poles of attraction and repulsion are constructed through culture, and why woke, which has already attained hegemony over our culture and increasingly over our politics and laws, has been adopted as the official ideology of the global biosecurity state.
Collections of articles by the same author about the UK biosecurity state :
- Virtue and Terror: Resisting the UK Biosecurity State (May-October 2021)
- Brave New World: Expanding the UK Biosecurity State through the Winter of 2020-2021 (October 2020-March 2021)
- COVID-19: Implementing the UK Biosecurity State (March-August 2020)
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