Splinters: December – short essays on the here & now

Spectres 2 – the “future” in the era of its planned obsolescence

by Samir Gandesha

The spectre of fascism is due not simply to economic insecurity nor simply to cultural anxieties or the loss of privilege. It is actively produced by the authoritarian populist translation of economic insecurities into cultural anxieties, against the backdrop of the prospect of ecological collapse.

In the absence of political parties and movements that could offer genuine alternatives to the neoliberal dispensation of deepening and crushing inequality and austerity, it has led to the transformation of Simmel’s social “stranger” into Carl Schmitt’s political “enemy”. In part, the continuity between twentieth and twenty-first century fascisms is to be located here.

Financialization is only putatively challenged by authoritarian political discourses grounded in a charismatic appeal to authenticity – discourses that transform the people into a mass. A global order, dominated by the ever-more abstract and accelerated operations of finance capital, leads to ever more pronounced forms of anxiety and insecurity, producing an “ontological need ” for connection to authentic Being, expressed in the form of homogenous collective identities.

To summarize, contemporary fascism can be regarded as a militantly anti-liberal-democratic way of addressing the nature of the crisis of capitalist social relations. Collective identities and cultural traditions are reinvented and mobilized in such a way as to confront and indeed undermine formal democratic institutions and rule of law, by way of an appeal to supposedly patriarchal, “authentic” collective identities, themselves nurtured and sustained by a Social Darwinist vision of an unforgiving struggle for survival among competing races and individuals.

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Such a mobilization tends to reinforce new colonial forms of primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession via redoubled colonialism based on the “financialization of life”, central to which is intensified financial investment in resource extraction. The precise manner, however, in which this logic plays out depends on the historical circumstances of any given society as well as its synchronic, which is to say, structural location within global capitalism as a whole.

In contrast, though, to Mussolini’s attempt to build a “New Rome” or Hitler’s 1000-year Reich, which, above all, centered on a distinctive temporal politics, a politics oriented to colonizing not just space but the future – today the “spectre of fascism” responds to the ecological limits of capitalism, and existing property relations within which the future itself simply becomes unimaginable.

If twentieth century fascism, in part, offered a solution to the economic slump via an acceleration of the extraction of absolute and relative surplus-value by smashing independent trade unions and other working class institutions, today fascism centers on a deepening of resource-extraction on the very precipice of massive deskilling of labour and widespread automation and employment of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, to wit: the prospective obsolescence of humanity itself. Such a logic entails what Achille Mbembe calls the “becoming Black of the world,” the creation of “abandoned subjects”:

There are no more workers as such. There are only labouring nomads. If yesterday’s drama of the subject was exploitation by capital, the tragedy of the multitude today is that they are unable to be exploited at all. They are abandoned subjects, relegated to the role of a “superfluous humanity”

Take as our definition the classic account of fascism – a reactionary mass movement comprised of an alliance between industrial capital and the petty bourgeoisie against the working class and its political organizations, in the context of imperialist rivalries and capitalist crises of over-production – and it is far from clear that what we face today can in any straightforward way be described as “fascism” in this sense.

Today, after the defeat of organized labour, there’s precious little resistance to the extraction of surplus value from living labour. This drives growing colonization, militarism, jingoism and ultimately war against peoples – Indigenous peoples in particular especially in North America, India, Brazil – and the very planet itself.

So, far from having to confront the revolutionary force of organized labour, at least not in Europe and North America, today fascism emerges from the phenomenon of accelerated global migration flows, resulting from the economic, social and political violence (new forms of primitive accumulation) attendant upon globalization and global climate change.

It also responds to the increasing ontological insecurity of citizens of these states whose fear in an age of massive, irreversible climate change, is increasingly mobilized against pariah peoples. Such mobilization is based on the recognition that, under the late form of neo-liberalism, the line between the citizen and migrant, parvenu and pariah, in other words “genuine” and “superfluous” humanity, is coming to be increasingly blurred.

This text is drawn from the Introduction to the author’s forthcoming Spectres of Fascism (Pluto).