September 17, 2020

The Dark Vanguard

⚠️ Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2017 on TBP’s now defunct Tumblr page. As the author, I’d like to note that this piece does not necessarily reflect my present views but is rather included here for the sake of continuity. Maybe I’ll follow up on it someday.

There is a certain suspicious attitude towards left communists, ‘Bordigists’ in particular, on the topic of anti-fascism. The left communist refusal to participate in anti-fascist activity is viewed by some as a kind of refusal to defend the interests of the working class against external threats, while left communists, citing authors like Bordiga and Dauve, speak to the historical inefficiency of anti-fascist organizing in actually preventing the rise of fascism. No one on the left, at least no one with any credibility, is going to argue that the threat of fascism can be ignored, but it is worth a critical examination as to what the aims of contemporary anti-fascist activities actually are, and how they align with the project of countering fascism in its myriad forms.

As a quick and relevant aside, I was a self-described left communist for some time, which itself was a progression from several years of what I saw as a kind of orthodox Marxism-Leninism. While I would no longer apply either label to myself, there was a point at which these authors had a tremendous impact on my own thinking. There seems to be an accord between the ultra leftist and post-structuralist thinking on the matter. 

I am not going to rehash both sides of the argument here, as it is a fairly long historical discussion which others can speak towards with more purpose – if one were interested in the context I would investigate either of Dauve’s major works on anti-fascism (Fascism/Antifascism or When Insurrections Die) and contrast them. with contemporary anti-fascist publications or Trotsky’s Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It. This debate is quite relevant for today’s political discourse, as the anti-fascist activities of many socialist and anarchist organizations is some of their most significant and visible work. But the question remains, and is all too infrequently asked (given the relative obscurity of left communist theory), to what degree do these activities actually hinder the movements of fascism? I, among several other ultra leftists, would argue there is little to no real effect.

The failure of traditional anti-fascist movements revolves around the invented figure of what I would term the dark vanguard, the mirrored version of the Leninist vanguard party, complete with its public intellectual leaders, fondness for banners and slogans, and the threat it poses to liberal democracy. In the American anti-fascist mindset, this incredibly small group of people, who openly espouse hateful beliefs and cherish the legacies and symbols of incredibly violent states and organizations, Nazi Germany, the KKK, Rhodesia, represent the greatest possible threat to democracy, and left unchecked will topple the government and carry out all manners of atrocities. By adopting totally irrational and unconscionable views, the dark vanguardist is, within the leftist paradigm, reconstituted as a kind of homo sacer – they abandon all semblance of humanity and any actions can be carried out against them.

One might ask how this opponent can be regarded as ‘invented’, when it is clear that there are extreme reactionary demagogues in the United States and events like Unite the Right in Charlottesville demonstrate that there are, indeed, individuals with monstrous political views who walk among us? These extreme members of the alt-right are, beyond any doubt, fascists, and should be opposed, but there is an extreme hazard in conflating the figure of the individual fascist with fascism-in-itself. The dark vanguard is not responsible for the resurgence of fascism in the United States, nor can the success of the alt-right be, in any way, be regarded as the result of tactics similar to those employed by Leninists. The memetic and deeply libidinal strategies employed by the new right-wing movement represent a terrifying capacity for fascism to adapt to the conditions of capitalist post-modernity. By refusing to explore new explanatory paradigms, the radical left invents a new battlefield for itself with the same tools as their forebears, finding pleasure and gratification in the act of fighting a non-existent foe while fascism grows in and around them.

Like two male birds with extravagant plumage, anti-fascists and fascists become involved in a spectacular courtship ritual with the seemingly apolitical masses. It becomes a struggle to imbue the people with class consciousness, lest the far-right more quickly awaken their innate tendencies to be racist, genocidal assholes. But this conception is flawed, it attaches far too much significance to the media spectacle surrounding fascists. The threat of fascism, as Dauve makes quite clear, arises from within capitalism itself, not as the end-product of some anti-revolution. To invent a distinct activity of anti-fascism is to distract oneself from the real threats growing within government and the minds of people. Just as Bordiga would claim the worst product of fascism is anti-fascism, the response by liberal democracy in order to demolish the Nazi-flag-wielding Other is far more concerning than the profoundly alienated individuals in question.

It is deeply concerning that the act of anti-fascism is reduced to a mere performance, that showing up to the rally or the meeting is somehow a substitute for constructing a real movement to oppose the imposition of fascist policy. More concerning still is what the construction of this imaginary opponent says about the left themselves. Projecting their Leninist vanguard fantasies onto the alt-right speaks to both the failures of the left to adapt and the rampant failures to engage in meaningful self-criticism and consider their actions in a broader field. Are antifa the ‘real fascists’? Not by any means, their opponents are fascists through and through, but fighting a fascist does not make a person immune to fascism themselves. The potentiality for fascism is alive and well in the American left, and the longer their crusade against a false enemy continues, the closer they become to actualizing it.

As Deleuze and Guattari state in Micropolitics and Segmentarity:

“Leftist organizations will not be the last to secrete microfascisms. It’s too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective”

The American left only sees fascism in what Deleuze & Guattari would describe as a ‘molar’ form. Only when it involves people marching on the streets, calling for ethnic cleansing, does it materialize into a form for them to ‘fight’. Deleuze & Guattari explain that “microfascisms are what make fascism so dangerous”, rather than the molar form. It is not the alt-right speaker on campus that presents the greatest threat, it is the possibility of everyone else on campus to mobilize into pattern of fascist behavior. Fascism needn’t take the form of nostalgia for the Third Reich or a suspicious attitude towards Italian Futurism, rather, it merely requires the desire for a kind of widespread societal murder-suicide. There are ‘black holes’ within everyone and everything that fascism can mobilize into a tool of destruction. 

There is no defending liberal democracy from fascism – through its process of alienation liberalism serves as the breeding grounds for new generations of fascists, and the liberal nation-state is the only institution with enough power to mobilize fascism into its final, utterly necropolitical form. To make it the aim of the left to fight only the most visible forms of fascism is to neuter the left. Liberal democracy can always assist in the production of new enemies, while the state continues to perpetuate far more violence than any neo-Nazis skinheads ever will. When the fascist machine re-emerges, there is nothing to say that it will not utilize leftist organizational structures in order to mobilize along the line of flight towards total death. Indeed, just as the Sorelians and syndicalists were integrated into the fascist machinery of Mussolini’s Italy, today’s left slowly approaches the event horizon of National Bolshevism. 

The fight against fascism begins within one’s self, not in bashing in the face of The Other.

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