Amar Diwakar: The Cultural Rehabilitation of Fascism

Daily Mail, 15 January 1934
Daily Mail, 15 January 1934

In the context of the rotting corpse of inept technocracy, demagoguery markets itself as a slick upstart, free of the venal. It panders to primeval impulses, taps into resentment, promises to avenge the downtrodden, all the while recalibrating its alliances with the elite. Less than a decade into the aftermath of the financial crisis, a gestational fascism has been harnessed on both sides of the Atlantic. An emboldened jingoism promises reindustrialization and security, as the transference of anxieties and prejudices are consequently discharged onto the ‘other’.

The cultural rehabilitation of fascism was always latent: Trump successfully mobilised the dark underbelly of America that always lurked in the hinterlands of the Republic. Ideologically overlapping with cross-Atlantic reactionary siblings – from UKIP, The Front National, to the Five Star Movement – Trumpism merges social conservatism with protectionism while rejecting defunct establishment conservatism. Following Brexit, what remains of the ‘special relationship’ of Anglo-American global preponderance is now mediated by stewardships in thrall to a provincialism underpinned by ethnocentric neurosis. Poland and Hungary have similarly fallen prey, and many other European democracies have far-right parties on the mend. In 2017, Marine La Pen and Geert Wilders have more than a punters chance to win their respective elections, a frightening prospect that will only deepen ‘Fortress Europe’ and institutionalise bigotry.

Recall that the 20th-century fascisms of the interwar period were products of extreme dislocation, and similar movements are developing today in response to contemporary economic turmoil and hyper militarism. Presently, an organised opposition to global capital does not exist in any meaningful sense; the so-called Left is bereft of ideological purchase after accommodating itself to social democracy and ‘Third Way’ centrism: ruling-class strategies that have been hollowed out following the 2007-08 crash. Reactionary populism positioned itself as the bulwark against neoliberal exploitation, without the need to upend the foundations of the liberal state; rather, it seizes the institutional reigns while fostering a politics of sadism.

To expect a shake-up of a corrosive status quo through the empowering of a megalomaniac is to condone a rapidly changing social terrain that has become susceptible to an ascendant white supremacy and visibly hostile towards minority communities. That Trump’s litany of aficionados include a host of far-right populist leaders, a slew of white nationalist twitter followers, and unabashed Neo-Nazis should leave us with no illusions as to what social forces his presidency is aligned with. A cursory glance at the ‘deplorables’ that will make up Trump’s inner circle – Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser, Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General – reveals an administration akin to what one might find rotting at the bottom of a drained swamp.

As India and Turkey have shown in electing pro-market authoritarians in theological garb, democracy remains a fragile institution. As Ambedkar cautioned in the 1950s, democracy was “only a top dressing on Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” The enthrallment of mature democracies to an anti-globalization nativist backlash, and its corresponding anti-immigrant sentiment (along with a brazen nod to Putinism), eerily plays into the deep-seated fantasies of the Russian far-right, Kremlin-bankrolled political theorist Alexandr Dugin, who promotes a multipolar world of Pan-European, traditionalist states. Dugin’s “fourth position Eurasianism” outlines a broad ideology directed against Western hegemony by challenging liberalism, globalization, and American dominance. It is hard to deny Dugin’s influence is manifest in the geopolitical outlook of much of the European radical right: Eurosceptic parties – linked by Moscow’s support – are feverishly inspired by his endorsement of apartheid-style ethnostates, and will look to build upon the impetus of the Trumpist surge.

Putin, Erdogan, Modi, Trump: quite a demagogic cast at the subsequent G20 convocation. While there is no doubt that the ramifications of a Trump presidency will be global, of added interest would be how it generates simultaneous realignment around gender in the international sphere. In what ways will masculinity and femininity function on the diplomatic level between Trump, Merkel and May? Not to forget the alpha-male rivalry between Putin and Trump. The conciliatory tone towards Russia suggests a future alliance that challenges the EU and NATO, while the hostility levelled at “currency manipulating” China will aggravate antagonisms in the South China Sea. All the while, the barbarous Assad regime continues its industrial slaughter of Syrians, and illegal Israeli settlements proceed with impunity.

While such demagoguery does not have to be concerned with the semantics of whether it can be accurately described as fascistic, its trajectory is what matters most. Trump has already indicated that he will continue mass rallies while in office, suggesting the menacing possibility of collectively sanctioned mass-violence and an enduring personality cult. The macabre policies and ethnonationalism being encouraged must be directly confronted while resisting the normalisation of chauvinism – not to mention the fashionable scapegoating of ‘identity politics’ – in the context of virulent, pugnacious spite directed against segments of racial, religious, gender, and sexual minorities engaged in on-going struggle.

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