By Doctor Comrade
I spent a good part of my weekend speaking with white nationalists on Twitter. I learned a lot about #whitegenocide, which came to my attention because aspirant fascist Donald Trump had earlier retweeted a user with the Twitter handle “WhiteGenocideTM” (proponents of “white genocide” believe that the people of color of the world are engaged in a genocide of Europeans). When I brought this up with my wife, she astutely observed that she’s not as afraid of Trump as she is of his supporters: millions of Americans who genuinely believe he would make an excellent president, and many of whom are white nationalists or white supremacists. Of course I agree, but it’s also important to note that all fascist movements have at their heart a charismatic leader who is sustained by a cult of personality (Hitler as the Führer, Mussolini as Il Duce, Franco, Salazar, and Pinochet, for example).
But we have to remember that fascism is a particular kind of bourgeois reaction. In his essay “Ur-Fascism,” Umberto Eco, cultural theorist and novelist, attempted to define fascism broadly, in order to bring the weak philosophies of numerous fascist states into a coherent definition of “Eternal Fascism” (pg. 5). I think a brief list of his fourteen criteria would be helpful here (pg. 5-8):
1. Cult of tradition that reveals a “primeval truth.”
2. Rejection of modernism, including the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and “modern depravity.”
3. Cult of action for action’s sake, meaning a rejection of intellectualism and criticism.
4. Because the cult is syncretistic (combining many contradictory forms of tradition), it must be immune to analytical criticism.
5. “Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference,” an “appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
6. “appeal to a frustrated middle class” that has suffered a perceived slight or humiliation.
7. Nationalism that is obsessed “with a plot,” meaning an international conspiracy to destroy the nation.
8. “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies” so that the enemies are “too strong and too weak” simultaneously.
9. There must be a final solution that will usher in a Golden Age.
10. Popular elitism, meaning that “every citizen belongs to the best people of the world,” but the contradiction is that fascist societies are always hierarchical, leading to endless hatred towards all inferiors.
11. “Heroism is the norm” because all members of the chosen people are heroic.
12. Because permanent war and heroism are difficult, these energies are channeled into sex, meaning those outside “normal” sex are therefore evil.
13. There is no individual, only the Common Will, which is interpreted by the leader.
14. “Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak,” similar to Orwell’s creation in 1984, which is so basic that it limits critical thinking.
This is truly a fascinating list. Slate author Jamelle Bouie utilized it for Donald Trump, arguing that “together and in the person of Donald Trump, it’s clear: The rhetoric of fascism is here. And increasingly, the policies are too. The only thing left is the violence.” He did such a good job reviewing Trump that I think it would be redundant to attempt it here. Clearly, Trump is a charismatic leader whose cult of personality is festering in the minds of many Americans, feeding on their frustrations, growing off their fear, and metastasizing in the hope for a better America.
What I’m looking at, however, goes along with what my wife said: why are Trump’s followers so scary? It’s because they have fallen victim to the fascist impulse: the appealing idea of “making America great again,” as in taking back power from the Democrats, the immigrants, the blacks, the women, the UN, and the Chinese.
We should briefly revisit post-WWI German history to lend context to this current outbreak of fascism in the US. Following Germany’s defeat in WWI, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm, the ascendance of the Social Democratic Party and democracy in Germany, the embarrassment of the Treaty of Versailles, the overall waning of German power, and the Great Depression left many ordinary Germans in extreme poverty. Under the Weimar Republic, named for the small town in which Germany’s new constitution had been signed, both fascists and communists grew in power, capitalizing on the German people’s destitution.
Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP or “Nazi” Party) preyed on alienated and desperate Germans: Hitler blamed the weak Social Democrats for capitulating to France in the Treaty of Versailles, he blamed Germany’s defeat in WWI on everyone from Jews to communists who had undermined Germany’s military might, and more importantly, he promised a revolution that would fully restore Germany’s empire, the Third Reich. A small but significant portion of Germans were drawn to this rhetoric in the late 1920s and early 1930s (though it should be noted the Nazis never won an electoral majority in the Reichstag until they outlawed competing parties). They used a national catastrophe, the burning of the Reichstag building, to justify suspension of civil rights and the arrests of more than 4,000 communists. Later, the Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler legislative as well as executive power, ushering in his dictatorship.
Eco’s definition certainly draws heavily from the Nazis, who were undoubtedly the most recognizable fascist party of the twentieth century. But we unfortunately see the same rhetoric espoused by Trump supporters in the US, particularly those who believe in white genocide. For example, replace “French” or “Jews” in Hitler’s speeches with “immigrants” or “Latinos” and suddenly the anti-immigrant vitriol of American white nationalists is drawn into focus. To “make America great again,” Trump and his supporters are agitating for a right-wing revolution that will cast out the evil outsiders and return the US to its Golden Age, where “traditional” forms of morality were observed and the “greatest generation” of American heroes governed. The Third Reich and Imperial Fate of Rome are ideals of racial, nationalist, and moralist hegemony, which American neo-fascists have embraced in the twenty-first century in their utopian visions for the US.
This is appealing to many Americans because fascism is a bastardized form of class consciousness. Where communists see class consciousness as transcending national boundaries, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other traits, fascists use class consciousness as a way to form racial and nationalist solidarity. Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”) and Herrenvolk (“master race”) were meant to articulate the defining bond between “true” German people, thus giving them an identity to coalesce around. Similarly, American white nationalists see white Americans as the Herrenvolk, and any who would threaten the master race’s hegemony are therefore evil. In the US, the Untermenschen (“sub-humans”) are comprised of immigrants, people who look like immigrants, and African Americans. The outsiders, who Trump has characterized as rapists and drug smugglers, threaten the sanctity not only of our borders but of our people, our national character, and our safety. This is why Eco says fascism is inherently racist: because those outside the Herrenvolk, those who are different because of their race and nationality, are seen as the enemy.
White nationalists and white supremacists believe that this racial order should be inscribed into national policy and enforced through state control or state violence. In one exchange on Twitter, an interlocutor told me that “might makes right,” which means that the Native Americans deserved the genocide by Europeans because the continent was “fairgame [sic].” But now, under the conditions of white genocide, “diversity was forced on us hard in the last 70 years,” which is a cry to all whites to oppose the brownification of the US. This white supremacist racial order existed before, during the eras of immigration quotas and anti-miscegenation laws, to list only two examples.
I also contend that fascism is inherently tied to classist bourgeois ethics and capitalist ideology. Hitler articulated a vision of a right-wing revolution, not conservative but radical, in which the master race would establish a new world order and abolish the bourgeoisie. However, by espousing what Eco called the “Common Will,” Hitler reinforced class stratification under the guise of revolutionary Herrenvolk egalitarianism. If each person of the chosen people is a hero, then they are in some twisted way all the same. This further implies that class becomes defined by race, where the Herrenvolk are the elites while the Untermenschen are the lower classes. This became a justification for ownership of the means of production by the racial superiors (evidenced by the re-appropriation of Jewish businesses under the Nuremberg Laws, for example).
Similarly, white supremacist fascists in America believe that immigrants are taking over, that immigrants and racial inferiors are stealing what rightfully belongs to whites. This petty fear of loss of property is intimately tied to ideals about property rights and who owns capital, ie bourgeois ethics. When conservative reactionaries in this country and others fight against “Marxists” or “socialists,” they always speak of the government taking what rightfully belongs to the individual. But in fascism, there is no individual, only the master race, the Common Will. Therefore, when immigrants threaten property, they threaten the supremacy of whites as a class. This is one of the ways they articulate a warped version of class consciousness: that whites must unite as a class in order to protect property, territory, ethics, and national security.
When white supremacists feel threatened, partially because of their inability to prevent the influx of immigrants, it is also tied to their sexual insecurities and a particularly patronizing form of masculinity. For example, one interlocutor repeatedly called me a “cuck,” which is short for cuckold. What seems obvious to me is that he thinks being cuckolded is the worst offense that can happen to someone, so he tried to use it against me. All this revealed is that he himself is afraid of being cuckolded by men of color. He said he felt bad for my wife because I’m mixed race. Apparently, I have successfully cuckolded every white man on Earth by stealing a white woman. What’s more, to his endless sexual frustration, we see untrustworthy white women failing the white race by cavorting with men of color. That no white man was good enough to convince my wife not to marry me only added to his irritation.
This is a version of masculinity that sees women as docile, ignorant, incompetent non-agents (even though, after all, my wife did agree to marry me, she made a decision). White men, the rightful owners of all white women, must stand up to the tide of immigrants and refuse to allow brown and black men to sully white women.
And because they imagine an idealized (and fictional) version of the US before the immigrants invaded, they see even the presence of minorities and immigrants as upheaval. Just by having people of color in this country, these white supremacist fascists believe that their power is being questioned. In truth, it is, but not for the reasons they state, and certainly not with the implications they articulate.
Ultimately, fascism is the worst form of false consciousness. It exploits, expounds, perpetuates, and reinforces divisions between working people. It labels scapegoats that distract from genuine exploitation by economic elites. Just in the twentieth century, we can see this kind of divisiveness preventing working class solidarity: white Protestants scapegoat(ed) Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews, blacks and freed slaves, Chinese immigrants, Mexicans and Cubans, and in the twenty-first century, Muslims, and—as Trump said—the Chinese again. Always pointing at an external or externalized enemy prevents introspection and self-consciousness. If an outsider can always be blamed for economic trouble, then the real exploiters continue unfettered and the working class remains divided. Material conditions do not change because the immigrants aren’t actually responsible for economic hardship. But they are a useful red herring, especially when people feeling the fascist impulse are already so desperate.