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So with that out of the way let’s work through these bloody tabs…
Okay so first reading is…
(Of course the guy doesn’t reply, but hey-ho who gives a shit?)
So in recent days/months, election of Trump and all that, there’s been a lot of guff about ‘fascism’ reemerging, which kind of begs the question what is fascism?
If a term is to have a use then it must have a precise meaning otherwise that use dissolves into nothing, of course there are overlaps and similarities, but fascism means something very specific. AOE, refers to Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Extremes’, I love Hobsbawm, but find he can be a slog sometimes to get through, the detail of information is both very rich and yet extremely sparse. He’s an admirable writer, able to be critical and unsentimental despite being a committed Marxist and therefore someone who has an idealised vision of how the world is supposed to be. One example of this is his treatment of fascism, much to my surprise, he says the likes of General Franco, Petain and Pinochet were not fascists, despite the fact they were right-wing authoritarian dictators
Anyway I’m working my way through AOE, have about 200 pages to get through, distracted thinking in recent weeks has slowed down my space, but after sending the above tweet, did some digging online to see if I could find Hobsbawm’s definition of fascism and rather surprisingly it wasn’t that easy to dig up, references to Hobsbawm writing on fascism in the Age of Extremes yes (which is what the first part of this post will be dealing with), but none of them explicitly lays out his definition of fascism.
The section in AOE that deals explicitly with the phenomenom of fascism is Chapter Four ‘The Fall of Liberalism’, in this chapter he identifies three threads of the right, which he calls ‘the forces overthrowing liberal democratic regimes.
The first kind are “old-fasioned authoritarians or conservatives” (p. 113), the best known example of which would be General Francisco Franco of Spain. their main characteristics were that they had “no particular ideological agenda, other than anti-communism and the prejudices traditional to their class. They might find themselves allied to Hitler Germany and to fascist movements in their own countries, but only because in the inter-war conjuncture, the ‘natural’ alliance was one of all sectors of the political right.” (p. 113)
The second kind is what he calls ‘organic statism’ or ‘conservative regimes’, this is a not very common variant, “The most complete examples of such corporatist states were found in some Roman Catholic countries, notably the Portugal of Professor Oliviera Salazar… but also in Austria between the destruction of democracy and invasion of Hitler (1934-38), and, to some extent, in Franco Spain.” (p. 114)
The third kind is then fascism proper. Hobsbawm doesn’t offer a snappy easily quotable definition of fascism, rather he expounds certain traits such as, “The major difference between the fascist and the non-fascist Right was that fascism existed by mobilising the masses from below.”
General traits include then…
It should also be added that one of the traits of the people who became fascist leaders were that they were war veterans, soldiers who rather than be horrified by the war they found it found it glorious, who reveled in the idea of war and bloodshed and saw it as a kind of cleansing ritual.
That out of the way onto the review itself….
Genovese praises ‘The Age of Extremes’ for being “penetrating and politically valuable”, stacked with stunning facts, a history of capitalisms greatest failures and triumphs (though he wrong attributes the defeat of fascism to capitalism).
“The simplest facts roll off Hobsbawm’s pages like thunderbolts. Between 1914 and 1990, the population of the world trebled, even though more people were killed or allowed to die by human decision than ever before, an estimated 187 million people, or 10 percent of the population of 1900. And the Golden Age, which lasted from the end of World War ii to the early 1970s, “marked the end of seven or eight millennia of human history … if only because it ended the long era when the overwhelming majority of the human race lived by growing food and herding animals.””
He sets the Russian revolution at the heart of the book, seeing as this is both the event which comes in right at the start but also acts as the closing act of the short twentieth century. Spends a lot of time talking about the failure of socialism, especially the uptopian bent of it. States the fault lies with Lenin for spliting the revolutionary movement, between reformers and revolutionaries, this was in light of the failure for the evolutiuon to spread to the industrialised west, Germany especially. Ultimately Stalin was proven right with his forced march towards industrialisation “at any cost”. His analysis of fascism dispels many long held myths especially on the left. However he is light on the methodology of the Nazis, how they managed to eliminate unemployment. Praises how he treats the cold war. Still adhears to Marx and his analytical reverence.
“Hobsbawm also recognizes, with refreshing frankness, that the ideological wars of the twentieth century have echoed the religious wars of earlier times, and that socialist, communist, fascist and even liberal ideologies emerged as secularized versions of Christian dogmatism or, more accurately, of the great Christian heresies.”
Mentions parallels with the work of John Lukacs, “the conservative Catholic historian who shares with Hobsbawm an encyclopedic range, a penchant for independent thought and an impatience with theories that do not work.” Both pre-eminent, neither of whom acknowledges the other. Mentions how he pops many of the bubbles of the left, especially about what is and isn’t fascism. however his influence on leftist thought is minimal, in part because he doesn’t do polemics, in part because he offers realistic appraisals of political enemies, especially Regan and Thatcher.
“in truth, many of us who supported the socialist bloc to the bitter end believed for a long time that the political Byzantinism, mass murders and bureaucratic rigidities of socialism would be overcome, that those horrors were all that was keeping capitalism afloat. We overestimated the weaknesses of capitalism and we underestimated the weaknesses of socialism. In effect, we remained convinced that capitalism could not solve its problems, but that socialism would solve its own… …Read Hobsbawm’s acute analysis any way you want to read it and you end with two conclusions: a command economy cannot compete with a capitalist economy, and there is no reason to’ believe that a different kind of socialism could compete more effectively.”
At one point he gives praise to a footnote I found very interesting myself where Hobsbawn attacks some of the ideals of radical feminism, two footnotes in ‘The Age of Extremes’ deal with this.
“A later phase of feminism did indeed learn to insist on gender difference as well as gender inequality, even though the use of a liberal ideology of abstract individualism and the tool of ‘equal rights’ law was not readily compatible with the recognition that women were not, and ought not necessarily to be, like men, and the other way around.” (p. 317-318)
The footnote to which reads…
“Thus ‘affirmative action, i.e. giving a group preferential treatment in access to some social resource or activity, is consistent with equality only on the assumption that it is a temporary measure, to be phased out when equal access has been achieved on its own merrits; i.e. that on the assumption that preferential treatment is merely the removal of an unfair handicap on the entrants to the same race. This is obviously sometimes the case. But where we deal with permanent difference it cannot be to the point. It is absurd, even at first sight, to give men priority in entering courses on coloratura singing or to insist that it is theoretically desirable, on demographic grounds, that 50 per cent of army generals should be women. On the other hand it is entirely legitimate to give every man with the wish and potential qualifications to sing Norma, and every woman with the wish and potential to lead an army, their chance to do so.”
And referring to a missive on the havoc caused in the West by social revolution…
“One thinks of the argument, at one time common in some feminist circles, that women’s domestic work should be calculated (and where necessary, paid) at a market rate, or the justification of abortion reform in terms of an abstract and unlimitied ‘right to choose’ of the individual (woman).” (p. 336)
“The legitimacy of a claim must be distinguished clearly from the arguments used to justify it. The relation of a husband, wife and children in a household has not the faintest resemblance to that of buyers and sellers in a market, however notional. Nor is the decision to have or not have a child, even if taken unilaterally, one which concerns exclusively the individual who takes that decision. This statement of the obvious is perfectly compatible with the desire to transform women’s household role or favour the right of abortion.”
Whilst I think the nature of things and human relations necessitate the argument for abortion being made on a choice basis, ultimately the buck stops with the woman, still I have a lot of sympathy with his nuanced and thoughtful take and the observation of how our current ideologies can affect and often create weaknesses in arguments made in favour of undoing what are objectively great wrongs.
He attributes to Hobsbawm a faith in the idea that socialism cannot defeat capitalism and that a mixed economy is the best way forward (not sure if I agree with that, to his dying he still had faith, his second last book was a collection of essays entitled How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism). Mentions his takes on youth culture, individualism and culture in general, the following is an interesting aside, though again I’m not sure I agree.
“Still, I confess to sniffing a bit at his assault on Hitler and Stalin for stifling avant-gardism in the arts. No, I do not wish to defend the repressions of Hitler and Stalin; but I do wish-that Hobsbawm had considered the possibility that the avantgarde’s assault on “bourgeois” culture, on all structures of authority, nourished the nihilism from which only the Nazis benefited during the first half of the century, and from which the most dangerous elements in our political life stand to benefit during the century ahead.”
Makes a dumb comment about environmentalism…
“But he also makes clear, as few on the left do, that much contemporary environmentalism is a form of hysteria, and betrays a bourgeois contempt for the necessary trade-off between conservationism and an economic growth vital to poorer countries, and often manipulates public opinion in the service of sectarian political and ideological ends.”
Yeah mate, it’s hysterical because it has to be, how else are we supposed to draw attention to these forces which are primed to doom us if we don’t pay attention to them?
He notes how Hobsbawm worries for the fate of poor people and nations who may well be left behind. closes the piece by praising him statong he is the only true great historian to emerge from the Marxist left (what about Thomspon?).
Second reading is…
Another ‘Age of extremes’ review, this time by Edward “Orientalism” Said.
Contra mundum means “defying everyone else”, review starts very positively praising Hobsbawm’s achievement in writing his entire “age of…” series.
“It is difficult to imagine that anyone other than Hobsbawm could have approached – much less achieved – the consistently high level of these volumes: taken together, they represent one of the summits of historical writing in the postwar period. Hobsbawm is cool where others are hot and noisy; he is ironic and dispassionate where others would have been either angry or heedless; he is discriminatingly observant and subtle where on the same ground other historians would have resorted to clichés or to totalistic system.”
He notes that the books trace the growth of a truly global consciousness. The series begins in Europe and in the ‘Age of Empires’ Hobsbawm acknowledges this, but also points out how his parents met in Alexandria and how his intellectual quest is rooted therein in trying to accommodate an understanding that “Europe alone can no longer be his subject”. Notes about how this history exists in that period which he now remembers and sometimes took part in, saw Stalin’s body, surprised at how short he was. the quote about the atomisation of modern society is mentioned again “the disintegration of the old patterns of social relationships and with it, incidentally, the snapping of the links between generations, that is to say, between past and present”. Mentions how the book is split into three parts, ‘The Age of Catastrophies’ (1914-1945), ‘The Golden Age’ (1945-1973) and Landslide (1974-1991), quote about ‘Landslide’ is interesting…
“‘The Landslide’, traces the collapse of most things – the world economy, socialism, the artistic avant garde – as the story limps to a not particularly cheering conclusion, waiting for the millennium surrounded by poverty and ‘consumer egoism’, all-powerful media, a decline of state power, a rise in ethnic hatred, and an almost total lack of vision. “
Note “lack of vision”, something Adam Curtis also mentions in Hypernormalisation (must write up something about that soon), which is also something he has been criticised about, very wrongly to my mind.
The heart of the book lies in…
“For him the central story of the century is the battle for the hearts and minds of Europeans and (principally North) Americans. He sees the double paradox of capitalism given life by socialism, and of Fascism as belonging not ‘to an oriental feudalism with an imperial national mission’ but ‘to the era of democracy and the common man’.”
Mentions how he treats socialism, unflinchingly, rooted in idealism and the sacrifice of individual militants, not just cold blooded bureaucracy, demystifies the cold war. Treatment of golden age, also good, covers a lot, from the decline of workers as a force, to the cultural revolution which he look on with mild enthusiasm, praises some reforms, but bemoans many losses. In ‘Landslide’, we get collapse and the rise of racism again (which is something I find odd to read having assumed that this period marked something of a beating back of racism, but especially sexism, the latter is certainly true, but I accept that he’s correct about the former), the science chapter is praised for being gripping (to the layman).
“His conclusion, laced with understandable fatigue and uncertainty, is scarcely less pessimistic. Most of what he has to say about the fin de siècle in his final pages is already perceptible in earlier sections of the book. The general loss of Marxism and of the models for political action developed in the 1890s is balanced by the bankruptcy of counter-alternatives, principal among them a ‘theological faith in an economy in which resources were allocated entirely by the totally unrestricted market, under conditions of unlimited competition’. The worldwide assault on the environment, the population explosion, the collapse of state power and the appearance of fundamentalist mass movements with ‘nothing of relevance to say’ about the modern world, all these show how ‘the fate of humanity in the new millennium would depend on the restoration of public authorities’. It is clear that Hobsbawm sees link hope in a solution that prolongs either the past or the present. Both have proved themselves unworthy models.”
The conclusion then is dispiriting, some of the book is hard going, the tone often subdued and defeated. Notes how Hobsbawm is critical of the lack of originality in Western culture, but this neglects what has happened in the non-western world, doesn’t really deal with non-western nationalism and is quite dismissive of it in general. Also doesn’t handle very well the rise of politicised religion, which he claims incorrectly to be mostly an islamic phenomenom, quite wrong, in the first place because you have the obvious example of the pivot of the republicans in the US towards the Christian right, Israel in general, but also the role Western interfearance played a huge role in helping to foster extreme Islam. He is far too unkind to the achievement of political Islam in some cases.
“The last thing to be said about them, or the Muslims (in the understanding of whose world Hobsbawm is surprisingly banal) is that they ‘have nothing of relevance to say’ about their societies. Barring a few cranks (like the Saudi Arabian cleric who persists in preaching that the world is, and always will be, flat), the contemporary Muslim movements in places like Egypt and Gaza have generally done a better job of providing welfare, health and pedagogical services to an impoverished populace than the government.”
Praises it as offering an excellent overview, but one which misses out on certain experiences because of that…
“Missing from the panorama Hobsbawm presents is the underlying drive or thrust of a particular era. I assume that this is because he thinks impersonal or large-scale forces are more important, but I wonder whether witnesses, militants, activists, partisans and ordinary people are somehow of less value in the construction of a full-scale history of the 20th century. I don’t know the answer to this, but I tend to trust my own hunch that the view from within, so to speak, needs some reconciling with the overview, some orchestrating and shading.”
Very jaundiced view of the arts after 1914, noting only dada and surrealism as having achieved anything of merit, very dismissive of post-modernism.
“The irony here is that both Modernism and Post-Modernism represent crises of historical consciousness: the former a desperate attempt to reconstruct wholeness out of fragments, the latter a deep-seated wish to be rid of history and all its neuroses. In any case the Short 20th Century is, more strikingly and jarringly than any before it, an age of warring interpretations, of competing ideologies, methods, crises. The disciples of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, the apologists for culture and counter-culture, for tradition, modernity and consciousness, have filled the air, and indeed space itself, with contestation, diatribe, competing viewpoints; our century has been the age of Newspeak, propaganda, media hype and advertising. One reason for this – as Gramsci, unmentioned by Hobsbawm, was perhaps the first to appreciate – is the enormous growth in the number and importance of intellectuals, or ‘mental workers’ as they are sometimes called. Well over 60 per cent of the GNP in advanced Western societies is now derived from their labour; this has led to what Hobsbawm calls in passing ‘the age of Benetton’, as much the result of advertising and marketing, as of the changed modes of production.”
Concludes with a general bemoaning then of Hobsbawm’s lack of optimism and hope, an over emphasis of facts at the expense of something more spiritual, perhaps also his old fashionedness, obliquely hinting at a lack of appreciation for how far we have traveled.
Bloody hell three and a half thousand words!!! And still loads of tabs to go (I have recklessly opened more since beginning this. This needs a picture to break it up…
There, that’s better, right next one…
Moving away from Hobsbawm and onto a general essay by Umberto Eco called…
“In 1942, at the age of ten, I received the First Provincial Award of Ludi Juveniles (a voluntary, compulsory competition for young Italian Fascists—that is, for every young Italian). I elaborated with rhetorical skill on the subject “Should we die for the glory of Mussolini and the immortal destiny of Italy?” My answer was positive. I was a smart boy.”
Well done for being smart mate, would never have thought it otherwise.
Talks about dodging bullets, hearing Mimo’s (one-legged partisan leader) speech, it was short, “He said: “Citizens, friends. After so many painful sacrifices … here we are. Glory to those who have fallen for freedom.” And that was it. He went back inside. The crowd yelled, the partisans raised their guns and fired festive volleys. We kids hurried to pick up the shells, precious items, but I had also learned that freedom of speech means freedom from rhetoric.”
Experience of meeting first American soldier, black, with comics, and chewing gum. The war ends, sees pictures of holocaust, realises what they were saved from. Dreams and rumours of the resistence. Mentions how communists claimed the revolution, but his hero ended up being a monarchist anti-communist. Admires conviction if not the deeds themselves. Who are they? The fascists, lists some attributes, including anti-semitism (so disagrees with Hobsbawm then). Talks about differences between Nazi and stalinist cultures, but ultimately that both were totalitarian. Mussolini has no real ideology, only rhetoric. He was the first fascist, all others followed him, some conservatives were impressed by this, both its anti-communist bent and capacity for social reform.
“Nevertheless, historical priority does not seem to me a sufficient reason to explain why the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different totalitarian movements. This is not because fascism contained in itself, so to speak in their quintessential state, all the elements of any later form of totalitarianism. On the contrary, fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions. Can one conceive of a truly totalitarian movement that was able to combine monarchy with revolution, the Royal Army with Mussolini’s personal milizia, the grant of privileges to the Church with state education extolling violence, absolute state control with a free market? The Fascist Party was born boasting that it brought a revolutionary new order; but it was financed by the most conservative among the landowners who expected from it a counter-revolution. At its beginning fascism was republican. Yet it survived for twenty years proclaiming its loyalty to the royal family, while the Duce (the unchallenged Maximal Leader) was arm-in-arm with the King, to whom he also offered the title of Emperor. But when the King fired Mussolini in 1943, the party reappeared two months later, with German support, under the standard of a “social” republic, recycling its old revolutionary script, now enriched with almost Jacobin overtones.”
Writes about the monoculture of fascism, one architect, one poet, slightly different in Italy, where you had futurism, which from a Nazi point of view would have been considered ‘entartete Kunst‘. Incidentally I remember a lecture from my days in NCAD on this kind of art, I feel looking back there was something cheap in using the Nazi treatment of modern art as a kind of after the fact justification for it, if the Nazis are everything bad and they dislike modern art that implies modern art is everything good, this kind of uncritical self valorisation is in fact what makes art so weak, it corrodes the possibility of true criticism, keeps it stagnant and deluded about the true nature of its own radicalism, it is crude vanity of the lowest order and for something which aims at high ideals is unbecoming and in many respects a betrayal of that idealism.
The fascist education system, free from ideology became a melting pot, those in power did not have the brains to control. Perhaps fascism in this respect contains the seeds of its own destruction? Perhaps. There was a sense that you could get away with certain kinds of critiques, he also mentions poets, on the other hand…
“All this does not mean that Italian fascism was tolerant. Gramsci was put in prison until his death; the opposition leaders Giacomo Matteotti and the brothers Rosselli were assassinated; the free press was abolished, the labor unions were dismantled, and political dissenters were confined on remote islands. Legislative power became a mere fiction and the executive power (which controlled the judiciary as well as the mass media) directly issued new laws, among them laws calling for preservation of the race (the formal Italian gesture of support for what became the Holocaust).”
Fascism is fuzzy, he cites Witgenstein’s language games…
“Consider the following sequence:
Suppose there is a series of political groups in which group one is characterized by the features abc, group two by the features bcd, and so on. Group two is similar to group one since they have two features in common; for the same reasons three is similar to two and four is similar to three. Notice that three is also similar to one (they have in common the feature c). The most curious case is presented by four, obviously similar to three and two, but with no feature in common with one. However, owing to the uninterrupted series of decreasing similarities between one and four, there remains, by a sort of illusory transitivity, a family resemblance between four and one.
Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. Take away imperialism from fascism and you still have Franco and Salazar. Take away colonialism and you still have the Balkan fascism of the Ustashes. Add to the Italian fascism a radical anti-capitalism (which never much fascinated Mussolini) and you have Ezra Pound. Add a cult of Celtic mythology and the Grail mysticism (completely alien to official fascism) and you have one of the most respected fascist gurus, Julius Evola.”
Goes on to list 14 traits of what he calls ‘Ur Fasicsm’
Mentions fall of Musollini or reading about it as a child in 1943, mentions again how he was a clever boy (I’m inclined to think this Umberto Eco guy is a bit of a twat) for figuring out that these parties which he now found out existed must have existed for some time. Words such as ‘freedom’ were new to him.
“We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”
And he closes with a poem…
“(On the bridge’s parapet
The heads of the hanged
In the flowing rivulet
The spittle of the hanged.
On the cobbles in the market- places
The fingernails of those lined up and shot
On the dry grass in the open spaces
The broken teeth of those lined up and shot.
Biting the air, biting the stones
Our flesh is no longer human
Biting the air, biting the stones
Our hearts are no longer human.
But we have read into the eyes of the dead
And shall bring freedom on the earth
But clenched tight in the fists of the dead
Lies the justice to be served.)“
There you go, this post is long enough, I have many tabs still open, but will continue it in a new post.]]>
Anyway it’s short, conceptually tight and all that, click on that big old play arrow to have a gander.]]>
I should publish it here as well as on medium but I’m being a little lazy today, and have a bloody accounting test I should be studying for.]]>
“The goal of a mass telecommunication culture is psychoanalysis in reverse. It’s that the little, last remaining parts of that garrison [of consciousness] become unconscious. It’s precisely to reverse that process of enlightenment. Mass culture is enlightenment in reverse gear. Precisely to wipe out that last little garrison of autonomy. It is a constant assault upon it.” If Rick Roderick was right about this, then the sacred duty of the artist is clear, to counteract the forces of mass media and in the process create garrisons of autonomy, of awareness, to talk it out. How precisely, I just don’t know, but I aim at least to try. Seanán Kerr is an artist who works mostly with film, but sometimes installation.
I only ended up doing one of these because my camera bloody broke, I will likely finish this series over the Summer, it’s a bit gimmicky really but they’re nice to look at, I like the texture of them anyway.
Ps. You need to click on the images above to see the suckers animate!]]>