Wednesday 16 August 2017

The Faces of Fascism

Look at the state of these. Young white American men. Young white American men with burners on a fascist march in Charlottesville. You might have heard a wee bit about it. This led to clashes, the murder of a comrade protesting against these pricks, and a huge political fall out thanks to Trump's trouble condemning the violence of white supremacists and Theresa May's inability to criticise him. I have another post brewing about what happened at the weekend, but I'd just like to make a side contribution about fascist faces. That is we don't normally see them, do we? What are the Ku Klux Klan best known for, apart from appalling racism and violence towards black people? Their hoods. Hoods that were donned by otherwise respectable southern men to put a distance between their banal, upstanding everyday selves and the commission of racist intimidation. A number of people have picked up on this to suggest a couple of interrelated points. That the election of Donald Trump has emboldened the far right to come out of the shadows and mobilise publicly, and open fascism now when their forebears concealed their identities under the hood suggests things are worse now than they were then.

Racism is as American as mom and apple pie. But so is anti-racism and anti-fascism. The latter is where the bulk of Americans are, particularly the young, and the left can easily out-mobilise the pathetic forces of the KKK, the so-called alt-right and the heavily armed bands of self-styled race warriors, survivalists, and end-of-the-world psychotics. The America of racist cops who murder young black men with impunity is opposed by the America of Black Lives Matter and increasing numbers of appalled people. Because of past struggles and important victories the weight of history is against the hipster Nazis and their dreams of race war and genocide in the United States. It's therefore a real stretch to suggest we're on the threshold of a fash revival, despite the boosters provided by Trump and Breitbart and those magazine articles dripping superlatives over Richard Spencer's wardrobe. Still, if American fascism and racism is in long term decline that doesn't explain why so many would-be Nazis happily posed for pictures and had their mugs plastered all over the internet. In addition to the emboldening thesis (yes, a movement can simultaneously be in decline and be emboldened) there are two additional explanations for this behaviour.

The anonymity afforded by the internet and what that means for popular culture is so 1990s. Read any scholarship on presentations of self and online communities from 20 years ago and it truly is a foreign country. Today, thanks to social media, it's all about the attention economy. Just as celebrities vie for attention on social networks and traditional media outlets, many millions of us willingly play the same game in our own personal friendship universes. Content creation inculcates a certain level of narcissism, of widely projecting oneself onto your networks regardless of whether you're a YouTube star, throw out podcasts, tweet, prattle away on Facebook or, um, blog. The attraction of attention is incentivised by the very structure of the platforms, and people have an interest in wearing a big arrow over their head pointing at them. This attention economy valorises novelty and finds itself often expressed by being in or at events and/or hanging around with others, which in turn can (and does) spark off interest from the network (such as celebrity selfies - crucially, only one selfie of me and Jeremy Corbyn exists). This applies to political people who want to be seen at some sort of political event, having a night out on the lash, and ... fascists. Our far right frat boys and gamergating basement dwellers with their burners and idiot insecurities are entirely habituated to this culture of visibility and being seen. It would have occurred to few of them to cover their face and protect their identity because they'd want to pore over the photographs after the event and share them among their networks to show they were at Charlottesville, how hardcore and authentic they were, and what have you.

And then there is naivete. These kids are used to frictionless political activity. Hanging out online with like-minded volk, the hairiest it gets is anonymously trolling lefties or watching other fascists, like Spencer, getting punched. But despite being aware of the social costs of being an open racist and white nationalist, it isn't real until you have experienced it yourself. In their arrogance and narcissism the most these fash were expecting was a few placard wavers and that's it. They weren't expecting to be met by militant and sometimes violent opposition, or have their faces plastered all over international news, or have themselves doxxed and exposed, or get fired from their jobs or, in one case, disowned by their parents. If a few cuts and bruises is all a Charlottesville marcher has to cry about, they got off lightly. Some of these inadequates returned home to ostracisation and ruin. They are learning that being an out and proud Hitler fanboy does have consequences, that the social world cleaves not to a so-called master race but spits at them.


Ken said...

Typo alert;pore think, not pour.

Phil said...

Spotted it just before I saw your comment!

Boffy said...

Not all those who voted for Brexit here would be drawn into similar such activity, but we know a significant core minority would, be, and just as Trump has provided legitimacy for such elements to come out from under their rock, so Brexit has allowed them to do the same here, as witnessed by the significant rises in racist attacks.

We should remember those interviewed in Hanley some months ago, who welcomed Trump's election, and thought it would be good if Britain was also ruled by Trump - not someone like Trump, but actually Trump! Trump's wider base of bigotry is the swamp from which these more hard core fasicsts elements are drawn, and as UKIP collapses, whilst Brexit is splitting the Tories, it is not hard to see how a charismatic nationalist could pull the same hard core elements behind them here.

But, that shows why Labour's near identity with the Tories on Brexit - in fact the Tory hard Brexit position is more rational than Labour's total confusion, wavering, and dissembling - is extremely dangerous. Its time for socialists to get off the fence, and to call out the bigotry for what it is, rather than keeping on excusing it, and pandering to it, for fear of losing a few votes from bigots.

The danger is being exposed clearly in Ireland. Its time for Labour to say openly that Brexit was based on bigotry, and that we will have no truck with it. Brexit is inimical to workers interests, and we will oppose it with every fibre. Our interests lie not with appeasing bigots in Britain, but with forging working-class unity with our brothers and sisters across the EU on the basis of free movement.