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Know the Enemy and Know Yourself: A Review of “Fascism Today”

Book Review of Shane Burley’s Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It.
From Christopher Scott Thompson

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Photo by Laura Cantal

Those who would rather wring their hands than use them to punch Nazis might not want to admit it, but we are in a state of conflict. The angry men currently marching through the streets carrying Tiki torches and calling for genocide are our enemies. Since we have to fight them, we owe it to ourselves and everyone endangered by fascism to win the fight. Shane Burley’s Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It is a valuable tool for winning this conflict.

Reading Fascism Today, I found myself thinking of a quote by Sun Tzu:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Burley’s book might as well have been written with this passage in mind. In part one, Burley reviews several existing definitions of fascism and addresses the strengths and weaknesses of each one. I was especially glad to see him debunking the idea that fascism is primarily defined by censorship or political violence – a misunderstanding that has been used by both fascists and liberals to demonize Antifa as “the real fascists.” Burley clearly defines what makes a movement fascist, and why such movements are dangerous rather than merely offensive.

He then discusses many of these factions at length, including traditional American white supremacist groups, proto-fascist militia groups, esoteric and neopagan fascism, the “Men’s Rights” misogynists, the Alt-Right, and many others.

These groups may disagree with each other on many points but they share a common commitment to undo what they see as the degenerate egalitarianism of the modern world and return to a society defined by strict hierarchies and inflexible roles, all of which would be enforced by violence and the fear of violence. They cannot hope to achieve this while a majority of people consider the open expression of bigotry to be socially unacceptable – so if they want to win, they have to make bigotry acceptable again.

As Burley argues, the defining strategy of the current fascist resurgence is metapolitics – the manipulation of culture to create a subtle yet significant mental shift toward the acceptance of their ideas. This type of strategy was originally suggested by leftist thinker Antonio Gramsci, but has since been hijacked by the Alt-Right. (In fact, Altright.com features a quote by Gramsci: “Any parliamentary struggle must be preceded, legitimised, and supported by a metapolitical struggle.”)

The fascist street factions can look so bizarre and frankly ludicrous that it’s hard to think of them as a serious threat – until they’re standing right in front of you with clubs and shields in their hands. That surreal mix of frog cartoons, American flags, Swastika imagery, and body armor is not merely an aesthetic catastrophe – it’s a metapolitical strategy to make fascist ideas appear humorously edgy rather than murderously violent.

In part two of “Fascism Today,” Burley lays out a convincing argument for a multifaceted approach to antifascist struggle that incorporates this concept of metapolitics and turns it back against the enemy. If their primary strategic goal is to make society safe for fascism again, our primary strategic goal must be to build a society that is broadly and deeply antifascist.

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Photo by Laura Cantal

Obviously this cannot be restricted to a few dozen black-masked streetfighters in every city. Burley presents a number of realistic and achievable ideas for how to win the war of metapolitics, by building an antifascist coalition that goes far beyond the narrow social circles of anarchist and communist purism without making concessions to liberal complacency.

This would still include traditional Antifa tactics like intelligence-gathering and no-platforming, but would also expand to include massive popular manifestations like the recent antifascist victories in Boston and elsewhere, in which the Black Bloc was only one small part of the coalition. If antifascism is something anyone and everyone can participate in, then the fascists will find themselves outnumbered every single time.

If there is one thing the recent “Antifa Civil War” panic demonstrates, it’s that the enemy does not understand us at all. Anyone who has ever been involved with Antifa knows it as a decentralized network with no chain of command. Yet the American Right still sees Antifa as a highly-organized top-down revolutionary organization with sinister nationwide plans (including “Antifa supersoldiers” under UN command!). According to Sun Tzu, an enemy who does not understand us cannot hope to win more than one battle out of every two.

If we know our enemy and know ourselves, Sun Tzu tells us we will prevail in every battle. Shane Burley’s Fascism Today is a big step in that direction.

Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, Published by AK Press


Christopher Scott Thompson

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Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarcho-communist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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