Fascism Today (an excerpt)

The following is excerpted from Shane Burley’s new book: Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End It, published by AK Press. A review by Christopher Scott Thompson will appear 15 December here at Gods&Radicals.

The fascist project has always tried to root itself in a transcendent, spiritual impulse. Much of the racism that permeates the fascist right is rooted in theories that utilize spiritual explanations for racial differences, rather than the falsified “data” of “racial science.” The earliest construct for contemporary racism comes out of two key tracts from sixteenth century Spain and Portugal. The first, and dominant one, was that non-white people were “pre-Adamic,” meaning they were humanoid mammals that arrived before proper people did. To square things with the Bible they placed these “creatures” as animals created before the true “Adamic” race. The second tract says that they are a degenerate people, and their failure to reach true “Aryanness” comes from their failing moral lineage. Both pieces were foundational in the creation of racial science, but both are mythic in their explanation and are maintained in many racialized interpretations of Christianity, Hinduism, and Neo-paganism.

The early periods of Bavarian romanticism saw something essential about identity that went beyond the physical form; it was as true in spirit as it was in blood. As fascism advanced as a political response to the economic crisis after World War I, it did so out of the growing desire to find a strict identity founded in esoteric teaching, occult mysteries, and initiatory paths. While the NSDAP and Hitler moved in the direction of vulgar racial science, a feature of the Alt Right today, they had a parallel spiritual track that has had enduring influence. Identitarianism, various Third Position ideologies, and the various incarnations that we see popping up have deep roots in certain types of esotericism, which has provided special tools for fascism to build on and given it a unique appeal for people in transition, crisis, or on a quest for answers to life’s big questions.

As was true of many eras of fascist ideological development, from the mystical anti-rationality of the Germanic volkish movements to the European New Right, Christianity is often seen as responsible for the disastrous effects of “modernity.” As social ecologist Janet Biehl points out, Christianity seeks an end to alienation and toward a pure “essence,” which is mirrored in identitarianism, Traditionalism, and Third Positionism:

In the view of the “New” Right today, the destruction of the environment and the repression of nationalities have a common root in “Semitic” monotheism and universalism. In its later form, Christianity, and in its subsequent secularized forms, liberalism and Marxism, this dualistic, homogenizing universalism is alleged to have brought on both the ecological crisis and the suppression of national identity. Just as Judeo-Christian universalism was destructive of authentic cultures when Christian missionaries went out into the world, so too is modernity eliminating ethnic and national cultures. Moreover, through the unbridled technology to which it gave rise, this modern universalism is said to have -perpetrated not only the destruction of nature but an annihilation of the spirit; the destruction of nature, it is said, is life-threatening in the spiritual sense as well as the physical, since when people deny pristine nature, their access to their “authentic” self is blocked.Part of this opposition is then a result of the “anti–Americanism” that runs through much fascist thought, in that they oppose the globalized systems of capitalism, “McCulture,” and universalized spiritual identities. This is a reminder of the contradictions so present in the radical right milieu: that one sector can brand themselves -patriots, à la the KKK of the 1920s, while another trend, such as National Revolution, can label themselves traitors to Western capitalism and imperialism.

God of Thunder, God of War

For those encountering neo-fascism today, the most common form of esotericism is neo-paganism. Mystics rediscovered the pre–Christian European religions during the early periods of capitalism, industrialism, and mass cultural orientation as a way for Europeans to find an identity for themselves that was rooted in their own uniqueness. This was a way to separate themselves from the “universalism” of Christian salvation, as well as its Jewish nature. Since the seventeenth century paganism, first with neo-Druidic study and then various other traditions, has been a testament to the romanticism that developed out of early industrialization and urbanization, which took its toll on agrarian life and unsettled deeply rooted communities. While these more traditional folkways should not be seen through rose-colored glasses, they still had a connection with neighbors and the commitment to a “life of the soul” that many pined for. This, paired with nationalism in many cases, inspired much of the aesthetic and religious basis that we saw in fascist movements in the twentieth century.

Heathenry, the Germanic-Nordic pagan religion, is the most common type of neo-paganism to be found in an explicitly racialized form. Odinism, as it has often been called, was developed by Else Christensen in the first half of the twentieth century as an explicitly racial religion, one that was equal parts anti-capitalism and tribalism. Christensen’s background was rooted in anarcho-syndicalism, which she attempted to synthesize with the racial ideas that were coming out of Germany. She imagined tribal non-state communities founded on indigenous religions, which were racially exclusive and built on traditional craftsmanship and ecological sustainability. Odinism has gone on to be known as an explicitly racialized religion and sees Odin as the figurehead of the spiritual pantheon that is unique to those of Northern European people.

What drives much of this movement is the early work of Carl Jung, who, at one point, saw the development of psychological archetypes as racial. In his influential essay “Wotan,” Jung outlines the idea that Hitler and the Third Reich were the unrestrained spirit of Wotan (Odin) resurrected in the Germanic soul. In this perspective, the gods and goddesses of indigenous religions are unique to those with that ancestry. In the Jungian concept, the archetypes of the warrior, the pursuer of knowledge, and the conqueror are manifested in Odin, and other ethnicities and cultures have archetypes in their gods that are unique to their biological and spiritual character. This is the foundational idea that has driven much of the racialized heathenry, and it is what fuels European New Right scholars like de Benoist, who wrote in his seminal book On Being a Pagan that Europeans should identify with their pagan archetypes.

For many, the archetypes are not good enough, and they see them both as metaphors and, literally, as gods and goddesses, different spirits and impulses that are made religious and knowable through the images of gods and the stories of the lore. Heathenry is singled out because much of the theological work was done by and for this racialist purpose, as a way of providing a counter-cultural identity to whites. Building on the image of the Vikings, it countered modern narratives and argued that the true nature of Northern Europeans was that of a tribal warrior who prioritizes his “in-group” over his “out-group.”

In the U.S., a slightly less racialized version of heathenry named Asatru became dominant. It was more focused on magic and the unique interpretation of Icelandic lore. While Asatru did not champion the open Nazism of many Odinist groups, it maintained a “folkish” distinction in many kindreds, and asserted itself as the religion of the Northern European peoples through genetic priv-ilege. The Asatru Folk Assembly and its founder, Stephen McNallen, maintain this idea, and the principles of Asatru are centered on its European identity and “answering a call” that comes deep from their ancestors. A focus on “reconstruction” and historical accuracy has reigned, and they attempt to bring Germanics back to the most “untainted” version of their tribal religion. Anti-racist heathens, who are the vast majority, share much of the archetypal vision and view on tradition and customs but the folkish community has been increasingly vocal.

Jack Donovan’s Wolves of Vinland, a closed heathen group known for mixing tribal spirituality and the structure of a biker gang into a type of National Anarchism, and their recruitment tool, Operation Werewolf, is one of these, attempting to redefine the boundaries of heathenry by focusing on the violence and male virility of a tribally defined spirituality. Operation Werewolf reflects Wolves of Vinland founder Paul Waggener, who mixes his own brand of nihilist philosophy, exercise regimens, and black metal aesthetics. While the Wolves are a close-knit group that is hard to join, Operation Werewolf has worked as a tent that former skinheads, bikers, MMA fighters, powerlifters, and others moving to the fringes can unite under. Its decentralization and focus on what we could call “lifestyle fascism” presents a concerted -meta-political threat as it is creating a close-knit subculture of rightist men who were unable to find shelter in insurrectionary organizations on the wane.

Paganism is dominant among non-Christian white nationalists and has a deep influence on even secular nationalist philosophy, arts, and aesthetics. Fascist neofolk music is centered in a similar romanticism of Europe’s past, and everyone from NPI to the Daily Stormer venerate the Nordic gods of Odin, Thor, and Freyja despite not believing in them in a literal sense. The most violent interpretation, known as Wotanism, was developed by The Order terrorist, and former Aryan Nations member, David Lane and still proliferates among skinheads and white supremacist prison gangs. Other than just seeing racialism as a component of their spirituality, Wotanism sees racial identity and warfare as the driving focus of it and uses apocalyptic warrior language to justify mass violence in the name of racial preservation and expansion.

Though not nearly as prevalent, there have been racialized interpretations of Celtic and Welsh paganism, traditions more closely associated with leftist interpretations and Wicca. Reconstructionism itself has come under fire as a concept as it is so closely allied with nationalists looking for identity. Rodnovery’s connection to Russian nationalism, Hellenism with Greek nationalism, orthodox Shinto reconstructionism in Japan, and Hindu nationalism all draw connections between the “native faith” and the national identity, which centers ethnic identity in sectarian conflict. The spiritual foundation here is not found in a particular tradition’s lore and customs but in the uniquely modern idea that spirituality is particular to the metaphysical psychology of a particular ethnic group. This has increasingly driven political movements in many countries, where a strong meta-politic has to be developed in order for the citizenry to accept nationalism.

Book of Shadows

Outside of heathenry and ethnic paganism, Left Hand Path (LHP) traditions differ in their rejection of conventional morality. Posing in opposition to the “universal morality” and the redemption offered by what they call Right Hand Path religions, LHP traditions make up various different strands of thought including Satanism, Thelema, the Temple of Set, and various Middle Eastern and Hindu sects. While the term “Left Hand Path” is not a great dividing line for actually studying religion, those who use it often make up different esoteric paths that venerate the self. Though the vast majority of contemporary LHP people denounce racism, there are groups that have notoriously mixed the religion and racism.

The Order of Nine Angels advocated a type of “Satanic Nazism” that proposed eugenics in the form of human sacrifice. The Joy of Satan, similarly, shared members with known Nazi groups and advocated a Gnostic reading of Biblical scripture that reframed Yahweh as the evil “Jewish” God that people had to overcome to discover their true destiny.

The National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF), originally founded by hippie-dropout-turned-fascist revolutionary Joseph Charles Tomassi in 1974, was modeled on Yockey’s own European Liberation Front as a “propaganda of the deed” project. It was taken up by the occult-minded James Mason, who used Satanism and an obsession with Charles Manson to advocate for a new type of terror war against the globalizing commercial influences of the “Zionist Occupation Governments” in NSLF’s newsletter Siege.

Thelema, the esoteric religion developed by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century, focuses heavily on the discovery of “True Will” in participants and the use of formal ritual magic and the worship of archetypal gods, often of Mesopotamian and Egyptian origin. A marginal attorney and Libertarian Party of Florida Senate candidate made waves in 2015 as his mix of Thelema and nationalism brought the support of skinhead groups like the American Front. Augustus Sol Invictus, the name given to him in a religious ceremony, had many high-profile incidents that drew media attention, like going on a desert spirit quest and sacrificing a goat on camera. Invictus’s own politic is one that aligns with many LHP adherents, which is a “Will to Power” desire for themselves. Invictus believes that human sacrifice to the gods unites a nation, and he worships “pan-European” gods, believing that all European gods were just different names for the same transcendent forces. Invictus became active in supporting various fascist organizations, including speaking at the National Socialist Movement conference and the reformation event for the American Front, whom he also defended in court against terrorism charges.

While Hinduism is not an essential part of the American fascist movement, the white savior of Nazi Vedas remains important for the meta-political underpinnings. Savitri Devi was a French-born Greek who turned to the Hindu myths in a search for a more authentic and non-Semitic spirituality. Following the Indo-Aryan mythology about the Caucasian origin of the Vedas, Devi believed Hinduism was an ancient Aryan religion, even if contemporary Indians had been ruined through race mixing. Following the Vedic cycle of ages and search for avatars, Devi saw Hitler as the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who many in Hindu nationalism venerated and saw as a model for how to treat the Muslim population in India. Both during and after the war, Devi became a focal point for international fascist projects, living the life of a nationalist aesthetic committed fervently to her own brand of heretical mystic Hinduism.

While race is only one component of these religions, their beliefs are centered on human inequality and the necessity of domination. If you strip fascism of its racial components, which some ideological currents do, the belief in the cruelty of formalized hierarchy and violence is still implicit. If these occultist paths reject equality and a basic respect for universal human dignity, which is part and parcel for the rejection of historic “religious” morality inside of the LHP movement, then it intersects so clearly with fascism that it is difficult to come to its defense even though it denies bigotry.

Spiritual Warfare

Fascism is not the logical conclusion of any spiritual path, no matter how historically reactionary or steeped in the institutional oppression of marginalized people. Instead, the open nature of most spiritual paths and its flirtation with spaces of power allow it to channel ideas that people intend to inlay with significance. The same Catholic Church fueled the social climate that built interwar fascism as well as Liberation Theology and the Catholic Workers Movement. What religion provides is a unique identity, tactical set, and meta-politics that can be useful for inspiring followers to go much further than would be coaxed by materialist political gains, and that can shift both right and left.

Religious groups have traditionally been one of the most central antifascist projects, both because churches are center to people’s social lives as well as their starting point for engaging with social issues. Those inside of spiritual paths are a massive constituency who can meaningfully confront fascism on their own terms and where it affects them personally.

One of the most prescient of these intercommunity confrontations is inside of paganism, with heathenry becoming well known as a battleground between the folkish and antiracist camps. Because racists have done so much of the theological work, it requires rethinking the foundations from a non-ethnic viewpoint. Over the past several years, heathenry has begun to see a reckoning take place with antiracist heathens taking a stand.

The group Circle Ansuz made a huge impact on this discourse in its short life by presenting an anarchist-specific interpretation of Germanic heathenry. They created a synthesis they called Heathen anarchism—a choice to see the faith in its historical reality as both inspired and flawed:

There are two main pillars that serve as the foundations of Heathen anarchism. The first is the justification based on historical data, the social practices of the ancient Germanics, and modern archeology. The second justification is rooted in the most commonly accepted creation epic, the Voluspol, and in the spiritual truths inherent in cyclical cosmology.They saw the egalitarian practices in the Viking spiritual culture as inspirational but incomplete, and they rejected a romantic rewriting of history. Instead, the cyclical nature of the spirituality, the individualism and anti-hierarchical relationship to the gods, and the anti-imperial traditions of heathenry against the expansive colonization of European Christianity provide inspiration. They took the “warrior spirituality” implicit in some of heathenry as inspiration in a battle against fascism and made confrontation with fascist influences in countercultural spaces a key component of their platform. Before going dormant, they had “kindreds” (religious formations) in San Francisco and Portland and also allowed for general “at large” membership, in an effort to mimic the structure of general heathen organizations, providing a real alternative for religious heathens who wanted the spiritual community.

Over the past several years, heathen organizations around the country have begun to go from passive acceptance to explicit rejection of folkish heathenry. When McNallen passed on the leadership role of the Asatru Folk Assembly to a new generation, they began taking to social media proclaiming their allegiance to traditional gender roles and “white men and women.” McNallen himself has become an increasingly controversial figure, seeing blowback for his relationship with the Alt Right and anti-immigrant stances. In response to the Asatru Folk Assembly’s behavior, heathen organizations around the country have issued statements denouncing the folkish interpretations, drawing a line in the sand. The Troth, the largest heathen organization in the U.S., has always had a “universalist” stance on inclusions but in 2016 finally issued a statement unequivocally saying that heathenry was not an ethnic religion and was instead open to all believers.

Many joined together for the Declaration 127 campaign, which cited the 127th declaration in the Havamal, a book of Viking quotes used as a holy book in many heathen kindreds. The declaration reads, “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give enemies no fri.” Blogs and organizations around the U.S. signed on, saying that it was a heathen imperative to speak out against racists in their religion. They have committed to not work with organizations that have discriminatory policies, like the Asatru Folk Assembly, especially since many of the racialist heathen organizations sell many of the religious items and books that pagans use in spiritual communion.Organizations like Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) have been taking this work a step further, organizing publicly against racialist paganism as heathens. In an attempt to unite -antiracist heathens, they are further marginalizing the folkish voices that have dominated public perception of the faith. On May Day 2016, Beltane on the Germanic pagan calendar, they held the Light the Beacons event, a chance for antiracist heathens to light fires, including candles and bonfires, and to share it publicly as an act of antiracist defiance. This was inspired by the bonfires held in Germany on May 8, 2015, celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazism. HUAR relies heavily on a social media convergence to create a strong anti-racist heathen counter narrative. Their “Stephen McNallen Doesn’t Speak for Me” campaign had heathens from around the world posting photos of themselves holding handmade signs, explaining their background and why McNallen and his folkish clique do not share their heathen voice.

Beyond just attacking this tendency internal to heathens, the relationship that many pagans have had to this racialist sector has created a culture of resistance inside many pagan communities as well. The website Gods & Radicals has asserted an anti-capitalist understanding of paganism, attempting to connect those walking a spiritual path to a uniquely Marxist and anarchist perspective. This has meant taking explicit stances against fascism, which feeds on paganism due to their shared devotion to gods. After one of the editors, Rhyd Wildermuth, published a short profile on the New Right and the figures that often use paganism as a spiritual justification for fascist politics, he was accused by large swathes of the folkish community of a villainous “witch hunt.” This reflected his experience as an organizer of the Many Gods West polytheist conference in Olympia, Washington, where panels on fascism in paganism were denounced as divisive.

***

The far-right requires some type of spirituality because it needs to define itself as being “beyond politics.” Even if this is just taken metaphorically, it has always helped fascist ideologies define themselves, which puts religious people in both a troubling and advantageous position. The ability to confront this violence from inside a spiritual community provides leverage and could reach across religious and racial divides to develop the type of community that creates a barrier to reactionary movements.


You can order Shane Burley’s book, “Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End it” at this link.


Shane Burley

12375190_1270053539678590_6582607531732468985_oShane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon.  He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1


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Catalunya and the Coming Flood

Gods&Radicals has started our fundraiser for next year. See the link at the end of this essay for more information.


Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

 

He’d sent his favorite painting to his friend in Paris, a friend who’d managed to hide his anti-fascist politics long enough to keep his position in an archive as Nazi bootsteps echoed through the streets of France. He bid auf wiedersehen to his hosts in Marseilles, especially his close friend Hannah Arendt, stuffed the loose leaves of his final manuscript into a valise, and traveled to the small town of Cerbère, at the tip of the southwesternmost part of mainland France.

The Gestapo had direct orders to apprehend him. So, too, did the Stalinists.  There was no where else for him to run but here.

He’d gotten a visa, arranged by an American poet friend. But the Nazis would not let a Jew leave France through any port, and his only hope was to flee by boat from Portugal. To get there, though, he would have to travel through Fascist Spain, and to get into Spain he had only one hope: Catalonia.

Only a year before, Catalonia had been free, the last bastion of anarchist and leftist resistance in Europe as fascism swept through the continent. Many Catalonians still remembered, still resisted, including the former mayor of the town of Portbou, just on the other side of the Pyrenees from Cerbère. The mayor had helped resistance fighters to the fascist Franco regime flee in France, and now he would help the Jewish Marxist philosopher, Walter Benjamin, flee the fascists in France towards safety.

I wish this story ended well.

I wish I could tell you a happy tale of how Benjamin, exhausted and harried, arrived finally at a port in Lisbon and from there sailed from European fascism forever. But he arrived in Portbou one day too late; Franco had just issued a decree that any Jews in Spain without Spanish citizenship should be immediately deported to France, and he was put under house arrest by the Guardia Civil.

Even the still-burning heart of resistance in Catalonia could not save him against the full weight of the Spanish government. But rather than face the gas chambers of Germany, he injected himself with a lethal dose of morphine, the last entry in his journal quoting Kafka:

“There is plenty of hope. But not for us.”

Last year I, along with my best friend who’d been haunted for months with dreams of the dead philosopher, followed the rocky and steep trail Walter Benjamin took across the Pyrenees from Cerbère to Portbou. The path leads ever upward, winding its way through outposts of cork oak and vast oceans of wildflowers, with the blue-green of the Mediterranean always at your back until you reach the dizzying top. But as you descend the Catalonian side, the entire land seems to change around you, massive cactus and scrubby bushes your primary companion. By the time you reach Portbou, you are in a different world completely though barely a few miles as a crow might fly from where you started.

Neither of us ever really quite understood why we made that trek. It was her first mountain climb, my first in years. The whole trip had been one of anxiety–uncertainty why we were there in the first place, confusion about the path, panic about our insufficient plans and the mere handful of coins we’d had between us during the journey. We’d run out of water before we got to the top, arrived exhausted and hurried in Portbou, realizing we had just enough money to take a train out but barely enough time to catch it, and neither of us speak Spanish or Catalan.

Why did we make that trip? Why cross a mountain just to spend brief minutes in the small town where our favorite philosopher died? And why did we feel so much dread that day and the days afterward, fearing something was coming we were supposed to prepare for?

Watching what is happening in Catalonia and the rest of the world now, I suspect I know a bit more of those answers.

“Catalonia is Not Spain”

By now you’ve probably heard about it all. Earlier this month, a vote was held in the semi-autonomous region for independence. The Spanish government declared it illegal and sent out the Guardia Civil (whose insignia is still a fasces) to seize ballot boxes and beat up old women who’d cast their vote. And then, on the 27th of October, at 3:35 pm local time, the Catalonian leaders followed the direction of the voters and declared independence.

In just 24 hours, the conservative Spanish government had moved to depose the independence leaders, had seized control over local police and emergency services, threatened parliamentarians with treason, taken over the public broadcasting services in Catalonia and installed their own leaders over the region.

And as of the writing of this essay, Spain has jailed 9 of the elected leaders of the Catalonian government who partook in the independence move. They are charged with treason and sedition, eight of them without possibility of bail, and must together pay 6.7 million Euros to cover the Spanish government’s ‘court costs’ or have all their possessions seized.

Worse from the government is promised.

But while the Spanish government attempts to punish Catalunya for its desire to be independent of the nation-state of Spain, it is not the only one showing disapproval. Large corporations are threatening to leave Barcelona or have already done so, the same process of “Capital flight” which has brought many a populist and leftist government in the global south to its knees.

And the leaders of the ‘free world’ have made clear which side they are on, and it’s not the people of Catalonia:

  • The United States under Donald Trump issued a statement through the State Department vowing to support “the Spanish government’s constitutional measures to keep Spain strong and united.”
  • Theresa May, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, was even harsher, stating Britain “does not and will not” recognise Catalonia as an independent entity.
  • Emmanuel Macron, the pro-capitalist leader of France, stated: “There is a rule of law in Spain with constitutional rules. Mariano Rajoy wants these rules to be respected and he has my full support.”
  • From Angela Merkel’s government spokesman: “The German government does not recognise such a declaration of independence.”
  • From Turkey, whose leader Erdogan has violently put down Kurdish attempts at independence (including ordering the beating of American supporters of the Kurds): “Turkey will continue to support Spain’s territorial integrity, constitution and political integrity.”
  • And from the president of the European Union, Donald Tusk: “For EU nothing changes. Spain remains our only interlocutor.”

As of the writing of this essay, the only European government to be somewhat supportive of Catalonia has been the Scottish Parliament, who were blocked from efforts to join the European Union independent of Britain after Brexit by the Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy himself. Belgium, currently ruled by a coalition which includes separatists, made a less supportive statement but has tweeted out instructions to Catalonians on how to seek asylum within Belgium in the likely event of Spanish political repression. The deposed president of Catalonia fled there already with 8 other Catalonian independence ministers.

And what about Russia? In multiple statements since the initial referendum, Vladimir Putin has made clear Catalonia “is Spain’s internal business and must be resolved within Spanish law and on the basis of democratic traditions,” though certainly seems eager to capitalize on the European Union’s double-standards regarding support for independence movements.

That so much condemnation has quickly come from the leaders of the “free world” should give anyone dismissive of Catalonia’s independence bid pause. When Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdoğan all agree Catalonia must remain part of Spain, something else is probably going on here.

That ‘something else’ is much bigger than Catalonia itself. If anything, Catalunya’s desire for self-governance threatens the entire capitalist world order.

The Identity Politics of the Nation

To understand the threat Catalunya presents not just to Spain but to capitalism itself, we need to look at the concept of the nation-state and its relationship to capitalism. But before that, we need to unravel precisely what a Nation is and how it is used to control people.

First, we must remember: most of the modern nation-states in existence are relatively new.  For instance, what we know of as Italy was birthed in 1871; Germany came fully into existence that same year. France as a nation-state was born in 1792, a little after the United States (1776). But even still it is not quite correct to look at any of these nations as being quite so old: the United States has only existed in its current territorial form since 1959 and didn’t fully control the land which is now the 48 contiguous states until 1912. Germany in its current form has only been around 1990 (after re-unification); France is in its 5th incarnation as a Republic (1958), and several European nation-states in existence 30 years ago no longer exist, including Yugoslavia (died 1990) and Czechoslovakia (died 1993), birthing new nations from their ashes.

So the nation-state is hardly an eternal form. They come, they go, they form and re-form, but before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, they cannot be said to have existed at all. What came before were less organized systems of governments (usually kingdoms) attempting to exert control over land and very diverse people through direct force.

The nation-state significantly changed the world, and not just because it created borders and all the modern methods of state violence (police, bureaucracy, etc.).  More than anything, it changed the way people saw themselves, slowly replacing their local identifications with National identity.  For instance, before the birth of the French republic in 1792, there was no real sense of what it meant to be French (and anyway at that point, no more than half of “the French” actually spoke “French”).  Only through long decades of war and government repression of differences did the idea of being French actually take hold in France, and even still some (including Bretons and Corsicans) refuse to call themselves “French.”

The Nation-State, then, is not just a new political construct, but a new way of arranging people and defining their meaning and identity. This identity creates what Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities,” constructed connections between people who will never meet each other but see themselves as part of the same Nation.

In the United States, “American” may not mean the same thing to people on the far left or the far right, to a poor Black woman or an upper class white male, but it’s incredibly rare (except among First Nations peoples) to find anyone who actually refuses to allow themselves to be called an American. That shared national identity binds people who hate each other, binds oppressors and oppressed people together, around a shared sense of membership in the social construct called the Nation.

That definition in places like the United States appears fixed and unquestionable, but in the European nations from which the ancestors of white Americans came, national identity is not monolithic. France, for instance, has at least five other competing national identities within its European territory: Alsatian, Breton, Basque, Corsican,  and Occitanie. Add to this the colonized outremer departments such as Martinique and Guyane and you have many, many more non-French identities.

These identities are not just regional; a Corsican who tells you they are Corsican is not just telling you they live in Corse, they are telling you they do not live in France. Here where I live in Bretagne, it is the same: friends and strangers often vehemently correct me when I say I live in “France.” For them, France is an occupying force, an identity pushed upon them and one they are fully justified in rejecting as they please.

The United Kingdom has a similar internal division: for some Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, and Northern Irish folk, “British” is not just an identity they refuse to be defined with, but it is an enclosure and erasure of their cultural and ethnic identity.

One Nation Under the God-State

For the rulers of Nation-States like France and the United Kingdom, national identity is the primary means by which they are able to get the people they govern to not just identify with each other, but identify with the rulers themselves. The French leader Emmanuel Macron, for example, is the President of the French people. If the people Macron tries to rule do not see themselves as French, the laws he and his government create and enforce cannot adequately control people without using overt violence.

Similarly, Theresa May is the British Prime Minister: if the people in Scotland see themselves no longer British, the only way her government can control what the Scottish do is by direct force. Governments lose their appearance of legitimacy (and much of their power) when the people they are supposed to represent no longer identify as part of the imagined community they were elected to lead.

If you are a reader who considers themselves American, imagine how different your relationship to the United States government (and especially Trump) might be if you did not see yourself as an American. Say, for instance, that your parents were Irish and you see yourself more Irish than you do American, and you were living in an area where most of the people you knew spoke Irish and also didn’t see themselves as American. Your perception of the legitimacy of the United States would radically change.

There are already examples of this alternate identification in the United States. Some First Nations people refuse the label of American and point out that the United States is an occupation on their land, a settler-colonist government which is fully illegitimate. Also, some Black and Pan-African thinkers likewise identify more with Blackness or Africanness than with “American,” though these movements do not (by no fault of their own) have the same ongoing ancestral connection to land that First Nations peoples do and thus often have to reconstruct cultural identity.

From here, it should be easy to understand that what is happening in Catalonia is not some aberration in the history of humanity. And also it should be easy to understand why powerful Nation-States attempt to inculcate a singular constructed identity. But another objection is often raised against regional independence movements, particularly by liberals and some anarchists.

That objection? That Catalonia’s desire for independence is “nationalist,” and nationalism is fascist.

Fascist Nationalism vs. Autonomous Movements

Currently sweeping through Europe and the United States are far-right identitarian movements invoking cultural, ethnic, and racial ‘purity’ to fuel their desire for political power and a future without immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else besides themselves. In the United States, for instance, the so-called “alt-right” has marched openly carrying torches and chanting anti-semitic and anti-Black slogans. In Europe, groups like Bloc Identitaire, PEGIDA, Golden Dawn, Alternativ fur Deutschland, Front National, and others associated with the New Right/Nouvelle Droit have staged rallies, attacked refugees and anarchists, and even gained many seats in parliaments.

Besides their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish rhetoric, these groups have another thing in common: they argue for European states built around ethnic/racial/cultural identity. In this way, they may seem not much different from the movement in Catalonia (or Bretagne, or other places) but for one crucial difference: exclusion. For, while the European far-right tries to redefine the nation along identitarian lines, they also think those nations should only be composed of those identities.

That is, fascist nationalism is primarily exclusionary. On the other hand, the Catalonian independence movement has not said “Catalonia only for Catalonians.” In fact, part of the political platform of an independent Catalonia was the immediate granting of citizenship to immigrants of any ancestry who already had resident status.

More so, fascist nationalist groups have had a horrible time gaining support from independence and autonomous movements. The Front National headed by Marine Le Pen, for instance, did worse in Bretagne during the elections than in more culturally-assimilated (“French”) regions in France, while the far-left/communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melechon, did better in Bretagne than elsewhere.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to Americans unfamiliar with Spanish history, in Catalonia the far-right anti-immigrant/fascist groups are supporting Spanish national unity, not Catalonian independence. There are both historical and ideological reasons for the fascists to take Spain’s side: Spain was ruled by a fascist dictator from 1939 until 1975 (the longest fascist government in history). Spain wasn’t ‘liberated’ from fascism, either–Franco only left power because he died, and the successive ‘democratic’ governments since then never fully (or even partially) purged the fascist sympathisers from their ranks.

Ideologically, though, fascism has much more in common with (and much more to gain from) the Nation-State (and national identity) than it ever would from independence movements. Fascism is at its core both nationalist and statist: none of the far-right movements in Europe are calling for the abolishment of the State or the breaking up of States into distinct cultural regions. Instead, they demand stronger States which exclude, punish, and make war against people who are not like them.

Catalonia has no such plaform, nor does the other independence movement with which I am most familiar, the Breton nationalist movement (mostly made up of communists and anarchists anyway).

So we see here that Catalonia’s independence is both a threat to fascist identitiarian movements as well as the governments of liberal democratic states like the U.S., U.K, France, and Germany. And here’s where our discussion of nationalism finally leads us to the collusion of the Capital and the Nation-State, and why what Catalonia is doing threatens the entire order.

Capitalists and the Nation State: Symbiotic Parasites

There are two things which govern the mutual relationship between Capitalism and the Nation-State. The first is the Capitalist’s desire to gain wealth, avoid risk, and protect their investment. The second is the Nation-State’s need for political stability and wealth in the form of tax-income. These two imperatives function in tandem and make both the Nation-State and the Capitalist mutually parasitic on each other, and thus natural allies.

The first should seem self-evident: investors, corporations, and banks do not like losing money and do everything in their power not to do so.

Economic and long-term investment forecasts aren’t used by the rich the way that the average person uses a weather report. For us, whether it rains next week won’t change much of our lives–we may not plan that trip to the beach with friends or the outdoor barbecue, but unless we are farmers, we don’t significantly change our behavior. For the rich, however, the stability or volatility of a market determines whether or not they are going to keep investments or move them to another market.

Those decisions based on volatility or stability don’t just affect the wealth of the investors, of course. They also determine whether or not people keep their jobs, get to borrow money for houses, or even get to survive at all. So when an investor decides that a market is too risky and decides to move their money elsewhere, that economic chaos can cause political chaos too. Capitalists need to protect their investments (property, primarily) during such times, and also need to protect themselves from political actions from the poor they’ve harmed (riots, assassinations, worker-takeovers, etc.).

A Nation-State is the perfect entity to provide these things for the rich. Through its ability to control markets by laws, policing, and military actions, the Nation-State can guarantee to the capitalist a stable economic climate. Also through its police, judicial, and military powers, the Nation-State can punish people who react violently to decisions by Capitalists to move investments, cut wages, destroy neighborhoods (gentrification), or even outright steal from people.

On the other hand, the Nation-State needs taxes in order to function. Taxes on income and commerce are an easy and difficult-to-oppose means for the State to gain wealth, and thus the economic activity generated by capitalists directly benefits the Nation-State. The more economic activity, the more tax revenue–thus the hyper-consumerism that banks and corporations encourage becomes an addictive drug for the state.

Subsistence farmers or people who only work enough to survive and make most of their own goods cannot produce enough tax revenue for a government to fund massive military campaigns or even run a modern state. Likewise, if a citizenry becomes self-sufficient and self-governing, they rely on the state much less and even begin to oppose it. On the other hand, economically hyper-active citizenry often tend to associate their wealth with the leaders of nation-state itself and become more loyal to it (the way President Bill Clinton or Prime Minister Tony Blair were credited with their respective nation’s economic growth, for instance).

What happens when a Nation-State deviates from this mutual relationship, though?

One need only look at what happened to Argentina and other South American nations who elected leftist or left-leaning governments and platforms to find out. When Argentina in 2001 announced they would no longer pay back debt forced upon them by the International Monetary Fund, capitalists punished the people severely through a process called “Capital flight.” Basically, banks, corporations and large investors quickly pulled their money out of local economies all at once, leading to banks running out of money, millions of people suddenly losing jobs and access to credit, and entire cities suddenly going bankrupt.

So although the relationship between the Nation-State and the Capitalists is mutually-parasitic, the Capitalists are able to do much more damage to the other than the Nation-State can, unless the Nation-State itself seizes the wealth and property of the capitalists (which occurs only during communist take-overs of the State).

The Gates Are Open

Now, back to Catalonia. As I mentioned in the beginning of this essay, Capital flight occurred immediately when the Catalonians voted for independence. Hundreds of Spanish corporations left or moved their headquarters, because to stay meant too much risk. Also, the Catalonian independence movement was heavily influenced by far-left politics, further suggesting to the capitalists that they might not get nearly the same profits in the region as they currently do under the conservative and neo-liberal Spanish government.

So both the Capitalists and the Spanish government have punished Catalonia for their desire to determine their own future. And here’s where a floodgate just opened that threatens to drown the entire capitalist world: we all just saw them do that.

Liberal Democracy (the system that the US, United Kingdom, and almost every European nation uses) has been able to function so well and fight off leftist and independence movements for so long because it veils the Nation-State’s collusion with the Capitalists better than any other system. It promises freedom and democracy to its people, but in Spain it literally beat up old women who’d just voted for autonomy and imprisoned democratically-elected Catalonian leaders.

It also claims to be opposed to fascism, but in Catalonia the conservative Spanish government and the “socialist” minority party are doing exactly what the fascists want. Likewise, the widespread condemnation of Catalonia’s independence from the leaders of every other large Liberal Democratic nation have also revealed themselves to be against democracy and in agreement with the fascist movements in their own countries.

The entire world just watched this happen, especially every other independence movement. We have all watched what the Nation-State and the Capitalists will do together to stop anyone who tries to determine their own future. The Scots saw this, as did the Welsh. The Bretons saw this, as did the Basque and the Corsicans.

So, too, did everyone who was under the illusion that the Nation-State is inviolable and eternal, that governments can protect us from the capitalists and that capitalism was not invested in the authoritarianism of the Nation-State. They now know their governments and capitalist class are all ultimately on the same side as the fascists.

Catalonia has opened a flood-gate. Whether or not they succeed, the rushing waters cannot be held back.

What comes next in the world is uncertain. Which groups inspired by what Catalonia has done will try next? Which groups will succeed? And what beautiful alliances will begin to form between all these apparently disparate movements across the world? Will we see Bretons and Scots and the Basque meeting together with First Nations people, co-ordinating mutual aid and international solidarity between their movements?

Or will we see the fascists seize this moment, using the panic of the governments of the world to manifest their dreams of homogenous, exclusive, authoritarian Nation States?

I don’t know. When I think on Walter Benjamin’s last journal entry in Catalonia before he killed himself, that quote from Kafka, I imagine those who’ve put their hope in this first full attack on Spain seeing a glimpse of all the future movements that will arise.

If Catalonia fails, they too may find themselves penning those same words: “There is plenty of hope, but not for us.”


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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