Photo: The Daily Wire retrieved
The disdain Chávez, Maduro and their followers in the Bolivarian Revolution hold toward “[liberal] representative democracy” is so well-known, it’s not worth mentioning, but the same sort of contempt for an open, liberal and democratic society is evident among the Antifa (“anti-fascist”) movement and their defenders. Thus, on June 29th the Antifa demonstrators in Portland, Oregon came out to protest at a gathering of “Proud Boys,” a far-right nationalist/chauvinist, mostly white organization. While the Proud Boys have a reputation for violence, the Antifa and other ultra-left supporters appeared to have been the ones who initiated what became a riot in Portland’s downtown that ironically ended in the brutal beating of Andy Ngo, a gay man of Vietnamese descent who works as a photojournalist and is also an editor at the liberal website Quillette.
While the beating of a gay person of color in the final days of “Gay Pride Month” wouldn’t customarily fit the profile of the activities of people who call themselves anarchists and “anti-fascists,” this, much like the torture and murder of a military officer by a socialist regime (as it happened to Venezuelan captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo,) is consistent with everything we know about the “Real Socialism” of the twentieth century.
While the Proud Boys have a reputation for violence, the Antifa and other ultra-left supporters appeared to have been the ones who initiated what became a riot in Portland.
Karl Popper recognized the intrinsic connection between utopian militants and violence. In his essay Utopia and Violence, he wrote that “the Utopianist must win over, or else crush, his Utopianist competitors who do not share his own Utopian aims, and who do not profess his own Utopianist religion.” In other words, the inevitable result of attempting to impose a “religion” on unbelievers is some form of “inquisition,” whether by Torquemada or Stalin.
Leszek Kolakowski wrote similarly of the contradictions inherent in a “liberatory project” that justifies the cruelest brutality by its “transcendent ends.” Summing up Trotsky’s arguments against “bourgeois democracy,” he wrote, “In short, it’s right to be indignant and to attack democratic states when they infringe the principles of democracy and freedom, but one must not treat a Communist dictatorship this way, because it does not recognize democratic principles; its superiority lies in the promise to create a ‘new society’ in the future.”
Sons of a common bad father
Taken together, the two events tell us much about our present moment, as they both connect to the anti-liberal movements that wreaked hell and havoc on the greater part of the earth from early to the mid-twentieth century. As many readers probably know, “fascism” was named by Mussolini with an unorthodox turn into aggressive nationalism, just as Lenin took an unorthodox turn in Russia into aggressive internationalist socialism. But it should be recalled that Lenin fully endorsed and admired the tacks of Mussolini, especially as the latter split with the reformists (aka, liberal parliamentarian leftists) at the Socialist Party Congress of Reggio Emilia in 1912. Marxism, Fascism and Totalitarianism, by A. James Gregor, is a great argument demonstrating the “unmistakable ‘essential ideological kindredness’ shared by fascism and Leninism.” Others have noted the mutual admiration Stalinists and Nazis felt for one another at different times, and their deep collaboration in destroying the Social Democrats with the basic “kindredness” of totalitarians.
The connection with the anarchists is an interesting one, and one on which Stephen Whitaker shed as much light. The fact that Mussolini felt even up until 1934 that the anarchists were “morally and politically superior to socialists and communists” and often spoke sympathetically of Sacco and Vanzetti was perhaps due to the fact that, as Philip Cannistraro points out, while “his intellectual formation was largely the product of Marxism and revolutionary syndicalism, Mussolini was also influenced by anarchist ideas.”
As for Bolivarian socialism, the anarchist influences are right there in Chávez: his proposals for cooperatives, the community councils, the “Communes” as localized, decentralized powers of an anti-liberal state under his rule as an authoritarian caudillo. He also supported local currencies and markets which would be supported by his beneficence, and in my own experience traveling in Latin America, particularly in Uruguay and Argentina, anarchists often contradicted their own beliefs to support the “communal state” Chávez was purportedly building.
The undefeated ghost
Of course, it should also be said that there were parallels with politicians in the US, most notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was quoted as saying “‘I don’t mind telling you in confidence that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman,’” referring to Mussolini. And both Hitler and Mussolini had large followings in the US right up to the Second World War.
Some may argue that fascism was defeated in that war, but its “ghost” continues to haunt the world.
Some may argue that fascism was defeated in that war, but its “ghost” continues to haunt the world. Rob Riemen, for instance, writes in his book To Fight Against this Age: “The use of the term populist is only one more way to cultivate the denial that the ghost of fascism is haunting our societies again and to deny the fact that liberal democracies have turned into their opposite: mass democracies deprived of the spirit of democracy.”
The many alliances that fascism made, and sympathies it evoked even from liberal leaders like FDR, didn’t preserve its earlier form, but fascism was never defeated as an ideology because, like populism, it was more a political approach than an ideology. Popper gave a clue to the nature of that approach when he wrote of the “utopianists” and their recognition of the necessity for violence.
Let’s be clear here: what unites the Bolivarians and Antifa, what made possible a collaboration between Stalinists and Nazis to destroy democracy in Germany, and what characterizes all anti-liberal movements everywhere in the world today is their willingness to engage in the “rhetoric” of violence with fists and boots. That’s about all there is to their arguments. And that’s why, when we engage with them at that level on the street, they always win and welcome us into their movement.