Theses on the New European Fascism

An anticipatory paper of Paolo Virno:

[excerpts]

1.

At the turn of the century, European fascism is the twin brother, which is to say the terrifying “double,” of the most radical instances of freedom and community that arise in the crisis of the labor-based society. It is the malignant caricature of what men and women could do in the epoch of generalized communication, when knowledge and thought present themselves neatly as a common good. It is the transformation into nightmare of what Marx called “the dream of a thing.” Postmodern fascism does not thrive in the closed rooms of the ministry of the interior, but rather in the kaleidoscope of metropolitan forms of life. It does not develop in the always-frightening context of institutional apparatuses, but relates to what ought to be worthier of hope: collective behaviors subtracting themselves from political representation. It is not a ferocious footnote to constituted power, but the eventual configuration of popular “counterpower.” It might become a physiognomic trait of subaltern classes, the way in which they exorcize and confirm at the same time their subalterity. In brief, the new fascism presents itself as a civil war within the field of dependent work informed by the tempest of technology and post-Fordist ethics. It very closely concerns mass intellectuality, the autonomist and antistatal impulses, any “ordinary singularity,” and citizens made shrewd by the society of the spectacle.

Confronted by fascism, the Left has insisted on demarcating an insurmountable distance, if not an anthropological difference; on the contrary, it is now a question of recognizing fascism’s nature as a distorting mirror. Which is to say, its proximity to the productive and cultural experiences from which even revolutionary politics proceeds. Only a gesture of approach can provide adequate countertoxins. To look one’s twin brother in the face means positioning one’s own praxis in a state of exception in which the most promising course is always on the verge of bifurcating into catastrophe.

2.

The European fascism of the turn of the century is a pathological response to the progressive, extrastatal dislocation of sovereignty and the obsolescence that is the evident character of work under a boss in this day and age. Already for these very reasons, it stands at the antipodes of historical fascism. Every echo or analogy suggested by the term is misleading. And yet the use of the term is appropriate to indicate, today as much as in the 1920s, a phenomenon essentially different from a conservative, illiberal, repressive inclination on the part of government. Indeed, to indicate a twin brother that is robust and frightening.

3.

(…)

Let’s think of the objectives that constitute the “substance of hoped-for things” of modern revolutionaries: the abolition of that intolerable scandal that is the persistence of wage labor, the extinction of the state as the industry of coercion and “monopoly of political decision,” the valorization of all that makes unrepeatable the life of the individual. Well, in the course of the last decade, a tendentious and terrible interpretation of these very same objectives has been propounded. First of all, the irreversible contraction of socially necessary work time has occurred at the same pace as the increase in the hours of “insiders” and the marginalization of outsiders. Even, and especially when it is assaulted by overtime, the assemblage of dependent workers presents itself as a surplus population or “industrial army in reserve.” Second, the radical crisis or, better, the splintering of nation-states can be explained as a miniature reproduction of the form of the state in the manner of Chinese boxes. Third, after the fall of an actual, effective “universal equivalent,” we witness a fetishistic cult of differences. Only the latter, claiming an artificial substantive foundation, gives rise to all variety of discriminatory and oppressive hierarchies.

European fascism at the turn of the century nourishes itself with the “communism of capital.” It plays its game on the uncertain border between work and nonwork, organizes in its own way surplus social time, supports the cancerous proliferation of the state form, offers mutable shelters from the marginalization and the uprooting that arise from living the structural condition of “overpopulation,” marks ephemeral and yet threatening “differences.”

4.

(…)

5.

Marx said the workforce cannot lose its noncapital quality, its virtual “negation of capital,” without immediately ceasing to constitute the leavening for the process of accumulation. Today we should say that the post-Fordist workforce cannot lose its nonwork qualities – that is, it cannot stop participating in a form of social cooperation larger than capital-producing cooperation – without losing at the same time its valorizing virtues. In the factories of “total quality” or in the culture industry, a good worker is one who turns against the execution of his or her assigned attitudes, competencies, know how, tastes, inclinations matured in the vast world outside the time specifically dedicated to “work.” To merit the title of Stakhanov today is to bring to professional fruition an acting-out of concept that exceeds (and contradicts) the restrictive sociality of the given “professions.

(…)

6.

(…)

7.

(…)

Today, radical antifascism consists in conceiving the crisis of representation not as an inevitable sclerosis of democracy, but on the contrary as the extra ordinary occasion of a substantial development. To put it differently, becoming immune to the “twin brother” today means elaborating and experimenting with organisms of nonrepresentative democracy. Confronting the furious quarrel between those in favor of a proportional electoral system and those in favor of a majoritarian one (yesterday), as well as between proponents of a single-ballot system and of a second-ballot system (tomorrow), it seems appropriate, and not at all beside the point, to bring attention to a question of a different substance. Namely, the following: How to organize the soviet of mass intellectuality and of the whole of post-Fordist work? How to articulate a radically extraparliamentary public sphere? Which democratic – and precisely on this score nonrepresentative – institutions can give full political expression to the current intertwining of work, communication, and abstract knowledge?

Source: Grey Room, No. 21 (Fall, 2005), pp. 21-25.

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