Excerpt from La Croix, August 2019 on combating right-wing tendencies in unexpected places
Fascism distinguishes itself from other political tendencies by its commitment to redemptive violence. Fascists seek the physical extermination of those committed to social equality: labour movement activists, socialists, social democrats, immigrants and others whom they deem ‘traitors’.
They valorise the supposedly natural differences between individuals, between men and women, and between ethnic or ‘racial’ groups.
The fascist program generally calls for some kind of violent nationalist revolution to purge the nation and restore an organic hierarchy. To that end, they draw upon whatever national myths or ideologies they can scrabble together, without any necessary coherence.
In Germany, in particular, fascists borrowed heavily from a Romantic understanding of the natural world, one that contrasted the purity of the wilderness with the decadence of the metropolis.
In nature, they said, the struggle for survival steeled the dominant races; in the city, an enforced equality allowed social parasites to flourish. They used the slogan ‘blood and soil’ to stress the alleged relationship between the German people and the German landscape.
The recent gun massacres illustrate the isolation of fascists, not their popularity
Now, this wasn’t the only form fascism took prior to the Second World War.
It was equally possible for fascists to identify nature as itself an enemy, with the superman of the new order revealing his mastery by his ability to reshape the natural world according to his will.
The Italian fascist ideologue Marinetti expressed something of this sentiment, exulting that modernity meant ‘no more contact with the vile earth’.
In the second half of the 20th century, fascism in the English-speaking countries remained a tiny and despised tendency, utterly discredited by its association with the Holocaust.
The fascist grouplets that did emerge might have paid rhetorical obeisance to the Hitlerite ‘blood and soil’ doctrine but nature didn’t necessarily mean much to bands of urban skinheads intent on bashing immigrants or fighting leftists.
In the wake of the social movements of the 60s, they were far more likely to associate environmentalism with the progressives they despised.
Today, however, the situation has changed. The looming climate catastrophe has brought humanity’s relationship with nature to the forefront of international politics. Environmentalism no longer manifests as a niche concern — it’s a topic that everyone discusses.
Not surprisingly, elements on the right have been re-examining the same kind of reactionary tendencies that attracted Hitler to the early environmental movement. In particular, they’re able to exploit the neo-Malthusian doctrines that still retain a currency among those concerned about the destruction of nature.
Not everyone who blames population growth for the environmental crisis necessarily identifies themselves with the right, but the doctrine provides a clear opening for fascists.
If, after all, you attribute environmental problems to an excess of people, an obvious question arises: who, precisely, are the people of whom you want to be rid? The Christchurch and El Paso murderers had no problem in providing an answer. Both of them blamed immigrants — and set out to kill them.
You can see, then, why an environmental rhetoric might work for fascists more than it does for rightwing populists. Their enthusiasm for violence as a whole allows fascists to embrace Malthusian ‘solutions’ at which most populists would balk.
Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump might discuss immigration restrictions but neither would advocate ethnic cleansing, forced repatriation and mass extermination. As we saw in Christchurch and El Paso, ecofascists not only espouse such a program, they’re willing to put it into practice, with murderous results. Ecofascism remains a tiny current. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the recent gun massacres illustrate the isolation of fascists, not their popularity, with their turn to terrorism a response to their inability to build political organisations.
Nevertheless, the widespread despair about climate change, and the seeming inability of progressives to offer a solution, provides fertile soil for ecofascism to grow.
In a sense, given the scale of the crisis, their apocalyptic vision of an environmental race war can sound more realistic than the pallid centrist nostrums that everyone knows won’t work.
It’s crucial, then, to combat rightwing ideas within mainstream environmentalism and to resist any tendencies to scapegoat ordinary people for a crisis they did not cause.
The more we can unite social and environmental justice in a program of hope, the greater the difficulty for fascists seeking a hearing.
Jeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and honorary fellow at Victoria University.