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Kerim's Triptych for Sunday, May 26th, 2024

Kerim's Triptych for Sunday, May 26th, 2024
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) Futuristic man (reproduction)

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1️⃣ Late Fascism

Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) Futuristic man (reproduction)

After reading this interview with Alberto Toscano about his book, Late Fascism: Race, Capitalism, and the Politics of Crisis, I immediately bought the ebook from Verso. I've been reading a lot about fascism these past few years. In particular, I felt that Paxton's Anatomy of Fascism offered useful historical insights. One of his main points is that fascist movements are adaptable, freely changing, ideologies in pursuit of the ultimate goal: power. This is something Toscano picks up on, arguing that fascism is modernist in its pluralism:

How is fascism modern in this account? Because it is both aristocratic and anti-aristocratic, monarchist and anti-monarchist, proletarian and anti-proletarian, etc., and the only thing that defines it is the exercise of violent political will (or something along those lines). We can see a tendency, which is very evident and flaunted by Mussolini in the first years of fascism, where fascist programs pivot from pseudo-socialist to pseudo-liberal to more statist. So it is already plural.

But what really interested me in reading the book (which I haven't started yet), was the fact that it is as much an intellectual history of how radical movements, such as the Black Panthers, have talked about fascism as it is a history of fascism itself:

As you suggested, people inevitably say at some point, “Yes, but the worst moment for the theorization of fascism was in the 1970s. People were calling everybody a fascist. Whether it’s the Panthers or the Italian or French or Palestinian far left or whatever, this term was inflated, and we need a much more sober, scientific, historically grounded definition.”

My thinking, not least because of the moment we are in, has much more in common with what was being thought and said in the seventies. Many of the predicaments that we find ourselves in, including a certain conception of neoliberalism, find their source in that moment. Why not go back to that archive and that time and think through it?

Maybe I'll have something more to say on this once I've read it, but I have a few other books on my "up next" list to get through first...

2️⃣ The War on Protest

'Defend The Sacred' - by Ryan Vizzions

One book that goes beyond simply calling everything they don't like "fascist," is Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea, by Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Astra Taylor. The majority of the book was a rehash of stuff I already know, so I clearly wasn't the target audience, but I did find the overall framing to be interesting and useful. In particular, I liked the idea that so much of what has happened over the past fifty years can be understood as attacks on solidarity; that union-busting, attacks on the welfare state, and even "free trade" treaties serve to undermine solidaristic connections that could pose a threat to the free movement of capital. Framing things in this way, making connections between Seattle, Occupy, Standing Rock, and BLM, itself is an act of solidarity. And to this list we can add the student encampments for Gaza.

Each of these movements learn from each other, but the state also learns, and the tactics of anti-solidarity become more sophisticated as well. In particular, I think the student encampments are exposing a lot of white, middle-class, students to the increasingly militarized police response to protest which has become the norm. And this "War on Protest" is only accelerating in the wake of the encampments. As Adam Federman writes,

Since 2017 — the same year Georgia expanded its domestic terrorism law to include property destruction — 21 states have passed legislation to enhance penalties and fines for common protest-related crimes, such as trespassing or blocking highways. . .

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law tallied nearly 300 anti-protest bills introduced in state legislatures since 2017.

Among recently passed state laws, 19 enhance penalties for or make it a felony to engage in protest on or near energy infrastructure— a clear reaction to the mass protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in 2016. After 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, five states enacted laws — and nine others have pending legislation — that impose harsh penalties for individuals who block traffic or even sidewalks. Some states added laws granting immunity to drivers who strike protesters and extending liability for crimes committed during protests to any organizations that support them. This January, in response to growing opposition to the war in Gaza, Democrats in New York proposed a bill that would expand the definition of domestic terrorism to include blocking public roads or bridges.

But it’s not just state legislatures cracking down on protest. Republican senators have introduced federal legislation, also in response to protests over Gaza, to criminalize blocking public roads and highways. Another bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and ostensibly responding to ​“pro-Hamas leftists,” would increase the prison sentence for participating in a ​“riot” — loosely defined as an act of violence committed by a group of three or more people — from five years to 10.

The article has some very scary anecdotes, like someone who is facing RICO charges for raising a "solidarity fund" to help bail out activists arrested for protesting.

3️⃣ Academic Freedom vs. Free Speech

Penn State literature professor Michael Bérubé is always interesting to listen to, and this short TEDx talk on a recent book he wrote with Jennifer Ruth, It's Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom, is no exception. Anyone concerned about free speech issues on campus would do well to educate themselves about the distinction between free speech and academic freedom. They are not the same thing.


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