Spart Lad Wanted
Paul Mason, How to Stop Fascism; History, Ideology, Resistance,
Allen Lane, 2021, 298 pp, h.b., reviewed by Leslie Jones
“Fascism is back”, according to Paul Mason. He flatly rejects Ernst Nolte’s conclusion that it was contingent on now superseded social structures and historically contingent economic factors. For Mason, a former activist in the Anti-Nazi League and a one time member of the Trotskyist groupuscule Anti-Fascist Action, fascism “is a recurrent symptom of system-failure under capitalism”. We may therefore have to go on defeating it “over and over” until capitalism itself is abolished. But to be replaced with what? Mason pointedly tells us that his mother was the daughter of a Polish Jew (introduction p xviii). But he rarely mentions the crimes committed by the Soviet Union, including those at the expense of the Polish people. How to Stop Totalitarianism would have been a preferable title.
As an avowed Marxist and historical materialist, Mason needs to explain how fascism could return with a vengeance in the absence of any palpable threat of a socialist revolution. For he demonstrates that it was worker and peasant uprisings in Italy and Germany that “triggered a new form of violent, ultra-nationalist, right-wing politics”. This begs the question. Is there today any comparable threat to the power of the elites? The right, admittedly, despise cultural Marxists, feminists, people of colour, refugees, BLM, human rights lawyers and LGBTQ+ people. But, unlike the workers councils in Russia in 1917, or the peasants who seized the land in post-war Italy, or the workers who occupied factories in Turin, Milan and Bologna in 1920, this hardly constitutes an imminent threat to the ruling order. Indeed, Nike, Pepsi Cola, the Premier League etc support BLM and feminism as a marketing strategy.
In Ideology and Ideological Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation) (Jan to April 1969), the political philosopher Louis Althusser emphasised the role of the family and of education in the reproduction of labour power – in the acquisition of the skills and rules of morality needed by capitalism but also in framing the individual’s subjection to the ruling ideology. He described the classic Marxist distinction between superstructure and economic base as “the metaphor of a topography (topique”). And he defined ideology as “a ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real Conditions of Existence”.
This view of society seems germane to Mason’s thesis of the rise of a new form of fascism. The critical failure of capitalism today, in his estimation, is ideological. The bailing out of the banks, the failure to solve global warming and the state’s inept handling of the covid-19 pandemic made people lose faith in the free market and democracy. They then became susceptible to a discourse which portrayed the demands of immigrants, ethnic minorities and women for more power as the problem. Such people “are not supposed to be free”, according to reactionary elements of the British white working class and Trump supporters, two groups which Mason evidently despises.
The author is a competent enough historian but at times his judgement is questionable. Journalism and historiography make uncomfortable bed fellows, as do political science and agitprop. He thinks that “A second victory by fascism in a major country would be a survival event for humanity” and that Tory leaders “openly celebrate Britain’s history as a slave power…”. Nietzsche was “a racist, misogynist, pro-imperialist”. Conversely, Wilhelm Reich and Eric Fromm were geniuses.
How does so-called “Marxist social science” still command the author’s respect? How can he continue to believe that Marxism is a “liberation ideology”, embraced by all those “fighting for freedom”? His definition of fascism, likewise, is vacuous, to wit, “the fear of freedom”. Ditto his contention that Evolutionary Psychology and Socio-biology “does the heavy lifting for the far right”. The key players therein, notably Helena Cronin, Steven Pinker, Geoffrey Miller, EO Wilson and J Maynard Smith were/are all on the left.
The real threat to freedom today is from left-wing fascism. Historically, fascism was a reaction to Communism and both movements have certain features in common, notably an intolerance of dissent and the conception of a new man. In this context, it is noteworthy that Mason, an at times illiberal thinker, supports no-platforming of those with politically incorrect views and wants to root ‘racists’ out of academia. He welcomes “coercive action by the state” to defeat right-wing populism and fascism. We have been here before.