Social Justice Usage
Source: Paxton, Robert. Quoted in Bray, Mark. Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Melville House, 2017, pp. xiii–xiv.[A] form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
New Discourses Commentary
Fascism is a form of dictatorial power that is ultranationalist in orientation, employs forcible suppression of any opposition, and provides a strong regimentation of society and the economy, particularly through collusion between state and corporate power. It rose to prominence in the early 20th century. The Theory of and related to Critical Social Justice, including critical theories much more broadly, offer and operate upon a heavily nebulized definition of “fascism” that, though only barely, can be recognized as an extension of the real thing. In specific, “fascism” is that which is of the “far right.” In brief, the critical worldview sees as fascism anything that it can construe as potentially leading to a thusly “fascistic” state of affairs and also anything it can construe, through highly interpretive logic, as even vaguely resembling genuine fascism in any form whatsoever.
Some context is in order. To oversimplify somewhat, the Frankfurt School (Institute for Social Research) arose in the 1920s and 1930s specifically to do three things: explain the rise of fascism, on the one hand, explain why Marxism and communism didn’t work to prevent it, on the other, and agitate for social activism that would both prevent the rise of fascism in any of its forms while agitating for a communist-style revolution outside of the failed outline Marx had provided. It is in this sense that the Frankfurt School is described as “Neo-Marxist” or “Culturally Marxist,” as it moved the focus away from economic analysis into a study of culture, ideology, and hegemony. That is, the purpose of critical theory has always been, in some sense, to identify and prevent any fascism other than any it might inadvertently produce as a result of its own efforts.
Phrased more generously, the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School was developed to identify the cultural conditions under which fascism can take root and to critique them out of existence before we end up with another round of Nazism. Thus, in place of liberal tolerance, critical theories advocate for something called “Repressive Tolerance,” following the Neo-Marxist theorist Herbert Marcuse. In “Repressive Tolerance,” or “discriminating tolerance,” as Marcuse had it, one must be vigorously intolerant of any kind of speech or action that is itself intolerant, lest it get enough power to be unstoppable and become fascistic. The irony, as we can all see, was clearly lost on them, as this both permits and requires the “forcible suppression of any opposition.” As Marcuse warned in his 1965 essay, “Repressive Tolerance,”
The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and ‘philosophies’ can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the ‘end of ideology’, the false consciousness has become the general consciousness—from the government down to its last objects. The small and powerless minorities which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must be helped: their continued existence is more important than the preservation of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those who oppress these minorities. It should be evident by now that the exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise, and that liberation of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old but also of their new masters.
Fascism, then, in the resulting theory and activism, has become quite expansively understood. It is, in fact, anything that supports or maintains oppression, particularly when that enjoys the support or “collusion” of either state or capitalist interests. A related concept that’s necessary to understand this view is that of “neoliberalism,” which is primarily what Theory misidentifies as “fascism.” Neoliberalism is, in brief, a kind of social and political logic that society and the people in it should be understood in terms of the market, which should be made as free as possible. In neoliberal logic, according to Theory, the state and corporate interests combine to condition the public (see also, false consciousness) to view themselves as consumers and to behave in ways that are ideal for the market, though not necessarily for (all of) the people who make use of it (see also, biopower). Thus, the logic of neoliberalism and the desire to accumulate “neoliberal reward” (i.e., capital, both economic and social) becomes, in Theory, a collusion of state and corporation used to control people while allowing for the emergence of a highly stratified society. If one squints hard enough, it is almost possible to see how this constitutes “fascism.”
Thus, fascism is believed to be anything that supports or maintains oppression, or that could possibly be used to do so if authoritarianism were to arise, particularly at the level of the state and/or if combined with capitalism (especially when corporate interests and the state align). This can include all of the machinations of neoliberalism, capitalism, corporatism, conservatism, police, order, civil society, science, liberalism, individualism, meritocracy, and so on (see also, master’s tools), and it also includes all possible forms of “systemic oppression” that could be pressed into the service of supporting “fascism,” so defined. These include systemic and institutional racism, whiteness, anti-blackness, sexism, misogyny, heteronormativity and homophobia, ablenormativity and ableism and disableism, fatphobia and thinnormativity, transphobia and cisnormativity, and the entire exasperating list of “intersecting” cultural oppression factors obsessed over in the Theory of Critical Social Justice. These are all included largely because of the shifts away from economic Marxism to Cultural Marxism (a.k.a. Neo-Marxism, or Critical Theory) and then to intersectional identity politics that have taken place over the last century. Again, these are all construable as “fascism” because they could be potentially used in a fascistic way.
Thus, it makes a perverse kind of sense in this critical worldview to throw a brick through a Starbucks window to achieve “antifascism”: Starbucks is not only inherently capitalistic, indeed corporate (thus disconnected from individuals), but it also “hoards” neoliberal resources (especially money) while brainwashing the consumer class into liking that it does so. This, the critical mindset tells us, thus does “violence” to the community by “extracting” those resources from the community and keeping them as corporate profits while inducing false consciousness in the people. This, backed by state support for business, allegedly supports the “neoliberal logic” (profit) that is “destroying” society, and this “collusion” between state and business that causes “oppression” is what makes Starbucks part of a fascist system, at least in Theory. In this sense, “antifascist” logic will see throwing a brick through a Starbucks window as an application of self-defense against the fascism it represents. Looting a Target store, or really any other kind of shop, and then burning it is similarly “antifascist” in orientation on this same logic.
One will notice that conservatives, by definition, must also be “fascists” according to the critical mindset because they advocate, in general, for maintaining the status quo or, at least, not departing from it too quickly (and certainly neither radically nor by revolution). The status quo is, in the critical mindset, always inherently oppressive, so anything that seeks to maintain it is either fascist or, at the least, proto-fascist. Throughout nearly all of the literature (both scholarly and otherwise) within critical theory is the desire to dismantle the status quo and replace it by means of social and cultural revolution. What will replace it is not ever clearly specified, but it is described in terms, like “Social Justice,” that would lead someone to believe it will be good and definitely not the kind of fascism that it would actually be when put into practice.
In this sense, “fascism” in the critical mindset is, effectively, society itself and the fact that most people in society like it and like it kept orderly and functional. As Herbert Marcuse put it, “In modern times, fascism has been a consequence of the transition to industrial society without a [Marxist] revolution.” This state of affairs must be disrupted and its foundations dismantled so that people can be liberated from both the oppression that must be inherent to a functioning society and the false consciousness that lets them believe a functioning society is a good thing and worth maintaining.
Of course, this means that the police, who are effectively the guarantors of an orderly, functional society, must also in the critical worldview be fascists who need to be overthrown, defunded, abolished, dismantled, or destroyed (including by killing them, or, better, provoking them into violence that will cause people to riot against them). This is blatantly insane, but it is genuinely what a critical theory of the police looks like and can therefore be understood in that logic. That logic dictates that the police would be necessary accessories to establishing a genuinely fascist system if one were to arise, as it is they who will enforce the laws and parameters of such a system, so they must also be “repressed” before they have the chance. Because the police are the enforcers of state power, then, and because they tend to use that power to maintain order including for (neoliberal) businesses, they are inherently fascists of the first order, in the critical mindset.
Of note, a loose-knit anarchist group branding itself “Antifa” (abbreviation for “ANTIFAscism”) leads the charge in this form of nominally “antifascist” activism, though one would be hard-pressed to understand how they can be anything but fascistic in orientation except in their utter rejection of the state and the society it enables. Their name therefore operates very much like the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” which is none of democratic, a republic, or for the people, though it somehow manages to fool a lot more useful idiots than North Korea can.
Ableism; Ablenormativity; Anti-blackness; Antifa; Antifascism; Antiracism; Capitalism; Cisnormativity; Communism; Community; Conservative; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical theory; Cultural Marxism; Democracy; Disableism; Dismantle; Disrupt; False consciousness; Fatphobia; Frankfurt School; Hegemony; Heteronormativity; Homophobia; Identity politics; Ideology; Individualism; Injustice; Institutional racism; Intersectionality; Liberalism; Liberation; Marxism; Master’s tools; Meritocracy; Misogyny; Nazi; Neoliberal reward; Neoliberalism; Neo-Marxism; New Left; Oppression; Racism (systemic); Radical; Revolution; Science; Sexism (systemic); Social Justice; Status quo; Systemic power; Theory; Thinnormativity; Tolerance; Transphobia; Violence; White; Whiteness
Revision date: 6/2/20