Fascism, Folk-Woke Activists & The Question of #noplatforming and Leftist Disunity

Courtesy of Dadabase.

The leftist protest against LD50 Gallery in the early days of 2017 was immediately followed by provocations from anonymous right-wing trolls.[1] Posing as anti-fascists on Tumblr, they directed their synthetic anger against certain leftist intellectuals and institutions for their supposed proximity to fascism.This phony leftist protest became a reality when after successfully shutting down the gallery, the British leftists who were responsible for the LD50 shutdown decided to redirect their indignations on Tumblr towards some of the very intellectuals and institutions which were initially targeted by the right-wing trolls. As absurd as this episode may appear today in hindsight, the divisions on the left which it revealed and exacerbated are real. This raises a question which the majority of leftists have thus far not answered: Where is the line drawn when it comes to #noplatforming? How far is the “left” willing to go until it has totally cannibalized itself?

Even prior to the LD50 controversy, Slavoj Žižek was targeted by “activists” at the Left Forum in 2016 for supposedly supporting imperialism and anti-feminist ideas.[2] That leftist intellectuals can be targeted in the same vein as fascists, that anyone with the right arsenal of phrases can direct the same kind of outrage toward leftist thinkers and institutions, reflects the immediate crisis of the left. Panicked by Brexit, the election of Trump and the worldwide rise of nationalism, and armed with the swarm-friendly capabilities of the Internet and social media, certain elements from within the broad spectrum of the left have transformed into what we will call folk-woke activists. With little investment in real theoretical or political practice whatsoever, and only legitimized by the dominant institutional postmodern discourses in the humanities and arts, these people suddenly feel licensed to reduce a wealth of anti-fascism to a reckless conceptual schema, one that is only destined to generate hysteria on the Internet. They are using intimidation tactics and the most immature form of badmouthing to silence whoever they disagree with and force new norms for political thinking and action. It is not our aim here to silence this unfortunate but never the less prevailing anti-fascist sentiment amongst the educated class, but rather to critique self-proclaimed activists from the perspective of a more effective anti-fascist political strategy.

A Line to be Drawn

The #noplatforming of fascists and their supposed “normalizers” and “enablers” on the left is done not only in spite of the absence of any actual understanding of contemporary fascism, but because of this very lack. The word fascism has become an empty signifier. In the past, this word mapped a concrete relationship to the development of history and modernity, ultimately to the social antagonism and the historical wound caused by the storming of the Bastille and the October revolution. Today it is only one of the infinitely many phrases, i.e. white supremacy, [fill in the blank]phobia, misogyny, white nationalism, which are used almost interchangeability in the folk-woke discourse. This shortcoming is a testament to their epistemic uselessness.

Some of us on the eft however continue to use the word fascism, not only out of respect for the the historical understanding of the term, but also because we believe it is not reducible to a simply applicable label. Fascists, unlike contemporary leftists unfortunately, do not worry about identitarian restraints and are great at seizing historical opportunities, often hijacking the economic and political crises that presented potential openings for socialism: first the workers’ movements of the early 20th century, and today the libertarianism of the counterculture combined with the general discontent with the neoliberal status quo resulting from the 2008 economic crisis. Walter Benjamin captured this phenomenon in his famous aphorism: “behind every fascism, there lies a failed revolution.”

In contrast, the left is becoming accustomed to taking a defensive and reactionary stance, preferring to “resist,” shame and boycott rather than plan, organize and produce new hegemonies.[3] In fact, we have been privy to the confusions of folk-woke activism for quite some time now, but this problem does not rear its head until these activists make the transition from #noplatforming fascists to #noplatforming other leftists whom they deem “problematic.” It is here that we draw the line and cease to consider their actions merely unproductive and potentially dangerous. Instead we forcefully argue that such actions are putting us the road to universal leftist doom. In such a transition it becomes evident that for the naive folk-woke activists, expelling thinkers erases their thought, that #noplatforming fascists successfully wishes away fascism in thought and in the world. It does not take a genius, however, to recognize that those who believe the ideas of their enemies are insignificant do not really have enemies.

The folk-woke anti-fascism bears the signs of lethargy and opportunism both at the political and epistemological levels. The part of this strategy that pertains to the actual right-wing and fascist ideologues goes like this: why bother delving into the real darkness of their concepts when one can just wish them away and come across as a revolutionary through the simple gesture of #noplatforming? And when it comes to other leftists with whom the folk-woke activists have a conflict, the strategy is nothing but sheer opportunism. It has been clear now for at least a decade that the cultural theory/postmodern intelligentsia is splitting with the left along at least two axes, on the one hand from the Zizekians and Badiouians over the issues of universality and difference and on the other hand from rationalists and left Accelerationists largely over the questions of technology and automation.

After almost a decade of failing to win these arguments, the current political climate and the rise of the alt-right and reactionary forces have given the almost defeated postmodernist intelligentsia a golden opportunity to try to reclaim the lost theoretical ground by overemphasizing the current political crises and declaring that there is no way for the left to move forward if it is not willing to go back to the purely identity-based and sectarian activism of the 1970s-1990s. These approaches have found a stronghold amongst a younger generation of online users who in the rush to appear somehow correct and on the right side of history, are quick to judge and construct a set of social norms that eradicate rationality in favour of political expediency. This lethal and reactionary strategy on the one hand is upheld from within the ranks of intellectuals and on the other is pushed onto the frontlines of political discourse on the internet by users and trolls. Together they not only poison the unity of the spectrum of leftist thought, they also slow down or bring to a halt the evolution of philosophy and the capabilities of theory to tackle our contemporary problems. They stigmatize scientific and experimental interests by labelling them as dangerous or problematic, and block the further development of leftist knowledge around controversial ideas in the name of protecting the weak and fighting evil.

The Significance of No-Platforming

How can we delineate a more productive reason for dealing with fascists that is different from the prevailing attitudes on the right and the left? On the one hand, the defenders of free speech insist we must allow fascists to publicly express their views, repeating the standard liberal mantra about needing to think critically and engage all ideas equally. At the same time, there are those on the left who hold that even thinking about or engaging with the ideas of fascists is to spread or legitimize them. These contrasting views do not distinguish the significance of fascism neither at the level of universal reason nor at the political level.

Fascists should be confronted wherever they appear, not only because the dissemination of their ideas is dangerous, not only because their ideas threaten our faith in emancipatory projects, but also because the political significance of fascism is in excess of its philosophical understanding. The political objective, therefore, must be to isolate and take into consideration the precise strategic and political use of #noplatforming in relationship to its philosophical significance. This means shaming and #noplatforming is a politically destructive strategy when it hurts other known leftists, when it promotes intellectual lethargy, when it inhibits the production of new knowledges useful to the causes of the left and when it results in leftist infighting and disunity.

The moralistic #noplatformers cannot grasp that in terms of real politics, the difference between ourselves and fascists is an irreducible impasse which is practical rather than moral. These differences cannot collapse overnight because a certain leftist or an institution took a different stance over an issue other than the one endorsed by folk-woke orthodoxy.

Insofar as true anti-fascism can only function as a political act, fascists must be denied the public expression of their ideas only once those ideas are evaluated within the context of their political significance. What is necessary is the establishment of contingent standards that will guide our political position against fascists. By standards, we of course do not mean static or written laws or rules, but rather political standards. Such standards must be established based on the direct political implications of our actions and their relevance to the anti-fascist struggle at large. #noplatforming is only productive when it unites the left and rallies it to isolate and disintegrate the unity of the right that consciously and unconsciously supports fascism. Unfortunately, the prevailing folk-woke standards against fascism are derived from the long tradition of moral liberalism and cannot be adopted in a politically contingent manner, but are rather applied as if they were ‘common sense’ or ‘natural’, or simply as part of being perceived as ‘a normal and ethical individual’. These simplistic and absolute formulas are of no value to the political struggles in which we are engaged. This is why, the application of the folk-woke anti-fascism does more to damage the left than to further its cause.

What is also false is the view that silencing fascists is equal to extinguishing the darkness of their ideas. This is unfortunately an entirely futile and ineffective view. Instead we must assume the responsibility of silencing fascists as a political urgency whose significance can only be understood in clear relation to the larger political struggle. What appears as a contradiction is the only consistent anti-fascist position: fascists should be #noplatformed, not because we refuse to or are afraid of understanding them, but precisely because we do understand them. Only once we are armed with this understanding will we be able to draft a sound strategy for their defeat.

Only the guilty blush, for the innocent are ashamed of nothing. We do not hide or refuse to debate fascists. Nor do we owe an apology to anyone when we chose to engage them. On the other hand, why we are neither fascists nor their enablers is not a matter of debate, because there exists no neutral arbiter of who is right or wrong in matters related to political praxis. If we refuse to debate fascists it is for the same reason that we refuse to get on our knees and ask folk-woke activists for forgiveness for choosing to talk to fascists.

We proceed shamelessly in denying fascists the public expression of their existence as fascists only as a political and not a moral act. Anti-fascists must ditch the dishonest and confusing pseudo-humanitarian morality of protecting the world in general and minorities in particular from fascism. We must recognize that the significance of the expression of fascist ideas in public institutions is inexorably linked to our anti-fascist political struggle. This struggle can either be political or moral. It cannot, is not, and will not be both.

Nick Land and the Left

Among living racist intellectuals, only one can be considered an important philosopher. The elephant in the room, and also the character central to the LD50 controversy, is Nick Land. The folk-woke anti-Land argument usually proceeds with the following logic: 1. Land is a fascist. 2. He has influenced a number of Left intellectuals. Therefore, 3. The degree to which Land’s thinking is influential among Left intellectuals is the degree to which they are influenced by fascism. This false logic ignores entirely why and how Land came to his conclusions and why it is important to engage with his work. Only dialectical thinking allows us to comprehend the horseshoe concept of politics. Precisely because of the radical and absolute difference between those leftist intellectuals associated with Land (Badiou, Negarestani, Mark Fischer, etc.) and Land himself, does there exist a degree of proximity between them; what they all have in common with Land is choosing to confront the specific contemporary crisis of reason.

The folk-woke activists cannot distinguish this general crisis from its particular philosophical appearance in Land’s work, and there is a simple reason for that: Land’s thinking, which can be traced to its pre-racist origins in the 1990s while he was a part of the infamous CCRU at the University of Warwick, is entirely given to what he took as his object of thought – the real developments in global capitalism. It is crucial to comprehend and engage with the writings and works of Land, only because by taking reason itself to its most extreme conclusions, Land was able to take to its finality the development of Silicon capitalism.

Land’s thinking could only ever be an embarrassment, a dirty secret for the ruling order, rather than its achievement. Land’s relevance to the leftist project lies in his understanding of forces that proceed independently of his conscious apprehension of them. In this strict sense, speaking at the level of Land’s thought itself, it is he who is far worse than any self-proclaimed white supremacist. The semblance of evil that is to be found amongst all of the fascists, and the plural right-wing political identities from white nationalism to Duginism, reaches its extreme limit in the thinking of Land. What this means is that the difference between what is expressed in Land, as opposed to communism, are the poles between which our contemporary society oscillates today. As Rosa Luxembourg famously stated: Socialism or Barbarism.

Understanding Land allows us to grasp with clarity and strategic insight the political controversies even as rudimentary as those which distinguish Republicans from Democrats in the United States. Land is the embodiment of the locomotion of all existing reactionary tendencies; he embodies these tendencies fully, and shamelessly, without any tiptoeing around, without any conformity to the worldly demands of circumstances. Within this single intellectual, the darkness of our times finds a condensed manifestation, and Land could thus only ever confront the ruling order as unnecessary. Land is what you get when you strip away the politically correct superficiality of right-wing thought, and in this sense there is nothing extraordinary about him.

No one claims that the use of conscious reason is neutral. Indeed, the thought unique to Nick Land is radically evil. It is not possible, however, to grasp this evil by only charting Land’s failures to uphold the standards of a ready-made political correctness. It is not possible to grasp the radical evil of Land unless it is confronted on its own terms, until one can bear witness to the contingency upon faith of the very position from which it is judged.

Land’s thinking embodies a response to world-historical developments and their implications for humanity. Before proceeding with a different or opposed response, one must own up to the responsibility of responding to these implications, instead of pretending they don’t exist in the first place. That folk-woke activists’ belief that they are actually up to the challenge provided by recent events can either reflect their profound ignorance of their scope or their unique dishonesty. These challenges are not only ones of action, but of the full horizon of thought, the entire means by which individuals register and filter a relationship to the world. Whichever position you assume with regard to Land, it is foolish to think that the problems he raises can be ignored simply by dismissing him as a fascist.

Unfortunately, the folk-woke strategy of confronting Land does not end with him, since it is always followed by the incrimination of those who engage with Land and follow the implications of his thought. To go from rejecting Land, to attacking those who confront his ideas is unambiguously an expression of theoretical futility. It is one thing to refuse to tolerate Land, for one can do this while at the same time engaging in a serious confrontation with his thinking, serious in the sense of recognizing, understanding and neutralizing its inherent evil. Let us not be mistaken here: The evil invested in Land’s thinking is infinitely greater than what can be afforded by typical accusations of ‘white supremacy’. Land has chosen a side, and it is clear where he stands. We have nothing against holding him responsible for this. Yet to think that this would be anything more than an immediate political act, would be anything more than what is akin to sending a moral or ethical message, is almost senseless were it not naive. Thus, when the folk-woke activists redirect their anti-fascist energy towards the thinkers of the left and against those who all share an an anti-fascist position, they accomplish little in the long run but weakening the left and aiding the fascists, if not also demonstrating their own intellectual cowardice and moral bankruptcy in all its shamelessness and clarity.

It is Time to Clean House

The post-modern ideologues who historically have supplied the folk-woke activists with the philosophical foundation of their words and deeds have never had any loyalty to the historical project of the left. They act as though by identifying as leftists but refusing to respect the spectrum that makes up the totality of the Left, they do anyone a favor. No one should flatter them by being intimidated by their hasty and superfluous reactions. We must not simply exit the vampire’s castle. We must raze it entirely to the ground.[4]

Are we that susceptible to blackmail by academic hipsters and their cohorts who are nowhere close to the kind of consensus necessary for a renewed movement? Can the future of the leftist emancipation constantly conform to the whims of these particular types of individuals? Unfortunately, those from historically oppressed backgrounds are often attracted to the rhetorics of liberal ideologues who are foaming with the resentments of the children of a dying upper-middle class. But this misguided appeal cannot be the basis of capitulation. We believe that this attitude, regardless of its popularity, is detrimental to the longevity of a united left. Is it really too much to declare that by dividing and chastising other leftists, they end up speaking for and empowering the ruling order? It is not at all a compromise with the right to disobey the folk-woke activists, it is on the contrary a compromise to give them any power whatsoever in setting the limits or rules of political discourse and action.

Since the 1990s, liberal intellectuals and their followers have come to believe they are doing the leftist project a favor by attacking its political body like an auto-immune disease. So many feel licensed to drop their excrement in the public toilet of explanations which claims to possess the panacea for what went wrong. They abuse and misinterpret the entire history of the Left, because they have secured an existence which is not in need of its memory. They can have one foot in the cause, and one foot elsewhere, but in all their arrogance instead of fully investing themselves in the political struggle they are waiting on the real left to make an impression on them.

They not only demand that the left serves them, they demand it ought to constantly prove and remind them that it is not the monster, the Stalin, or the Robespierre or recently the Hitler. They demand that leftists fighting on the frontlines of the political struggle regularly get on their knees and prove they have lost their fangs.

It has become fashionable to forget that innumerable heroes of the past struggled to become worthy of the leftist cause, without any source of legitimacy or guarantee invested in any worldly powers whatsoever. The fact that an acceptance of the prevailing conditions can even be conceived of as an option by these ideologues should be sufficient grounds to see through their pretense to authority.

The left which will survive the future, the left that will prevail, no longer fears dystopia. It is the left which is willing to risk any and all things. It is the left which recognizes that only doom is certain. It is the left which is no longer afraid of its past. It is the left that readily assumes its existence as its own, and is responsible for that existence. The future left that has nothing to apologize for.

This text was drafted from a long article by the collective younngdemocraticarmy at https://youngdemocraticarmy.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/combat-left-philistinism/. Since the original authors thought that the above text no longer entirely represents their views, we are publishing it under the collective name DADABASE. We are gracious to youngdemocraticarmy for allowing us to modify their work, to add our thoughts to some of their in order to start what we think is a very crucial and timely discussion about #noplatforming and leftist disunity.

[1]. The post on Tumblr which has since been removed included this declaration: “Recently the philosopher Nick Land has been identified as right-wing. We agree, he is a fascist and his followers should be targeted and persecuted: Ray Brassier, Reza Negarestani, Robin Mckay, Matthew Fuller, Luciana Parisi, Kodwo Eshun, Mohammed Salemy, Scott Wilson, Eleni Ikonikadu and other thinkers that are associated with him should clarify their position.”

[2]. http://zero-books.net/blogs/zero/slavoj-zizek-and-the-illness-on-the-left/

[3]. #noplatforming is not exclusive to the LD50 controversy. For example last week another absurd campaign by an angry swarm of online users demanded a new #noplatforming against Novara media for the sin of agreeing to appear in an interview with the British politician George Galloway who himself has been already #noplaformed apparently for normalizing rape. See: http://souciant.com/2017/07/dont-boycott-novara/.

[4]. http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299

Photograph courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.