What type of socioeconomic system do Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) want?
The concept of fascism became synonymous with the exercise of seemingly arbitrary and non-democratically sanctioned authority per se, though its extended cultural application was, in most cases, tongue in cheek. It also fitted in with the (then still in vogue) Frankfurt School-derived psycho-political analysis of fascism, which interpreted it as a manifestation of the authoritarian family structure. As I get older, I am increasingly warming to this pared down interpretation of the concept when observing the identity politics of the New Left and the Extinction Rebellion/Black Lives Matter coalition in particular (putting to one side the Freud-derived daddy/mummy stuff of the Frankfurters). I want to argue that it is time to revisit this seemingly arcane concept because a distinct ‘third way’ type of authoritarianism, different in kind from more traditional forms of hard socialistic collectivism, is beginning to surface.
Being the archetypal only child brat and unaccustomed to being told what I could say, read, watch and listen to it came as quite a shock to me when I arrived at Warwick university in the late 70s to find that the Socialist Workers Party, the Women’s Society and other locally politically dominant forces dictated the parameters of acceptable political and cultural life on the campus. I remember being particularly miffed, actually outraged, when having turned up expectantly to see Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, only to be informed by a representative of the Film Society that the Students’ Union executive had decided to ban its showing following an emergency sitting. This had followed an urgent appeal from some of the feminists that this allegedly sexist filth should on no account be viewed. Until that point, I had associated the censorious urge with Mary Whitehouse and her band of religiously motivated conservatives.
I recall instinctively perceiving this at the time to be at base a fascistic act; one group of people determining what others should be allowed to experience through the exercise of raw “political” power. The intricacies of the decision-making process that had allowed this act of censoriousness to happen were temporarily lost on me in my state of raw personal anger. My response may, possibly, have been a shade hyperbolic, admittedly. A similar emotion was triggered when in September 2020 XR, this time without even on this occasion the semblance of some vaguely democratically related procedure (not that this would have made it right, of course) decided that the production and distribution of supposedly climate change-denying newspapers such as the Times, Telegraph and others, should be physically prevented. With the enthusiastic support of Labour politicians Dianne Abbott and Dawn Butler (and only, very belatedly, the weakest of condemnations of the action, but not the two MPs, by Keir Starmer), XR activists did indeed succeed in their objective.
Last weekend, XR, in alliance with BLM and other groups, were at it again (less successfully, admittedly, but it is the intent I am interested in). They carried out ‘Paint the Streets’ actions whereby the papers they disproved of were defaced with posters and stickers within shops. A heap of manure was deposited outside Northcliffe House, the HQ of The Mail. This time, because the cops, under strict orders from Priti Patel, did what they are actually paid to do, the blockades of the printing presses did not materialise. On Sunday there was a joint XR/BLM ‘Free the Press’ rally and march addressed by Jeremy Corbyn as well as speakers from the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) and other groups that want more state regulation of the press and internet though do not necessarily, one assumes, support the type of direct action the main organisers had planned for the weekend.
Britain is now seeing the emergence of a movement that gives itself the right to unilaterally impose its agenda through the use of extra-legal, non-democratic coercive action. In addition to XR’s use of occupation and anti-freedom of communication measures, BLM grants itself the right to remove statues and Antifa to physically attack and silence anyone it so chooses. A Labour MP has commented to me that he sees XR as a ‘proto-fascist’ movement. The use of the affix ‘proto’ is very apt. XR, and the broader, loose coalition, of which it is a part is in the relatively early stages of ideological development. Stylistically, XR and BLM do not communicate a classically authoritarian vibe. Predominantly white middle class people with dreadlocks and grungy, ‘distressed’ looking clothing bought (or liberated) from charity shops in Brighton and Stroud do not exactly conjure up the British Union of Fascists in their 1930s S&M pomp, all neatly pressed black shirts, jodhpurs and shiny jackboots. But let’s go beyond the superficial aesthetics and apply a liberal rationalist analysis to the charge of proto-fascism concerning XR and BLM.
In my next blog on this subject, I will endeavor to justify this claim theoretically. I will argue that XR/BLM and other groups within the contemporary ultra-left network should now be defined as proto-fascistic because of three key characteristics:
1) They adhere to the metaphysical view that every aspect of human existence is ‘political’, a zero-sum struggle for power between groups of oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited. They dismiss outright the liberal interpretation of life as being a spontaneous, non-political, peaceful interaction between naturally free individuals. This, therefore, justifies extensive control over society through centrally determined intervention which necessarily involves violating the right to personal autonomy.
2) This predilection for potentially unlimited and very intrusive state interference includes a rejection of free market economics and support for extensive government regulation, spending and a mixed economy. Fascists historically refused to define themselves as either capitalist or socialist but rather claimed to be upholders of a new ‘third way’. XR has stated: “We can and must succeed in catalysing a peaceful revolution to end the era of fossil fuels, nature extraction and capitalism.” However, XR, like BLM, and most of the contemporary New Left refuse or fail to define what exactly is the alternative economic system they are proposing.
3) The imposition of such an extensive intrusion without any mass democratic mandate. XR and BLM are open about their rejection of the traditional structure of liberal, representative democracy and, self-evidently, reserve the right to take direct action to close down newspapers, and occupy public and private spaces without any legal sanction. They are vague about what exact form collective decision-making would take in the future once liberal democracy has been replaced, and this is what makes them at this stage nascent rather than fully formed fascists. XR, in particular, adhere to the idea of citizens assemblies determining public policy rather than the electorate as a whole through elected parliaments and governments. Here, there are parallels with the pre-war British fascist idea of the ‘corporate state’ with representatives of different sections of society engaged in a dialogue with the state and arriving at consensual decisions. However, the XR and wider New Left worldview is in the process of being fully worked out and articulated.