Communism, Fascism, and Green Shaming

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis.

— Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Red, January 1, 2001

… the totality of which the psyche is a part becomes to an increasing extent less ‘society’ than ‘politics’ … society has fallen prey to and become identified with domination.

— Herbert Marcuse, Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Utopia, Boston Beacon Press, 1970

By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy … Yet, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements … Any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air, according to Sara Flounders. It’s a loophole [in the Kyoto Convention on Climate Change] big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report A Climate of War.

— H. Patricia Hynes, Climate and Capitalism, February 2015

I am sensing — at least in the U.S. — a migration of the liberal policing of thought into green movements. A guy (a writer, in fact, one published on several left sites) arguing about plane travel. And this seems to be a thing. The problem of individual travel on jet airplanes is, of course, dwarfed by military pollution of all kinds, including massive nearly incomprehensible jet fuel usage, corporate air travel, and the world of private jets altogether. In other words there is a qualitative distinction. And I’m quite sure most people getting a short break from their miserable day job appreciate the shaming and hectoring of this polyanna bullshit. I’d be happy to travel by train, but since that’s not possible much anymore, nor is sea travel unless you own a sailboat, the point is to change a system of inequality which would by itself radically reduce the pollution of jet engines. The EU, by the by, suggested a ticket tax (to passengers, of course) for flying. Nothing about reduced truck transport of useless foods, or any rational solution because rational solutions cut into profit. Nothing about military transport. Nothing about improved rail transport — which most people would absolutely prefer. No, just more guilt pinned on the working class for daring to take a trip. To ask people to voluntarily restrict their movement is a very dangerous and disingenuous delusion. And so far, for me anyway, it is always white males who promote this thinking.

But beyond that, one finds very often a kind of Mr Rogers neighborhood prose in this stuff. It’s sentimentalized and full of talk of Gaia and whatever else is au courant in the affluent Prius owning class. The fact is that most people I know would be very happy to travel other ways than by air. But telling people, the working class, to stop flying is very typical of this new shaming impulse in the American psyche and in American society. Young people learn tolerance by travel, learn other cultures, learn, period. Better, I guess, to stay home and — what? And I want to know how much travel is okay. For whom? I mean, people fly to climate conferences. It becomes all very Ionesco, like, at a certain point. But is one allowed to take a bus to work? What is the guideline here? Can I fly to help organize anti capitalist resistance?? This is a kind of critique mired in individuality. It’s lacking any class analysis. Unsurprisingly.

So let’s get back to War and the military. If one wants to stop climate change, the first step, before all this hand wringing about vacations, is to protest war. Protest militarism. Protest 900 military bases around the world. Each of which pollutes far far far far more then the country hosting them. Not to mention the attendant sexual violence, public drunkeness, drugs, and prostitution.

The destruction of the land, the denuding of what is left of America’s wild areas, is not helped by this sort of pomposity and moral superiority.

Which segues to another trend I am seeing. The rise of what for lack of a better word I’ll call the anti communist left, of the totalitarian left. There is a position which decries all socialist countries, past and present, as failures. But also simply parodies of “real” socialism. This is nothing new, of course. And while there is a germ of truth in this, the problem is the encoded message that accompanies these critiques. Given the hideous hegemonic growth of U.S. Imperialism, including the NATO countries, the dismissing of socialism as rank failure puts in the service of U.S. anti communism. One becomes allies with the likes of the Dulles Brothers, or Joe McCarthy, or Dick Nixon.

That the Russian and Chinese revolutions achieved almost unimaginable improvements to the lives of nearly everyone in those countries is dismissed. Not even mentioned. As if revolution drops from the sky now and then. That Fidel Castro and Lenin and Mao and Sankara and Ho Chi Minh were all just failures and parodies of real socialism is becoming a very popular meme, and one that coincides with the conflation of communism and fascism. Usually under the rubric of “totalitarian.” Again, in a real world of Imperialist violence and class oppression and manifest inequality, such flagrant hot house beatitudes are very distressing. And it is all but impossible to argue against this (much like the accusation of conspiracy theory) because one is quickly accused of willfully ignoring the flaws and failures that DID, in fact, occur. But it feels almost like a demand for a certain kind of perfection. Again, the gains are ignored. I had one (rather well known leftist) say…”well, health care, free education, art and literature is all fine, but not when you have lost your political voice”. That is a direct quote. One wonders what is meant by “political voice”. I’d have to say that the people of Venezuela FOUND their political voice for the first time under Chavez. So did the Cubans under Fidel. Health care and free education… ’pfft’, big deal, right? But there are several threads making up this new left anti communism. And oddly, maybe even paradoxically (and maybe not) another influence is Ayn Rand. And, often, Lyndon LaRouche. For the Randian embrace of selfishness is oddly tweeked a bit and becomes a strange doppelganger to real politik for these people. There is, additionally, a green dimension to this.

I wanted to circle back to freedom of movement. The invention of the passport is a relatively recent invention. And one with clear hierarchical reverberations. When I lived in Poland, it was always depressing to go down to immigration when I had to renew this or that bit of paper allowing me to work and live there. I had a U.S. passport and went to the front of the line. Families from Uzbekistan or Sri Lanka or Kenya were treated like cattle and pointlessly made to wait, days sometimes, to find resolution on their Visa status or work papers or whatever.

The rise of a new sort of national identity followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian, not to mention the Russian Empire. And technological developments that made movement easier combined with ideological forces resulted in new forms of paperwork for the populations of Europe. This period saw huge numbers of people escaping political violence. It also saw the Nazi biological racism reinforce certain notions of national identity.

…among other things, the use of the most advanced techniques of population registration and documentary controls on movement to keep track of real or putative enemies and to mobilize the population to achieve the regime’s ends.{ } The 1933 special census of Jews in Germany, however, was only the beginning of the Nazis’ effort to invoke the most sophisticated statistical and administrative means to pursue its program of racial domination. The dozen years of existence of the “thousand-year Reich’ would generate a proliferation of censuses, statistical investigations, registers of foreigners, identity cards, and residence lists that ultimately constituted the administrative foundation for the deportations to Auschwitz and the other death camps. Over time, these diverse methods of “embracing” {erfassert) the German population, and especially certain “negatively .”privileged status groups” within it, became intimately linked to the passport system.
— John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State, November 13, 1999

The post colonial period for the U.K. also presented problems regarding citizenship. Finally the citizens of the former colonies were allowed Commonwealth citizenship and were allowed to enter the U.K. Various other former colonial powers decided on similar laws and regulations. The overall result was a huge increase in identification paperwork. In the 1970s came machine readable passports and the introduction of Visas for some countries. And, of course, a huge uptick in data mining. And in surveillance.

The point is that, really, states have expropriated the right to movement.

John Torpey again….

Despite the emergence of a greater propensity to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of states in recent years, it remains true that “once a population is incorporated into complete citizenship, a nation-state is given almost complete authority to subordinate the population: It can expropriate, kill, and starve, with relatively little fear of external intervention.” Needless to say, this authority extends to nation-states’ control over the movements of persons within their borders as well.

The idea of freedom of movement is significant. And it should not be bundled up with this kitsch eco-sensitivity. Of course, and I said this on TV the other day, everyone has to accept massive changes to how they live their lives. But most people are powerless to do many of the things the privileged eco-warrior can do. Poor families eat what they can afford. The working class does what it can to survive and fend off having to sleep under freeway overpasses. The point again, or one of the points, is that in this real world of U.S. crypto fascism, militarism, police state and surveillance state reality, the conversation is never taking place in a vacuum.

Now, alongside these new green shaming trends there lies the echo or residue of the old eugenics movement. And it has returned (for the fourth or fifth time) under the guise of an overpopulation alarmism. The new overpop mythology is couched in green terms, with its own vocabulary. But the point is always entrenched in a deep Orientalism and racism. It is always THOSE poor countries, usually black, that is conjured up in the minds of those lovers of the planet. The poor consume the least, in fact. And for the record there is no overpopulation. There is also plenty of food. The problem is a for profit system of distribution and overcrowding — the result of irrational industrialization or just austerity and the destruction of traditional farming etc. The planet actually remains rather empty, and fertility rates are falling off a cliff. (Hence the pronounced rise in IVF procedures). This is only second cousin to the old welfare mothers myth of Bill Clinton and Ronnie Reagan. In the global village Africa is simply South Central LA.

The continuation of hunger in the modern world is not the result of an intractable problem thwarting our best efforts to feed people. Rather, agriculture in the capitalist world is directly concerned with profit and only indirectly with feeding people.
— John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport

Also, there was a small blip this past year, raised by Trump and a couple of his minions. The birthright citizenship debate (or Jus Soli, right of the soil). For what is behind this sudden interest, ultimately, is the normalizing of an idea of tiers of citizenship (see John Torpey quote above). For that is the ultimate goal. Official second class citizens. And remember the Dred Scott case, and citizenship for black Americans and the struggle around that, all the way up to the Wong kim Ark decision. This issue didn’t surface for no reason.

Convicted of a felony? Sorry, you are a citizen class B. (exemptions made for Wall Street convictions or the like). Were your parents undocumented? Sorry, you can have a provisional class C citizenship card. And with this will come severe restrictions of movement. Regional ghettos and work zones.

The state monopolization of the legitimate means of movement may be giving way to the return of the private regulation of movement, rooted in the ownership of property within well-fortified and privately policed enclaves. This appears to be the drift of developments; there are now estimated to be some 20 000 gated communities in the United States, up from a nearzero figure only thirty-five years ago. If it is, passports – a product of the political rather than the economic determination of community membership – may give way to money as the relevant form of “identification” that permits access to specified territories.
— John Torpey1

Keith O’Brien wrote recently, in a review (Lookleft, December 25th 2018) of Dominic Losurdo’s War and Revolution

One of the truly remarkable feats of public opinion management is to be seen in the widespread belief that the foundational violence of the USSR and communism in general is or was systemic while violence as perpetrated by liberal democracies is a merely aberrant phenomenon. Ever since the demise of the USSR and the concomitant dismantling of the social states in eastern Europe a contending liberal narrative has become the prevailing one, at least according to the supposed received wisdom as disseminated in the dominant media discourse. This narrative can be succinctly outlined in the proposal that a historical equivalence exists between communism and nazism, an equivalence cynically injurious to the former and perniciously obscurantist where the latter is concerned.

Hitler had a framed photo of Henry Ford in his office. He did not have one of Stalin or Lenin. Hitler admired American eugenics. The idea of sterilizing the defectives came directly from the U.S. medical establishment.

But there are deeper distinctions between socialism and fascism.

Klaus Theweleit wrote Male Fantasies in 1977, analysing the diaries of the German paramilitaries (the Freikorps) that refused to surrender after the WW1 armistice.

But the assimilation of mass movements with floods, swamps, or pits of muck is not just a literary exercise, it’s a political operation. What communism promised the underpayed and underfed working poor was an overhaul of social hierarchies; the revolt of the laboring class was—literally—a threat to the old barriers and entrenched privileges: communism pledged to engulf the old Prussian order, swallowing the lower ranks of the aristocracy that Freikorps recruits typically belonged to. Conflating lifestyle (the maintenance of rentier income) with survival, the Freikorps forged an imaginary identity between the dread of revolution and the dread of drowning and physical dissolution. But everything murky and watery is also a cipher for woman, which is why Theweleit asks to what extent this patriarchal organization of life adopts fascism in order to ensure its own survival.

For all the talk of totalitarianism, there is a stark difference between the psychological underpinning of fascism and that of socialism or communism.

Unlike the New Left, for whom sexual repression was not merely a characteristic of fascism but its very cause, Theweleit didn’t see genocide as the thwarted expression of inhibited sexual energies. His point was rather that the production of gender and sexuality are intimately tied to the content of anti-Semitism and overt racism—both before, during, and after the fall of the Weimar Republic. Fascist sexuality is not so much repressed as it is ideological: it idealizes virility and fertility as political imperatives. Its tropes are worth revisiting not only because there is a continuity between every day sexism—for example, the culturally tolerated misogyny of expressions such as “I would fuck her brains out”— and the Freikorps murderous frenzy; or because conflicts over sexual mores and gender roles have again become an decisive site for political struggle; but mostly because the question of gender is always instrumental in defining the “enemy,” as the “act that brings the collective into being.
— Ana Teixeira Pinto, review of Male Fantasies, E-Flux

One of the driving forces behind this new left(ish) anti communism is something not terribly far from what Thewelit describes.

And here is a little experiment. Go to your Google search engine and write something like *Why Communism is not like Fascism*.

Then get back to me.

There is also the question of colonialism. The USSR (and Cuba) fought for African independence. The US fought against it. But it needs, also, to be pointed out that Henry Ford’s anti semitism (especially in his book The International Jew) was a great inspiration to Hitler.

The rise of what could be termed an anti-Semitic international movement followed in the wake of the World War I, which had spawned the myth that Jewish financiers had caused and perpetuated it. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which began circulating worldwide in 1919, gave those inclined to nurture apocalyptic interpretations of unsettling world events a key to understanding both the crisis of the liberal West and the Bolshevik takeover. The war and the Protocols profoundly changed anti-Semitism, altering the arguments of antiSemites and the quality and ferocity of anti-Semitic discourse. This transformation remains underappreciated in two respects: the degree to which the new conspiracy theory superseded older religious and biologistic anti-Semitism, and the degree to which the new anti Semitism was international in nature. Based on the specious Protocols, the new anti-Semitic code interpreted both financial capitalism and communism as two strategies in one and the same Jewish plot, an idea that was by no means a Nazi invention.
— Stefan Link, Rethinking the Ford-Nazi Connection

So, the conflating of fascism and communism was born out of a western industrialist’s bigotry and prejudice, and embraced early by western capital. And it found a fertile audience with anti semites of all stripes.

None of this is to say that the Revolutions in Russia and China did not suffer complex and even radical failures. Wilhelm Reich was hugely disappointed in the rejection of psychoanalysis by the USSR. Brecht wrote Benjamin as early as 1937:

In Russia a dictatorship rules over the proletariat. We should avoid disassociating ourselves from this dictatorship for as long as it still does useful work for the proletariat – i.e. so long as it contributes towards a reconciliation between the proletariat and the peasantry, giving prime recognition to proletarian interests.

The sclerotic creep in arts and culture was tragic, but great work was still being done. The Soviet King Lear is among the great films of all time. Paranoia ground away at the national psyche, the accumulative affects from 50 years of Western pressures. But the point is not what worked, or what failed, but rather the alternative. Judging Stalin or Mao or Castro cannot be done from the p.o.v. of western chauvinism. A position that takes for granted the moral primacy of the Imperialist western state. But that is exactly what is happening more and more frequently. And giving any credence to the conflation of socialism and fascism is not just lazy, but deeply reactionary.

One hears constantly what “monsters” Mao or Stalin were. One rarely hears the designers of the genocide against the Indigenous tribes of the Americas referred to as monsters. Was Andrew Jackson a monster? Was Teddy Roosevelt? Were any of those “Indian killers” so venerated in American folklore?

Look up the Gnadenhutten Massacre, where near a hundred Christianized Delaware tribesmen were beaten to death with wooden mallets in 1782, or the slaughter of Creeks (Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811) by William Henry Harrison (who, naturally, became president since nothing so prepares one for the oval office as genocidal violence), or look up “The Indian Removal Act”, or as Donald L. Fixico writes:

On November 29, 1864, a former Methodist minister, John Chivington, led a surprise attack on peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos on their reservation at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. His force consisted of 700 men, mainly volunteers in the First and Third Colorado Regiments. Plied with too much liquor the night before, Chivington and his men boasted that they were going to kill Indians. Once a missionary to Wyandot Indians in Kansas, Chivington declared, ‘Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians!…I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heavens to kill Indians.’

That fateful cold morning, Chivington led his men against 200 Cheyennes and Arapahos. Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle had tied an American flag to his lodge pole as he was instructed, to indicate his village was at peace. When Chivington ordered the attack, Black Kettle tied a white flag beneath the American flag, calling to his people that the soldiers would not kill them. As many as 160 were massacred, mostly women and children.

‘Indian killers’ like Harrison and Jackson are venerated. Jackson is on the 20 dollar bill.

But Jackson is even worse than his horrifyingly brutal record with regard to Native Americans indicates. Indian removal was not just a crime against humanity, it was a crime against humanity intended to abet another crime against humanity: By clearing the Cherokee from the American South, Jackson hoped to open up more land for cultivation by slave plantations. He owned hundreds of slaves, and in 1835 worked with his postmaster general to censor anti-slavery mailings from northern abolitionists. The historian Daniel Walker Howe writes that Jackson, “expressed his loathing for the abolitionists vehemently, both in public and in private.”
— Dylan Matthews, Vox, 2016

So, we have a coalescing of white male repressions projecting outward by way of a latent Puritanical reflex, one that must keep someone in the stocks, with an insidious white nationalism out to create hierarchies within hierarchies regards passports and citizenship — in the interest of controlling surplus populations, and a neo left anti communism made up of a structural Ayn Randian Capitalism, with equal parts Lyndon LaRouche, and Hannah Arendt by way of Noam Chomsky.

Nearly 1,000 US military bases trace an arc from the Andes to North Africa across the Middle East to Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea, sweeping over all major oil resources — all related, in part, to projecting force for the sake of energy security. Further, the “upstream emissions” of greenhouse gases from the manufacture of military equipment, infrastructure, vehicles and munitions used in oil supply protection and oil-driven wars should also be included in the overall environmental impact of using gasoline. Adding these factors into their calculations, the authors conclude that about “20 percent of the conventional DoD budget … is attributable to the objective of oil security.
— Liska and Perrin, Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development

The Soviet Union provided hope, as did Cuba, for millions in the third world fighting for independence and some fragile sense of dignity. And the U.S. fought AGAINST it. The problem of air travel pollution should not be transferred to the people, individuals or families, who might occasionally take vacations. It is the responsibility of the war machine, of global finance, and transnational corporations. Most people can no longer afford much travel, anyway. But that’s not the point. It’s this ugly guilt-tripping morality-gestapo that seems so active on social media and throughout the haute bourgeoisies of the West. When I hear and read these veiled and not veiled attacks on socialist countries, I always suspect agent provocateurs but then I’m likely clinically paranoid at this point.

When Castro died the grief from Africa was palpable…

Cuba’s 1975-6 intervention proved decisive in the rapid consolidation of the MPLA as the ruling party in the oil-rich state of Angola in Southern Africa. Cuban internationalists would remain in Angola until 1989 after the defeat of the racist South African Defense Forces (SADF) the previous year leading to the independence of neighboring Namibia (South-West Africa) under the occupation of the apartheid regime based in Pretoria. Numerous African political leaders have expressed their condolences to the Cuban government and people. The nation of Algeria in North Africa declared eight days of official mourning in honor of the revolutionary leader who assisted in the defense of the country during the early years of national independence from France.
— Abayomi Azikiwe, Pambazuka News

That does not sound like failure to me.2

For white males in this (U.S.) society, over the age of forty, there is always going to be a residual misogyny and racism. The legacies of our fathers. And of their fathers before them. America was a slave owning genocidal nation of killers and thieves. The point is to overcome that residual bigotry and prejudice. It takes work. But this is an aspect of the destruction of education. It stops people acquiring the tools to self educate. Nobody reads anymore. And it opens the door for voices like Jordan Peterson (as just an example) who grant permission to cling to your old judgments and bigotries. Permission to valorize what, in fact, HAS to change. If one wants the world to survive.

The USSR traded civil liberties for a society in which all citizens were lifted out of poverty. A society that can enjoy free health care and education, hugely subsidized housing, and free public transport and an absolute protection against exploitation. That is a real choice. If you are teetering on homelessness, (in Los Angeles today the homeless population is, at least, 75, 000 …and that has to be a low ball figure) the choice is obvious. If, that is, those people knew there was a choice. Again, this new anti communism comes from people who almost never had to face such problems. It is a new bourgeois conceit to embrace leftism cosmetically, but reject it on a deeper level. The new anti communism on the left, as I say, feels increasingly anti-semitic to me. It decries *totalitarianism* (sic) while shaming those it deems morally culpable. Morally lacking. You know, like people who fly on jet airplanes.

The desire for “real socialism”, as a criticism, was summarised by Michael Parenti years ago…

But a real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

Trump actually declared November 7th a national day for the victims of communism. No, this is not The Onion.

By law, members Ukrainian paramilitary groups that fought with the Nazis against the Red Army in the Second World War are now heroes of Ukrainian independence.
— Scott Sehon and Kristin Ghodsee, Aeon Magazine

Yeah, that should read U.S. supported Ukrainian paramilitaries. Open Nazis. Poland, arch reactionary Poland, has created a law banning Communist symbols, so terrified are they of people’s memories.

From Dehon and Ghodsee’s piece again:

A 2009 poll in eight east European countries asked if the economic situation for ordinary people was ‘better, worse or about the same as it was under communism’. The results stunned observers: 72 per cent of Hungarians, and 62 per cent of both Ukrainians and Bulgarians believed that most people were worse off after 1989. In no country did more than 47 per cent of those surveyed agree that their lives improved after the advent of free markets. Subsequent polls and qualitative research across Russia and eastern Europe confirm the persistence of these sentiments as popular discontent with the failed promises of free-market prosperity has grown, especially among older people.

There is a reason communism so scared the captains of industry in the U.S. The ruling class spent inordinate energy and time propagandizing against socialist ideas. It has gone on for eighty some years and never abated.

Joel Kovel made a huge distinction between ecology and environmentalism. As he often said (I sort of paraphrase)… Our ecological system is broken; the cause is capitalism!

Lest anyone misunderstand here; adopting energy efficient and renewable sources, and expanding public transportation and reducing reliance on private motor vehicles, and on air travel, is all good. But to get there, from here, means starting with the Imperialist project of domination. It does not work the other way round. One has to always start with a class analysis. Our “individual” choices, our “carbon footprint” etc…none of this is meaningful UNTIL the engine behind global destruction is addressed. Our individual choices are not ‘choices ‘ until that happens.

  1. See “Golden visa schemes put at risk the EU’s integrity and security and should be banned, say S&Ds” and “Malta slammed for cash-for-passport program.” []
  2. Or read this piece on the Cuban response to the Ebola outbreak. []
John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He's had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.