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Thread: Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

    At one time Richard Seymour was someone who had a penetrating class analysis. However, in recent years he writes less and less on his blog based on historical materialism and much more in the Lacanian psychoanalytic vein. I don’t know how much interest there is in the Lacanian stuff given his Alexa rating of 850,507 worldwide. He has set himself up on Patreon where for $3 per month and up you can get the a-list Seymour. With articles like “Make cry-bullying kill itself”, I am not sure if $3 per month is worth it.

    Over on Lenin’s Tomb, you can also find the same kind of article. For example, there is one titled “On Fetish”, which sounds like the kind of paper delivered at the yearly American Language Association conference:

    This estrangement of the visual order, this conversion of attention into alienated labour, is what Beller calls the ‘cinematic mode of production’. True to the paranoid, psychotic structure of the theory, he can do no other than offer us a cinematic image by way of explanation. We are in The Matrix, the life-energy we put into the world converted into energy to run the image-world, “imprisoned in a malevolent bathosphere, intuiting our situation only through glitches in the programme.”

    Good grief.

    Most of this stuff has little interest for me but recently Seymour posted a link on Facebook to a May 19th article titled “Is Fascism on the Rise” that shows how much damage this kind of psychoanalytic Social Text malarkey can do when the matter at hand requires a sober class analysis rather than the sort of prose that Alan Sokal parodied. I hadn’t noticed the article when it first showed up but thought it was worth some commentary since Seymour has become one of antifa’s PR men.

    These are the opening paragraphs:

    It was the Martinican poet and anticolonial fighter, Aime Cesaire, who tried to point out to Europeans that what they called Nazism, they had been practicing with a free conscience in the colonial world for decades. And that this relationship was not incidental.

    In fact, the conscience of the European was never free. Octave Mannoni, the French psychoanalyst who famously psychoanalysed the colonial situation, once suggested that there was a surprising pervasiveness of the colonised, in the dreams of Europeans who had never left the continent and never seen such a person. Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.

    Okay, spend a minute studying these paragraphs and try to figure out what is wrong.

    Is the minute up? I hope that you would have noticed that the word “Europeans” is not rooted in a class analysis. Which class was practicing something like Nazism on the colonized peoples? When your unit of analysis is the nation or the continent, that goes out the window. It was the capitalist class, not the French workers, who were oppressing and exploiting Algerians.

    “Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.” What sort of nonsense is this? Who could he possibly be writing about? Colonel Blimp? This is a reductionist attempt to characterize an entire people, something that would never appear in a serious Marxist analysis. It evokes an op-ed piece in the NY Times, where someone like Thomas Friedman would pontificate on the “Europeans” versus the “Asians”. What a sad decline from the sharp analysis he used to deploy.

    After a couple more paragraphs of this kind of gaseous air-borne prose, Seymour finally lands on the ground:

    There is a traditional schema according to which economic crisis equals polarisation equals extremism. Things are more complicated. There’s a particular sequence which we should pay attention to.

    Yes, they are more complicated but it was economic crisis, after all, that precipitated the rise of fascism historically. Furthermore, Golden Dawn is the only powerful fascist movement in Europe that has the same kind of social weight as the 1920s version. How can you not connect that to economic crisis? Impossible. Furthermore, even with the deep crisis in Greece, there is no section of the bourgeoisie that has aligned itself with Golden Dawn, unlike Germany where the Thyssens were funding Hitler early on.

    Explaining how conditions today can produce a new Adolph Hitler, Seymour is not exactly lucid. He writes:

    Yes, economic crisis is important, but it has to be metabolised by the state somehow. A crisis of capitalism, has to be a crisis of its political institutions and of its ideological claims. That crisis must manifest itself in a deadlock of political leadership of the ruling class. If, typically, one of its sectors leads (say, the City of London) and imposes its imperatives as being for the good of all, that leadership will come into question.

    Does anybody understand what it means for an economic crisis to be metabolized by the state? I don’t have a clue. To metabolize means to convert food into energy in a living organism. I gave up trying to understand what this might have to do with the Trump White House except maybe that his addiction to red meat and Coca-Cola might be producing baleful psychological effects that will condemn us all to concentration camps.

    But is Seymour right that the fascism of today won’t look anything like the Nazis?

    But the fascism of the future doesn’t have to be traditional. Nor does it have to respect the sequences observed in the interwar years, or reanimate old cultures. It could even adopt a patina of edgy cool, as with the alt-right: we should never underestimate the erotic glamour of fascism and its appeal to the death-drive.

    The erotic glamour of fascism? The appeal to the death-drive? Lacan is now in the driver’s seat, not Marx. Not being versed in Freudian psychoanalysis, I have no idea what this means. I guess I am a Marxist moldy fig. I believe that people join fascist movements because they support a total war on the left and the creation of an absolutist state that will govern in their interests, at least based on the demagogy of the fascist leader. And primarily this meant solving the economic crisis. To the middle-class, Hitler promised eliminating the Jews who were ruining it. To the workers, it was job security and social benefits. To the bourgeoisie, it was a promise to put an end to working-class power.

    While Seymour’s article barely mentions the USA, it does join with the leftist consensus in early 2017 that Trump was capable of imposing a fascist dictatorship: “The attempt by Bannon and Miller to force a rupture in the American state was premature and voluntaristic. A more competent germinal fascism would take its time, patiently exploiting the fascist potential within the liberal state, to incubate and nurture the fascist monster of the future.”

    I generally bristle at the word “rupture” since it smacks so much of the academic leftist prose that refuses to use a simple Anglo-Saxon word like “break” or “split”. What kind of split was Bannon trying to force? You’d think that Seymour regarded him as a latter-day Kurt von Schleicher who was a close adviser to Paul von Hindenberg. In 1930 he helped to topple the Social Democratic government, the first step in a series that would lead to Hitler becoming the German Chancellor. It was Schleicher who whispered in von Hindenberg’s ear about the need to make Hitler Der Fuhrer.

    Does anybody in their right mind think that this was what Bannon was about? To whisper in Trump’s ear about the need to arrest the leaders of the Democratic Party and to pare down the Republican Party to the narrow base that continues to back Trump? What then? Arrest the editors of the NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN and put them in prison where they would be tortured or killed? What about the universities? Round up George Ciccariello-Maher, Jodi Dean and even Paul Krugman? That is what fascism would look like, after all.

    None of that was on the agenda. Instead, Bannon and Miller only hoped to use the power of the executive, their legislative majority and rightwing judicial figures to ram through a program that was the same old shit that the Republican Party has been pushing for 25 years. It is the Koch Brothers, Sean Hannity, et al. Just because Trump has cozied up with crypto-fascists like Alex Jones, there is no reason to cry wolf. As someone who lived through the Reagan years and read about the meetings that his top officials were having with Lyndon LaRouche’s cult members, I tend to be a bit more cautious about the F word. The US ruling class prefers to rule though bourgeois democracy and there is little need to take the kind of drastic action that Nazism represents.

    It should be understood that Salvage Magazine that includes Richard Seymour on the editorial board views Donald Trump as a fascist. In an editorial titled “Lèse-Evilism: On the US Election Season”, they obviously demonstrated a poor grasp of American presidential politics:

    If Trumpism is not fascist, it is clearly not not-fascist in the same way that mainstream Republicanism is not-fascist. Given its insurgent nativism, its overt racism and performative misogyny, its spectacular glorification of violence, including racist violence – as when Trump described as ‘very passionate’ a Boston supporter who severely beat a Hispanic man with an iron bar – its refusal to condemn overt white supremacist support, its sadistic and resentful authoritarianism, its populist denunciations of ‘big finance’ and ‘the system’, its willingness to suspend constitutional-legal norms in the interests of resolving a supposed emergency, and given our hard- and painfully-won perspective that things, particularly in these bad times, can get worse, Salvage is not complacent about the trajectory of this movement.

    By these standards, we would have been facing a fascist threat under Reagan. In 1980, Ronald Reagan gave a speech openly endorsing “state’s rights” at the Neshoba County Fair. The fair was held in Philadelphia, Mississippi where 3 civil rights activists were murdered by the KKK in 1964. He broke the airline controllers’ strike. He used illegal methods to support the Nicaraguan contras in collaboration with fascist groups like the World Anti-Communist League. Was any of this an indication that a “rupture” was pending? No, it was a reflection that a right-wing Republican was in power, not that much different from others that had preceded him. Fascism was not required to make life hell for workers and Black people. The American government has been doing that for the past 200 years.

    Finally, I would refer you to an article by Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs, a magazine that has been doing yeoman work rebutting the supporters of antifa like Richard Seymour. In a piece titled “Response to Critique On Free Speech and Violence”, Robinson replies to Seymour’s FB critique of his views on antifa. Seymour, who is referred to as Psmith throughout, wrote a boiler-plate defense of the antifa adventurists:

    But Robinson ends by worrying that readers, who might be thinking of punching Nazis, would be “giving up” their principled commitment to “free speech” and “nonviolence” and should think twice before doing this. This is strange: personally, I do not have any commitment to a principle of free speech that says blocking talks is “intrinsically” or “in principle” wrong. Free speech is always provisional and contingent. If you use your speech to incite against migrant or trans students, as Yiannopoulos did, I have no obligation to defend your freedom to do that.

    That is par for the course.

    Robinson replied:

    I might add here that those who endorse a highly contingent view of free speech rarely engage with the most important questions surrounding it. They don’t even seem to understand the reasons why people support robust open forums. It’s not because we believe that Nazis who “incite” hate are a legitimate part of the dialogue, it’s because we believe that once you start determining who can speak based on a “legitimacy/illegitimacy” framework, you are beginning to impose restrictions that will ultimately hurt everybody. Yes, everything is technically “contingent.” But the more we embrace that contingency, instead of seeing it as a very narrow and reluctant set of exceptions, the less free people generally will become. That’s because words like “contingent” and even “incite” end up being squishy and slippery, and we lose the kind of clear limiting principles that will help us maintain as open of a forum as we can. This is true whether we’re speaking of private or public action. In terms of the First Amendment, the more you empower courts to make exceptions for “hate speech” or “fascist speech,” the more you have built in a dangerous exception to your own civil liberties that now depends on you convincing a judge that you aren’t hateful. “Incitement,” without a clear and limited definition of what it does and doesn’t mean, is worryingly broad. (Yes, the Supreme Court adopts an “incitement” standard, but it’s “incitement to imminent lawless action,” with the imminence question being crucial, which is why mere advocacy of lawless action is permitted, and the qualification is crucial for safeguarding the right.) People like Psmith never seem to want to tell us how the limits of what constitutes an “incitement to hate” will be determined.

    I urge you to read the entire article and to look for any others written by Robinson on the antifa question. I also recommend Carl Boggs’s article in today’s CounterPunch that is superlative. Here is an excerpt:

    Antifa screams about racism and fascism on the right, which of course exists, while ignoring those same tendencies – not to mention warmongering – among liberal Democrats. The group seems blind to far more consequential fascist interests at work within the power structure itself. Despite a well-cultivated radical image, Antifa rarely focuses on the growing ultra-nationalism, militarism, and imperialism that lies at the very core of American politics – tendencies in fact more dangerous than the rhetoric of Yiannopoulos, Coulter, and Shapiro. Beneath its ultra-leftism is a modus operandi riddled with the worst of identity politics. And since its violent tactics are not aligned with any popular movement, its opposition to fascism (such as it is) turns hollow, empty.

    https://louisproyect.org/2017/09/04/...chard-seymour/
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

    It's good to know the structure of these internecine spats haven't changed from circa 1860: Marxist X accuses Marxist Y of not paying sufficient attention to class and therefore being a Sinner against The Faith; Marxist Y returns the accusation, and so it goes on forever and ever.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

    Ah, but you could say the same about almost any faction of the left, Amoeba. Marxists don't enjoy a monopoly, here. Check out what feminists have been arguing about transgender rights recently, or those 'debating' 'intersectionality'.

    Does that invalidate those arguments? If so, we might as well consider shutting this forum down whenever someone even thinks to question anything posted here, mightn't we? Or are we too smug to do that?
    The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves.

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/index.htm

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

    Not just any faction of the left, but any ideology. There are two elements at play here I think: "essentially contested concepts" and the attempt to appeal to a particular interpretation of such a concept as the sole legitimate one which throws the other side into the camp of the other.

    Now, these arguments can be analyzed or viewed in two ways, broadly speaking. You can look at the actual content of the claims made and try to parse out which is the more valid in terms of the battle over "essentially contested concepts" that's being played. This is perfectly valid, and directly involves you in the game that's being played, which brings it with it important insights into the nature of the concepts being discussed.

    Another way to view it is to take a step back, intentionally remove oneself from the game, and try to come to a kind of sociological understanding of what's happening. I believe this is also a valid move and also yields useful if not critical insights regarding a particular debate or practice.

    The most obvious example of this is with religious disputes, particular when they occur within a broadly shared religious tradition. Is the argument over transubstantiation best understood by looking at the validity of claims made regarding the body and blood of Christ? Obviously it must be considered from that perspective, for example because the claims often refer back to texts and particular interpretations of them which may be more or less valid. But zooming out and leaving behind participation in the game reveals things about the debate that one could not have known otherwise, for example that there was a crucial political and social dimension to the debate that the participants never made explicit. Ironically one of Marxism's claims to fame was to engage in this kind of analysis, to treat the realm of ideas and the people holding them as expressions of particular material conditions, which requires one to do a second-order type of analysis of the kind described.

    Going back to the Proyect/Seymour article: I made an observation about the nature of the debate from an outsider perspective, but what about the insider perspective, which you would know more about? Do you believe Proyect's claim that Seymour is no longer a "proper" Marxist because he has left behind class in his analysis of fascism is right? And why?
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Louis Proyect criticizes Richard Seymour, on fascism

    I think you are right about "any ideology".

    I also think that the term "proper Marxist" is no less essentially contestable. Proyect has similarly bad-mouthed me, and a few years ago banned me from Marxmail for, guess what, questioning the validity of 'dialectics'!

    By the way, one quote does not a theory make.
    The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves.

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/index.htm

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