The former BBC Newsnight journalist, Paul Mason, is the author of a new book entitled How to Stop Fascism. You may remember that in 2019 he tried in a rather sad, buffoonish manner to rabble rouse a very bourgeois Remainer mob in the cause of over-turning a democratic referendum result, with the words ‘We the British people are coming for you Boris Johnson, ready or f*cking not’. The gates of No 10 Downing Street held firm it would appear.
Mason’s book confirms the title of another book written from a left-wing, albeit pro-Brexit perspective, by Paul Embery: Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class. For example, Mason asserts at one point that ‘a political culture has emerged in some working-class communities defined by xenophobia, white supremacy, anti-feminism and Islamophobia.’ In keeping with the post-rationalism and post-modernism of the New Left, Mason defines fascism as a ‘recurrent symptom’ of capitalism which has given rise to a ‘mass plebeian movement of racists and violent misogynists.’
‘Fascism’ then can mean pretty much anything he wants it to mean; Mason can attach it to any social grouping, economic system and cultural trend he subjectively despises. No hard criteria, then, are articulated whereby this ideology can be identified and so enable a serious debate concerning whether it does exist today. This is a really shoddy, sub-standard piece of work and no real scholar of fascism would ever accept Mason’s definition.
A serious book on this subject would look, for example, at the social analysis fascists themselves proceeded from. It would look at, for example, the origins of the term in Italy in the immediate post WW1 period. It referred to the symbol of ancient Rome, the fasces – it symbolised the bringing together of different groups held together by an all-powerful state depicted by an axe emerging from a bundle of tied rods. The social analysis fascists proceeded from is therefore key to any attempt to link it to the current day. It was the first serious attempt to introduce identity-group politics to Europe, to create the illusion that there were entire categories of people who were alien, a threat to the unity of the ‘corporate state’.
This is why some new left thinkers have approvingly referred to aspects of the work of the national socialist legal theorist, Carl Schmitt. He believed that the realm of the ‘political’ cannot be a neutral one in which all individuals enjoy equally the same rights to free expression. This of course finds an echo in the Wokey left’s division of society into crudely defined oppressor and victim groups, and their obsession with ‘intersectionality’. Critical race theory as peddled by Black Lives Matter with its collective demonization of white people is a clear example, I would argue, of up-dated fascistic and racialist thinking. In this dynamic, no one can be a neutral observer or non-participant – even the most basic attributes of who you are, such as your skin colour, are weaponised.
The context may be very different from the 1930s and 40s, but if there is a growing threat to politically liberal values it comes from a sub-section of the left. Mason provides no evidence whatsoever that the community he so castigates in his book support political movements that want to create a one party totalitarian state, shut down free speech or impose mass discrimination against sections of the population in the way fascism and its offshoot, National Socialism, once did. A new form of anti-liberal politics is beginning to emerge on the left but it is far to early to define it as of now as literally ‘fascist’; it currently lacks a coherent theoretical paradigm or clearly stated objective. However, it does need watching and challenging – this is what Paul Mason should focus on in his follow-up book if he’s truly concerned about preserving cultural and political liberty.