Why are people fighting each other in the streets?

Clashes between left and right wing partisan forces are not understood

 Jacob Foote

A specter is disturbing the consciousness of Americans nationwide: the specter of right-wing and left-wing partisan demonstration and violence. Already it has broadcasted on every major news outlet and made headlines in the papers. Be it Berkeley, Charlottesville, or anywhere else, the story sounds the same: a reference to the increased political tension incited with Trump’s presidency, a denunciation of the use of violence by each group, and the words “fascist” and “anarchist” tossed about in attempt to garner some kind of understanding of the two opposed factions.

Simply put, people are trying to make sense of the conflict, and failing.

The general narrative has failed to properly address the cause of rupture in this antagonism. Of course it is understood in the abstract that people opposed to what is deemed “white nationalism” would confront its proponents. The same may be said of those against “societal degradation.” However, this mode of understanding the conflict (as it is employed in the mainstream media) does not take into the scope of its analysis the question of why the ideology of nationalism is gaining strength in the first place. To blame Trump is a mistake: Trump is less the cause of today’s political climate than a result of it.

The common narratives are superficial, alike in their focus on particular conflicts surrounding personal identity. The only explanation that does not delve into this absurdity recognizes that the demonstrations of the left and right are representations of ideas gnawing at the weary mind that is the ideological edifice/superstructure of modern liberalism today.

To begin understanding the increasing presence of nationalists or so-called fascists in the United States, philosopher Slavoj Žižek would claim that one needs to look at the situation and experience of the average citizen. In that reality, social authorities (who contribute to the idea of the nation, such as the president, news show hosts, and politicians) are telling citizens that they are Americans, living in the wealthiest, most prosperous nation of the world, and so on. However, the system barely functions; the citizen sees around him or herself the media lying, the decay of traditional values, and the loss of his/her work and savings, among other things. This confuses the citizen, who appropriately responds to this situation, which appears to be the collapse of the nation from its professed ideal, ‘What is the meaning of this? Why is everything going wrong?’

The answer lies within the dynamics of capitalism. History has already demonstrated that the rise of modern industry means the disintegration of old, stable relations. Human labor becomes commodified and therefore divorced from its previous attachments as it floats about the market, to be employed by the highest bidder. However, history has also yielded how an answer may be constructed so as to circumvent this truth, as seen in the rise of fascist programs during the 1920’s and early 30’s.

The fascist dream, as it were, is to continue the practice of economic development as incurred by capitalism while maintaining the values of a traditional society – to have a cake, and to eat it. The fascists desire to remove the antagonism inherent to capitalist society all while ignoring capitalism as the source. Therefore, in the face of societal problems, the fascist response is unconsciously to create a narrative that does not pin the cause of the disintegration of their society on its development, but on the intrusion of some foreign element that disrupted it. The multiplicity of fears (unemployment, moral degradation, and so on) that left the citizenry so confused is replaced with the single figure, and everything becomes clear. With the threat identified, the fascist employs a number of mobilizing passions, not the least of which includes the primacy of the group that composes the idealized nation, to which individuals have duties superseding all rights.

This is seen just as much in the message of today’s right-wing partisans as it was in the rhetoric of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco. In the place of the Jew, the Atheist, or the Communist, the vocabulary has been simply updated to be fashionable for the 21st century, identifying the problem as the Muslim, the Gay, or the Socialist. The single continuity in the historic practice of fascism (for it is not a theoretical ideology, but one of particular nationalistic passion) has been, in its early formation before gaining political power, a critique of the standing government and calls for its reform. It is this feature of the fascist program – which is boasted honestly by the fascists at first – that facilitates the rallying of the people behind the ideology. Even the supposed National “Socialists” only claimed the title for propaganda value, as Hitler renamed the German Workers Party in order to broaden his support among the masses. Only after the fascists take power do they reveal their true function: to reinforce the weakened conservative leadership in the face of a mobilizing left. One should not forget that every successful fascist takeover has only occurred after an unsuccessful socialist uprising: the Spartacist Uprising in Weimar Germany, the CNT and FAI in Spain, and the Factory Councils in Italy, to name a few.

This is not to say that antifa and the other counter-demonstrators, with their association to socialism, anarchism, and other left-wing ideologies, in opposing the nationalists have the proper program for the present situation. It is not clear that their activities are suppressing the voice of the nationalists nor aiding the proliferation of their own particular ideologies. Rather, the response to the nationalists seems to have only emboldened them in so far as it has made their task of reaching out as victims to the public easier, and has scared the public away from the ideas the response has attempted to carry into the conflict.

The greatest error on the part of the response to the surge in fundamentalist nationalism lies within the fact that it is a response to that nationalism, which is itself a response to the underlying economic issue. The proper program today is not to reject the problem as it is envisaged by the nationalists, and in doing so attempt to profess one’s ideology, but to identify the true cause of the antagonism and focus strictly on the necessary changes that need to be implemented to dismantle that condition. That is, the solution to nationalist demonstrations is not counter demonstrations with a message of unity in the face of divisiveness, but the implementation of a new world in which the conditions that have led to division have been all but eliminated.

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