Left Green Perspectives #26

From Left to Right:
New Right Ideology as a Problem Facing Leftism Today

Introductory note:

The National Front in France, the Republicans Germany, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium–all these ultra-right, even fascist parties have gained startling electoral successes in recent European elections. In increasingly multicultural Western Europe, tensions over “too much” immigration are being fanned into xenophobia among much of the general population. Journalists and academic pundits debate the emergence of a “new racism” that, according to a recent French report, nourishes “fantasies about the unassimilable character of immigrants, of their numbers and their economic weight–even in places where they don’t exist.” Nazi skinheads roam the streets, attacking foreign workers, asylum-seekers, and nonwhite immigrants generally.

Although some groups proudly celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday, others disclaim any connection with fascist movements earlier in this century. New Right intellectuals who purvey long-scorned fascist ideologies are attempting to become influential and even acceptable to polite society. Much as David Duke studiously avoids referring to the welfare recipients he hates as “black” in the United States, the young professionals of today’s European ultra-right no longer rant openly about “Aryan supremacy” and “blood and soil.” Indeed, seeking to make themselves mediagenic, they protest any “guilt by association” with earlier fascists–even as they foster an atmosphere of intolerance, xenophobia, and brutality and call for strong policies to end “foreigner-inspired” drug trafficking and street crime.

The more sophisticated New Right ideologists even deny, vehemently, that they are racist–racist in the sense of a belief that one race is superior to another. Instead, the “new, improved” radical right advocates maintaining the integrity of distinct cultures and authentic cultural identities, rather than purity of blood. It thereby shifts the focus of racist ideology from biology to culture (except when it inveighs against “race mixing”). A New Right notion of “ethnopluralism” contends that all cultures should have sovereignty over themselves, and that Europe should become a “Europe of fatherlands,” with autonomy for all its peoples. Just as Turks should live in Turkey, Germans should have Germany for themselves, Republicans there argue. Similarly, Jean-Marie Le Pen denounces “anti-French racism” and claims that the “real” French have a “right to difference.” Many cast themselves as in the same role as Third World peoples–as peoples whose cultures are threatened.

Precisely how these different political parties, ideologies, feelings of hostility, and street violence are related to one another remains largely nebulous to outside observers. Disconcertingly, some of the ideas that ultra-right ideologues offer are very familiar to radical culture in the United States today–ideas of identity, difference, intuitionism, community, diversity, ecology, self-determination, and decentralism. Their opposition to the cosmopolitan, bureaucratic consumer society of industrial modernity that atomizes and alienates “uprooted” humanity echoes a similar sensibility that has existed among many radicals since the sixties. They have even recuperated more established ideas from the Left, like anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism–using them in the service of antileftist ends.

In France, the group of intellectuals that make up the Nouvelle Droite echo other aspects of recent American ecological thought when they attack Christian (read: Semitic) monotheism and glorify a pre-Christian culture that communed with and expressed its own authentic pagan values. This culture, we are told, was suppressed by the alien cultural tradition of Judeo-Christianity, whose universalizing and homogenizing tendencies later became the basis for modernity. The Nouvelle Droit’s pagans of choice are the “Indo-Europeans”–presumably the same “Indo-Europeans” that destroyed the “Old European” goddess-worshipping cultures of Neolithic eastern Europe that are the favored pagans of some ecofeminists. That the Nouvelle Droit and these ecofeminists prefer different pre-Christian “cultures” should not obscure the fact that both posit a cultural-chauvinist, tribalistic account of history based on “cultures” whose existence the archaeological record does not support.

Today’s fascists have been challenged by massive demonstrations in Europe that protest their brutal reemergence (challenges that have been underreported in the U.S. media). But how are leftists today to respond to the situation where a “new racism” has “drawn from the culture of difference that was the legacy of feminism and of the Green movement” (as Fiamma Nirenstein puts it in her recent book Il Razzista Democratico, published by Mondadori)? How are they to respond to a situation in which their own accusations of racism often evoke laughter–and sometimes considerable popular resentment? It is clear that the Left on both sides of the Atlantic needs to understand precisely who they are dealing with, to become aware of the transformed ideologies that the European New Right is advancing–and even to realize the inadequacies of some of their own formulations. Like it or not, the New Right has long been studying leftist concepts, arguments, and strategies–and has learned to appropriate many of them for itself. If the Left is to reconstitute itself as a viable political force today, it must do so with an awareness of the ideological permutations that the New Right has wrought on some of its ideas.

Late last year, when hooligans drove foreign workers out of Hoyerswerda, a town in eastern Germany, the citizens stood by and cheered, “We are free of foreigners!” Shortly after that happened amid many other attacks on foreigners, Wolfgang Haug presented the following lecture in Stuttgart to examine some of these very questions. Haug, an editor of the leading anarchist periodical in Germany, Schwarzer Faden (Black Thread), examines how the New Right has reinvented itself from the Old. His challenging lecture is appended here with a postscript that draws some disconcerting parallels between the New Right in Europe and potential developments in the United States.

–Janet Biehl

Pogroms Begin in the Mind
by Wolfgang Haug

Gramsci’s prison notebooks are currently being republished, and Die Zeit is concerned about whether Gramsci will now become the new leading figure among Leftists. Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that we should probably free ourselves from “leading figures” altogether. Gramsci is the source of the idea of “left cultural hegemony,” which he regarded as a basis for successful social change [in which what Gramsci called “subaltern” or oppressed groups should gain cultural supremacy as a precondition for attaining state power]. After 1968, something like the beginnings of a “left cultural hegemony” did emerge–mainly because the conservatives were so inept and boring–and for a few years this approach did bring about some actual changes in society. When we look more closely at this phenomenon, however, we see that on the political level, the Left was actually lagging behind its cultural work. Indeed, by the time the Left was preparing to transform its cultural influence into political influence by way of the Greens, its “cultural hegemony” was already coming to an end. When the rollback began in 1977, the Left reacted to it by accommodating itself to the system. Two projects, among many others that had emerged, epitomize how the Left was systematically absorbed by society from that time: the Green Party and the Tageszeitung.1

At about the same time, as far as we can reconstruct it, the Right began to copy Left concepts. Indeed, it has learned from Gramsci himself. An effort to establish a form of right-wing “cultural hegemony” has been under way at least since 1979, and we have learned most recently, since Hoyerswerda, that the seeds it has been sowing are now beginning to sprout. We know this not simply because a horde of hooligans is suddenly on the loose–they’ve been around for quite some time now. No, we know it because the overall spectrum of values has been pushed so decisively to the Right that now some parts of the population do not hesitate to openly applaud violent attacks on people. Where once we heard people saying, “I am proud to be a German,” now we hear, “I confess that I felt good when I was clapping.” Such was the tenor of a recent letter to the editor of Sonntags Aktuell. The writer’s “justification” for her feeling was typically German-Philistine: the “noise disturbances” that foreigners supposedly cause.2

The process of developing a right-wing cultural hegemony began in France in 1979, when theorists of the New Right took over the conservative Paris daily Le Figaro, followed in 1980, by the founding of Criticon in Munich. But it was only with the debate over the “revisionist” historians3 that the broader public generally began to notice that something was going on. In fact, what was happening was that history was being rewritten, new myths were being created, old myths were being revived, meanings were being transformed–in short, a new language was being developed and used to express old ideas. Taboos were being evaded or circumvented, and ideas of leftists were being adopted and used, often altered only very negligibly, in an essentially alien context.

To take an example: A leftist anti-imperialist slogan would be adopted almost intact–but the new context would bring out another meaning in the slogan. It has become clear that many of our leftist slogans were too abbreviated and were not fully thought out. The result today is that the New Right can successfully appropriate for itself familiar emotions (of hatred), familiar enemies (like the United States), and sympathetic peoples (such as the IRA of Northern Ireland and the Basques) to which the Left has often appealed.

One of the many characteristics of this New Right is that it carefully distances itself from the Right of the past. And it says it wants to have nothing to do with right-wing excesses like Hoyerswerda or with cowardly arson attacks. Yet at the same time–at a high intellectual level–it pushes the spectrum of values ever farther to the Right and in this way prepares people for the acceptance of fascistic and violent actions.

The Distortion of the Concept of Racism

The New Right’s game of conceptual confusion begins with the confusion of the concept of racism itself. Inasmuch as human beings belong to different peoples, the New Right argues, they are in fact different. Hence leftist antiracists who demand equality for everyone are actually the real racists, because they ignore the differences that exist among people. This view is based on an unreflective, religion-tinged view of the Left. The Judeo-Christian religion distinguishes only between people and God, we are told, not among different peoples. As a consequence, the New Right argues, when Christian monks went out to proselytize the idea that all souls are equal, they destroyed indigenous cultures around the world.

This argument sounds plausible, and it is therefore rather effective. Indeed, it appropriates the leftist critique of the white male mentality and Christian missionary consciousness, which we have often used to explain white racism. That Christianity is traced back to its Jewish roots is true enough, but the way it is explicated is conscious anti-Semitism. The fact that this presumed connection between “Jews” and the “destruction of cultures all over the world” has been useful to the New Right should attract our attention and make us reflect on these familiar contentions, so redolent of the past.

The problems these ideological permutations create run still deeper. The New Right shrewdly creates further confusion among its political opponents when it draws ideas from sources and areas that the Left has ignored or disregarded. Who among us, after all, has been concerned with the Counter-Enlightenment and its thinkers? Or with religion? Or even with Christian thought? Who among us has examined the role of the Jewish religion in the development of humanity?

Areas of thought that we have ignored or disregarded because they did not capture our interest have now become problems for us, as, for example, when New Right theorist Alain de Benoist demands, “In the name of the equality of all souls before God, [Christian] missionaries sought to impose on ‘colonized peoples’ a religious belief that was alien to them. . . . Because of this, these peoples underwent a massive loss of their cultures.”(4) Clearly, a conceptual twist has taken place here. Christian missionaries certainly were not acting “in the name of equality.” Rather, they were racists, for all practical purposes, who considered that they were dealing with people who were of less value than themselves–with “barbarians” or “savages” who could hope to become human only after they were converted to Christianity. That the process of a person “becoming human” in this way often meant his or her death shows that these Christian “uebermenschen” thought of themselves as saviors of souls, not as saviours of people. But it also shows how far removed these missionaries and colonizers were from really acting in the name of “equality,” as Benoist says they were.

More important from a theoretical standpoint, this right-wing line of argument dismisses the positive contributions of the Jewish religion to human history. Before the Hebrew religion emerged, most religions saw people’s existence as preordained. Their lives were firmly fixed in a body of social relationships from which they could never hope to escape. People were seen as part of the natural world, as were the erstwhile nature-“divinities” whom they worshipped. Indeed, society was imbued with a belief in a divinity that permeated everything. To this way of thinking, the divine manifested itself in the governments of the time, as well as in the ruling dynasties. Logically, the pharaohs and the divine kings (and later the monarchs of European absolutism) claimed that they were installed in office directly by their god. To rebel against this divine order–of which people themselves were part–was excluded in principle.

That the Jewish religion was focused on a patriarchal god, to be sure, is hardly anything to celebrate. But the move of the Jews toward a transcendental deity for the first time in (known) human history also ended a situation in which society and its destiny were entangled in the affairs of a deity or several deities. So greatly did the Jewish religion elevate its god that his distance from each person–and even from the ruler–became inconceivably great. With this outlook, human hierarchies were no longer socially unassailable. Popular movements of resistance could develop. Resistance now had as its basis the individual, who, conscious of his or her distance from an imaginary god, would ultimately no longer need to deal with a deity at all.

The Right’s Struggle Against Individualism

Returning to today’s New Right: We can see that the anti-Semitic content of the Right’s ideas serves not only to mobilize the old prejudice against a chosen enemy, which is useful, of course, for its own power drives. It also includes a crucial component–a struggle against the individual and individuality. That this aspect of right-wing thinking has long gone unremarked among leftists may be partly due to authoritarian socialism itself, which believes that the individual has to be subordinated to the cause–a claim that is totalitarian in itself. (It would also be desirable for leftists to recall that the so-called “Jewish Bolshevik” revolution, as the Right so often designated it, also violently rid itself of most of its Jewish comrades. One can only wonder whether anti-Semitism necessarily emerges in communities or societies that impose totalitarian demands on their own members.)

In any case, the New Rightists unerringly adhere to this deep-seated anti-individualist tradition. “All prominent thinkers of the New Right,” observes Hanspeter Siegfried, who has closely studied this ideology, “reject the individual as a starting point of ethics and politics.”5 Benoist, representing the views of many New Rightists, formulates it thus: “In our theory, the individual person exists only in connection with the community of which he is a member. . . . We place no value on the interest of the individual as such.'”6

From this basic position, the New Rightists engage in two major battles. One is their demand that ethnic groups–as opposed to biological races per se–be kept pure. Hence, they cry “Foreigners, out!” presumably without intending any hostility to foreigners! Recently, Gerhard Frey announced over German television that “everyone should stay in their own country.”7 That Frey, an Old Rightist, was willing to appropriate this line of argument from the New Right shows that the cultural hegemony of the New Right has already successfully permeated the Old Right camp, and that the “ethnopluralism” demanded by the New Right is compatible with the Old Right’s sheer hatred of foreigners.

The second arena of the New Right’s struggle against individualism is in its opposition to liberalism, which focuses primarily on the individual. Here liberalism is defined in its original, classical sense [not as welfare state liberalism]. The theoretical origins of anarchism, too, it must be noted, are a radicalized form of classical liberalism.

But let us return to the original problem. The New Right falsely portrays the Left as racist because it sees all people as “equal” and denies the existence of any differences among various ethnic cultures. This is obviously a straw man. The leftist demand for “equality” is based on the continued existence of inequality. Nor does the Left demand “integration” or “accommodation” with the system. Rather, for the Left “equality” means equal treatment for all people, of people having equal rights in a given situation and enjoying equality of opportunity in a given society. Again, what we advocate is equal individual rights for everyone.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the basic contradiction between Left and Right is the contradiction between the centrality of the individual and the centrality of the community. (It is not surprising, then, that the Marxist Left has often had problems determining what is “left” and what is not.) The demand for equal treatment is a demand for pluralism in present-day society, a society that has long consisted of minorities. If this society is to function, it must also acknowledge its own diversity (and not, in fact, the actual equality) of its members–and take people seriously as individuals. But it is precisely this point that the New Right ideologists oppose. “Freedom of opinion,” writes Benoist, “ceases where it contradicts the common good.”8

Like many of the New Right’s concepts, its concept of “common good” is vague, but it is essentially a pale paraphrase of voelkisch [folk] totalitarianism. Today it includes “organic popular democracy”–a concept filched from ecologists who have long written of “organic growth.” It has still another ideological kinship with spiritualism. Among the new myths that the Right is creating is the myth that for two thousand years the “Volk-concept” has been distorted by concepts of “equality, rationalism, and an elevation of the unaffiliated individual.” But judging from the Right’s own contradictory notions, a real Volk venerates hierarchy, antirationalism, and an organic community. Accordingly, it is expressly fascist. The antirationalism of the New Right and of countless spiritualistic movements requires a clear leftist interpretation of the Enlightenment.9

But polite society still frowns upon the word “fascist,” so in the New Right’s lexicon, “aristocratic” is used in its place. The New Right’s methodology becomes clearer in such passages as this: “The aristocracy creates its own law out of itself,” writes Benoist. “It creates order because [the aristocracy] is order. Yes, might makes right. . . Aristocracy, when it intervenes as a political class, creates . . . not only an administrative apparatus but also a cultural, bourgeois apparatus (Gramsci). . . . In the long run an aristocracy must be capable of giving meaning to words.”10

The New Right, in effect, wants above all to redefine social norms, so that rational doubt is regarded as decadent and eliminated, and new “natural” norms are established. In the conceptual framework of “natural” and “organic” societies, each person is assigned a fixed role in the community, and out of this community bond the governed and the governing alike are to achieve an unmediated identification with the whole. The notion of a “harmonious” state looms large on the horizon of New Right ideology. And it would seem only logical for the Right to imagine that such an identification of the governed and governing strata would be impossible when minorities are among the governed. The New Right’s concept of nationalism is wholly reconcilable with a United Europe, and indeed it is redefining itself as a form of “Europeanism.” In this bizarre ideological world, “Europeanism” becomes the cement that will presumably hold everything together and gloss over any contradictions.

Other ethnic groups may then simply revert to a cultural Stone Age: “We want to substitute faith for law,” writes Benoist, “mythos for logos, duties toward the Creation for the innocence of becoming, humility for the struggle for power; . . . [to substitute] will for pure reason, the image for the concept, and home for exile.”11 One of the principal sources of this mishmash–and anarchists should finally become fully aware of this–is none other than Georges Sorel, who has been quoted by fascists no less than by syndicalists. Sorel is a theorist of the Counter-Enlightenment par excellence, of mythos against reason. “One must consider myth as a means to effect the present,” he wrote in Reflections on Violence. “Only the wholeness of mythos is meaningful.”

Sorel, in fact, tried to apply mythos to build the ideal of a syndicalist general strike. He sought on the one hand to arouse the workers’ fantasies, but on the other hand to avoid the weightier question of the dubious viability of myths. “A myth cannot be refuted,” he wrote, “because it is fundamentally identical with the outlook of the group and as a result it is an expression of a movement’s convictions.” Not surprisingly, Italian fascists were among the most eager practitioners of Sorel’s theory, nor is it surprising that the syndicalist Sorel is now being eagerly picked up by the present-day New Right.

Given these views, it is not natural law but new myths that are to determine social consciousness. It is the dream, not the reality, that is to shape society. Whoever generates images in the world has power. But when images cease to be subjected to scrutiny–and for the New Right, one of the failings of reason is that it participates in critical scrutiny–and when the individual no longer counts for anything, when society embraces images–when finally this occurs, then the thousand-year Reich becomes once again imaginable. That myths can have serious social consequences was shown in the recent elections in Bremen, where the Christian Democrats “successfully” used the imagery of a “flood of asylum-seekers” or of “Bremen as Paradise for asylum-seekers,” thereby exploiting public hostility toward immigrants and to win votes. With this appeal to the basest of feelings, they were able to induce the citizenry to forget even such a concrete problem as increased taxes. We find a strong emphasis on myth over reason in countless spiritualist, Green, and (eco-) feminist groups.12

We Have a Problem with Fascists, Not with Asylum-Seekers!

If we recall what has been said up to now, it becomes clear that the events in Hoyerswerda and the arson attacks everywhere in the new Federal Republic are not reducible only to the issue of “rootless youth” or the “blind rage of frustrated youth with no future prospects,” as conventional politicians and opinion-makers would have us believe. We have no problem with asylum-seekers, as the conservatives glibly claim. We have a very real problem with fascists. As an electoral tactic, politicians of all the democratic parties take their point of departure from a false issue, thereby showing how little consciousness they have of the present situation. They tend to grasp politics only in terms of momentary victories over their rivals. But what makes their behavior so grim is that they play over the long run into the hands of the Right. The fascists, for their part, are beginning to gain their first electoral successes, a fact that will clearly foster the growth of their movement in the future.

The media, of course, turn up their noses at the openly visible hatred of foreigners and at the violence exhibited by the fascists. But the way in which they do so contributes significantly toward turning these outrageous incidents into a widespread conflagration. When an eager reporter pushes a microphone under the nose of a seventeen-year-old in Hoyerswerda, who, without even being challenged, proceeds to speak of his plans to attack foreigners again–this in itself becomes an event and adds new meaning to the process of fascisization.

Neither the media and politicians, nor many others, have done any serious thinking about the new fascism. As always, they look for “rational” explanations for people’s completely irrational behavior, and their explanations are blatantly superficial. They single out the refugees and the old Communist regime in the east, despite the fact that the number of arson attacks in the western region of North Rhine-Westphalia is certainly comparable to number of the attacks in the east.

But what if the new fascism has no conscious goal? Certainly, that it has no rational arguments is something we have already seen. What the New Right is shrewdly doing, however is to disengage the concept of fascism from its deadly past. Here too the Left, or at least the anarchists, are being used as a prototype for the Right. For in response to the question of how we define anarchism, we have over the years replied that anarchism is a lifestyle, indeed a life-feeling. All too often, today’s New Rightists also define fascism as a “style” rather than as a political phenomenon. Hanspeter Siegfried incisively concludes that “the [fascist] style manifests itself in a love of danger, boldness, and speed, a glorification of war, and a ‘tension between youth and death.’ For the ‘fascists’ war is a battle for its own sake, not a means for reaching a goal. . . . Fascism becomes a cultural phenomenon, with which a positive identification once again becomes possible.”13

That the fascist life-style is quite capable of becoming a distinctly fascistic identity is revealed by the apparent ease with which it turns to violence. Violence as a test of courage, violence conceived as an expression of a fascist life-feeling–it is against this background that “aimless” skinheads and fascists attack foreigners in subways, in residences, and on the open street. Given this way of thinking, the New Right and present-day fascism must be seen in a radically new light. ¤

This article was originally published in German in Schwarzer Faden: Vierteljahreschrift fuer Lust und Freiheit (Grafenau). The article title comes from a comment made by Burkhard Hirsch during a discussion on immigrants in September 1991. Translated by Janet Biehl.

Notes

1. The Tageszeitung is a daily Berlin newspaper that originally had a left-of-center bent. It has since become tepidly moderate (translator’s note).

2. The letter was from a Mrs. Feiler in Pforzheim, on visiting Hoyerswerda, published in Sonntags Aktuell, Oct. 6, 1991.

3. That is, the notorious recent debate over the extent and in some cases the actual historical occurrence of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry (translator’s note).

4. Alain de Benoist, Gleichheitslehre, Weltanschauung und Moral (Tuebingen, 1981), p. 56. Benoist is the primary theorist of the Nouvelle Droite, which emerged in the late 1960s in France, and a leading figure in the “Groupement de recherche et d’etudes pour la civilisation europeenne” (G.R.E.C.E.), an amalgam of ultra-right intellectuals.

5. See Hanspeter Siegfried’s highly recommended essay, “Kulturrevolution von rechts?” in Widerspruch 21, Beitraege zur sozialistischen Politik (Zurich, 1991), p. 78.

6. Alain de Benoist, in Aus Rechter Sicht 2 (Tuebingen, 1984), p. 133.

7. Gerhard Frey has massively financed the Right for thirty years and publishes Deutsche National-Zeitung, a viciously ultra-right newspaper (circulation about 120,000). The party he heads, the German People’s Union (DVU), got 6.l8 percent of the vote in the Bremen elections in September 1991. In what Frey calls its “breakthrough,” the DVU got 6.3 percent in Schleswig-Holstein in April 1992. In the DVU’s heavy direct-mail campaign, Frey called for “Anatolia for the Turks, Schlewwig-Holstein for the Germans” and warned that “fake asylum-seekers are cashing in” (translator’s note).

8. Alain de Benoist, Demokratie: Das Problem (Tuebingen, 1985), pp. 78ff.

9. See Murray Bookchin, Remaking Society (Boston and Montreal, 1990).

10. Benoist, Demokratie: Das Problem, p. 89.

11. Alain de Benoist, Heide Sein zu neuem Anfang: Die Europaeische Glaubensalternative (Tuebingen, 1982), p. 306.

12. See Janet Biehl, Der sozial Oekofeminismus und andere Aufsaetze (Grafenau: Trotzdem Verlag, 1991).

13. Siegfried, “Kulturrevolution von rechts?”, explicating Armon Mohler’s chapter “Der Faschistische Stil,” in Liberalenbeschimpfung (Essen, 1990).

Editors’ Postscript:

We would not want to suggest that the claims of the individual and those of the community have to be counterpoised to each other, and we do not think that Haug means to make such a counterposition by seeming to pit individuality against community. Certain anarchist tendencies do have ideological roots in the individualism of classical liberalism, as Haug notes, but others have roots in mutualism, collectivism, and communism, such as the anarchist-collectivist movements in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921 and in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, indeed as well as in many agrarian movements that date back to the Reformation and even earlier. In the last analysis, we are social beings. A serious problem facing the Left today is how to create new social institutions out of the institutional debris that capitalism and the market are producing, so that freedom, creativity, and individuality can flourish in a supportive communitarian arena. The various inequalities that burden us must be removed to the extent that it is possible by the compensatory mechanisms of sharing and mutual aid. Justice may be blind, but freedom is clear-sighted and rational, and it equalizes the inequalities that exist among us. ¤

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