My friend Lord Bassington-Bassington has published a post on neofolk and politics. As we both love neofolk and hate the fascist scum that is sadly attracted by this glorious music, I agree with both his intentions and analysis.
As Bassy points out, in addition to these creepy crawlers, a second problem is those (mostly on the left) who see fascists everywhere. As the long eared one, I too have spent some time discussing with the Ukranian scholar Anton Shekhovtsov. A frustrating experience, I’m sad to say.
I started writing a comment on the subject, but it morphed into something much longer and finally became a blog post of its own. This blog post. To fully understand what is going on here, you probably should read Lord Bassington-Bassingtons's post first.
I believe the most serious problem with Shekhovtsov’s approach, is his use of Roger Griffin's definition of fascism:
"Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism."
Palingenesis in general means rebirth (Christ uses it to describe what will happen on judgment day), though in Griffin’s definition it is restricted to national rebirth.
So according to this definition, fascism is a form of populist ultra-nationalism, which strives for a rebirth of the nation, that is to say a return to a postulated former glory.
I agree with his lordship that the definition has its good sides, as when used to underline the continuity between old fascists and those pathetic developments the go through when renaming what they do silly things like national anarchism.
But it simply isn’t good enough in the long run. For two reasons: Because it is too wide and because it is too narrow.
It is too wide because it includes a lot of people who are not fascists. The longing for national rebirth is hardly original to fascism. It was common to many romantic, nationalist groups in 19th century. It is an idea traceable back at least almost three centuries. It was the core of the neo-druidic groups that grew up around the dream of re-creating the Welsh nation. As it has been the core of every nationalist movement among minorities in Europe since then.
And all of these people were not fascists. Not by far.
That does not mean that I deny that this is an important element of fascism, only that it is not enough to establish a definition of fascism. Which brings me to my second point: The definition is to narrow, because it does not include other criteria that can separate actual fascists from those imagined to be so by Shekhovtsov and his ilk.
Personally I like Michael Mann’s definition: “Fascism is the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.”
It is in agreement with Griffin’s on the importance of a transcendental form of nationalism, but adds two fundamental elements: An opinion about the role of the state (totalitarian, militaristic, anti-democratic, führer-led) and about the importance of paramilitary groups.
According to this definition you are not a fascist if you simply dream of national paligenesis. You must also have certain opinions on how this palingenesis is to happen and the role of the state in this rebirth. It is possible that it is this Griffins means by “populist ultra-nationalism”, but that is by no means clear.
So the problem with Shekhovtsov’s approach is not simply that he is way to free with the fascist label, the problem is that he judges people to be fascists based on a definition that at its best is able to tell you that they might be fascists.
My own take on who are fascists and not is rather simper. To quote one of my comments on Shekhovtsov’s blog:
“In my naive view of the world, a fascist is someone who sympathises with fascist politics. They may retreat into metapolitics, but they do so because they see that this is not the best of times for their political opinions. So they keep the flame burning, waiting for the times to change.”
Another problem with Shekhovtsov’s approach is that he tends to call people fascists even without documenting any palingenetic tendencies, not to say any indication of populist ultra-nationalism. Symbols that he imagines to be fascist, combined with a certain nietzschean and/or spenglerian leaning in the lyrics, is more than enough for him.
But the biggest problem with Shekhovtsov’s approach is that he seems more or less unable to view his own position critically. Like His Lordship I have tried arguing with him, and his ability not to answer to concrete critiscisms of his analysis is rather astonishing.
Shekhovtsov is oh so willing to label people fascists, but rather less willing to turn a critical eye on his own analysis. Rather a typical scholar in other words.