This article is intended as a broad contextualisation of the political concerns that underpin this ‘Anti-fascism/Art/Theory’ special issue as the second decade of the twenty-first century is drawing to a close. Over a decade after the global financial crisis, we find ourselves confronted with a complex, transnational ideological and material reality where identifiable traits of fascism command fringe and mainstream milieus and where anti-fascist militancy is raising our consciousness about strategies of resistance. Our main aim has been to highlight the need for critical research in the art field that aids, and indeed becomes part of, such resistance. In acknowledging the ongoing debates about how to name the conditions of urgency that necessitate anti-fascism as a material practice but also a way of thinking against a prefigurative counter-revolution and actual supremacy politics, the article opens with three narratives around fascism, prioritising the latter’s relation to capitalism. We then address totalitarianism, populism and liberalism as terms often implicated in relevant discussions, while we also consider the (dis)continuities of fascism and anti-fascism across the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, including reflections on postmodernism and the Cold War. We weave in the contributors’ analyses on technology, the art economy, colonial violence and fascist violence, the fraught question of heroism, concerns on how politics enter the art institution, the inconclusive if essential lessons of the avant-gardes, women’s art and anti-fascist consciousness. Finally, we consider anti-fascism in terms of a political education that can reveal the constituent parts of an enduring, systemic reality of oppression defining ‘business as usual’. Considering the dilemma of alliances that anti-fascism brings forth, and the possible concessions these require, the analysis concludes with a warning against seeing the contemporary move towards fascism as a mere historical accident.
Working through the artistic and theoretical contributions of anti-fascists Franco Fortini, Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, this article explores the ways in which a world lorded over by Donald Trump and his alt-right associates mobilises a Benjaminian ‘aestheticisation of politics’ alongside a populist manipulation of popular culture. Strategies developed by Brecht in 1934 to ‘restore truth’ to Nazi speeches by Goering and Hess are used to correct the outrages of those who are shifting the atmosphere towards demagoguery, as a speech for Trump is ‘corrected’ to reveal its elitist contempt. Fortini’s poetics of doubt are also drawn on to remind the anti-fascist intellectuals of the contradictions of their positions and the dangers of dogmatism as it has been experienced historically in the communist movement. If the question is posed, through this, of the capacities of the avant-garde, it should also be noted that its attitudinal elements of pranksterism, confusionism, irony and mockery are well embedded in the fascist camp, even if the avant garde’s chief theorist, Theodore W Adorno, has become the poster boy for ‘Cultural Marxism’ and ‘snowflakes’, not least through his apparent writing of all the Beatles music. The starting question of the article is how these fragments can be accumulated and, under pressure, reconstellated to make practical sense for contemporary anti-fascist thought.
The most salient feature of the far-right movement, which has become known as the alt-right, is its relation with IT rather than with the diminished expectations of the post-industrial working class. The ethos of the tech industry has transmogrified in recent years, shifting from the market-besotted optimism championed by Bill Gates to the digital feudalism represented by Bay Area neoreactionaries and cybermonarchists. This article argues that this points to a new configuration of fascist ideology taking shape under the aegis of, and working in tandem with, neoliberal governance. If every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution (a thought attributed to Walter Benjamin but as an elision of his arguments), the rise of cryptofascist tendencies within the tech industry bears witness to the failures of the ‘digital revolution’ whose promises of a post-scarcity economy and socialised capital never came to pass. From this perspective, it is proposed, the online cultural wars are a proxy for a greater battle around de-Westernisation, imperialism and white hegemony.
This article examines Georges Bataille’s engagements with fascism and community during the 1930s as a means of providing a living historical lesson that might assist the navigation of the complex waters of fascist-curiosity in contemporary art. Two distinct methodologies in Bataille’s work are discussed and distinguished from one another: a) Bataille’s analytical approach, which investigates the conceptual underpinnings of fascism in order to better defend against them; and b) the appropriative methodology of his work with the group Contre-Attaque, which sought to co-opt the weapons of fascism to anti-fascist ends. Whilst the latter has proven problematic, the former is characterised as enacting a subversive internal fracturing of fascist discourses essential to the contemporary anti-fascist project. Bataille’s pertinence to our current moment, and the field of contemporary art, is drawn out through analogy with the work of artist Dean Kenning, whose analytical engagement with fascism is contrasted with the appropriative nature of London-based gallery LD50’s fascist-curiosity.
Taking as its starting point Ingeborg Bachmann’s comments that the National Socialist ‘virus of crime’ was not surpassed but merely retreated into the fabric of society’s moral codes, this article examines how non-synchronous notions of time are engaged with in art in the aftermath of National Socialism in Austria. Austria, a context that was both first to embrace National Socialism in 1938 and first to be ‘freed’ from dealing with this history in 1943, saw protest and political action most often led by artists and artistic forms. The most incisive political and social critique appeared in the realm of art and literature. By looking to the work of artist and filmmaker VALIE EXPORT and novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek, this article asks how film and literature – specifically, works that address gender relations critically – follow in Bachmann’s footsteps and engage with a notion of para-history. Moreover, I argue that such works help us to understand residual tendencies and continuities in relation to both media and gender in resurgent fascism today. By looking to the film, theatre texts and essays by VALIE EXPORT and Jelinek, I situate them in their historical context and reread them as a history of feminist resistance to and urgent critique of contradictory forces that make fascism appealing, both in the decades following World War II and again today.
This article describes, on the one hand, key conduits between open fascists and the current US administration, and, on the other, the ties of major arts philanthropists to this administration. It reveals the common agendas of the patron class and a liberal world view that hopes to represent the middle class (or the petty bourgeoisie), and that purports (but fails) to serve the working classes. Historians of twentieth-century fascism have repeatedly shown how fascist takeover of state power was dependent on the complicity of groups and classes that were not otherwise fascist. In light of this and of several works of contemporary anti-fascist analysis, the article raises the spectre of neo-fascism as a real danger against which to measure present events. I argue that the liberal quest for a so-called civil debate, instead of community militancy, and which is also prevalent in the artworld, misplaces the real site of struggle: the alliance of neo-fascism with capitalist interest.
This article begins with the observation that, as regards an anti-fascist sentiment in Poland today, the left appears mainly to have won one battle – in the terrain of culture – whereas ultra-conservative forces dominate public and political life. The analysis proceeds to consider the shift towards a leftist practice in terms of resistance to the widespread precarity of art workers, found to be closely connected with fighting growing fascist tendencies in the socio-political realm. Noting the potential of transversal practices (Felix Guattari) encountered on the institutional and grassroots levels, and sometimes developing through alliances, the argument sees such practices enacting vibrant counterpublics, especially when located within an at least partial move towards institutions of the common (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and Gerald Raunig). Such institutions operate across lines of solidarity, favouring collaborative work and initiatives that embrace the ordinary, everyday, mundane needs of the subjects they engage, constituting a weak form of resistance but one replete with affect. The analysis also, however, considers how works of art may be traversed by relations of power that repeat the fascist license to cruelty, indicating therefore that art is not immanently tied to either progressive politics or anti-fascism. The article concludes by proposing a departure from top-down, ‘heroic’ enactments of anti-fascism in the artworld and the nurturing of practices that foster wider public participation in the co-production of culture.
Since around 2000, the strategies of participation and compromise in socially engaged art have contributed to modest victories, providing at the same time an excuse to left-wing intellectuals to work with institutions of power. While these strategies allude to the redundancy of gestures of negation, the rise of explicitly far-right or neo-fascist tendencies in today’s world can challenge their efficacy from an emancipatory point of view. This article draws on recent art practices to think through modalities of oppositional intransigence and disaffirmation as means to achieve political ends, including negation, zealotry, heroism and sacrifice. At least since the early 1990s, these modalities have been largely viewed with distrust in cultural and critical theory for allegedly reproducing epic, pure and fixed identities, certainties or grand narratives. Yet, as this article discusses, intransigence and the construction of sacrificial lifestyles or heroic representations was and will be part of any struggle for social equality in which individuals or collectives put their lives and well-being at risk so as to construct a better future.
This article stresses the need for an investigation into how the wounds of colonialism are treated in the West European public sphere. It uses a decolonial lens to look specifically at artistic actions in the form of both monuments and interventions in existing public space that reference European guilt around the genocidal crimes of colonial occupation and the Holocaust. In the course of the research it became clear that little comparative work has been done on the monuments to these two catastrophes. The article therefore serves more as an introduction to the reasons why the Holocaust and colonial violence might be brought into closer relationship with each other, arguing that establishing such a relationship through public art, among other sites of critique, can and should contribute to contemporary articulations of anti-fascism in Europe. The article looks at art monuments by Jochen Gerz and Hans Haacke in the 1980s and 1990s and laments the lack of similar responses to colonialism in the continent. It looks further at more recent anti-colonial and decolonial public actions and at a few artists, such as Yael Bartana, who do draw parallels between the Holocaust and other genocides. Finally, the article speculates on how future monuments might respond to a broader understanding of the causes of land occupations, slave labour, ethnic cleansing and mass murder by thinking about the colonial matrix of power as a common European epistemology that developed after 1492.
Taking the form of a conversation among three art theorists whose work focuses on contemporary art, culture and emancipatory politics on the left, this roundtable discussion begins from the question: what concepts and ideas can be drawn into an anti-fascist art theory today? The discussion opens by considering the ambivalence towards speaking about fascism in current debates beyond art and the complex positioning of art between (or rather, across) the status quo and its subversion. It proceeds by examining the current technological apparatus as regards the mediation of subjectivity, and looks at the articulation of sexuality and whiteness. It concludes by proposing that anti-fascism, as a complex political position that crosses an art field sustained also by an attention economy, must address the field’s structural procedures of exclusion while also maintaining its focus on the specificity of fascist politics.
THIRD TEXT is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group