Total social crisis and the return of fascism

Dossier: The Greek Symptom: Debt, Crisis and the Crisis of the Left

RP 181 () / Article, Dossier, The Greek Symptom

In memory of Sahtzat Loukman, 27 years old, murdered on 17 January 2013 in Athens, and Clement Meric, 18 years old, murdered on 5 June 2013 in Paris.

This contribution seeks to mobilize certain concepts in order to symbolize what, in part, always resists symbolization. What is at issue is the return of fascism in Greece, the fact that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (GD) party have held seats in parliament for over a year now, with a portion of the population1 thereby assenting to their criminal acts and their exaltation of hatred and contempt.

How can we deal with this unforeseen [inedit] phenomenon, unfolding in a society whose road towards the democratization of their state apparatus has from the beginning been pitted [creuse] by the bodies of the exiled, the tortured and the dead? If indeed this road does not constitute a ‘Greek exception’ but is rather the rule for a series of countries which have had similar politico-historical experiences, what remains to be understood is how it can be that this restaging of brutalized bodies, these public assaults,2 and this open and unabashed expression of racist and fascist symbolic violence has led not to the condemnation of the GD but, on the contrary, to their institutionalization.

Given the impossibility of dissociating the rise of fascism from the current crisis, and in particular from the policies imposed in order to ‘treat’ it, questions proliferate. Is what is at stake here a resurgence of older experiences that have accumulated over the recent history of this country? Is it a case of one ‘symptom’ being produced by another? Or is there an imbrication of pre-existing elements with new ones generated by the political, social and economic present? The first image that appears is brutally stark: a society that has plunged back into the most archaic of nightmares. For many, their very survival is threatened, and subsistence has once again become a question of life and death.

By January 2013, the rate of unemployment had grown frenetically, to reach 27.2 per cent of the population,3 compared with 14.8 per cent in January 2011 (with unemployment rates of 31.4 per cent for women and nearly 60 per cent for those under 25), while a very significant portion of the population has no medical cover and is, consequently, excluded from the healthcare system.4 Pauperization now knocks on the doors of social strata whose members formerly believed themselves to be safely protected from exposure to destitution and powerlessness [impuissance].

Far from considering this situation in terms of an ‘exception’, I will try to detect a particular function of fascism at the level of social consciousness in Greece: while dramatizing the threat and the phantasm of powerlessness, fascism reserves the role of ‘master’ for itself. From this perspective, there are a number of general concepts that might help us to symbolize the situation, and perhaps also to extrapolate from it – for Greece, even as it serves as an exemplary ‘laboratory’, is not the only country concerned by the crisis and the rise of fascism. In this sense, we are going to inscribe the current crisis, and its so-called treatment or therapy, in the context of a total crisis, one that includes a crisis of culture and values. Henri Lefebvre used the term ‘total crisis’ to describe the ‘normal state’ of Western societies as they appeared at the end of the prosperous postwar boom, in the late 1970s. Walter Benjamin’s consideration of fascism in terms of the aestheticization of politics allows us to situate the function of fascism on the level of social consciousness and to trace the dynamics of this function to the heart of the cultural universe of late capitalism in which we are immersed.

Lefebvre, in his Troisieme Critique de la vie quotidienne (1981), reminds us of what is ‘known but rarely said’: the capacity for destruction produces zones of prosperity. Wars and crises perform the function of the negative, purging the mode of production of its momentary excesses and priming a renewed technological base for the return of accumulation.5 Now, the invocation of a total crisis, itself more a hypothesis than an elaborated concept, is part of an interrogation that goes …