Subcomandate Insurgente Marcos
"Oxymoron! - The Intellectual Right and Liberal Fascism"
"In that figure which is referred to as 'oxymoron', a word is used which seems to contradict itself, so the Gnostics spoke of a dark light, the alchemists of a black sun."
- Jorge Luis Borges
Be careful: If you have not read the epigraph, you had better do so now because, if you do not, there are a few things you are not going to understand.
An irrefutable fact: globalization is here. I am not characterizing it (yet), I am simply pointing out a reality. But, given oxymoron, it must be noted that it is a fragmented globalization.
Globalization has been made possible by, among other things, two revolutions: technology and information. And it has been, and is being, directed by financial powers. Technology and information have, hand in hand, (along with financial capital) been doing away with distances and breaking down borders. Today it is possible to have information about any part of the world, at any moment and concurrently. But money also has the power of ubiquity now. It comes and goes dizzyingly, as if it were everywhere at the same time. And, in addition, money gives the world a new form, the form of a market, a supermarket.
Nonetheless, in spite of the "globalization" of the planet, or, more accurately, because of it, homogeneity is very far from being the characteristic of this change of century and millennium. The world is an archipelago, a puzzle whose pieces turn into other pieces, and the only thing which is truly globalized is the proliferation of heterogeneity.
If technology and information have united the world, then the financial powers which use them have turned them around, using them as weapons, as weapons in a war. We have stated before (in "7 Loose Pieces of the World Puzzle", EZLN, 1997) that a world war, the fourth, is being conducted, and that a process of destruction/depopulation and reconstruction/reordering is developing (I am trying to give a hurried summary, be indulgent) throughout the planet. For the construction of the "new world order" (Planetary, Permanent, Immediate and Immaterial, according to Ignacio Ramonet), financial power is conquering lands and breaking down borders, and it is achieving this by waging war, a new war. One of the casualties of this war is the national market, a fundamental basis of the Nation-State. The Nation-State is on the path to extinction, or, at least, the traditional or classic Nation-State is. In its place are emerging integrated markets, or, more accurately, department stores of the great world "mall", the globalized market.
The political and social consequences of this globalization take the form of countless and complex oxymorons: fewer people with more wealth, produced through the exploitation of more people with less wealth. "The poverty of our century cannot be compared with that of any other. It is not, as it once was, the natural result of scarcity, but of a conjunction of priorities imposed by the rich on the rest of the world" (John Berger. Cada vez que decimos adio's. Ediciones de la flor. Argentina, 1997, pp. 278-279). The planet has been opened up wide for a handful of people. For millions of people, however, there is no room in the world, and they drift aimlessly from one end to the other. Organized crime forms the backbone of legal systems and governments (the criminals make the laws and "safeguard public order"). And world "integration" multiplies borders.
And so, if we were to highlight some of the main characteristics of the current epoch, we would say: supremacy of financial power, technological and information revolution, war, destruction/depopulation and reconstruction/reordering, attacks on Nation-States, the subsequent redefinition of power and politics, the market as an hegemonic figure which permeates all aspect of human life everywhere, a greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, a greater distribution of poverty, an increase in exploitation and unemployment, millions of people in exile, criminals who are the government, disintegration of lands. In sum: fragmented globalization.
Fine, then, according to this proposition, in the case of the intellectuals (given that they have to do with society, power and the State) it is worth asking oneself: have they experienced the same process of destruction/depopulation and reconstruction/reordering? What role do the financial powers assign them? How do they use (or are used by) technological and information advances? What position do they have in this war? What is their relationship with these battered Nation-States? What are their ties to that power and within that redefined politics? What is their position in the marketplace? And what position do they take in response to the political and social consequences of globalization? In short: what is their place in that fragmented globalization?
The world had to be changed by, and change for, this war. The "classic" intellectuals could no longer exist, nor their old functions. In their place a new generation of "thinking heads" (to use the term coined by zapatista Comandante Tacho) would emerge (or will emerge) and they would have new functions in their intellectual work.
Although we are trying to limit ourselves here to intellectuals of the right, some notes concerning intellectuals in general, and their relationships with power, will be obvious. Since the purpose of this text is to participate in and to encourage the polemic between intellectuals of the right and the left, a deeper reflection (on intellectuals and power, and on intellectuals and transformations) remains for future and unlikely writings.
The year two thousand is balanced on the axis of the calendar between the 20th and the 21st centuries and between the second and third millennia. I do not know how important this accounting of time is, but it seems to me that it is, also, an appropriate moment for OXYMORON to emerge on all sides. It is not overstating the case to say that this age is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of "something." "Something", an irresponsible method of alluding to a problem. But it is already known that our specialty is not in solving problems, but in creating them. "Creating them?" No, that is too presumptuous, rather in their proposing. Yes, our specialty is proposing problems.
Up there, everything seems to have happened before, as if an old film is being repeated, with other images, other cinematic resources, even with different actors, but with the same argument. As if the "modernism" (or "post-modernism", I leave the clarification for whomever can be bothered with it) of globalization were dressed in its OXYMORON and presenting itself to us as an arcane, long established, ancient modernism.
If what I'm telling you seems like a mere subjective appraisal, put it down to our being in the mountains, resisting and in rebellion, but grant us the privilege of reading us and see if it is, in effect, one more symptom of "mountain sickness," or if you share this sensation of deja vu which runs through the hyper-cinema which is the globalized world.
The world is not square, at least that's what they teach in school. But, at the cutting edge of the union of two millennia, the world is not round either. I do not know what the appropriate geometric form would be to represent the current world, but, given that we are in the age of digital audiovisual communication, we could attempt to define it as a gigantic screen. You may add "a television screen", even though I would choose "a movie screen." Not just because I prefer cinematography, but also (and above all) because it seems to me that there is a movie in front of us, an old movie, modernly old (to continue with the oxymoron).
It is, in addition, one of those screens where one can program the simultaneous display of several images ('picture in picture,' they call it). In the case of the globalized world, of images which take place in any corner of the planet. They are not all the images. And it is not because they lack space on the screen, but because "someone" has selected these images and not others. That is, we are looking at a screen with several boxes which are presenting simultaneous images of different parts of the world, that's true, but not all the world is there.
Upon reaching this point one inevitably asks oneself: who has the remote control for this audiovisual screen? And who is doing the programming? Good questions, but you will not find the answers here. And not just because we don't know them for certain, but also because they are not the subjects of this text.
Given that we cannot change the channel or the film, let us look at some of the different boxes the mega-screen of globalization is offering us.
Let us go to the American continent. There, in that corner, you have the image of the National Autonomous School of Mexico (UNAM) being occupied by a paramilitary group of the government: the so-called Federal Preventative Police. Those gray-uniformed men do not appear to be studying. Further up, framed by the mountains of the Mexican southeast, a column of gray armored tanks are crossing a chiapaneco indigenous community. On the other side, the gray image presents a North American police officer who is violently detaining a young man in a place which could be Seattle or Washington.
In the European box the grays also proliferate. In Austria, it is Joer Heider and his pro-nazi fervor. In Italy, with D'Alema's selfless help, Silvio Berlusconi is adjusting his tie. In Spain, Felipe Gonza'lez is making up Jose' Mari'a Aznar's face. Le Pen smiling at us in France.
Asia, Africa and Oceania are showing the same color, repeating themselves in their respective corners.
Hmm,,, So many grays...Hmm...We can protest...After all, they promised us an all-color program...At least let us turn down the volume and try to understand what it is about...
The intellectuals are there, as is the globalized fragmentation. They are a reality of modern society. And their "being there" is not limited to the current age, it goes back to the first steps taken by human society. But the archeology of intellectuals is beyond our knowledge and possibilities, so let us start from the fact that they "are there." In any case, what we are trying to discover is the form their "being there" takes now.
"Intellectuals as a category are something very vague, that is already common knowledge. It is a different thing to define the 'intellectual function'. The intellectual function consists in critically determining what is considered to be a satisfactory approximation of the very concept of truth. And anyone can develop it, even a derelict who reflects on his own condition and expresses it in some way, while a writer who reacts to events dispassionately, without subjecting them to the process of reflection, can betray it." (Umberto Eco. Five Moral Tales. Ed. Lumen. Traduccio'n Helena Lozano Miralles, pp. 14-15). If this is so, then the work of the intellectual is, fundamentally, analytic and critical. Faced with a social fact (to limit ourselves to one universe), the intellectual analyzes the obvious, the affirmative and the negative, seeking the ambiguous, that which is not one thing nor the other (even though it presents as such), and he shows (communicates, reveals, denounces) that which is not only not obvious, but which even contradicts the obvious.
Human societies presumably have persons who dedicate themselves professionally to this critical analysis and to communicating their results (in the words of Norberto Bobbio: "Intellectuals are all those people whose habitual and conscious occupation is that of transmitting messages [...] and saying them in a way which can appear brutal; it also almost always represents their means of earning a living.") Let us stay with this approximation of the intellectual, of the professional of critical analysis and communication.
We have already been warned that the intellectual does not always exercise the intellectual function. "The intellectual function is always exercised prospectively (concerning what might take place) or retrospectively (concerning what has taken place), only rarely does it concern what is taking place, because of reasons of rhythm, because events are always more rapid and urgent than the reflection concerning the events" (Umberto Eco, op. cit., p. 29).
Due to his intellectual function, this professional of critical analysis and his communication would be a kind of uncomfortable or impertinent conscience of society (in this age, of globalized society), in his totality and in his parts. A dissenter to everything, to the political and social forces, to the State, to the government, to the media, to the culture, to the arts, to religion, to whatever etcetera the reader might add. If the social actor says "There it is!", the intellectual murmurs skeptically: "It's missing something, it's too much."
Thus we have the role of the intellectual is that of being a critic of immobility, a promoter of change, a progressive. This communicator of critical ideas is, however, inserted in a polarized society, in conflict with itself in many ways and with various arguments, but fundamentally divided between those who use power so that things do not change, and those who are struggling for change. "The intellectual should, out of a basic sense of the ridiculous, understand that he has not been granted the role of witch of the spirit around which the to-be-or-not-to-be of the universe is going to revolve, but he obviously has knowledge [...] which can be aligned in one meaning or another of the historical. They can align it in the search for clarification of the injustices which are present in the current world, or in complicity with immobility and installation in Limbo." (Manuel Va'zquez Montalba'n. Panfleto desde el planeta de los simios. Ed. Drakontos. Barcelona, 1995, p. 48).
And this is where the intellectual picks, chooses, selects between his intellectual function and the function proposed to him by social actors. Thus appears the division (and the struggle) between progressive intellectuals and reactionaries. Both of them remain engaged in the communication of critical analysis, but, while the progressives continue in their criticism of immobility, permanence, hegemony and the homogeneous, the reactionaries hoist criticism of change, of movement, of rebellion and of diversity. The reactionary intellectual "forgets" his intellectual function, he renounces critical reflection, and his memory is reduced to such a degree that there is no past nor future. The present and the immediate are the only things accessible and, therefore, not open to question.
In saying "progressive and reactionary intellectuals", we are referring to intellectuals "of the left and of the right". It is appropriate to add here that the intellectual of the left exercises his intellectual function, that is, his critical analysis, also in front of the left (social, partisan, ideological), but in the current era his criticism is basically of the hegemonic power: that of the gentlemen of money and those who represent them in the field of politics and ideas.
Let us now leave the progressive and leftist intellectuals and go on to the reactionary intellectuals, the intellectual right.
In the beginning, the intellectual giants of the right were progressives. And I am speaking of the great intellectuals of the right, the "think tanks" of reaction, not of the dwarves who were entering their "thinking" clubs. Octavio Paz, the excellent poet and essayist, the greatest intellectual of the right of the last few years in Mexico, stated: "I come from the way of thinking called leftist. It was something very important in my training. Now I don't knowthe only thing I know is that my dialogue - sometimes my discussion - is with them (the intellectuals of the left). I don't have much to talk about with the others." (Braulio Peralta. El poeta en su tierra. Dia'logos con Octavio Paz. Ed. Grijalbo. Mexico, 1996, p. 45). And cases like Paz are repeated on the global mega-screen.
The progressive intellectual, as a communicator of critical analysis, becomes an object and an objective for the dominant power. An object to buy and an objective to destroy. A multitude of resources are put in play for one thing and another. The progressive intellectual "is born" in the midst of this environment of persecutory seduction. Some resist and defend themselves (almost always by themselves, professional solidarity not seeming to be one of the characteristics of the progressive intellectual). Others, however, exhausted perhaps, look in their baggage of ideas and take out those which can simultaneously be alibi and reason for legitimizing the power. The new demands much, the old is there, and so it is enough to raise the argument of "the inevitable" for the system to offer him a comfortable seat (sometimes in the form of a grant, a position, a prize, a place) by the side of the Prince whom he so criticized yesterday.
"The inevitable" has a name today: fragmented globalization, single doctrine (that is, "the translation into ideological terms, and with universal pretension, of the interests of a collection of economic forces, in particular those of international capital." Ignacio Ramonet. Un mundo sin rumbo. Crisis de fin de siglo. Editorial Debate. Madrid), the end of history, the omnipresence and omnipotence of money, the rationalization of social inequality, the justification of over-exploitation of human beings and natural resources, racism, intolerance, war.
In an age marked by two new paradigms, communication and market, the intellectual of the right (and formerly of the left) understands that being "modern" means upholding the slogan: adapt or lose your privileged positions!
He does not even have to be original. The intellectual of the right already has the quarry where he will have to chip away at the stones which adorn fragmented globalization: the single doctrine. The sterility does not matter much, the single doctrine has its primary "sources" in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Trade and Economic Development, the World Trade Organization, the European Commission, the Bundesbank, the Bank of France, "which, through its financing, recruits throughout the world numerous research centers, universities and foundations to the service of its ideas, which, in their turn, shape and disseminate the glad tidings." (Ignacio Ramonet, op. cit., p. 11).
With such an abundance of resources it is easy for elites to flourish which "for years now, have been deeply engaged in singing the praises of the 'single doctrine'; which exert serious blackmail against all critical reflection in the name of 'modernization', of 'realism,' of 'responsibility' and of 'reason'; which affirm the 'inevitable nature' of the current evolution of things; which preach intellectual capitulation and cast into the darkness of the irrational all those who refuse to accept that 'the natural state of society is the market'. " (ibid., p. 114)
Far removed from reflection, from critical thought, the intellectuals of the right have become pragmatics par excellence. They have banished the intellectual function, and they have transformed themselves into echoes, more or less stylized, of the advertising spots which inundate the mega-market of fragmented globalization.
Retrofitted in the fragmented globalization, the intellectuals of the right have changed their nature and acquired new "virtues" (oxymoron reappears among them): an audacious cowardice and a profound banality. Both shine through in their "analyses" of the globalized present and in their contradictions, their revisits to the historic past, their clairvoyance. They can have the satisfaction of audacious cowardice and of profound banality, given that the almost absolute universal hegemony of money protects them with towers of armored glass. That is why the intellectual right is particularly sectarian and has, in addition, the backing of not a few media and governments. Entrance into those high intellectual towers is not easy. One must renounce critical and self-critical imagination, intelligence, arguments, reflection, and opt for the new theology, the neoliberal theology.
Given that globalization is being sold as the best of all possible worlds - but it lacks concrete examples of its advantages for humanity - it must resort to theology and replace its lack of arguments with dogmas and faith. The role of the neoliberal theologians includes that of pointing out and persecuting the "heretics", the "messengers of bad", that is, the intellectuals of the left. And what better way of fighting the critics than by accusing them of being "messianic."
In response to the intellectual of the left, the one of the right imposes the categorical label of "the outdated messianic". Who can question a present which is full of freedoms, where anyone can decide what to buy, whether it be basic goods, ideologies, political proposals or behaviors for any occasion?
But paradox does not forgive. If the messianic is on any side, it is on the side of the intellectual right. "The Great Circle of Chemically Pure or Repentant Formerly Marxist Neoliberal Intellectuals, or the Trilateral, can be messianic when they prefigure the destiny of a universe based on the single truth, the single market and the single gendarme army safeguarding the flash bulb which accompanies the final photograph of History, pressed against the best landscapes of the best open societies." (Manuel Va'zquez Montalba'n, op. cit., p. 47).
The final photo. Or the climactic scene of the film of fragmented globalization.
Paraphrasing Re'gis Debray (Croire, Voir, Faire. Ed. Odile Jacob. Paris, 1999), the problem here is not why or how globalization is inevitable, but rather why and how the entire world, or most of it, agrees that it is inevitable. A possible answer: "The technology of making-believing [...]. The power of informationInf-forming: giving form, formatting. Con-form: giving conformity. Trans-forming: changing a situation" (ibid., p. 193).
Along with the globalization of the economy, culture is also being globalized. And information. That is why the great communications companies "cast" their electronic nets over the entire world, without anything or anyone preventing them. "Not Ted Turner, of CNN; not Rupert Murdoch, of News Corporation Limited; not Bill Gates, of Microsoft; not Jeffrey Vinik, of Fidelity Investments; not Larry Rong, of China Trust and International Investment; not Robert Allen, of AT&T, nor George Soros nor dozens of other new masters of the world, have ever submitted their projects to universal suffrage" (Ignacio Ramonet, op. cit., p. 109).
In fragmented globalization, societies are fundamentally media societies. Media is the great mirror, not of what a society is, but of what it should appear to be. Full of tautologies and obviousness, media society is short on reason and arguments. Here, repeating is demonstrating.
And what is repeated are images, like those grays the globalized screen is showing us now. Debray tells us: "The equation of the visual era is something like: the visible the real the true. This is idolatry revisited (and, indubitably, redefined)." (Re'gis Debray, op. cit., p. 200). And the intellectuals of the right have learned the lesson well. It is even one of the dogmas of their theology.
Where was the leap made which equated the visible with the true? Tricks of the globalized screen.
The entire world, or, more accurately, of all knowledge, is now in the hands of anyone with a television or a portable computer. Yes, but not just any world and not just any knowledge. Debray explains that the center of gravity of information has been displaced from the written to the visual, from the recorded to the direct, from the sign to the image. The advantages for the intellectuals of the right (and the disadvantages for the progressives) are obvious.
Analyzing the behavior of information in France during the Gulf War, the power of the media is revealed: at the beginning of the conflict, 70% of the French expressed hostility to the war. At the end, the same percentage supported it. Under the battering of the media, French public opinion "did an about-face" and the government obtained their blessing for its participation in the war.
We are in the "visual era." Information is thus presented to us in the obviousness of its immediacy, therefore what they show us is real, therefore what we see is true. There is no place for critical intellectual reflection. At best there is space for commentators who "complete" the reading of the image. The visual is not made, in this era, in or der to be seen, but rather to impart "knowledge." The world has become a mere multimedia representation, which suppresses the external world, able to be known to the same degree that it is seen. Yes, the beginning of the third millennium, the 21st century, and the resilient philosophy in our "modern" world is absolute idealism.
Some conclusions can now be drawn: the new intellectual of the right has to carry out his legitimizing function in the visual era; opt for the direct and immediate; move from sign to image and from reflection to television commentary. He does not even have to make an effort to legitimize a totalitarian, brutal, genocidal, racist, intolerant and exclusionary system. The world which is the object of his "intellectual function" is the one offered by the media: a virtual representation. If the Nation-State is redefined in the hyper-market of globalization as one more business, and those who govern as sales managers, and armies and police forces as security bodies, then the arena of Public Relations belongs to the intellectual right.
In other words, in globalization, intellectuals are "multipurpose": gravediggers for critical analysis and reflection, jugglers with the millstones of neoliberal theology, prompters for governments who forget the "script," commentators of the obvious, cheerleaders for soldiers and police officers, Gnostic judges who hand out labels of "true" or "false" at their convenience, theoretical bodyguards for the Prince and announcers of the "new history."
"Burning books and building fortifications are the common tasks of princes," said Jorge Luis Borges. And he adds that every Prince wants history to begin with him. In the era of fragmented globalization, they are not burning books (although they are indeed building fortifications), rather they are replacing them. Even so, in addition to replacing history prior to globalization, the neoliberal Prince is instructing his intellectuals to remake it so that the present will be the culmination of times.
"The Make-up Artists of History," so Luis Herna'ndez Navarro titled an article dedicated to the debate with the intellectuals of the right of Mexico (Ojarasca in La Jornada, April 10, 2000). In addition to leading to the present text (written out of a desire to follow up on his ideas), Herna'ndez Navarro warned about a new offensive: the new intellectual right is aiming its artillery at representative figures of progressive Mexican intellectuals. "Latecomers to the profit taking of the planetary bonanza of the 'single doctrine', renouncing their identity, heirs to the writings about the fall of the Berlin wall, pals and emulators of the US conservative cultural circuit, this right is convinced that cultural criticism grants them sufficient credentials to deliver, without argument, summary judgments concerning their adversaries in the political terrain." (ibidem).
The non-ideological reasons for this attack can be found in the fight for credibility. In Mexico, intellectuals of the left have a great influence in the culture and the university. They are in the way, that is their crime.
No, it is, more accurately, one of their crimes. Another is these progressive intellectuals' support for the zapatista struggle for a just and dignified peace, for the recognition of the rights of the Indian peoples, and for an end to the war against the indigenous of the country. This "sin" is not minor. "The zapatista uprising inaugurated a new stage, that of the eruption of indigenous movements as actors in the opposition to neoliberal globalization." (Yvon Le Bot. "Los indi'genas contra el neoliberalismo", in La Jornada, March 6, 2000). We are not the best, nor the only ones: there are the indigenous of Ecuador and of Chile, the protests in Seattle and Washington (and those which shall follow in time, not in importance). But we are one of the images which distort the mega-screen of fragmented globalization, and, as a social and historic phenomenon, we demand reflection and critical analysis.
And reflection and critical analysis are not in the intellectual right's "arsenal." How can they sing the glories of the new world order (and its imposition in Mexico) if a group of "pre-modern" indigenous are not only defying the powers, but gaining the sympathy of an important group of intellectuals? Consequently, the Prince dictates his orders: attack them, I'll put in the army and the media, you put in the ideas. And so the new intellectual right devotes, by turns, jokes and slander to the left. They dedicate to the zapatista indigenous rebelsa new history.
But let us return to Mexico. "Throughout this century, intellectuals in Mexico have played various roles: luxurious courtesans of the acting powers, dissident voices (who are called, in order to institutionalize them, "Critical Consciences"), privileged interpreters of history and of society, entertainment in themselves." (Carlos Monsiva'is. "Intelectuales mexicanos de fin de siglo", Viento del Sur 8, 1996, p. 43).
The last great intellectual of the right in Mexico, Octavio Paz, conscientiously carried out the work entrusted to him by the Prince. He wasted no words in discrediting the zapatistas and those who demonstrated sympathy with their cause (not for the form of their struggle). One of the best examples of Paz in the service of the Prince is in his writings and statements in early 1994. There Octavio Paz defined, not the EZLN, but the arguments his intellectual "soldiers" should expand upon: Maoism, the messianic, fundamentalism and some other "isms" which I cannot remember at the moment. Paz did not skimp on accusations about progressive intellectuals: they were responsible for the "climate of violence" which marked the year of 1994 (and all the years of modern Mexico, but the intellectual right has never been known for its historic memory), specifically, the assassination of the official candidate for the presidency of the Republic, Colosio. Years later, before he died, Paz recanted and noted that the system was in crisis and that those incidents would have taken place in any event, even without the zapatista uprising (see: Braulio Peralta, op. cit.).
None of Paz' current heirs has his stature, although many are ambitious to occupy his place. Not as an intellectual, because they lack intelligence and brilliance, but for the privileged position he occupied beside the Prince. Nonetheless, they fight. And they continue in their endeavor to concoct a history of zapatismo which is comfortable for them, not just in order to attack it, but, above all, in order to avoid serious and responsible critical analysis and reflection.
But the intellectuals of the right are not just rewriting the history of zapatismo and of the Indian peoples. They are reworking the entire history of Mexico in order to demonstrate that we are, now, in the best of all possible Mexicos. And so the dwarves of the intellectual right revisit the past and sell us a new image of Porfirio Di'az, of Santa Anna, of Calleja, of Ca'rdenas.
And this eagerness to remodel history is not exclusive to Mexico. On the screen of globalization they are already offering us a new version in which the nazi Holocaust against the Jews is a kind of selective Disneyland, Adolf Hitler is a kind of happy Mickey Mouse, and, closer in time, the Persian Gulf and the Kosovo wars were "humanitarian." In the past future which the intellectual right is preparing for us, globalization is the deus ex machina which is operating above the world in order to prepare its own advent.
But those gray images being presented to us now on the mega-screen of globalization...what arrival are they announcing?
I say that we have already seen this film before and, if we do not remember it, it is because history is not an attractive article in the globalized market. Those grays could mean something: the reappearance of fascism.
Paranoia? Umberto Eco, in a text called "Eternal Fascism" (op. cit.) presents some keys for understanding that fascism remains latent in modern society, and, even though it is unlikely that the nazi extermination camps will be repeated, what he calls "Ur Fascism" is lying in wait from one end of the planet to the other. After warning us that fascism was a "fuzzy" totalitarianism, that is, dispersed, diffused, throughout all of society, he posits some of its characteristics: rejection of the progress of knowledge; irrationality; a culture suspicious of fomenting critical attitudes; disagreement with the hegemonic is treason; fear of the different and racism; a surge in individual or social frustration; xenophobia; enemies are simultaneously too strong and too weak; life is a permanent war; aristocratic elitism; individual sacrifice for the benefit of the cause; machismo; qualitative populism disseminated by television; "new language" (characterized by poor vocabulary and basic syntax).
All of these characteristics can be found in the values which the media and the intellectuals of the right are defending and disseminating in the visual era, in the era of fragmented globalization. "Are they not perhaps today, almost like yesterday, utilizing democratic exhaustion, the nausea in the face of the nothing, confusion in the face of disorder, as a guarantor of a new historic situation of exception which requires a new persuasive authoritarianism, unifier of the citizenry in the form of clients and consumers of a system, a market, a centralized repression?" (M. Va'zquez Montalba'n, op. cit., p. 76).
Look at the mega-screen, all those grays are the response to disorder. It is what is necessary in order to confront those who refuse to enjoy the virtual world of globalization and who resist. And, nonetheless, it would appear that the number of dissidents is increasing. One of the dwarves who aspires to occupy Octavio Paz' vacant seat stated, terrified, that, in a survey taken in Mexico by the Institute for Social Research of the UNAM, in 1994, 29% of those interviewed responded that laws should not be obeyed if they are unjust. In November of 1999, in the magazine Education 2001, 49% answered yes to the question: "Can people disobey laws if they seem unjust to them?" After recognizing that it is necessary to resolve problems of economic growth, education, employment and health, it noted: "All these things can only be achieved if society is situated on a more basic level, that of public security and the carrying out of the law. That level is full of holes in Mexico and it is tending to worsen." (He'ctor Aguilar Cami'n. "Laws and Crimes", in "Esquina", Proceso, 1225, April 23, 2000). The reasoning is revealing: for a lack of legitimacy and consensus, the police.
The cry of the intellectual right demanding "order and legality" is not exclusive to Mexico. In France, the fascist Le Pen is ready to respond to the call. In Austria, the neo-nazi Heider is already set, as is Francoist Aznar in Spain. In Italy, Berlusconi (alias the "Multimedia Duce") and Gianfranco Fini are preparing for the moment.
Europe looking over the balcony of Fascism once again? A bad dream...and far-off. But there are the images on the mega-screen. Those "skin-heads" who are displaying their clubs on that corner: are they in Germany, in England, in Holland? "They are minority groups and they are under control" the audio from the mega-screen reassures us. But it would appear that the new fascism does not always come with a bald head, nor is its body decorated with tattooed swastikas, and even so it is still a rightist left.
When I say "rightist left" you might think I am playing with words and just resorting to oxymorons once more, but I am trying to call your attention to something. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European political spectrum, for the most part, rushed to the center. This is obvious in the traditional European left, but it also took place in the rightist parties (see: Emiliano Fruta, "The New European Right" and Herna'n R. Moheno, "Beyond the Old Left and the New Right", in Urbi et Orbi. Itam, April 2000). Wearing a modern face, the fascist right is beginning to conquer territories that now go way beyond the police news in the media. It has been possible because they are taking great efforts to build a new image, removed from the violent and authoritarian past.
Also because they have appropriated the neoliberal theology with an astonishing facility (there must be some reason) and because they have gone on at great lengths about the issues of public safety and employment (warning against the "threat" of immigrants) in their election campaigns. Is this any different from the proposals of the social democrats or of the traditional left?
Fascism lies in wait behind the "third way," and also behind the left which does not define itself (in theory and in practice) against neoliberalism. The right can sometimes clothe itself in the rags of the left. In Mexico, during the recent television debate between the 6 presidential candidates, the candidate who received the blessing of the intellectual right was Gilberto Rinco'n Gallardo, of the apparently leftist Democratic Social Party. The television did not show that some of the PDS' activists and candidates in Chiapas are the leaders of various paramilitary groups, responsible, among other things, for the Acteal massacre.
It is not surprising that the fascist right and the new intellectual right are ready to demonstrate their "skills" to the gentlemen of money. What is disconcerting is that, sometimes, it is the social democrats or the institutional left which are preparing the path.
If Felipe Gonza'lez (that politician who is so applauded by the intellectual right) in Spain worked for the victory of Jose' Mari'a Aznar's rightist Popular Party, in Italy the highway by which the right drove themselves to power was called Massimo D'Alema. Before resigning, D'Alema did everything necessary to ensure the failure of the left. "D'Alema and his cohorts financed religious education with everyone's money, and they prepared the privatization of public [education], they fully participated in NATO's adventure against Yugoslavia and in the virtual occupation of Albania, they privatized what they could, they attacked retired persons, they suppressed immigrants, they submitted to Washington, they "refloated" the corrupt and Bettino Craxi himself, lining up at his residence in exile, where he is a fugitive from justice, in order to ask him for help, they made a law concerning the carabineros dictated by the coup command themselves..." (Guillermo Almeyra. "La izquierda de la derecha" in La Jornada, April 23, 2000). The results? A large part of the leftist electorate abstained from voting.
In the complicated European political geometry, the so-called "third way" has not only been lethal for the left, it has also served as the launching pad for neo-fascism.
Perhaps I am exaggerating, but "memory is a strange faculty. The more sharp and isolated the stimulus the memory receives, the more is remembered. When it takes in more, it remembers with less intensity." (John Berger, op. cit., p. 234), and I suspect that this avalanche of gray images on the screen is so that we remember with less intensity, lazily, wanting to forget.
And, if the books do not lie, it was Italian fascism which was so attractive to many liberal European leaders, because they believed it was carrying out interesting social reforms and it could be an alternative to the "Communist threat." (See: U. Eco, op. cit.)
In August of 1997, Fausto Bertinotti (secretary of the Italian Party of Communist Rebuilding) wrote in a letter to the EZLN: "A true crisis of civilization has erupted in Europe. Hundreds and thousands of episodes of daily barbarism could, unfortunately, be told, of gratuitous violence, of attacks on people, on the body, of the trafficking in people, in bodies, in organs, senselessly. And above everything, a thick layer of indifference, as if life had lost meaning. I could tell you of things which happen in the urban periphery, reality and metaphor of the human tragedy which this new cycle of capitalist development has become."
In response to this life without meaning, the fascist liberal offers his friendly and argumentative face, making special reference to his good points, resorting to legalized institutional violence.
The horizon is auguring a storm, and the intellectual right is trying to calm us down, presenting it as an unimportant shower. Everything in order to ensure the bread, the salt...and the place next to the Prince. Protect him! It does not matter that his shirt is gray and that the serpent's egg is being cultivated in the warmth of his bosom.
"The serpent's egg." If I remember correctly, it is the title of a film by Bergman which describes the environment in which fascism developed. And what do we do? Do we continue sitting down until the film ends? Yes? No? Just a minute! Look at the other spectators! Many of them have gotten out of their seats and are forming small groups! The murmurs are growing! Some of them are throwing objects at the screen and booing! And look at those others! Instead of heading towards the screen, they are going up! As if they are looking for the film projector! It looks as if they have found it, because they are insistently pointing at a corner up there! Who are those people, and what right do they have to interrupt the film? One of them is holding up a placard which says: "Let us, common citizens, then take up the word and the initiative. With the same vehemence and the same force with which we claim our rights, let us also claim the right to our rights." (Jose' Saramago, Speeches From Stockholm. Ed. Alfaguara). The right of our rights? Someone needs to explain because we don't understand anything! Silence! Someone is speaking
Progressive intellectuals. Those of skeptical hope. The French sociologist Alain Touraine proposes a classification for them (Comment sortir du libe'ralisme? Ed. Fayard. Paris, 1999): the most classic is that of the intellectual who denounces, where all attention is concentrated on criticizing the dominant system. The second type of intellectuals are identified with a particular struggle or a particular opposition force, and they become their organic intellectuals. The third believes in the existence, the conscience and the efficacy of the actors, while at the same time knowing their limits. The fourth are utopians, they identify with new cultural tendencies, of society or of personal existence. All of them (men and women, because being intellectual is not a masculine privilege) engage their efforts in understanding, critically, society, its history and its present, and they try to unravel the unknown of its future.
Progressive thinkers do not have it at all easy. They have realized that anything goes in their intellectual function and, noblesse oblige, they must reveal it, exhibit it, denounce it, communicate it. But in order to do that they must confront the neoliberal theology of the intellectual right, and behind them are the media, the banks, the large corporations, the States (or what is left of them), the governments. The army, the police.
And they must do so, in addition, in the visual era. Here they are at an outright disadvantage, because they have to take into account the great difficulties involved in confronting the power of the image with the sole resource of the word. But their skepticism in the face of the obvious has allowed them to already discover the trap. And, with the same skepticism, they arm their critical analyses in order to dismantle, conceptually, the machinery of the virtual beauties and the real miseries. Is there hope?
Making the word a scalpel and megaphone is already an enormous challenge. And not just because image is king in this age. Also because the despotism of the visual era confines the word to the brothels and the tricks and joke stores. "Even so, we can only confess our confusion and impotence, our anger and our opinions, with words. With words we name our losses and our resistance because we have no other recourse, because men are invariably open to the word, and because, little by little, it is they which mold our judgment. Our judgment, often feared by those who hold power, is molded slowly, like the source of a river, through the current of words. But words only produce currents when they are profoundly credible." (John Berger, op. cit., p. 255)
Credibility. Something which the intellectual right is lacking in and which, fortunately, abounds among progressive intellectuals. Their words have produced, and are producing, in many people, first a smile, and then unease. In order for this unease not to be crushed by the conformity prescribed by the visual era, many things are necessary which are outside the scope of intellectual work.
But, even when the word has been made torrent, the intellectual function does not end. The movements of social resistance or protest against the power (in this case against globalization and neoliberalism) must still travel a long path, not, we would say, in order to achieve their ends, but in order to consolidate themselves as an organizing alternative for others. "Finally, the particular responsibility of intellectuals must be recognized. It is dependent on them, more than on any other category, whether protest is exhausted in denouncing without perspective, or, on the other hand, it leads to the creation of new social actors and, indirectly, to new economic and social policies." (Alain Touraine, op. cit., p. 15)
The progressive intellectual is constantly torn between Narcissus and Prometheus. Sometimes the image in the mirror traps him, and the inexorable path of transmutation into one more employee of the neoliberal mega-market begins. But sometimes the mirror breaks, and he discovers not only the reality behind the reflection, but also others who are not like him but who have, like him, broken their respective mirrors.
The transformation of a reality is not the task of one single actor, no matter how strong, intelligent, creative and visionary he might be. Not just the political and social actors, not just the intellectuals, can bring this transformation to a good end. It is a collective work. And not just in action, but also in the analysis of that reality, and in the decisions concerning the directions and emphasis of the transformation movement.
They say that Miguel A'ngel Buonarroti made his "David" with serious material limitations. "The piece of marble on which Miguel Angel worked was one which someone else had already begun work on, and it already had holes. The sculptor's talent consisted in making a figure which was adapted to those insuperable and so restrictive limits, and, from thence, the posture, the inclination, of the final piece." (Pablo Ferna'ndez Christlieb, La afectividad colectiva. Ed. Taurus, 2000, pp. 164-165).
In the same way, the world we wish to transform has already been worked before by history, and it has many holes. We must find the talent necessary in order, within those limits, to transform it and to make a simple and straightforward figure: a new world.
Vale de nuez. Salud and don't forget that ideas are also chisels.
>From the Mountains of the Mexican Southeast
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada, May 2000.