No, You’re the Real Fascists


A quote often attributed to Winston Churchill is something along the lines of:-

In the future, fascists will call themselves anti-fascists.

There are a few problems with this quote, firstly that Churchill never said it, and secondly that, as Orwell pointed out, it’s not consistent to oppose fascism while (as Churchill did) supporting the way the British Raj treated India.

But the third problem is that it’s true, but not in the way it’s wheeled out. It’s constantly deployed in an “antifa are the real fascists” sense, which isn’t true. But it’s true in the sense that fascists are calling antifa “the real fascists” – these fascists are not strictly calling themselves anti-fascist but they are, undeniably, opposing what they claim is fascism. One of the many paradoxes of fascism is that fascists are quick to call others fascist.

A tweet by Twitter user "TheGoodFascist" claiming that someone else is the real fascist.
Thanks for that, Twitter user “TheGoodFascist”.

As Umberto Eco wrote:-

[A]t the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve this is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside.

Through denial of privilege, fascism uses the pretense of oppression to justify its hateful ideology. Nazi propaganda from 1924 featured claims that Hitler was being silenced, when in fact he wasn’t; people were just arguing with him – sound familiar?

Picture of Adolf Hitler with tape bearing the word "redeverbot" - "forbidden to talk" - covering his mouth and the caption "Einer allein von 2000 Millionen Menschen der Erde darf in Deutschland nich reden!"
“Only one of two billion people on Earth is not allowed to speak in Germany!”

But for all the conspiracy theories one could reach for (don’t try to tell me “funded by Soros” isn’t code for “controlled by Jews”), the most effective rhetorical shorthand reference to oppression in our culture is fascism itself. So we reach a paradox whereby fascists try to justify their fascism by calling others fascists.

This same phenomenon was at work when Graham Linehan tried to compare being an absolute transphobic horror on legs to “standing up to the Nazis”. Fascism calling others fascist is the up-is-down swapping of the meanings of ‘autonomy’ and ‘coercion’ to the point where wanting to exist is oppressive and wanting to mandate a group out of existence is boldly standing up for oneself.

This is a commonality across fascism – not merely the oppression of the marginalised, but the claim that said oppression is necessary for survival. The Nazis justified their 1933 book burnings with a list of nine ‘threats’ to German values the burnings were (symbolically) supposed to stamp out. Renaud Camus’ Grand Remplacement and David Lane’s Fourteen Words likewise exploit, not hatred, but fear of the ‘other’ as justifications for their white nationalism. And TERFs’ insistence that trans people are dangerous sexual predators brainwashing kids follows precisely the same pattern.

TERFs have tried to tell me that the Eco quote above applies to trans people. It’s certainly true that trans people feel ‘besieged’ as Eco puts it, but we are using that feeling as justification only to say, “maybe stop doing that”. It almost goes without saying that “pls no oppress” isn’t in itself fascist; it’s merely that fascists use it to justify all sorts of other fascist things.

For instance, Eco also wrote that fascists use Newspeak to “limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning”. Claiming that ‘TERF’ and ‘cis’ are slurs is absolutely an attempt to limit those instruments, to remove the critical language necessary to make distinctions, and using the pretense of oppression to do so.

Eco wrote that fascists use “selective populism” to pretend that “the People” is a “monolithic entity expressing a Common Will” – a Will that can, of course, only be interpreted by the fascists. When TERFs claim that being trans is “misogynist”, they are using the pretense of oppression (which isn’t to say that misogynistic oppression doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t come from the quarters they claim) to invoke this “Common Will” of women, dismissing and talking over any women who dare to disagree, because, as with all fascists, their interpretation of the Common Will is the ‘right’ one.

When TERFs claim that lesbians (or women in general) are “being erased” – or that “women are not a subset of women” – they are employing a unitary definition of womanhood in line with Eco’s fourth and fifth points about distinctions and diversity being anathema to fascists, and using the spectre of oppression to justify that.

Aside from the rhetorical effectiveness of calling other people fascists, sowing confusion about what fascism actually is also benefits fascism in no small measure. It’s a half-truth: While fascism is not quite as specific as people claim to rebut charges of fascism, it is also not as vague and nebulous as they also claim when it suits them. Another self-contradiction within fascism is that, despite their willingness to call others fascists, anyone calling them fascists will be met with “Oh, so everyone you disagree with is literally Hitler, huh?” As Eco said, “For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason”, and reserving the right to themselves to call other people fascists is a method of propaganda by which fascism inoculates itself against challenge.

However, the effectiveness of this play relies on the anti-intellectual conceit that one can simply dismiss charges of fascism, turning the whole debate into an exercise in who can shout the loudest. When we call people fascists, we should be ready to support that charge (which even I’m guilty of not doing, not because I don’t have the supporting arguments, but because I’m fucking exhausted from having to reduplicate that labour), and we should also demand the same of our opponents.

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