“When fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak or such yearning for submission.”
Thus wrote the German-American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in his 1941 work, "Fear of Freedom." Here we stand in 2018 in the aftermath of a speech by TWP member Matt Heimbach, and I cannot help but feel that we too are unprepared, both theoretically and practically, both for what came Feb. 17 and for what is to come. Some 250 students and community members gathered in opposition, with many thanks owed to the efforts of the Progressive Student Alliance, Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), the Women’s Coordinating Council and YDS — but among these 250, can we find any singular factor, any unifying theme?
If asked, the protestors may say “anti-fascism.” That answer will be enough for some, but I suggest pressing for more. As a nation, we face the renaissance of fascism, a resurfacing of nationalism and prejudice, but we are hardly the "United" States of America. We know combating the Nazi phenomenon requires a lot of us, but nobody is talking about what exactly that means in terms of a positive program with specific demands.
By being anti-this and anti-that, we run the risk of standing "against" something without standing "for" something. Historically, anti-fascism has been a component of left-wing politics, and we saw evidence of this within the crowd of 250. However, there is no mass movement on the left today to guide anti-fascist protestors, to coordinate the struggle or to show the movement what it is really fighting for.
One student interviewed Saturday was quoted in The Daily Beacon, saying: “So far the most effective one (type of resistance) is massive condemnation in the form of protest.”
Is this true though? Is what passes for anti-fascism in 2018 the best we can do? Who among the students and communities members in Knoxville is willing to examine their own theories and practices through a critical lens? A successful critique of fascism first requires an internal critique of the left. The improbable — but not impossible — reconstitution of a better left is an urgent task; I believe that the future of humanity depends on it. What has the left been, and what can it yet become? If the left is to change the world, it must first transform itself!
Ethan Linehan is a senior in philosophy and can be reached at email@example.com.
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