A letter to my readers

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In a week’s time (on September 20th), I’ll be publishing a new book called Fascism. If you follow this blog then you’ll know already that it isn’t altogether new.

Twenty year ago, I published a first ‘Fascism’ book, and it remains one of my books of which I’m the proudest. Among the people who read it and corresponded with me where people I’ve known ever since: friends from Glasgow and Belfast and Dunedin. Friends from uni whose ideas, whether about fascism or about the crisis of our own times, I’m still grappling with. The idea, that we might be living in a world whose constituent parts were heading towards fascism, was taken up by readers. I received letters from Tehran. I saw the book behind passed from hand to hand in Grahamstown in South Africa. Maoists in India invited me to write for their magazines.

It was my real first book, and for any writer that’s a moment to remember: you make yourself naked before the whole world. And you wait, and you watch, and you hope you don’t look ridiculous.

From the 20th, I’m hoping that reviews will start appearing. When they do, I’ll share them here.

In advance of then, I wanted to explain what’s different about this edition.

First of all, the book is now called Fascism: History and Theory. Last time, I began with the theory, this time I begin with history. In the last four years, more English-speaking writers have been talking about whether we are returning to a moment like the 1930s than at any stage in my lifetime. And the people most animated by this possibility aren’t even the far left. They’re Judges for the Booker prize, they’re Barack Obama, they’re advocates of American power like Madeleine Albright.

The political activist in me understands why you need to ask the question. Occasionally, I’ve been asking it too.

But the more that people fix on that possibility, the more they seem to invoke the least important parts of fascism. So fascism is now said to be a movement which creeps into power. (No movement in history shouted more or crept less). Or it is evil because it promoted separate routes of national development rather than an international order (when for four hundred years capitalism has alternated between periods of “autarky” and of “globalisation”). Or because it directed some of its appeals to workers. (Without that, how would any right-wing party win an election?).

For that reason, my book doesn’t say very much at all about the analogy between the 1930s and today, rather it focuses on explaining fascism was, in its own historical context. Maybe afterwards, people will say “sure, we’re heading that way”, or maybe not – either answer is capable of satisfying me. But neither answer can be convincing unless both sides have a shared understanding of the past and one which is true to the past. Unless you’ve got that shared understanding – unless you understand for example both the scale of the Holocaust and its origins in older forms of colonial rule – then both sides are just talking past each other.

Second, I try to explain in more detail than in any other book I’ve read what the sharpest left-wing theories of fascism had in common. (The book is essentially about “Marxism”, but you’ll find in the book Marxist-feminists, Black Marxists, Socialist, Communists, dissident Marxists, even anarchists).

To put that explanation together I’ve had to think hard about certain things I left vague twenty years ago. About debates between Trotsky and Thalheimer. About Walter Benjamin and his critique of a certain kind of productivist thinking, and where that leaves “Marxism“.

I don’t want to be more specific than that here – these issues are what the book’s about, and will determine whether people are still reading it in five or ten years’ time.

Last, the book – in it’s opening pages, talks about anti-fascism as well as fascism. It tries to explain what people do when they adopt an anti-fascist consciousness, and the wager they make to themselves. And the thought processes which are common to almost all anti-fascism.

Hope too, I hope you’ll find ideas which speak to you.

[The book itself can be ordered here or here].

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