Picnic in the Ruins

Ruskin College and Fascism


The text below was written for publication in The Trumpet, the Students’ Union journal of Ruskin College. Though this journal had previously published a pro-Hitler article it only published the first half of this reply, omitting any reference to the fascist propaganda they had published. Whether this had anything to do with one one of the editors of the journal being a Pagan is something I will not comment on

The word ‘ironic’ is, we’re told, overused – likewise for ‘surreal’. But I don’t know what other words to use about one aspect of the Burford Levellers’ Day, 15 May,2003. There were a number of men dressed in the uniform of the Parliamentary army of the English Civil War carrying replica period muskets. The irony .. or whatever .. is that many people in the political culture which created Levellers’ Day would wet themselves if working people armed themselves in order, as a community, to suppress muggers, twockers and vandals; or, as a political class, formed militias to defend the transition to a post-capitalist society. Indeed, one of the stalls at Burford was from Amnesty calling for the control of firearms. By whom? By nation States ! So the people are to be unarmed? Because of crime? Not quite. The major UK restrictive legislation on the ownership of firearms was in the 1920s, out of fear that the British working class would follow the example of the Russian Revolution.

This political culture will defend the ‘armed road’ in the past, but now thinks entirely within the framework of the capitalist state. It is wallowing, or rather is drowning, in Heritage.

Why The Levellers?
It is a sad fact about the world we live in that armed force is sometimes the only possible response to oppression. Those who like to think about alternate worlds might reflect that in some such a certain president had not trusted his military but had trusted his people by arming them; and in that alternate on a certain 11 September there was not the bombing of a city from the air and the butchering of thousands by terrorists controlled by a barbaric despotism (NOTE 1).

Why was the Levellers’ Day celebrating the Levellers? Because this exercise in Heritage was started in 1974 by Anthony Wedgewood Benn, as part of his project of connecting the then militant Labour Left with a supposed major tradition of English political radicalism. But why The Levellers? If you want to celebrate action against the State, then why not celebrate the beheading of The First Charley? Or, more importantly perhaps, if you want to celebrate a victory of the ‘common people’ then how about the guerrilla war fought by the people of Otmoor (also in Oxfordshire) in the 1830s against the robbery (ie ‘enclosure’) of their common land.

Why ? Because the political culture which made the Levellers’ Day is not about making a transition to a post-capitalist order. It is about the making of reforms within the framework of the despotism of capital over human needs. It is about do-goodery posing as politics. This is why it prefers to celebrate noble failure, rather than success.
Consider the following remark by Ruskin’s late Raphael Samuel, the most perceptive and evocative writer on the culture in and around the Communist Party of Great Britain. This was made at the closing session of a conference held in 1987 to reflect on the political movements and cultures of the New Left, which began thirty years previously:

I haven’t wanted to live in a socialist society since sometime about the mid fifties … What I care about is a socialist movement. What I care about is socialism as a metaphor for solidarity, for opposition and for collectivism. … I don’t believe that what has sustained the very rich socialist movement that there’s been in this country has been only, or exclusively, or even mainly, a vision of the future. Quite often it’s been a way of keeping faith with a past – both a real past and an imaginary past. (NOTE 2)

So here we have an intellectual of recent British socialism declaring that he is not a socialist and that he has no interest in a social order beyond capitalism. Samuel’s sensibility was so finely tuned to the nuances and subtexts of Left culture – he was not just in it, it was in him – that I cannot believe that this was just his personal opinion. I believe that he was saying, as he did in ‘The Lost World of British Communism’, much that was in the political unconscious, but only he articulated. In this remark he expressed the view of the real nature of leftist culture which I had long felt, but could never have posed in such stark terms. It is significant that Raphael Samuel was the leading leftist defender of the necrophiliac cult of Heritage.

‘Adolf the Great’
The political culture which celebrated the Levellers has abandoned the project of constructing a social order beyond that of capitalism. Burford was a picnic in the ruins of a tradition.

Those movements which had appeared to aim for the transition to communism have collapsed. Because of this I have expected the emergence of a political position which would hold that both capitalism and communism had failed, and there was only one alternative: a new National Socialism, but without racism – with one exception. What I did not expect was to meet this at Ruskin College. I mean, of course, ‘Thus Spoke Adolf the Great’ (The Trumpet #2). This text expresses an apparent opposition to the values of capitalism. It recognises that there is something fundamentally wrong with a world in which the aesthetic satisfaction of work is dissolved into the values of the market. However, it locates the source of this corruption, not in the production of goods for exchange rather than for the satisfaction of real needs, but of ‘credit, debt and interest .. the international web of abstract finance’.

In regarding finance capital as a corruption of an essentially pure economic order – that of wage labour and capital – it needs to find a source for this corruption. That source is said to be the Jews. The terms used in this quote are nazispeak for the Jews (NOTE 3). That, majorly, is why this text is a fascist text. The anti-semitism of Racial Nationalism is of a different order to its other forms of racism. Whilst White Nationalists write of their respect for Black Nationalism they are implacably anti-semitic

I have had some trouble in making the meaning of this text clear. A frequent response has been that all texts are indeterminate in respect of their meanings. When I pointed to the passage in ‘Adolf ..’ that ‘Somewhere, there is a parallel universe [ie an alternate world] where a non-racist Hitler has turned the Earth back into a classical paradise’ I was told, in all seriousness, that ‘classical times’ did not necessarily refer to Ancient Greece and Rome, that Dickens and Shakespeare were ‘classics’ and there were also ‘classic’ motorcars. This response was so evidently a denial of what is generally taken as the meaning of ‘classic times’ as to suggest that it was a motivated defence mechanism. If someone had wanted to write a parody of the nonsensical fad that textual meaning is indeterminate then they could have done no better than the actual response of students in ‘progressive’ Ruskin to the appearance of Nazi propaganda in its students’ publication.

What is important about the claim that Greece and Rome was a paradise is that they were, in fact, societies based upon slavery (NOTE 4) . So in calling for a return to this world, the author of ‘Adolf ..’ is actually calling for a return from a class society based on wage-slavery to one based on chattel slavery – which was, of course, the political programme of Hitler.

The Role of Nietzsche
The author is clearly a fan of Nietzsche: shown in the article’s title, in the allusion to Ecce Homo at the beginning of the piece and its use of the notion of the ‘will to power’ (a phrase which “explains” everything and thus actually explains nothing at all – see its use in referring to the French Revolution in the author’s discussion of Levy in The Trumpet # 1). Now Nietzsche held the view that theories and histories mattered not primarily for their truth-value but as to whether or not they enhanced the ‘will to power’. So a follower of his is, in effect, telling you that what they write is nothing but propaganda (‘There is no such thing as objective politics’, in ‘Adolf ..’, penultimate paragraph). No more needs to be said of this nonsense than the words of Roger Scruton: ‘A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is “merely relative”, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t’. (NOTE 5)

Nietzsche was also, clearly, a defender of a social order based on slavery, war and aristocratic rule. He was an opponent of the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, the European labour movement, pacifism, socialism and feminism – in this he was a precursor of National Socialism (NOTE 6) . A statement of his which is unambiguous as a statement can be is:

In order for there to be a broad, deep, fertile soil for the development of art, the overwhelming majority has to be slavishly subjected to life’s necessities in the service of the minority … slavery belongs to the essence of a culture … the misery of men living a life of toil has to be increased to make the production of the word of art possible for a small number of Olympian men. (NOTE 7)

He had no doubt that the world of Greece was based on slavery and he took this to be a necessary condition for the formation of culture. Anyone who says that Nietzsche himself is open to a multiplicity of readings needs to show passages which contradict this one.

It is often said in the defence of Nietzsche that he was a critic of contemporary German imperialism. What this misses is that, in fact, his criticism was that Bismarck was not imperialist enough. It is no coincidence that Nietzsche is the favourite philosopher in the humanities faculties of that state which is now answering with its aircraft carriers, legionnaires, cruise missiles and B1 bombers his question as to who will be the new ‘lords of the earth’. (NOTE 8)

Socialism or … ?
In his speech at Burford, Anthony Wedgewood Benn quoted the remark of Rosa Luxemburg that humanity faced the choice between -‘socialism or barbarism’. It is the merit of ‘Adolf ..’ to show that Nazism will increasingly be seen as a live option. That this resurrection of Nazism is an endorsement of barbarism is shown in the following quote from my expert witness statement (it refers to the last paragraph of ‘Adolf’):

the reason given why Hitler might be thought of as ‘great’ is not his military strategy or transformation of Germany into a world power (the two usual claims) but, rather, because his work led to the death of more than a hundred thousand of his enemies. Given that ‘enemies’ here refers to communists, socialists, Jews, gypsies, since that’s what fascists mean by ‘enemies’ (and not soldiers in battle), the implication is that Hitler is a great man because he had a lot of communists, Jews etc murdered.

The death of any transformative political vision in the culture of the Left is opening the space for a resurrection of the fascist project. Raphael Samuel, in the closing line of the extract above, at least partially agrees with Nietzsche in holding that the truth-value of history is irrelevant. It is worth remembering that the Webbs – celebrated in the name of one of the blocks at the Headington hall of residence, and in a painting in the Reference Library – were opposed to workers’ power, were eugenicists and supporters of Imperialism (NOTE 9).

The appearance of fascism in what was once a major cultural institution of the Labour Movement is, tragically, the chickens coming home to roost in the ruins. The point is not to live in those ruins, but to change them, demolish them, level them, and build something new.



(1) The year was 1973. The city was Santiago, Chile. The terrorists were the military, overthrowing President Allende’s democratically elected marxist government. The coup was backed by the CIA under the orders of Henry Kissinger.

(2) Raphael Samuel, ‘Then and Now’, in Robin Archer et al, Out of Apathy: Voices of the New Left Thirty Years On, Verso, 1989

(3) For those who think that this is ‘only your interpretation’, I quote from my expert witness statement, written in support of my defence to the allegation that I had ‘brought Ruskin College into disrepute’:

living space’ is so obviously identified within fascist thought that I find it impossible to believe that anyone could knowingly use it without implying both its acceptability and its fascist meaning … the trope of ancestors free from the web of abstract finance .. is a fascist ideological ploy which purports to be against capital but is in fact merely against finance capital

Statement by Dr Mark Neocleous, author of State, Power, Administration; Fascism; the Fabrication of Social Order; Imagining the State and (forthcoming) The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx and Fascism.Copies of the statement available from me.

(4) See Geoffrey de Ste, Croix The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, recognised as the leading explanation of the marxist theory of class. Unfortunately, this is not held in Ruskin Library.

(5) Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994, p 6. For the massive influence of Nietzsche on the modern “common-sense” of ultra-relativism, see Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.

(6) See George Lukacs’ The Destruction of Reason (Merlin, 1980) and John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses.

(7) From ‘The Greek State’, in On the Genealogy of Morality, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Theory, 1994. Significantly, this was written in 1871 – the year of the Paris Commune.I have put similar passages online, here http://www.livejournal.com/users/david_murray/2220.html?mode=reply

(8) See Lukacs, op cit p 340.

(9) See Carey, op cit.

The author of ‘Thus Spake Adolf the Great’, Dominick Herriz, is now studying fine arts at Southampton University. His friend, Kevin Dean, who played SS marching music at a student disco is now studying politics at York University.


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