Review: “Dreamer of the Day” by Kevin Coogan
What is less well known is that an American fascist theoretician, Francis Parker Yockey (1917-1960), himself marginal in the American radical right even today, is actually a theoretical pioneer of the contemporary international fascist revival with its new cultural politics, and is recognized as such from France to Russia’s contemporary “red-brown” ferment. (Yockey is promoted in the U.S., and somewhat disingenuously, mainly by Willis Carto and the Liberty Lobby.(2)) Contemporary fascism, internationally, finds it a largely losing battle to conjure up the old biological racism and master-race theories: they can chip away at the still-powerful association of such biological determinism with the concentration camps, but they have found a far more fertile path in circumventing such questions with a whole new battle over “culture”. And once this is recognized, the centrality of Francis Yockey, the subject of the excellent book by Kevin Coogan under consideration here, and who spelled this out in his 1948 book Imperium, looms into view.
Yockey, in in his youth, in the depths of the depression, was briefly sympathetic to Marxism, but quickly abandoned it for fascism. Subsequently, in late 1930’s Chicago, he jostled different far-right groups such as pro-Hitler German Bundists, anti-labor vigilantes, Silver Shirts and the Father Coughlin movement. But Yockey himself was no storefront fascist. Possibly the decisive ideological influence in his life had been the reading, in 1934, of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West (a world-wide best seller in the 1920’s). Through Spengler (including his later works Years of Decision and Prussianism and Socialism) Yockey stepped into the ferment of 1890-1933 Germany known as the “Conservative Revolution”, and such other (sometimes brilliant) reactionary theorists as Carl Schmitt, Karl Haushofer, Ernst Niekisch, Ernst Juenger, Moeller van den Bruck, not to mention the highly ambiguous earlier figure of Friedrich Nietzsche. For most of these intellectuals, Hitler and the Nazis were vulgar guttersnipes and their “voelkisch” (i.e. populist) ideology merely one more version of the mass society the Conservative Revolutionaries despised. What mainly characterized the Conservative Revolution were variants of an aristocratic radicalism that imagined a regeneration of decadent bourgeois society from the throes of materialism, democracy, socialism and feminism by a “hard” cultural elite of “supermen”, men such as those tempered in the trench warfare of World War I and the “storms of steel” (the title of Juenger’s 1920’s best-selling novel) of the modern technological battlefield. Spengler, in his major work, had defined “universalism” as the passage from “culture” to “civilization” in an organic rise and fall; this phase emerged when the old culture-bearing elite was sinking into effete aestheticism, and prepared the way for Caesarism (an anticipation of the coming of Hitler).
Aside from Spengler himself, two figures of the Conservative Revolution in particular stand out as decisive influences on Yockey: Carl Schmitt and Karl Haushofer. As a student at Georgetown University in the mid-1930’s, Yockey encountered Schmitt as the leading international Catholic jurist of the period. Schmitt’s relationship to Hitler and the Nazis was complex, but hardly (to put it mildly) a hostile one. Schmitt’s sophisticated legal theory was little short of state-idolatry, and presented a distinction between “enemy” and “foe” which passed easily into fascist political and legal thought. An “enemy” for Schmitt was an opponent of the moment, with whom there was temporary conflict and disagreement, but a “foe” was an irreconcilable opponent against whom the struggle was potentially total and lethal. Schmitt ridiculed Western parliamentarism and democracy, and developed ideas about the inevitability of extra-parliamentary activity — i.e. activity in the streets — which also influenced the German New Left in the 1960’s (Schmitt was among other things an admirer of Lenin). This in turn shaped Schmitt’s idea of Ernstfall or “ultimate confrontation” in which normal legality had to be suspended. (Schmitt provided the legal cover for the 1934 “Night of the Long Knives” in which Hitler eliminated the “red fascist” wing of the Nazi Party around the Strasser brothers).
...The real key to Yockey, however, is summed up in the term “National Bolshevik”, a somewhat obscure yet very important strand of the 1920’s Conservative Revolution, and one which is increasingly important today. The term “National Bolshevik” refers to an ambiguous minority current that appeared in the revolutionary wave in Europe immediately following World War I. The term was first used by Bela Kun, head of the short-lived Communist government in Hungary in 1919, and cropped up in some statements of Karl Radek, the Communist revolutionary who conducted Comintern business from his prison cell in Berlin in the same year, meeting with members of the German business(4) and military elite as well as with the German radical left. (He also laid the foundation for Russia’s commercial treaty with Attaturk in 1920, concluded even as Attaturk was murdering leading members of the Turkish Communist Party.) In 1923, the German CP undertook the brief “Schlageter turn”(5) of several months during which it worked with the Nazis in a campaign against the Versailles Treaty, staging rallies and sharing podiums from which Ruth Fischer attacked “Jewish capital” in a way sometimes difficult to distinguish from fascist rhetoric(6). Already in 1922, Germany had signed the Rapallo treaty with the Soviet Union, allowing the defeated German army to to use the Ukraine for secret training and maneuvers banned under the Versailles Treaty. Because of Germany’s central position in continental Europe, the possibility of a German- Russian rapprochement against the West often hovered over European power politics, posing a direct threat to Britain and France, and much of the foreign policy of the two major world empires was aimed at preventing just such an alliance. Germany since 1870 had been the “new power” threatening British and French hegemony , and German support of different kinds for anti-colonial movements in the British and French empires (which dated from the pre-1914 Kaiserreich) was a constant problem for the latter. Thus in 1922 when the Rapallo treaty brought Germany into an alliance with revolutionary Russia, there was general consternation in Anglo-French ruling circles. In 1932, (as in 1923) the German Communist Party again cooperated with the Nazis (7) in strikes and street actions against the “main enemy”, the “social-fascist” German Social Democrats, a perspective they bizarrely maintained even after Hitler seized power and put them into concentration camps, expressed in their slogan “After Hitler Comes Our Turn”. Finally, the consternation occasioned by Rapallo was completely eclipsed by the impact of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in 1939.
But “National Bolshevism” refers to much more than just a rapprochement between Germany and Russia, or tactical collaboration between Communists and Nazis against liberals and Social Democrats. It condenses a series of attitudes which reach far beyond Europe, and which have wider currency in the contemporary world than is generally recognized: hence the importance of Yockey and of Coogan’s study of Yockey. National Bolshevism is one of the most extreme forms of appropriation of elements of the revolutionary socialist movement for the preservation of class society. Weimar Germany from 1918 to 1933 was a laboratory of a myriad of currents thrown up by the simultaneous potential of working-class revolution (1918-1921) and of the extreme reaction (which borrowed significantly from the workers’ movement) brought to bear against that potential, culminating in Hitler’s triumph in 1933. Though figures such as Bela Kun and Karl Radek are better known, National Bolshevism entered the workers’ movement most dramatically in Hamburg and Bremen in 1920, articulated by the two German ex-Wobblies Wolffheim and Laufenberg, who threw themselves into the German workers’ councils that sprung up after World War I. For Wolffheim and Laufenberg, as for a number of other currents of the early 1920’s in Germany and elsewhere(8), workers’ revolution was the royal road to the national revolution; for the National Bolsheviks, the Russian Revolution was itself a national revolution(9). (To his credit, Lenin called National Bolshevism “eine himmelschreiende Absurditaet”, roughly, a “monstrous absurdity”. Unfortunately, other figures of the Third International were not so careful.)
The National Bolsheviks, and later Yockey, saw the cosmopolitan proletarian internationalism of Lenin, Trotsky and the early Russian Revolution as a superficial veneer which was cast aside by Stalin(10). “National Bolshevism” ultimately transposes Marx’s theory of the war between the classes to an international theory of struggle between “bourgeois nations” and “proletarian nations”, and buries the singularity and autonomy of the working class (the international class par excellence) in a mystique of the state and the nation. In the interwar period, the main “bourgeois nations” (or plutocracies, as Georges Sorel, among others, called them) were Britain and France; after 1945, the same logic was transposed to the new center of world capital, the United States. And nowhere moreso than in the work of Francis Yockey. The “proletarian nations” were first of all Germany and Italy, but the term applied equally (if not moreso) to all the “new nations” created by the Versailles Treaty, beginning with Eastern and Central Europe, not to mention the Latin American nations under the thumb of Anglo-French or American finance capital, and last but hardly least the growing nationalist ferment in the colonial world, a ferment encouraged, as indicated earlier, by successive German governments.
It is still little recognized today how ideologies first developed in interwar Europe to describe the tensions between the “core” bourgeois democracies and the “periphery”(11) of “young” or “new” nations were exported to the semi-colonial and colonial world, often directly through the influence of “National Bolshevik” or later National Socialist figures,
and after 1945 by the Nazis who fled to the Middle East and Latin America. After 1918, dozens of new nations emerged from the four defeated empires (Hohenzollern Prussia, Habsburg Austria-Hungary, Romanov Russia and the Ottomans) and after 1945, dozens more appeared in Africa, the Middle East and the rest of Asia from the breakup of the British and French empires. In most of these “new nations”, as well as in the semi-colonial countries of Latin America (Peron’s Argentina and Vargas’s Brazil come to mind), there was a real or potential local elite that recycled alloyed or unalloyed “National Bolshevism” from its original Central and Eastern European interwar sources into international “left” “anti-imperialist” currency. The 1960’s Western leftist admirers of Chou en-lai and Lin Piao would have perhaps been surprised to learn that the latter’s occasional references to the struggle between “bourgeois nations” and “proletarian nations” had been articulated decades earlier by Joseph Goebbels and Gregor Strasser. It would have been less of a surprise, or none at all, to Francis Yockey.
In 1947, Yockey settled in a remote village in Ireland to write his magnum opus, Imperium, in which he attempted to reinvent fascism for the new U.S.-dominated world. Yockey had gone AWOL from the U.S. Army in 1942 after a ring of German and pro-German saboteurs to which his family had connections was arrested by the FBI. Two months later, this “Fifth Columnist” (as opposed to an actual spy for Germany, in Coogan’s assessment) had returned voluntarily to the Army and, after a real or feigned mental breakdown, managed to be honorably discharged in 1943 for “medical” reasons. He held a couple of government jobs and then, (“incredibly”, as Coogan puts it) in late 1945 went to Germany as a prosecuting attorney for the Nuremburg trials. Less than a year later, he was fired from this position, in which he had distinguished himself by chronic absenteism, using that year to build up contacts to the anti-Allied German underground which was actively conducting terrorism and sabotage against American military targets.
Much of Imperium reads like recycled Spengler, arguing for a hierarchy of culture elites, drawing on the same organic metaphor of rise and decay of cultures used by Spengler.
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