Bear with me, scrupulous historians, as I try to run through some questions and parallels between centuries that I hope will enrich the essential debate on how to confront the extreme right. As a famous German genius said, history repeats itself: first as a tragedy, then as a farce. Perhaps someone will see simple coincidences in the story I am about to tell. Let us hope that someone is right. Hopefully, in any case, we will never see it. Although as is well known, every rise of the extreme right is nourished by a previous failed revolution.

Rozalia Luksemburg, or as she was better known here, Rosa Luxemburg, had been seeking a revolution since her teens, – born in Poland, at the time of the Paris Commune –  perhaps an unconscious revenge that had lain dormant in her memory.  As an internationalist in action and an anti-war activist by conviction, the possible reforms proposed by others were not enough for her, and she had to go into exile. Despite this, she found herself in prison many times, and in the end, she was – as great souls often are – too far ahead of her time, so much so that the German social democratic government put an end to the Spartacist revolution, and not before she had been able to cry out, referring to the inevitable revolution: “I was, I am, I shall be“, she ended up being brutally and tragically assassinated on 15 January 1919 by the Freikorps, a paramilitary guerrilla group of former military veterans frustrated after the defeat of the war.

Four years later, other lowlifes, inspired by a narcissistic, histrionic egomaniac – mental note: remember this list of epithets – who called himself il Duce, staged a failed coup attempt that began in one of Munich’s largest beer halls, the Bürgerbräukeller, where the Nazis had been warming the masses for years while the booze cooled their throats. Hence the name it was given: the Beer Hall Putsch. Two of the coup plotters against the Weimar Republic stood out, Erich Ludendorff, who had been one of the most brilliant generals and strategists on the Prussian side in the Great War, and another much lesser-known veteran, an Austrian named Adolf Hitler. The coup fortunately failed miserably and the perpetrators suffered only minor prison sentences, which were further shortened by pardons (although one of them had time to write a book about his struggle), or, in the case of the war hero Ludendorff, were acquitted outright.

At the beginning of the 21st century, a young Honduran-born woman named Berta Cáceres was fighting – ever since she helped found COPINH in 1993 – against what Pasolini defined in the 1970s as true fascism, because of its capacity for homogenisation and destruction: the consumer society. Specifically against projects that destroyed the environment in Honduras through extractivism – that is, give me your material wealth and I will print money at the push of a button, and on top of that I will get you into economic and ecological debt – and also in many other parts of Latin America of the second plundering: hydroelectric dams, mining… For her courage and resistance she was awarded the so-called Nobel Prize for Ecology, the Goldman Prize in 2015. Perhaps the Arab and European springs, four years earlier, helped generate the global awareness necessary for her to win a prize she deserved, but which put her in the spotlight, just when the force that those springs had unleashed began to falter – the revolution that fails to take hold, again. A few years after the legitimate president Manuel Zelaya had been removed in 2009 in a coup d’état typical of the area, in all likelihood the same international mafia that orchestrated the coup, orchestrated his death. No one, let alone woman, was going to stand in the way of progress, they must have thought. It happened, ironically enough, in the town of La Esperanza, on 2 March 2016. And as the most repeated saying after his assassination goes, they tried to bury us without knowing that we were seeds. COPINH continues its struggle against life-destroying capitalism, among others with the support of his daughter and seed, Laura Zúñiga.

Unfortunately, right now we find ourselves in a situation where the parallels that follow are also eerie, capable of raising the hairs of sensitive skin: The one who will probably go down in history as the most dishonest – and, remember note: narcissistic, histrionic egomaniac – president in US history, Donald Trump, has long been setting the minds of the most unstable people on fire from the breweries of the time – Twitter, the networks and the mass media, which are now the rallying points. His presidency has been the reign of post-truth: in four years the list of lies is approaching 20,000, counted at the devilish rate of a dozen a day – those recorded. Just as 20,000 were the soldiers –one for each lie- stationed inside to defend the Capitol, provoked by those of the assault by the conspiracy nuts and a bizarre version of the Freikorps. What a day of Epiphany it was the day of the Putsch of the Capitol. Among the coup plotters we don’t yet know anyone to fear who can be compared to Hitler, of course, but maybe this is the incoming. And Trump, il NeoDuce, – imagine him in opposition or in jail: which is scarier? – of an era of conflict spiced with hoaxes whose big first course may not have arrived, or may be just around the corner.

What could not be tolerated is that the assailants are not judged harshly. Because if they had been black, they would have spent half their lives behind bars. We all know it, and so do they. Which is widening the most open rift in the most heavily armed country in the world – they have several the size of the San Andreas Fault-. If, in the face of such a precedent, the responses are tepid sanctions, shortened even by pardons or good behaviour, a dangerous precedent is being set of identifying the act of taking over a Capitol with low risk, which would stimulate more similar events, and perhaps not only in the United States. Besides, maybe some unknown person will get a creative streak and write yet another libel of paranoia permeating society in the short space, who knows. What we do know is what came next.

Returning to the two of them, Rosa and Berta, the one that was lost in La Esperanza, both Rosa’s murder, which took place 102 years ago, and Berta’s, respond to the same patterns, and symbolise the extermination of activists and people who are uncomfortable for the capitalist Megamachine. There are a few hundreds of cases similar to Berta’s every year. Now the main enemy of capital is an activist defending the land, rivers and native tribes and their coveted resources. In Rosa’s time, killings were the order of the day in post-World War I Germany, and in many other places of class conflict after the Russian revolution, because, if at that time it was a woman, revolutionary, Jewish and communist, who was most likely to make power uncomfortable, perhaps in our time it was another woman, revolutionary, but indigenous and ecofeminist, who was creating the most discomfort. And this change means something important.

The temporal correlation between the assassinations of Rosa Luxemburg (1919) and Berta Cáceres (2016), with the thwarted coup attempts that occurred a few years after both assassinations, the Beer Hall Putsch (1923) and the Capitol Putsch (2021) is striking, but it does not stop there. The coincidences could continue if we imagine that, as the epidemiologist and sociologist Nicholas Christakis comments, the pandemic that is ravaging us, as happened a century ago with the Spanish flu, would be followed by an era of: “People will relentlessly seek out social interactions.” That could include “sexual licentiousness”, liberal spending, and a “reverse of religiosity”. In other words, as soon as we regain a certain normality thanks to vaccines, we would be living our own version of the happy 20’s. Seeing the spread of some new strains and their greater mortality and contagiousness, we would all soon wish that he was right.

However, with a few facts, we can intuit that such a time in our century does not seem very likely. Given the context of the climate emergency and the immediate need for energy transition, if it were to happen it would be very brief, or the price would be very high due to the loss of time that we do not have. But in any case, there remains the prediction widely disseminated in the mass media, perhaps seeking to be more of an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trying to return to the consumerist nonsense of pressure on ecosystems, which has brought us to the brink of the ecological, economic and health abyss, is necessary for the system to continue without major upheavals, even if it is inevitably heading towards its doom.

What undoubtedly corresponds to what happened in the 1920s is the increase in economic inequality. In our case, obscenely exacerbated by the pandemic. And if we recall, the crash of ’29 and the Great Depression were fuelled by that inequality. Even the IMF has deigned to remind us of this parallel. Everything suggests that this century’s crash could come even before “our ’29”, as the conservative International Energy Agency predicts possible oil production falls of between 25% and 40% by 2025, depending on the investments made. This would be an unprecedented shock for a globalised economy like ours – and therefore terribly energy-intensive – which can only survive by means of recipes of constant growth, clearly impossible to sustain in perpetuity, but even less so if the available energy is dwindling. No matter how many advances in efficiency and supposed dematerialisation one would like to enumerate, the real engine of growth is the increase in energy consumption. In fact, as Servigne and Stevens comment in their bestseller How Everything Can Collapse: “of the eleven recessions that took place during the 20th century, ten were preceded by a sharp increase in the price of oil. In other words, an energy crisis precedes a severe economic crisis”. It is not at all coincidental that the 2008 crash came just after the peak of conventional oil – the highest quality oil – which the International Energy Agency itself acknowledged – four years later – had taken place in 2006. In its 2019 yearbook, British Petroleum already acknowledged that this was the year of the total peak in oil demand. A euphemistic way of recognising the definitive and feared Peak Oil.

Perhaps in anticipation of the crash, it is in our decade that people have begun to talk about and try to put into practice the recipes of “New Deals” dyed in green – some of which really are, like the one proposed by Varoufakis, others just disguised to look good in the photo – bringing us a decade ahead of the last century. Appealing to Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s seeks to recall a triumph of those at the bottom, its advocates claim, when a maximum personal income tax rate of 90% was imposed on high incomes to deal with the social haemorrhage caused by those same extractive elites who are now the only ones benefiting from the pandemic.

It would seem that we have learned something, haven’t we? The intention of these deals is clear: to generate the public-private partnerships needed to meet the ecological and energy transitions, for which we are already late. However, looking more closely at the formula put forward by these plans, such as that of the European Union and BlackRock, or the recovery funds planned to rescue economies from pandemic shock, they are above all yet another method of extracting public resources to safeguard private interests. Yet another example of the classic neoliberal privatise the profits, socialise the losses, which we should have had enough of by now. At a crucial moment like this, a crossroads in civilisation’s progress, a real point of no return, to think that this is the plan of the elites makes one think that either there is no one at the wheel, or worse, those who are driving are bordering on psychopathic.

Despite being faced with an ecological abyss of indescribable proportions, the proposed transitions are unable to break out of the patterns that have led us to disaster: competition, faith in the myth of progress and the unquestionability of eternal growth. Using the same formulas that have led you to generate a problem will never solve the initial problem. It is truly incredible that there are so few voices in the mainstream media, so few economists, anthropologists, philosophers, who say loud and clear that it will not be possible to continue growing in this 21st century, and that insisting on doing so, insisting on not cooperating on a global scale to reduce our impact in a coordinated way, is the road to disaster.

Walter Benjamin said of the rise of fascism in the 20th century: Nothing corrupted German workers as much as the opinion that they were swimming with the current. Technical development was for them the slope of the current against which they thought they were swimming. Today, technology is selling us the idea of reaching Mars when – or precisely because – even life on earth is not assured. I don’t think it is necessary to connect many more dots: if, on a planet that has already surpassed key limits for its ecological balance, and on a safe slope of energy decline, we continue to pretend to grow, we continue to entrust everything to technical development, we are inevitably heading towards a repetition of what happened after the Keynesian plans of the 1930s, which ended up running up against the insatiable expansionism of the fascists. If the positions of power in the countries continue to be based on competition and growth, a clash with the limits of a planet that is increasingly reminding us of its finiteness is inevitable. Redistribution of wealth and post-growth formulas or barbarism, this is the dilemma of our century.

The philosopher Bruno Latour speaks of a new Lebensraum or “atmospheric living space”, referring to the fact that, although physical expansion seems to have stopped in a world fortunately without major wars, today the conquest of the living space of nations is done above all atmospherically, in how much common space we are able to colonise with our per capita emissions, or how many foreign resources our multinationals can use. The real fascism of the 21st century, the century of rethinking our way of living or the century of disaster, does not need soldiers so much as plans based on the inertia of economic growth.

Juan Bordera is a scriptwriter, journalist and activist who usually writes about geopolitics, ecological and energy crisis in newspapers in Spain such as, CTXT or El Salto.



One Comment

  1. Avatar Satya Sagar says:

    Lovely piece connecting history of the early 20th century with that of the 21st.