Steve Bannon, Fascism and Making Sense of the Invasion of Ukraine

How the Left Divides Itself

The death-cough of Covid has both broken into politics and broken politics, bringing with it an army of the dead, charmed by the rusty voice of Steve Bannon: anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists are harnessing the night sky with wagging fascist tongues, soaked by the kerosene madness of quiet rage limping through the pock-marked corridors of Republican power. Mortality is mocked by these anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers in their misplaced patriotism, their fang-bearing, their pestilence posturing at school board meetings. Patriots shunning history, racist lemmings disappearing off the cliff of time. In 1969, J. Edgar Hoover stated that the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast programme was the ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the country’ the same year that the University of California initiated a policy against hiring communists. But it was not the communists who were the greatest threat to democracy – but Hoover himself! So too with the Bannonists of today – is it not clear to them how much they fit the Hoover mold, to what extent they follow their golden calf leader with the same nasty, lusty zeal. And the memories of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X rustle in the winter leaves. And who is listening?

Leftists are waiting in trepidation for Trump to be re-elected president in 2024. When Trump will demolish the trappings of democracy that is left in this country, when Steve Bannon’s toxic Catholicism will pervade the corridors of the Vatican. Meanwhile, it is no longer safe to hitchhike in America. Bannon isn’t a man who will simply remain content with Republican deregulatory policy – that’s Ronald Reagan stuff and small potatoes to Bannon. Bannon is too obsessed with traditional institutions plump with the promise of motivating the country into a state of transcendence, but in reverse direction – a move backwards from democratic urban spaces to a medieval caste society of neo-feudal fiefdoms where the pathogenic pressures of ritual and obedience keep everything in place (including the bottom ranks where you will find ‘woke’ women, gays and liberals kept in the stocks or in chains). Bannon wants to transform the godless nation-state in decline – known as America – into a new Judeo-Christian social order that rejects the universal community, and despises even more the pluriversal community. He wants us all to abandon historical consciousness and embrace mythical consciousness that wraps universal history in the American flag. He wishes to shatter the epistemological mausoleum of modernity and replace it with an occult agora minted by historical amnesia and studied ignorance. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS (Schutzstaffel), had his castle, the ‘SS-Schule Haus Wewelsburg,’ festooned with occult symbols, and designed as a murky, ritualized, liminal space eerily provocative of secret knowledge, where the ideological training of the SS leadership would be most effective. Similarly, Bannon also has a deep thirst for esoteric knowledge. He sees in the Bhagavad Gita (where the god incarnate in human form is Krishna) a way to fashion his own dharma or righteous duty. Bannon sees himself as a dharma warrior (very unlike the ‘dharma bums’ in the famous 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac) who, like in the great Kurukshetra War that takes place in the Mahabharata Hindu epic, is fighting heroically in a cosmic battlefield. Do you see an echo of Putin here?

Fascists often have a preoccupation with the occult. Karl Maria Wiligut, Ariosophist (concerned with the myth of Aryan superiority and associated with anti-Semitic and nationalist political ideology) and rune occultist, served on the personal staff of Reichsführer-SS Himmler in 1935, where he played a significant role as mentor to Himmler on mystical subjects and inspired Himmler’s plans to make the SS the bloodstock of a future Aryan master-race. Claiming to be descended from an ancient bloodline resulting from a mixture of water and air gods, Wiligut worked on the rebuilding of Himmler’s castle, Wewelsburg, into an allegorical ‘centre of the world.’ Describing the Irminic religion of Krist as the true German ancestral religion, Winigut claimed to have special clairvoyant powers that allowed him access to the genetic memories of ancestors dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Now this is pretty far from Bannon’s Traditionalism. But how far? The search for perennial wisdom or universal truths associated with Traditionalism has considerable philosophical and historical merit as does the search for esoteric paths to understanding the role of human beings in the cosmos. But when a rationally unkempt adept of a philosophy based on metaphysical discernment and intellection publicly calls for political chaos and the destruction of multicultural democracy in favour of imposing an authoritarian white ethno-state (by overturning an election), it’s time to take stock of what some see as the rising fascism in our midst. It is important, then, to make a distinction between traditionalism and political traditionalism. Bannon is clearly of the latter ilk.

Paul Street itemizes several potent reasons why we must resist another fascist incursion into US politics of Trump and Bannon when he writes:

+ the mass pandemicist murder of hundreds of thousands of Americans

the stripping of basic environmental and social protections

+ the theft of migrant children from parents’ arms

+ the deployment of border paramilitaries to crush social justice and anti-racist protests in US cities.

+ the repeated embrace of fascist white power thugs and open endorsement of right-wing political violence

+ the recurrent use of eliminationist and demonizing rhetoric against political enemies and racialized Others

+ a multipronged campaign to subvert and nullify a presidential election

+ the instigation and planning of a mass physical assault on the nation’s capital meant to stop Congressional certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 victory?

Cuz … who fucking cares? Pass the ivermectin and charge the stage, baby, this is Amerika, bitches.

Bannon fits right into Street’s litany of attributes, and we can only shudder at the ideological supports Bannon provided for Trump and his minions at the outset of Trump’s presidency, supports that helped Trump plan a fatal assault on US democracy.

As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I read with a novice’s glee works in the divinatory arts by the Canadian-born occultist, Manly P. Hall, a 33° Mason who famously explored the secret order of philosophers that he claimed had created the destiny of our southern neighbour, the United States, a thousand years before it was founded. Fascinated by occult literature, I poured over the writings of Madame Blavatsky and the theosophists, and the seminal work of Israel Regardi on the Order of the Golden Dawn. Over the years I amassed a large occult library from my summer earnings as a gardener and hospital groundskeeper, never anticipating that the gnostic world of hidden doctrines and pre-modern arcana would play such a significant and damaging role in the politics of what is considered by many to be the world’s greatest democracy (the US is actually one of the weakest Western democracies). While Bannon’s politics seems to bear more in common with a street magician on the Vegas Strip than the gnostic masters he tries to emulate, there is something disturbing about the attraction of fascists towards the occult, towards signs, symbols, and arcana, towards secret rituals and secret bloodlines ruling the world, towards anti-Semitism and racial hierarchies. In describing Bannon’s affinity with occultism, I am not claiming that there exists a hidden cabal of sages somewhere atop the Swiss Alps who run the world via Tarot card readings or advice from the I Ching. However, I remain concerned that influential political pundits with their ideological tentacles deeply entwined in occult beliefs are having a dangerous effect on the functional efficacy and vision of democratic political life.

Inside Bannon’s brainpan, there consists a synthesis of a variety of philosophical ideas, including those spawned in the gnostic imagination of Norman Vincent Peale (the positive-thinking Trump family pastor), Manly P. Hall, Julius Evola (an advisor to Mussolini and admirer of the Nazis), René Guénon, a French-Egyptian metaphysician, writer, and editor (who was influential in laying the metaphysical groundwork for Traditionalism) and the contemporary philosopher, Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin. Bannon’s fringe intellectual bearing, and his admiration from ‘trad Caths’ (traditional Catholics) has managed to distinguish him from the gospel-screeching, fact-compromised, pathological, rage-tweeting, putschist, despotic, pandemic-denying fascists who populate Trump’s wide-ranging base. He has currently drawn intensive media attention for criminal contempt charges after he refused to comply with a congressional subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th riots at the United States Capitol building – charges that will allow him to play a heroic martyr’s role to the hilt. Bannon efficiently hides his vocation as Master of the Dark Arts, adeptly appearing as the prototype of a more erudite and toned-down Alex Jones, an American patriot ready to speak out in defence of fundamentalist religious nationalism. But for those who have explored in more granular detail his philosophical and political imagination you can easily come to believe that he was created inside a faraway volcanic island laboratory run by Dr No.

For all Bannon’s talk about being against Enlightenment rationalism in the turn to modernity (which he sees as spawning today’s ‘woke culture’), he understands that much of Trump’s base have already wilfully excluded themselves from rational discourse and have embraced a retrograde racist and misogynist anti-rationalism that has characterized the US for some time – which enables Bannon to use his sloganeering to such an effect. He excels at re-codifying history and prosecuting alternative readings of belligerent US involvement in the politics of other nations. He has a ready-built audience and the more social structures built upon Enlightenment values that he can lead them to fracture through his phantasmic philippics, the closer he can come to realizing his medievalist dream as he proceeds down a dark polemical path lined with acolytes from America’s rural bloodlines to becoming America’s major political necromancer. He is the Easter Bunny armed with an AR-15 so loved by Don Jr.

Bannon’s anti-modernist worldview fit well with Ukraine’s fascist Azov Battalion and the Svoboda Party, or equally the Russian Imperial Movement, pro-Russian Cossack revival movement, Russian National Unity or the National-Bolshevik Party. Current political crises can be traced to the logic of capital (I mentioned the role of state capitalism in previous articles), its prickly handmaiden called imperialism, and blundering geopolitical statecraft. Svoboda members honour the legacy of Stepan Andriyovych Bandera, a Second World War-era Nazi collaborator who led the pro-fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) – the OUN-B managed to successfully change the name of Peace Street to the name of the Nachtigall Battalion, an OUN-B wing that participated directly in the Holocaust. Ukrainian nationalists revere Bandera as a legendary freedom fighter, after he allegedly participated in a campaign to assassinate Ukrainians who supported accommodation with the Polish during the 1930s. In 2010, Ukranian President Victor Yushchenko posthumously bestowed on Bandera the dubious state honour of ‘Hero of Ukraine.’ Bandera’s forces set out to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944, murdering over 90,000 Poles and many Jews. After the war, Bandera advocated a totalitarian, ethnically pure Europe. Blumenthal notes the connections between the OUN-B and the Republican Party in the USA. Blumenthal chillingly elucidates the details:

Many surviving OUN-B members fled to Western Europe and the United States – occasionally with CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] help – where they quietly forged political alliances with right-wing elements. ‘You have to understand, we are an underground organization. We have spent years quietly penetrating positions of influence,’ one member told journalist Russ Bellant, who documented the group’s resurgence in the United States in his 1988 book, Old Nazis, New Right, and the Republican Party. In Washington, the OUN-B reconstituted under the banner of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), an umbrella organization comprised of ‘complete OUN-B fronts,’ according to Bellant. By the mid-1980’s, the Reagan administration was honeycombed with UCCA members, with the group’s chairman Lev Dobriansky, serving as ambassador to the Bahamas, and his daughter, Paula, sitting on the National Security Council. Reagan personally welcomed Stetsko, the Banderist leader who oversaw the massacre of 7000 Jews in Lviv, into the White House in 1983. ‘Your struggle is our struggle,’ Reagan told the former Nazi collaborator. ‘Your dream is our dream.’ […] Following the demise of Yanukovich this month, the UCCA helped organize rallies in cities across the US in support of the EuroMaidan protests. When several hundred demonstrators marched through downtown Chicago, some waved Ukrainian flags while others proudly flew the red and black banners of the UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army] and OUN-B. ‘USA supports Ukraine!’ they chanted.

The mention of Reagan in the above quotation by Blumenthal is chillingly reminiscent of Reagan’s welcoming of Taliban leaders to the White House and proclaiming them as no different than America’s Founding Fathers, and, earlier, his support for Nicaragua’s Contra leaders as American-style heroes (heroes, yes, if you want to consider Lieutenant William Calley, Jr from Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division, a hero). On the other hand, when you examine the Russian alternative, things look equally as despairing. You have, for instance, the Eurasian Union, championed by Putin and ideologically stabilized by the logic of National Bolshevism; an attraction to the ideas of Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt; and a wide array of ideological forces supporting the division and colonization of Ukraine. Russia’s radical nationalism is replete with a virulent anti-Semitism, a logic of ethnic purification, and a virtual campaign against gays and lesbians, and it is disturbingly ironic that they call the opposition fascists. It is like the pot calling the kettle black. We can admire Ukraine’s citizen activists – teachers, trade unionists, socialists – fighting the oligarch-financed political parties and striving for a multi-ethnic solidarity. These we must support! But the two choices they have, Greeman argues, seem chilling to even contemplate: between the USA and Europe, which seek a strong central Ukraine government made up of Ukraine opposition forces capable of imposing an International Monetary Fund-style austerity program on the citizenry and eternal debt servitude to the German banks, and a neo-Stalinist dictatorship, courtesy of Russia. Greeman writes:

The Ukrainian demonstrators, like Occupy and the Indignados … reject the corrupt, entrenched, oligarch-financed political parties who are trying to patch together a new government in a Parliament (whose doors are carefully guarded by citizen defense forces). They have no more use for the leaders of what the media call the ‘opposition’ then they did for Yanukovich. Their contempt echoes the Argentinian masses whose street protests unseated a series of governments in the early 2000s: ¡Qué se vayan todos! (‘Throw ALL the bums out!’). The Ukrainian activists have in their memory the lived experience of 2004, when their mass occupations precipitated a previous democratic revolution, rapidly hijacked by corrupt politicians and billionaire oligarchs. They are not prepared to be bilked a second time, and they have so far had the good sense to remain armed, organized and vigilant.

According to Greeman, most of the protesters were ‘people of all classes and all ethnicities, including not just native speakers of Russian and Ukrainian, but also Moslems, Jews, and various nationalities of the Caucasus.’ Yet the spectre of fascism remains strong, hanging in the atmosphere like tear gas. Greeman writes:

As Victor Serge observed during the failed German Revolution of 1923, the rise of fascism depends on two factors: 1) despair among the active, youthful, combative elements of society of a liberal or communist solution to capitalism’s problems, and 2) the backing of big capital and the military. To me, the ultimate outcome largely depends [on] popular struggles and solidarity on the international scene. The potential tragedy of the Ukrainian revolution (and indeed mutatis mutandis of all the ‘successful’ popular uprisings since 2011 from Egypt on) is that confined to the national context the political leadership gets taken over or overtaken by a rival section of the local ruling class (military, religious, nationalist), normally backed by a rival imperialism. We have seen this happen twice in Egypt, just has we have seen Syria’s original citizen uprising for human and democratic rights turned into a reactionary military holocaust with the interference of at least five imperialisms, secular and religious, worldwide and regional. The one thing all these conflicting bourgeois interests have in common is the will to defeat and destroy the popular, democratic uprisings, which, if allowed to come to power, would inevitably, being majoritarian, demand more social equality and thus threaten the interests of the rich and power elites. Such a successful revolution would set a very ‘bad’ example for the planet’s billions.

Given this daunting world-historical scenario, what should we make of those risking life and limb for liberation in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Greece and other countries? Greeman proclaims:

Do we not, at the least, owe them a duty of international solidarity? Must we not follow the example of Egyptian Teachers’ Union showing support to the teachers occupying the Wisconsin State House in 2011? Of our worldwide support for the Zapatistas’ unlikely uprising a decade earlier? Did not our own organization, Praxis, present in Kiev and the Crimea since 2004, grow out of such a network in the 90s? Such networks of support and exchange are the seeds from which international solidarity can grow, indeed, that revolutions can spread, as they must if they are to survive. Like Serge, indeed like every socialist from the First International on up, I have always believed that revolutionary movements can only succeed when they become international, and today, with capitalist globalization, that means planetary. Indeed, only a planetary uprising against capitalism can save the planet from industrialized ecocide in the very near future. Our only chance is to rise up together in one long ‘rolling revolution;’ and today we can actually create such solidarity in real-time thanks to the World Wide Web, social media, alternate media and machine translation. Planetary revolution? One chance in a hundred! Maybe, but what if there is no other survival solution for the planet’s inhabitants?

I agree with Greeman’s call for planetary revolution. But the planetary revolution which I would support would likely be found disturbing to Hunter Biden, the son of US Vice President Joe Biden, who was recently put on the Board of Directors of Burisma, the largest private gas producer in Ukraine. Some critics dismissively opine that liberal capitalist regimes such as the USA cannot become truly fascist. I disagree. Look at the legacy Trump has left! And he and Bannon, and others like them, could very realistically come to power in 2024. Economics is now the dominant science of human behaviour and is providing the rationale for merging sections of government, the military–industrial complex and corporations, creating zealots whose main prerogative is to bolster unrestricted and unilateral authority for the USA on the world stage and to command obedience and loyalty to the US imperium. We have arrived benightedly at the twilight of democracy, the end of freedom’s long and slippery road. Yet our leaders instruct our balaclava-clad protesters to decamp from the streets and make their case for economic reform with appeals to politicians and policy works for reason and good faith. However, appealing to the humanity of transnational corporate oligarchs will be about as successful in ending the crisis of inequality faced by the majority of human beings on the planet as trying to put out all the fires in hell with a bucket of lustral water from the aspersorium of the local Catholic church.

When it comes to Ukraine, much is made of the Azov Regiment’s fascist bearings – its symbols and ideologies. And much should be made of it. It is likely the only neo-Nazi formation integrated into the armed forces of any nation in the world. Any neo-Nazi group puts democracy in danger. But let’s keep this in perspective. Ukraine is not a fascist state. Far from it. If there is a fascist state, then it is Russia. We cannot turn a blind eye to the pro-Russian separatists who have been associated with the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are also linked to a number of neo-Naziwhite supremacists and ultra-nationalists groups. We certainly cannot condemn the Azov Regiment without looking at the pro-Russian separatists, such as those who formerly belonged to the National Bolshevik PartyRussian National Unity (RNU), Eurasian Youth Union, and the Cossack units who were considered ‘pro-Tsarist’ and ‘extremist’ Orthodox nationalists. Consider that the Neo-Nazi units such as the ‘Rusich,’ ‘Svarozhich’ and ‘Ratibor’ battalions, use Slavic swastikas on their badges and the ‘Rusich’ who is part of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group, is now fighting the Azov groups in Ukraine – both groups are linked to a far-right extremism. There have been reports that atrocities were committed by the Azov Battalion in southeast Ukraine. At the same time, can we say that these far-right Russian groups are simply fighting a defensive war, especially when they have expressed neo-imperialist sentiments, and have expressly demonstrated a desire to bring back the Russian Empire – Make Russia Great Again! Russia First! God bless Russia!

Ukraine is hardly a fascist state, but the fascist problems are serious and must be viewed as such. The interior minister of Ukraine has supported Azov. There have been reports by Russian propagandists that Azov fighters have apparently coated their bullets in pig fat to be used against Muslim Chechens. The Russians say that Azov has carried out pogroms against the Roma community and attacked members of the LGBTQ community. According to reports, the National Druzhyna of the Azov group attempted to ‘restore’ order in the capital, Kyiv in 2018. Clearly, the Azov group is composed of neo-Nazi and white supremacist volunteers that came together from the Patriot of Ukraine and neo-Nazi Social National Assembly groups. They have been accused of assaulting migrants and waging acts of violence against those opposing their fascist ideology. There also have been reports that these accusations are exaggerations. The Azov Regiment is on the front lines, fighting against pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and they have a dominant fighting presence in the port city of Mariupol, although at the time of this writing the Russian forces are poised to eliminate them in that city. As far back as 2014, the government of Ukraine had recognized the Ukraine military as insufficiently strong enough to fight the Russian army and acknowledged its dependence upon volunteer militia groups. So the presence of Azov has been tolerated, and, in 2014, it received backing from Ukraine’s interior minister – and Ukraine’s oligarchs, of course. And yes, admittedly, this could have dangerous consequences for Ukraine’s continuing struggle to establish a sovereign democracy. Ukraine, it must be said, has been a magnet for the far right across the world. So, it is agreed, Azov is a dangerous organization advocating a hardcore right-wing ultranationalism. Facebook has reversed its original ban on praising the Azov Regiment and in so doing falls into line according to the imperatives of US foreign policy. And the Azov Battalion is fighting tenaciously against Putin’s invading army. It is fighting Putin’s private army of mercenaries, the Wagner Group, reportedly deployed to assassinate Ukrainian leaders. The Wagner Group has been accused of horrendous war crimes in Syria.

To avoid the terminal problem of “whataboutism” when it comes to which countries poses the most dangerous threat to democracy, we must engage the unavoidable question: is the invasion of Ukraine justified by Putin’s claim, ‘The purpose of this operation is to protect people who for eight years now have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.’ I believe that there is no justification for the invasion and it must be denounced as criminal and Russian forces, that includes the Wagner group, must leave Ukraine. The solution to the invasion is a negotiated settlement. Otherwise the US proxy war will realise its aim – Ukrainians will fight the Russians until the last Ukrainian.

There are further questions: Is Putin’s language of ‘denazification’ being used as a pretext for Russia’s criminal invasion? Did it matter that the Russian forces destroyed a monument at Babyn Yar – the site where Nazis killed tens of thousands of Jews during the Second World War? The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, among others, said Putin ‘misrepresented and misappropriated Holocaust history’ and historians have condemned the Russian government’s ‘cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression.’ Putin’s claims of genocide have been disputed as part of an attempt to render Ukraine synonymous with Naziism. Putin certainly doesn’t want to tarnish the history of the Soviet Union with memories of Soviet gulags or what it was like to be exiled into the hinterlands of the Siberian permafrost. And Ukraine certainly doesn’t want to be remembered for its local Ukrainian collaborators who were involved in the mass shooting of Jewish victims in the summer and fall of 1941, known as ‘the Holocaust by bullets.’ German killing squads (Einsatzkommandos) murdered 1.5 million Jews in the areas that are now Ukraine, frequently with the collaboration of Ukrainian militias and local auxiliary police. Nazi collaborators in Ukraine helped murder nearly 34,000 Jews in Kyiv’s Babyn Yar forest. Not all criticism of Ukrainian history can be blamed on Russian propaganda. Public glorification of antisemitic ideologists in Ukraine or Russia or the US or any country cannot be countenanced. Prevailing views among any group that rationalise the Holocaust as justified retaliation for ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ – the revisionist idea that the murdered Jews were rightly killed because they were communists – cannot be tolerated.

Do Russian reports of atrocities committed by the Azov Regiment in the Donbas region prior to the invasion by Russia justify a full-scale invasion? I hardly think so. And are we accounting sufficiently for the fascist elements of Russia’s pro-separatist groups? Is the claim that only 2.5% of Ukrainians voted for far-right parties in the last national elections to be held up to mockery by Putin defenders because of the accusations that Zelensky’s presidency was bankrolled by the oligarch, Kolomoisky? When Ukraine attempts to establish a democratic society (as imperfect as such attempts might be, necessarily filled with contradictions and inconsistencies), it appears as though Russia is all too ready to dismiss all Ukrainians as a bunch of Banderites. Or should we be placing more emphasis on NATO as a growing existential threat to Russia’s existence? Not only do we need to have these debates; they are unavoidable.

The Soviet Union’s ‘great patriotic war’ was undeniably instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany and ending World War Two. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union was a powerful actor in the defeat of Germany’s fascists. It is understandable that Putin would harken back to such days of sacrifice and glory. During WWII, Ukraine suffered greatly, as did other regions of the USSR. And while Ukrainian nationalists – many of them – welcomed the Nazis as liberators during that war, that is far from claiming that Ukraine is now a fascist state, that Zelensky is merely a puppet of the Azov Regiment. Yes, it is dangerous to integrate a Nazi regiment into your armed forces. It does not bode well for democracy. Just as it does not bode well for the US military to find so many of its soldiers harbouring neo-Nazi sentiments. The US has a history of not only recruiting neo-Nazis, but retaining them as well. Is it any surprise that Putin recently signed a ban on comparisons between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (remember the Hitler/Stalin pact, and the invasion of Poland?) And has the Soviet Union strategically ignored the famine in Ukraine, from 1932-33, known as the Holodomor, or Terror-Famine? Was the Soviet Union responsible for the starvation of 3 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, engineered by Stalin? Did the famine have something to do with the Five-Year Plan, the attacks on the kulaks, the resistance to collectivization of Ukraine’s peasantry, the result of measures taken by Stalin to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry and the Ukrainian intellectual and cultural elites, effectively preventing them from creating a national counterrevolution in Ukraine? Or can we write this interpretation off as anti-Soviet propaganda?

Is Putin attempting to recover some the lost territories, some satellite states, of the former Soviet Union? And does Russia’s oligarch class really care? And do the Russian people really care about reclaiming the lost glory of the USSR? Or should we see the invasion of Ukraine as a purely a defensive war? Can we have it both ways? Such issues have divided the left. In the US, scepticism by far-right groups, including Christian evangelicals, surrounding Ukraine’s claims of Russian war crimes, provide us with a chilling reminder of how some factions of the left are in agreement with the most egregious elements of the US far-right. How long did it take for the Soviet Union to come clean on who was responsible for the Katyn massacre (a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war carried out by the Soviet NKVD in April and May 1940)? Fifty years?

It is worth considering that media outlets in Russia are forbidden to refer to the current ‘incursion’ in Ukraine as a war – and citizens are risking many years of imprisonment by protesting in the streets. Do we sense a whiff of neo-fascist repression here? Yes, the US is fighting a proxy war, and must be held accountable for NATO’s advance to the borders of Russia, and the Atlanticism project it has devised must be condemned. But the actions of the Azov Battalion do not justify the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, even as we acknowledge complicity of the US in fostering the conditions that helped to set the war in motion. And whether Russia needs to be viewed as an imperialist power or a country in the throes of fighting a patriotic defensive war is a debate that will continue throughout the years – and it will most certainly centre on what Putin feels should be Russia’s legitimate ‘sphere of influence’ and his policy towards irredentism. And it will also depend upon whether the United States is willing to repurpose its idea of the Pax Americana by jettisoning its unipolar philosophy of full spectrum dominance. But this raises the question: How many countries between the Black and the Baltic Seas who wish to join the West are to be held hostage by Putin, under threat of nuclear war? So yes there are very likely war crimes being perpetrated on both sides of the conflict. These crimes must be condemned and most certainly will be investigated. But at this moment the emphasis must be upon diplomatic solution to the crisis – peace through diplomacy. We should, in my view, stand in solidarity with Ukrainian anti-fascist groups and citizens who are resisting a criminal attack by Russian forces.

It has been reported that the US ‘probably has a higher percentage of white supremacist and Nazi groups … and that … Ukraine has a smaller contingency of right-wing groups than other Western countries.’ Whether this is true or not, it is certainly the case that neo-Nazis, white supremacists and ethno-nationalists in the US are watching the war in Ukraine closely, cheering Putin for the most part, largely because of Trump’s cosy relationship with Putin and because so many Fox News apologists are Trump sycophants (Tucker Carlson being among the most infamous) and maintain a loyal viewership in the US. They watch Bannon’s podcast, too. Siding with Bannon means for them an alignment with the type of unhinged power displayed by the Republican Party. Bannon is extremely dangerous to the world because, as we know, in 2015, he and the London satellite of his propaganda arm, Breitbart News, helped get Brexit – the campaign to separate Great Britain from the European Union – passed. As Jennifer Cohn records, Brexit leader Nigel Farage expressed his gratitude to Bannon and Breitbart for the victory: ‘Well done, Bannon, well done, Breitbart,’ he divulged in a since deleted video. Cambridge Analytica – Bannon’s other company – declared bankruptcy after it became publicly known that it had illegally harvested the personal data of 78 million Facebook users without their consent. Shortly after the infamous tiki torch protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’ and one counter-protester was killed, Bannon advised Trump ‘not to criticize far right activists too severely.’ It was shortly after leaving the Trump administration that he formed his group, The Movement. Based in Brussels, The Movement is designed to organize far right European leaders to create schisms within the European Union, with the eventual purpose of disbanding it altogether.

For Bannon, globalization and internationalism represent the twin engines of modernity’s homogenizing force led by the merchant class. Bannon loathes globalization and internationalism and prefers what he regards as the spiritual essence of rural populations. Bannon wishes to splinter the world into fragments, and turn those fragments into heavily bordered nation states that are ruled by a theonomic, theocratic, neo-Puritan hierarchy. Benjamin Teitelbaum describes traditionalism’s rejection of modernity as follows:

traditionalism rejects modernity and its ideals: faith in the ability of human ingenuity to advance living standards and justice; an emphasis on the management of the economy; the coveting of individual liberty; the existence of universal truths equally valid for, and thereby equalising of, all. Repudiating the Enlightenment, traditionalists instead celebrate what they regard as timeless values. They honour precedence rather than progress, emphasize the spiritual over the material, and advocate surrender to the fundamental disparities – as opposed to equality – between humans and human destinies.

Traditionalism is caste-like, with Priests, Warriors, Merchants and Slaves accepting their roles and duties in a world guided by mystical forces. Traditionalists believe that in bad times, the Slaves and Merchants mess things up with their penchant for materialism, and the priestly elite who are the ‘culture makers’ of society, who ‘shape the masses according to their own ideals’ lose their power and influence, and the entire world becomes inverted and enters a cycle of darkness and foreboding where goodness and virtue are reduced to empty simulations. Teitelbaum argues:

Traditionalists believe that, when times are bad and humanity is leveled to a lowly mass, we will also start to mistake things for their opposite: what we think is good is actually bad, someone officially devoted to spiritual matters is a slave to materialism, professors spread ignorance rather than knowledge, journalists misinform, artists create ugliness, etc. It is a society of false simulations. Traditionalists claim that we are living in the late stage of the time cycle right now – toward the end of a Dark Age defined by homogenizing materialism and only simulations of virtue, and that only more darkness is going to advance us past the cycle’s zero-point to the rebirth of a Golden Age.

This Traditionalists’ ‘latent apocalyptica’ not only suggests that Bannon could be welcoming the chaos around him but seeking to become a prime instigator of a global reckoning with the forces of destruction. Whether he imagines the new Golden Age that will emerge out of the chaos he is helping to create as a pure Aryan theocracy or something more along the lines of his conservative Catholicism is a question that perhaps Bannon himself cannot answer. This is because Traditionalists in the main are sceptical of Christianity, believing it to be, as Teitelbaum puts it,

[an] antithesis of the values they champion: not hierarchy but a leveling and homogenizing universalism communicated in the dogma that Christ’s message is the ultimate and final truth for all people, its teleology and implicit vision of progress bent on transcending a past of sin into a future of salvation, and its embryonic disinclination toward theocracy and endorsement of a secular state contained in edicts to ‘render unto Caesar.’

Teitelbaum, who spent numerous hours interviewing Bannon, views Bannon’s Traditionalism as ‘more like standard romantic nationalism’ where the less educated, insulated and rural populations are ‘viewed as a vessel for timeless values and identity.’ Whatever the case, it is clear that Bannon loves the role of the Dark Gnostic Overlord. Perhaps he sees himself as Loki, the Norse God of Chaos, the bringer of discord. In our digital universe, madmen like Bannon can acquire a destructive power that should even frighten Loki himself.

Bannon wants the West to be identified with Judeo-Christian culture, and in so doing he fails to understand that the so-called West is facing its own crisis of legitimacy as a union of Christian nations. It also sidesteps the larger question:Where do the teachings of Christianity stand given all of Bannon’s talk about nationalism? After all, didn’t Saint Paul tell the Galatians, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’? The crisis in Europe is one of faith and reason, and not identity. In fact, identifying with being ‘Western’ appears to be a convenient expedient for scapegoating those who are not from the West. McCormick writes: ‘Mr. Bannon and others like to see the West as a mere identity because it allows them to focus on who is not Western. But if Christian and Western merely mean ‘not Muslim,’ then Mr Bannon and his supporters have not found the true meaning of the West, much less of the Gospel.’ It’s the universality of Christianity that many have found appealing to their faith, so why would Bannon’s anti-globalist position find any sympathy among Christians? Christ, after all, is supposed to transcend any time and place. It would seem that those who are Christian and attracted to Bannon’s ideas place their cultural identity before their religious faith. According to McCormick, ‘linking Christianity to a specific culture’ is doomed to failure. Bannon is, in effect, ‘tying the fortunes of Christianity to a culture that has largely already rejected it. He is also setting it against other cultures, presenting Christianity to much of the world as an enemy.’ Unsurprisingly, Bannon’s view of the world brushes against that of Pope Francis, who supports an image of the polyhedron with many sides to represent our multicultural planet, illuminating the idea of integration and unity while respecting particularity. Contra Bannon, McCormick notes, ‘[t]his is the genius of Catholicism: holding in tension the universal and particular. It is also an image of the common good we desperately need in our time.’

Bannon and Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, both appear have a certain elective affinity as the wardens of a mythic, romanticized past. Bolsonaro, also known as ‘Trump of the Tropics,’ is no stranger to educators as a man obsessed with taking a ‘flamethrower’ to the legacy of Paulo Freire, incinerating his presence in the cultural memory of Brazil (McLaren, 2021) and who appears to be drawn to a fascist-fuelled occultism, given his affiliation, according to Nick Burns, with Olavo de Carvalho, ‘a former astrologer who had become a cult figure among Bolsonaro’s most devoted supporters, and had personally selected two ministers in Bolsonaro’s cabinet.’ Carvalho ‘had been affiliated with a pseudo-Sufi sex cult in Indiana, and had conducted ‘interviews’ with dead people and aliens for a French occultist magazine.’ Both Bolsonaro’s son and Carvalho attended Trump Towers for the screening of a documentary about the life of Carvalho, The Garden of Afflictions, on the evening of March 16, 2019, one day prior to Jair Bolsonaro’s first state visit to the US Not surprisingly, Bannon helped to co-ordinate the event. Bannon, who rejects the cold, sclerotic psychology of rational materialism, wishes to create strong and conservative Christian religious and cultural identities throughout Europe linked to the formation of a strong nation-state. He appears to loathe identities that are mostly stabilized by race, gender or ethnicity, preferring identities linked to a hierarchical, religious state, preferably Catholic.

Like today’s European fascists, Bannon was influenced by a 2012 book by Renaud Camus called The Great Replacement, which argued that native Europeans would soon be overtaken by waves of immigrants – a book whose ideas formed the basis of the ‘identitarian’ doctrine, which according to its American followers claimed that globalization erodes the distinct national identity of a country by creating a heterogeneous maze way to allow for a mixture of identities climbing all over each other to stew in a melting pot, eventually losing their distinct features, as in the case of America. Hence, what is needed to return to a world of communal belonging or Volksgemeinschaft is, for Bannon, a sacralization of nationhood through the separation of races, which for fascists constitutes a true pluralism, an ‘ethnopluralism’ (which may account for why Italian fascists are so enamoured by the mythological treasury in Tolkien’s legendarium with its distinct racial groups of elves, dwarfs, humans, wizards, orcs and hobbits, reinstatement of bloodlines, ancestor worship, innocence of agrarian life, emphasis on cosmology, mythological style of Middle-earth, nationhood, challenge to modernity, idealization of the past, etc.). Bannon’s medievalism is inflected with racist, xenophobic, misogynist and traditionalist tropes that appeal to the likes of Christian evangelical communities and religious cults. In the age of QAnon, conspiracy fantasists, and the Cult of Trump, have no small influence in election outcomes. Mussolini famously remarked that ‘fascism is the church of all the heresies,’ and this certainly could apply to today’s Trump supporters. Bannon wishes to replace the degenerative consequences of modernity with a new ‘nomos,’ a horizon of mythic grandeur, where a great regeneration of human values can be realized. And what a regeneration this would be. Just listen to the rants of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a frequent guest on Bannon’s War Room podcast, a lawmaker who appears right out of central casting for what we might imagine a Cohen Brothers movie about Calamity Jane to be like. Or a rip-off from the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression Era, railing about Nancy Pelosi’s ‘gazpacho police’ (chilled tomato soup police?) patrolling the Capitol building in Washington DC and spying on members of Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene is now the face of the Republican Party, leaving Donald Trump in her wake. Trump is now appearing too moderate for the Republicans. Bannon is trying hard to catch up.

Listen to his own comments on his War Room podcast. For instance, a puffy, bloviating Bannon blamed an attack on parade-goers in Waukesha, Wisconsin, that left five people dead and dozens more injured, on George Soros, since the alleged assailant Darrell Brooks, Jr. had a lengthy criminal record and should have been incarcerated for a crime he committed a few days prior to the fateful parade – it was all the fault of Soros because Soros supports criminal justice reform. Bannon barked at his listeners during his podcast: ‘This is Soros at work!’ he said. ‘If you’d like that to continue, if you like this crime, if you like this anarchy, in this case keep voting for it! Defund the police!’ While Bannon is right to question why the assailant was not held in custody as a result of a crime committed only days before he mowed down dozens of parade-goers, to connect the crime to George Soros and the Defund the Police movement is a shrewd ploy to further divide the country by connecting heinous crimes to ‘woke’ culture, to liberal enlightenment thought. Bannon had his Twitter account suspended after calling for the beheading of political opponents – namely, calling for violence against Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and FBI Director Christopher Wray. During a livestream of his podcast, War Room: Pandemic, Bannon warned: ‘I’d put the heads on pikes. Right. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House. As a warning to federal bureaucrats: Either get with the program or you’re gone.’ In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Bannon remarked that ‘Darkness is good.’ He further remarked: ‘Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.’ These crafty comments from a man who had been appointed chief strategist for the Trump administration. A man who supports Governor DeSantis’ culture war crusade against Critical Race Theory, who supports DeSantis’ banning of books, who supports DeSantis’ civic literacy efforts aimed at teaching students the dangers posed by socialism and communism. Yes, this is Steve Bannon. Supporting a monster makes you a monster. Tell that to Tucker Carlson, whose ‘Tucker Carlson Originals’ episodes gave us ‘Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization’ and ‘Patriot Purge,’ a documentary about the January 6 riots that is filled to the brim with unadulterated lies and fabrications.

Bannon’s scorched earth politics reveal more than a patina of malevolence; his sartorial style is grandiloquent in its tackiness, his swollen visage a typecast feature for a Netflix cartel boss. But it would be wrong to dismiss him solely as a cookie-cutter villain or evil genius. His personality summons our natural susceptibility for intrigue. Bannon is, first and foremost, an eccentric politico whose philosophical fabric is deeply imbricated in the writings of various masters of the occult. When he isn’t busy trolling otherworldly spirits, one can imagine him in a cotton Waffle bathrobe and rubber flipflops, shuffling about unshaven in his penthouse apartment, soaking up books on Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, tantric sex magic and Wicca. Is Bannon merely a misunderstood contrarian who stumbled his way into the White House or a calculating Engineer of Chaos? Is he guileful and unscrupulous, manipulative and calculating – the prototype of the Machiavellian personality – or merely a political bumpkin? In answering these questions, we find Quinta Jurecic’s comments to be apposite. As one instance, take Bannon’s admiration for Curtis Yarvin, a.k.a. Menicus Moldbug. Jurecic writes:

Then there is the fact that Yarvin’s writing is, not to put too fine a point on it, terrible. Once you penetrate his bizarre prose, his conclusions are laughable and even boring to anyone with a basic understanding of political theory. Yarvin’s notion of a ‘Dark Enlightenment’ – a systematic rejection of Enlightenment principles of equality and democracy – may sound sinister, especially when expressed so incomprehensibly, but it is not in the least new, though it is inflected with the particular anxieties of 21st century America.

So much for Bannon’s love affair with ‘Dark Enlightenment.’ On the question of Bannon’s political genius and recondite intellect, we are, again, inclined to agree with Jurecic when she writes:

My point is that Bannon is not some sui generis political genius. And his supposed vast and arcane intellect is neither vast, nor is it arcane. It’s the regular stuff of the trolling culture of the modestly-educated, pseudo-intellectual hard right. This brings me to the nonsense that Bannon is some kind of Darth Vader-like figure or the evil master manipulator behind the throne. The alternative and more convincing explanation is that Bannon’s just a clod with delusions of grandeur….

While this assessment of Bannon may be accurate as far as it goes, we need to remember that there have been political figures in history far less charismatic and erudite than Bannon who have managed to take advantage of the zeitgeist of the times in order to wreak political havoc on an unsuspecting world. Bannon refers to his international agenda of organizing populist parties as The Movement. According to Alexander Ross, Bannon’s ally, the UK’s Nigel Farage, who refers to Bannon as the ‘greatest political thinker and activist in the Western world today,’ has been the recipient of dark money funding that benefited Farage’s Brexit Party. (I had a heated exchange with Farage at Chapman University when I described Farage’s politics as fascist, to the chagrin, I might say, of some of the Deans.) Clearly, Bannon’s assistance to far-right groups, including those with ties to neo-Nazis, are at the very least proto-fascist, not unlike the politics of the eccentric and roguish Italian writer, political leader and provocateur, Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose politics influenced Benito Mussolini and Italian Fascism, and has positioned Bannon as ‘part of an ecosystem of far-right inciters and grifters who see themselves both as running the world and fighting a courageous uphill battle to take power.’

Have we arrived at the ‘end times’ known by Hindus as Kalu Yuga? Is Bannon an Aryan Svengali, a Rasputin figure of the ‘America First’ nationalist cause whose apocalyptic ideas will unite with the Great American Spirit of agrarian and industrial workers to crush the pawns of the transnational financial elite and usher in the new dawn for rural and inner-city America? Teitelbaum notes that Bannon does not accept every position taken by Traditionalism – including those considered to be the most racist and misogynistic – and in fact does not seem aware of some of its tenets. As Brian Doherty argues, he is seemingly more congruent with the label ‘populist anti-cosmopolitanist’ than Traditionalist. As far as Traditionalism goes, ‘Bannon doesn’t seem to have either a scholar’s or a fanatic’s grasp of these ideas.’ Most liberals would agree with one feature of Traditionalism – that ‘it’s not America’s right or responsibility to invade and manage the world to universalize Western liberal ways.’ Although this view would hardly deter the US military which works at the behest of the military-industrial complex.

Before we come to believe that Bannon is on the leash of a demon, Guilford and Sonnad have a credible explanation for these remarks, given that Bannon is a professed Christian – in fact, a conservative Catholic who frequently touts the importance of Judeo-Christian values:

The constant repetition of the phrase ‘Judeo-Christian values’ should convince us that Bannon does not worship Satan. ‘Darkness is good’ appears to suggest that the perception of being dark is good. The quote continues, ‘It only helps us when [liberals and the media] get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.’ Thus, if the perception of him as a Darth Vader-like figure makes it easier for him to create his enlightened capitalist utopia, so be it.

Bannon has also described himself as a Leninist because ‘Lenin … wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’ Bannon forgets that before the state is either destroyed or withers, political democracy must be solidly in place (at least according to Marx). And it’s worth noting that these comments come from a master propagandist whom Andrew Breitbart, founder of Breitbart News, once dubbed the ‘Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party.’ So, his shout out to Lenin should be considered with this in mind.

What helps to fuel Bannon’s rage is the Baby Boomer generation that he believes has undermined the capitalist system and in so doing destroyed the system of values that led their parents out of the hardship of the Great Depression and World War II. He decries the left’s socialist values that encourage dependency on the government, sounding very much like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Guilford and Sonnad cite Edmund Burke, an influential 18th-century Irish political thinker, as a philosopher that has influenced Bannon in his declamations against the ‘liberal, secular, global-minded elite’ – those progressive leftists whom Bannon believes have egregiously shirked their Judeo-Christian heritage that built the US and cast aside their ‘Burkean responsibility by abandoning the tried-and-true values of their parents (nationalism, modesty, patriarchy, religion) in favour of new abstractions (pluralism, sexuality, egalitarianism, secularism)’ and in this account Bannon sounds very much like Tea Party Republicans. He sees immigrant labour as profiting the globalist elite, both in terms of profits and votes. We are in the ‘Fourth Turning’ (prophesized by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book of the same title) according to Bannon, that followed the American Revolution, Civil War, and the Great Depression/World War II, and now are facing the prospect of a major conflict with Islam.

Bannon is wildly popular among avid followers of the Great Replacement and Great Reset conspiracy fantasies. The recent German-Czech drama, Je Suis Karl, directed by Christian Schwochow and written by Thomas Wendrich, is a cautionary tale that captures some of today’s political challenges presented by growing numbers of young fascists who embody the new clean-cut, remodelled and repackaged neo-Nazi groups such as Generation Identity, a pan-European group estimated to have thousands of activists and a growing online following. Consider the following scene:

Inside a university auditorium in Prague, a young man in a crisp black shirt and white trainers is railing against the pro-immigration politicians he holds responsible for a recent Islamist terror attack in Berlin. To build a safer Europe, he yells, ‘we have to get rid of those responsible for these murderous policies.’

A woman in the crowd voices her support with a shout of ‘Sieg heil!,’ but he is quick to shut her down: ‘That was yesterday.’ Like-minded movements of the future will succeed by remaining outwardly respectable: ‘We can protect the foundations of Europe by occupying them,’ he proclaims, his blue eyes sparkling, ‘by becoming economists, teachers, judges.’

How many people will join the call? I ask this at a time when the far right is mobilizing, armed and ready. When more Americans, and young people worldwide, are vulnerable to the call of hate. If you notice your friends have started wearing ‘fashist’ style ‘high-and-tight’ haircuts – long on top and shaved on the sides – sometimes called the Edwardian, or the Breitbart, or Grace Jones, Prussian Army or Park Slope, they may not be imitating Brad Pitt or David Beckham. It might be the man with the tiny black moustache. Nazi-era plaits, braided hair pinned up in a bun, might reflect something much more dark and sinister than what to wear at the senior prom. Which is why we must stand with those in Ukraine and Russia who condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and who are working in the midst of such carnage and despair towards building paths to peace and a just society.

Note: The column incorporates material from a previous article: McLaren, P. (2014). Education agonistes: An epistle to the transnational capitalist class. Policy Futures in Education12(4), 583-610.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2022). Steve Bannon, Fascism and Making Sense of the Invasion of Ukraine: How the Left Divides Itself. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.