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From Slime Mould to Rhizome

[1]2,975 words

Roger Griffin [2], a well known researcher on fascism, published a fascinating article, “From slime mould to rhizome: an introduction to the groupuscular right,” in Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 37, no. 1, 2003. Since Griffin is, essentially, talking about us, it would be useful to take a look at what he has to say.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Griffin (Roger, not Robert!) is, of course, no friend of ours. He is a committed anti-fascist, anti-racist, and a strong proponent of multicultural liberal democracy. His analyses of fascism are from the perspective of someone who wants to “learn about the enemy in order to combat it.”

His writing on the topic is therefore subjective, abundant with snide comments, scare quotes, and liberal triumphalism—e.g., the “utopian schemes” of the right will of course “never be realized.” Of course. And he is quick to point out the “Lilliputian” nature of today’s far right against the massive “Gulliver” of reigning liberal democracy. It is preferable that Griffin and his ilk remain so supremely over-confident that their house of cards will stand forever.

However, Griffin is hypocritical in his assertion that one major threat of the tiny far-right is to promote “hate crime violence,” etc.—when it is clear that the anti-racist liberal democracy Griffin himself so cherishes increasingly finds itself requiring adoption of “fascist” repressive tactics to defend itself against the far-right. These “liberal” tactics include, but are not limited to: Orwellian “hate speech” laws, banning of popular political parties (e.g., Vlaams Blok), and thuggish action against rightist meetings (e.g., American Renaissance conferences), never mind organized pressures from “watchdog” groups. One wonders, Mr. Griffin, why a confident Gulliver needs to worry so much about the puny and powerless Lilliputians, and why the massive Gulliver, itself the major instigator of violence, projects these crimes onto the far-rightists they wish to repress. But, no matter. We can for the moment ignore Griffin’s biases and concentrate on the implications of his research; in other words, how can we leverage analyses done by our opponents to our own advantage? Can we learn from any of this?

Griffin’s essay focuses on the “groupuscular right”—groups, called groupuscules, specifically defined as fully-formed, small, and completely autonomous, with a worldview articulated more for “elite” rather than “mass” consumption. These groupuscules have negligible membership and “minimal if any public support or visibility;” rather than involvement in “politics” (i.e., electoral politics), groupuscular entities instead focus more on metapolitics [3]. The groupuscule thus renounces a mass public following, and concerns itself with political (actually, metapolitical) education. Groupuscules are revolutionary, promoting for the most part “palingenetic” objectives, with the “ultimate goal of overcoming the decadence of the existing liberal democratic system.” Further, to be deemed worthy of analysis by students of “fascism,” such groups must be creating important, possibly novel, ideas, and exerting influence at least among fellow groupuscules. In summary, the groupuscular right is, to quote Griffin, “a constantly growing, mutating, protean counter-culture,” composed of “highly specialized and individualized grouplets.”

Thus defined, Griffin distinguishes the true groupuscular right from other groups not characteristic of his definition. Established parties of the right, including nationalist political parties (such as in Europe), are definitely not included. Centralized units, particularly those aiming at mass appeal and political power, are not groupuscular; they are in fact the opposite. Factions, sub-groups, and other spin-offs of established, formal groups are not included; after all, a prerequisite for groupuscularity is full autonomy, full independence of thought. Thus, GRECE, Pamyat, and the French New Right, all of which aim at mass support and/or are linked to “personalities and projects” of “high public profile,” or are close to being “an integral part of mainstream . . . political and intellectual culture” in a given country, are not groupuscular.

On the other hand, the Christian Identity movement, as well as Blood and Honour skinhead/White Noise subculture groups, are considered by Griffin to be groupuscular, as is Michael Walker’s periodical The Scorpion. Griffin also identifies as groupuscular the “highly specialized variants of fascism” that have filled specific metapolitical/political niches in post-Soviet Russia. Further, Troy Southgate is mentioned by Griffin as a “groupuscular ideologue,” and Griffin seems to place varieties of Third Positionism in the groupuscular category.

Closer to home, (in my opinion) certainly Counter-Currents is a groupuscular structure; other groupuscules, past and present, include Yockey’s European Liberation Front, the blog Majority Rights, and the defunct website Legion Europa. Undoubtedly, the reader can think of many others, but these examples illustrate the concept reasonably well.

Griffin states that much of what people superficially ascribe to “fascism”—particularly the manifestations of historical fascism in the interwar period—were “contingent, epiphenomenal attributes”—not inherent properties of fascism itself. Thus, in the 1920s and 30s, the mass meeting, charismatic leader, spectacle-“aesthetic” style of mass fascism was in play, but these were surface attributes due to historical context.

Today, the groupuscule is the “fascist” model; however, the inner core of palingenetic ultra-nationalism, of rebirth and redemption, and of critique of liberal democracy and ultra-rationalistic conformist “modernity” (as opposed to fascistic revolutionary futurism) remains as the truly defining characteristics of “fascist” essence.

Related to the groupuscular definition is Griffin’s distinction between the “slime mold” and “rhizome” models of “movement” structure. While traditional far-right groups have operated more like a “slime mold”—a group of cells that can come together and function as a single, unitary organism (e.g., Nazis, Italian Fascists), Griffin likens modern groupuscular rightists groups as analogous to a “rhizome”—a “tangled root system” with no defined beginning or end, “constantly producing new shoots as others die off in an unpredictable, asymmetrical pattern of growth and decay.” Thus, the rhizome structure is diffuse and leaderless, with no center, no definitive boundaries or “formal hierarchy.”

Griffin bemoans the relative invulnerability of the rhizome structure, since “the revolutionary right no longer plays into the hands of security and intelligence organizations” and can survive the suppression of particular “nodal points” of activity. The rhizome can continue to exist even with banned groups and shut down websites, and the constant variable expression of multiple points of activity “fuels the vitality and viability of the organism as a whole.”

Griffin also considers an anti-humanistic “uncivil society” to be the social context in which the groupuscular right flourishes, and he also clears up “a deep ambiguity” concerning the term “movement”—which can define loose, generalized, and fractious groups sharing broad, shared objectives, as much as it is defined by a more structured, homogenous, and hierarchic group moving toward a strictly defined set of goals. Obviously, the groupuscular right falls within the former diffuse idea of a “movement,” rather than the structured latter definition.

On a side note, Griffin amusingly talks about how the closed nature of groupuscular discourse spares the rightists the “need to debate” their ideas with others, preserving “the palingenetic mindset of the ultra-nationalist right in all its pristine extremism.” On the same page (!) the clueless Griffin offers a footnote about how one attempt by a groupuscule to organize a meeting was “cancelled due to ‘anti-fascist’ threats.” Very good, Mr. Griffin—how are the rightists supposed to debate others when their attempts at debate are shut down by government repression or by “anti-fascist threats”? Griffin himself seems to be trapped in his own liberal democratic cocoon and doesn’t realize that much of the insularity of today’s far-right is imposed by the Orwellian and repressive “custodians of democracy” that Griffin himself supports.

The groupuscular rhizome format has some advantages, although, in and of itself, it cannot over-turn the established order. These advantages include:

1. “Keeping the dream alive” in the face of the repression noted above. At the current time, the worldview of the groupuscular right, particularly in its most radical forms, is rejected by the world at large; in many societies it is actively repressed by both de jure and de facto mechanisms of control. The small and decentralized nature of the groupuscular right allows these ideas to survive; indeed, Griffin suggests that it would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to completely eliminate memes and memetic development that utilizes the groupuscular rhizome format.

However, Griffin also notes the importance of the Internet to the groupuscular right; hence, the enthusiasm of the “liberal Gulliver” to repress “Lilliputian” freedom of thought online. In any case, a diffuse “organization” with many independent nodes is a much hardier organism in the face of repression than would be a highly centralized group, which can be more easily targeted and disrupted through elimination of prominent leaders.

2. The decentralized aspect of the current far right allows for the development of diverse, interesting, and extremely varied permutations of memes and ideology—manifestations that would not be possible in the context of a highly organized, top-down hierarchical structure imposing a common worldview. While most “movement” memes may be nonsense, some of this variety may prove useful; in all these permutations, some “correct answers” may be hit upon.

This is analogous to the biological process of mutation—most mutations are harmful or neutral, but, in the midst of the plethora of genetic variation is the occasional beneficial mutation, which confers adaptive value in specific challenging environments. Likewise, the Lilliputian far-right, subjected to stress under the repressive establishment Gulliver, undergoes varieties of memetic/ideological mutations, many useless or harmful, but several which may eventually allow the rightist organisms to flourish. Indeed, Griffin mentions a “Darwinian logic of mutation” that allowed for the survival of the far-right in the post-WWII era. While the far-right political parties tried to mainstream themselves, the more radical groups became groupuscular, eschewing mass appeal, and emphasizing intellectual activity aimed at “elites.” Connections with other such groups allow groupuscules to leverage their memes for greater impact.

3. If the age of “masses” is over (at least for now) for the far-right, change may be instituted top-down, through elites. Griffin notes that the Western masses seem to have been “immunized” against far-right nationalism; however, Griffin also notes that the groupuscular right may act as a form of metapolitical “dark matter” pulling (Western) societies in the direction of the right and away from the “equality” liberalism he so loves.

This in and of itself cannot accomplish our objectives. However, with the appropriate “mutation,” the far right may transition into a form that can directly influence elites to institute radical changes in society, and allow for the overthrow of the repressive leftist globalist regime. Thus, the groupuscular right, by its very nature, is positioned to appeal to “elites”—through both informal (mostly, today) and formal (future) ties and associations. The powerless groupuscular rightist groups may, through the process of mutation, spawn a highly effective variant that can “infect” and transform “mainstream” elites to become “us” rather than “them.”

What can we make of all this? Griffin’s work is very important. Interestingly, as a side note, it illustrates how we relatively powerless groupuscules can leverage the interest shown in us by the “custodians of democracy,” by utilizing their research in assisting us in achieving our own objectives. Given their concern with virtually any forms of dissident opinion (true to their “Big Brother” character), they must analyze “fascist” behavior in a sincere manner, and publish their findings in publicly accessible journals, all in an attempt to promote their unattainable utopian goals of “equality” and “social justice.” While we of course need to make our own analyses, and not solely depend on that of our opponents, their work can and should be exploited for our own purposes.

The important point is this: groupuscules make a virtue out of necessity. Apart from the possibilities cited in point 3 above, the current groupuscular rhizome structure is not the answer to overturning the liberal globalist system, Evolian elitist fantasies aside. Let us not be the deluded “utopian dreamers”—forever fated to fail—that Griffin believes us to be. However, for the time being, we must play the cards we are dealt, and a “counter-culture”—as Griffin describe us—in existence, can always, in the future, blossom to something more.

This is similar to one of the cardinal rules of revolutionary, insurgent warfare: as long as the insurgent army exists, and is in the field, that counts as a victory of sorts, and continued existence can, over time, wear down the will and resistance of the enemy. Thus did George Washington help forge a British strategic defeat in the American Revolutionary War, despite many tactical setbacks for the Colonial Army. Stressing survival, and keeping his army intact and in the field, engaging the enemy as often as possible on his own terms, Washington kept the dream alive until circumstances (e.g., French assistance) helped turn the tide.

The same logic applies to the role of rhizomitic groupuscules in keeping our dream alive. Therefore, the minimal objective is to maintain some sort of viable ideological memetic, metapolitical presence in the world. That is consistent with point #1, listed above.

As an integral part of that, we also need to maintain communication between groupuscules, when and where relevant, and also maintain communication and influence, again when and where relevant, to the more public areas of “the movement”—European nationalist parties, the American Third Position here in the USA, etc. With respect to point #2, we need to continue to fill a wide variety of ideological niches, to explore variants of “fascism” though memetic “Darwinian mutation,” in order to produce the ideological and metapolitical variation that can be acted on by the “natural selection” of real world activity and interaction.

Understandably, individual groupuscules may believe that their own worldview is correct, and that of other groupuscules are wrong. Certainly, there will be competition between groupuscules with respect to alternative memes and ideologies, and this is quite right and normal. However, as long as we are relatively powerless, it may be wise to resist any over-centralization. Putting all our eggs in one basket, when we are in no position to effectively defend that basket, would likely lead to Griffin’s totalitarian “custodians of democracy” smashing all our eggs to pieces. As long as circumstances make groupuscularity and the rhizome structure necessary, a significant degree of memetic heterogeneity—“diversity” if you will—can be a strength. As stated above, this does not preclude groupuscules attempting to promote their own views and to outcompete others, but this should be a natural evolution, not a conscious strategy of centralization for the sake of centralization. In our current state, a decentralized rhizome has certain advantages.

To prevent misunderstanding, I need to stress: I am not advocating the groupuscular rhizome format as any “ideal,” nor do I believe that we should accept our current limitations and not attempt to break out into broader mass appeal, if such is at all possible. And while we should not accept centralization for the sake of centralization, nor should we accept or pursue decentralization for the sake of decentralization either. I’ve been reading Faye’s Why We Fight, and I agree that we need to “unite on the basis of clear ideas against the common enemy.” And I also essentially agree with the broad points of this essay [4], but the (American) “movement” can’t even agree on the most elementary decisions required for group definition (e.g., “in/out”), so it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what the “fundamental points” of agreement can be. The author does acknowledge that we are still at the point at which diverse viewpoints are required, to pick out the best memes/ideas/ideologies to go forward. This is consistent with one of the themes of the current essay (i.e., groupuscular memetic mutation leading to the best “adaptive” fit).

A major point is that, at least in America, there is no unity in the “movement,” we are essentially powerless (as Griffin describes us) in the real political world, “clear ideas” have not yet been articulated to the extent to attract a “critical mass” of quality activists, and, therefore, in America at least, the groupuscular rhizome is the default position we find ourselves in, and, as stated, we need to make a virtue out of necessity.

I state this “caveat paragraph” to try and prevent a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of this essay, which is not to promote a cloistered, esoteric, abstract, purely metapolitical form of activism, but, merely, to acknowledge current realities, and to use Griffin’s work in an instrumental fashion to make the best out of our current limited circumstances. We must always have as a major goal to switch from rhizome to slime mold (using Griffin’s language). We’re just not at that point yet.

Finally, therefore, any possibility of influencing society outside of the groupuscular right must be taken advantage of. We are not groupuscular for the sake of being groupuscular; it is a means (survival), not an end. The end, our “utopian” objectives, will ultimately require growth out of groupuscularity, but there is no need for self-imposed isolation even now.

Indeed, the “elite” nature of the groupuscular right positions it to appeal to more traditional elites, and we should use any opportunity to leverage our ideas to increase our power and influence. Griffin notes Aleksandr Dugin in Russia as an example of a groupuscule who has had influence on state policy, and also notes that the marginalized Italian party MSI’s transformation to the more electable Alleanza Nazionale was prepared by “intensive groupuscular activity”—although many of us would consider the mainstreaming of the MSI to have been a form of treason against our ideals.

Nevertheless, Griffin’s concern that “the membrane between the groupuscular right’s uncivil society and orthodox party-politics can at times by highly permeable” can give us hope. We are groupuscular by necessity. Griffin may smugly assume that our “utopian” agenda will never be realized, but there is no reason we must accept this negative evaluation of our long-term prospects. As long as the groupuscular rhizome structure keeps the dream alive, we can hope. And more than hope, we can struggle to make our dream a reality—a reality which would be a nightmare for Griffin and his free speech-denying “custodians of democracy.”

Stranger things have happened.