October 13, 2021 marked the one year anniversary of the release of Recognize Fascism: A Science Fiction and Fantasy Anthology, which was edited by Crystal M. Huff, and published by World Weaver Press. Anniversaries are always a good time for reflection, and this is a book that deserves attention and to be kept in the spotlight. The book is full of compelling and enjoyable stories that blur the lines of fiction and nonfiction by acting as a kind of instruction manual. As Cory Doctorow so aptly put it, “Recognize Fascism isn’t just a collection of fiction: it’s training data for knowing when it’s time to take to the streets.”
One of the important things about Recognize Fascism is just what the title suggests. It teaches readers how to recognize fascism when they encounter it. Defining fascism has often been problematic. On the one hand, it’s been used as a pejorative catchall for political ideas we feel are generally dictatorial. But at the same, it has also been defined in terms that are much too narrow by those who seek to downplay the existence and influence of fascist ideology in society today. They seek to define fascism away by containing it within the strict historical box and context of a totalitarian government holding the reigns of political and economic power.
In Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, author Shane Burley reminds us that fascism isn’t just a type of dictatorial government. It’s also an ideology and a populist social movement. What kind of ideology lies behind this social movement and the governments that have come to power in its name? In its most basic form, it’s an ideology of essentialized bigotry.
Burley defines fascism as both the belief in and a movement to build a society based on essentialist hierarchy. What that means is at its core, fascism is the belief that a particular group of people are innately, naturally superior. By default then, other groups are naturally and innately inferior, which makes it all too easy for people who espouse such beliefs to find an out-group (or groups) to scapegoat during times of political or economic turmoil. Depending on the time and place, this false dichotomy may be perceived as ordained by god, social custom, or even science. Fascists tend to believe that the role of government in society should be to enforce that rigid hierarchy, which is seen as some sort of “natural order” that is sacrosanct and should be defended at all cost.
When Recognize Fascism is read in this light, it becomes clear how each of these stories helps us recognize a particular strain of fascist thought so we can take action to bury it before it moves from thought to action. Within the context provided by Burley, it’s easy to see how the anti-gay antagonists in Nina Niskanen’s “The Scale of Defiance,” for example, are fascists.
The belief that the powers and laws of the state should be used to enforce a social hierarchy in which laws apply differently to cis-straight people than they do to LGBTQIA+ folks is a perfect example of essentialized hierarchy, as as such it’s fascist to the core. This might feel hard to swallow for many because gay rights is still such controversial issue in the U.S. and in so much of the world. We all know and love people who believe this way, who voted against gay marriage or other equal rights issues. What does that say about us and the societies we live in? This is the kind of important question of self-reflection that is elicited by a close reading of this much needed book.
Other stories in the anthology similarly help us identify fascism in places where we normally might not recognize it. Kiya Nicoll’s “The Company Store” helps us see the fascism in upper class attitudes about their relationship to and superiority over working class people. Jennifer Shelby’s “A Disease of Time and Temporal Distortion” uses prejudice against cyborgs as a metaphor for transphobia and racism. Like Niskanen’s story, Shelby’s helps us see how attempts to use systems of power to make people of other races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, ethnicities, etc second class citizens is bold and blatant fascism.
The other aspect of Huff’s book that is so valuable is its emphasis on what has come to be referred to as “Everyday Antifascism.” The idea is that everyone has a role to play in beating back the tide of fascist movements by doing anything and everything we can to “increase the social cost of oppressive behavior to the point where those who promote it see no option but to hide.” We need not rely on governments, their militaries, and their systems of laws and enforcement to keep society safe from fascism. Indeed, in many cases doing so would likely be a mistake. Rather, not only do each of us as individuals and as small groups have the ability to fight back against fascist movements in our local communities, but us doing so is vital to defeating fascism wherever it appears.
Shelby’s protagonist, for example, is a fake psychic and con artist who recognizes fascism when it walks through her front door. She uses time travel to stop the next Hitler. In Nicoll’s tale, regular working class people—who have essentially become indentured servants—shut down a mine, which literally turns the lights off on the upper class’s fascist utopia. Niskanen’s main characters are two lesbians who fight back against a growing populist, anti-gay, fascist social movement in their community by proudly showing romantic affection for each other in public despite the justifiable fear of doing so.
Crystal M. Huff has put together a wonderful and crucial collection of resistance tales and human fables. The stories are fun to read, and use various science fiction and fantasy plot devices to cleverly critique contemporary, real world social problems and teach us how to recognize threats to our communities for what they are. In a moment where rightwing extremism continues to boldly rear its ugly head, books like Recognize Fascism are vital and welcomed additions to our cultural conversation.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is the co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine. They live in rural Oregon with his partner, puppies, cats, goats, and beehives. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.