Something became clear to me in the aftermath of the London riots in 2011, when I saw thousands of people take to the streets with brooms at the instigation of a twitter hashtag (#riotcleanup), and "clean up" the effects of the anger of the rioters, which was already in the process of being dismissed and demonised in the media as opportunistic looting long before the police would find a way to have their killing of Mark Duggan declared "lawful". This realisation was that if you wanted to found a fascist reich in Britain today, you could never do so on the basis of any sort of ideology of racial superiority or militaristic imagery or anything of the like. Fascism is, if nothing else, necessarily majoritarian, and nowadays racism is very niche-appeal (just look at how laughable every EDL march is, where the anti-fascists outnumber the alleged fascists by a ratio of more than two to one). But you could get a huge mass of people to participate in a reactionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cupcakey imagery, and persuaded everyone that the brutality of your ideology was in fact a form of niceness. If a fascist reich was to be established anywhere today, I believe it would necessarily have to exchange iron eagles for fluffy kittens, swap jackboots for Converse, and the epic drama of Wagnerian horns for mumbled ditties on ukuleles.
Fascism is, properly understood, a certain sort of response to a crisis. It is the reactionary response, as opposed to the radical one. The radical response is to embrace the new possibilities thrown up by the crisis; the reactionary one is to shut these possibilities down. In bourgeois society, thus, fascism will always mean the assertion of middle-class values in the face of a crisis. Because this assertion must mean shutting certain other emerging sets of possibilities down, it will always involve a sort of violence, although this violence can of course be merely passive-aggressive.
The 2011 riots were a sort of response to the present global financial crisis, and one more radical than reactionary. They were directionless, yes, but they were the product of a summer of simmering tension produced by the austerity measures the government had imposed as its own reactionary response to the financial crisis, which threatened and still threatens to eliminate the futures of every young person in Britain, especially those from poorer backgrounds – the majority of the rioters. Against the possibilities thrown up by the riots (if nothing else, the possibility of expressing real anger), the participants in #riotcleanup passive-aggressively asserted the very same middle-class values that informed the imposition of austerity.
There is no better expression of all this than in the phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On", which of course adorns everything cupcakey ("Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake" is almost as prevalent a poster as the original). The association is a profound one on many levels. The "Keep Calm" poster was originally designed as a propaganda poster during the second world war. It plays on similar appeals to vintage nostalgia that the notion of "having a cupcake" does. It appeals to an idealised past that was never experienced by the longer-afterer. It is also a past that never could have been experienced, since the "Keep Calm" poster was never actually used. It was rediscovered in 2000 and was quickly found to have a vast appeal based largely on how much the slogan cohered with an idealised image of the 1940s. In fact, the poster had never been used because it was