Time Foreclosure During Fascism: On Liberation, Care, and Accessibility

Estelle Ellison
9 min readMar 10, 2023

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Prepping For Future Struggles

What available avenues for liberation are there during this neoliberal fascist period? The obstacles to liberation are not necessarily dissimilar to the obstacles faced by left movements decades past. In many ways, facing similar threats gives us the opportunity to learn from their history, and ideally avoid making the same mistakes. At the same time, it is critically important that we grasp the reality of the threats we now face. Understanding what prevents us from dismantling historic obstacles to liberation requires us to study how present iterations of reactionary trends operate as much as it requires us to understand the origins of these obstacles.

For example, co-optation is not a new strategy. However; the means by which co-optation occurs, and the speed with which it permeates mass culture are some unique attributes of our present historical period. The co-optation economy paired with the proliferation of fascist dogwhistles makes discernment around language and practices especially important today. Studying these patterns is as vital to gaining the full picture of reactionary violence as understanding the patterns of co-optation from previous periods of struggle.

The tension between revolt and reform is not new. We can frame this tension within our historical context and the events we are witnessing by asking “can reform defeat fascism?” Both history and our present observations tell us very conclusively the answer to this question is no. Fascism is always a feature of capitalism, whether latent or apparent in its expression. But, neoliberalism insists the opposite is true, even as it commands a fascist apparatus to suit its own economic and political goals. Neoliberalism has further normalized eugenics in its insistence that the pandemic has ended. Likewise, it has further normalized a militarized carceral surveillance state with historically unparalleled budgets.

Fascism, neoliberalism, and the present blend of the two tendencies are extremely adept at establishing mass cultural trends that exploit a lack of discernment. Additionally, with the tools available to the state and the managerial class alike, neoliberal fascism possesses a chilling ability to target those who are discerning enough to resist its influence. Through incarceration, blacklisting, strikebreaking, evictions, and other state-sanctioned actions that make survival under capitalism more difficult, we see concrete manifestations of reactionary violence against those who demonstrate an ability to discern power. Outside of the state, we are seeing how thoroughly and effectively today’s normalcy incites the vast majority of people to become active participants in acts of genocide that range from discrete to overt.

All the while, most people who concede that there is evidence of these trends of violence insist that our only available option is reform. We all feel ourselves being funneled into the next election cycle. We continue to see anti-survivorship touted as the way forward for our liberatory movements. Respectability politics condemn the avenues of spontaneous and organized self-defense that drive liberatory struggle. The reforms we are now seeing withdrawn were implemented to quell periods of struggle that posed a threat to the institutions that produce capitalism, fascism, and eugenics.

We are being told that our lives depend on the limited reforms the state chooses to implement only to ensure that the forces of capitalism and fascism will go uncontested further and further into the future. In the interest of developing a revolutionary discernment about power dynamics, we might describe this fascist pattern of criminalizing spontaneous liberatory acts of self-defense while framing reform as our only chance of survival as Time Foreclosure.

To foreclose time is to take time away. In this sense, taking time away is a restriction of agency. It is a means of limiting the number of conceivable actions available to us in response to oppressive power that is exerted upon us. By design, capitalism already does this–it enforces an order of time and it monetizes the intervals of time we give to the ruling class. We are made to be so dependent on monetized intervals of time, we face a never-ending uphill battle exerting our agency over how our lives look when we do not have a manager’s gaze upon us. Now, Time Foreclosure during fascism is an overarching societal strategy that produces both unintentional and intentional submission to oppressive power on multiple fronts. I offer this umbrella concept as a way of calling attention to the unique threats to a liberatory future that we are facing inside and outside of our respective radical circles.

Removing Roadblocks To Liberatory Networks

So what are the societal strategies that produce time foreclosure? While more or less all societal norms that reinforce systems of oppression fall under this umbrella term, those that are most often excused or confused for something liberatory are the ones we’ll be focusing on here. This includes normalized absences of practices that effectively combat reactionary forces. The absence of these practices restricts our ability to confront and end oppression itself.

As an example, inaccessibility in organizing events is an ableist norm that limits the efficacy and scope of an aspiring liberatory movement. Normalized inaccessibility in organizing work is one of many ways the values of capitalist productivity entrench themselves within networks that would otherwise develop values and practices that threaten the cultural ground ableism occupies. This dynamic is most apparent within formal hierarchical organizations as they tend to adopt a pace of work that is most easily met by non-disabled people, those with greater financial stability, or a continuous recruit-to-burnout cycle. In this way, we lose access to time where we can organize ourselves without resorting to ableist group structures.

Ableism can also be found in the ways that there exists little to no collaboration between marginalized people who have the capacity to engage in higher-risk direct confrontations and marginalized people with less capacity to participate in those same confrontations. This is not to condemn either group’s contributions or rank them above the other. Rather, the intention is to point out the missed opportunities for synergy and lasting inroads between the groups.

This lack of collaboration and communication makes us less effective at combatting ableism in part because it makes us more collectively susceptible to multiple threats from fascism. After higher-risk actions, we often see that they require support from care networks that largely consist of people who could not engage in those actions. This division of labor and the lack of inroads between these groups leads to burnout all around.

Similarly, we often find that it is other disabled people who come to the support of other disabled people. We see people who can only engage in lower-risk work making up a majority of people who do care work or are approached for help during interpersonal conflicts. While different from spontaneous higher-risk actions, longer-term support networks also experience burnout, and conflict interventions sometimes reach a standstill without access to people who are able to engage in riskier acts of self-defense.

Collaboration and skill-sharing between marginalized groups of people, disabled or not, who have capacity for higher-risk actions or can only participate in lower-risk actions, would greatly benefit our liberatory aspirations. Overcoming this instance of ableism also necessitates an understanding of divisions of labor that are designed to keep marginalized people stratified and unable to disrupt systemic oppression as it manifests in everyday life. Consequently, we are prevented from accessing time (i.e. opportunities) where we are synchronized and able to effectively confront oppressive power for as long as is needed.

Another example of time foreclosure can be found in the way that mass abuse apologism has widely spread throughout leftist movement spaces. Just as we’ve discussed how ableism and class privilege are easily rewarded in hierarchical group structures, it should come as no surprise that abusers also tend to find themselves with significant power in those structures as well as groups that lack discernment about abuse dynamics.

I’ve discussed at length about how this typically manifests as anti-survivorship which incorrectly frames abuse dynamics as something that is not relevant to liberatory struggles. However, we can contextualize apologist stance as a time foreclosure strategy. Anti-Survivorship claims that our movements would progress if we simply turned away from them and stopped putting our capacity and resources towards creating safety from abuse. The stance supposedly justifies staying the course, where groups clearly lack the tools to appropriately handle these issues, condemning those who would work to create times where abuse is not excused and survivors are supported. It frames mass abuse apologism as our only chance at freeing us.

The Importance of Self Defense

A much larger-scale example of time foreclosure is of course electoral politics. Participation in electoralism necessarily means participating in the systems that criminalize individual and community self-defense. It requires a prioritization of white supremacist notions of respectability that uniformly condemn actions that fall outside of what politicians deem respectable. Reformism insists that only the election cycle is worthy of the resources and capacity it consumes as it frames itself as our only chance at surviving fascism.

Neoliberalism leads people to view counter-insurgence as a necessary price of entry into electoralism which provides only a chance of reforms. It defines the inability to engage in autonomous acts of self-defense from oppressive violence as actual safety and freedom from oppression. In the same way fascism teaches people to expect social rewards for being ableist, for being anti-Black, for hating trans and queer people, it also teaches people to expect social rewards for limiting their values and political practices to those permitted within electoralism.

To support people combatting oppression on their own terms and according to their own needs is to lose face within a white supremacist society. Neoliberal fascism only rewards obedience to the state and its institutions. It promises retaliation for everyone it finds pushing back against its systems.

Returning to how we can view capitalism as itself a kind of time foreclosure, perhaps the biggest scale example of how our agency is restricted is evidenced by prescribed behavioral roles that make the work week possible. Gender roles and anti-Blackness readily spring to mind, but the examples we have covered up until this point are also created by oppressive power dynamics. Ableism, electoralism, anti-survivorship, and hierarchy all function like scripts of behavior that determine who does what and this process is entirely compatible with how capitalism conducts its business. These are ways that we are dispossessed of our own agency over the way that we do things. We are not permitted to experience times when these dynamics do not determine how things unfold before us.

Hopefully clinging to the forms of power that appear readily available within the constraints of the law is emblematic of time foreclosure during fascism. It is a pattern of inaction that asks the state to act on our liberatory aspirations for us. Time foreclosure reassures people that it is okay to do as we have always done, that this is noble, good, and even “revolutionary.” But the state does act for us. It oversees our oppression.

The fatal flaw with the mentality these oppressive strategies produce is the fact that the fascist apparatus continues to grow in size, scope, and violence. Lacking the means of individual and collective self-defense in the midst of this historical period is quite literally a worst-case scenario. But there is a fleeting conditional security that comes with belonging to groups of people who are not immediately being targeted by fascism.

Fascism can’t bury itself but it will try to bury as many of us as we allow. Rather than dig its own grave, it rigs everyday life such that we nowhere else to go, and this is the underlying goal of time foreclosure. If we wish to liberate ourselves, we must be invested in expanding the opportunities to push back, growing our capacity for self-defense, and sharpening our revolutionary discernment. By creating and expanding the times where oppression can be confronted, we increase the probability of a future defeat of fascism.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)