Our world is awful, yes, but it isn’t fascism — yet

The term “fascism” gets tossed around much too casually. I am not speaking here of right-wing political illiterates who call a centrist like Barack Obama a “socialist” one day and a “fascist” the next. I am referring to people on the Left who ought to know better.

If we call anybody on the Right a “fascist” or use the word as an all-purpose pejorative, we fail to understand the real thing, and that is to our collective peril. Yes, economic conditions in the present era of global neoliberalism, of the corporate race to the bottom abetted at every turn by the world’s governments, of wars actual and threatened necessary to maintain the global capitalist system, are harsh. But a sham “formal democracy” and an outright fascist state are two very different things.

At its most basic level, fascism is a dictatorship established through and maintained with terror on behalf of big business. It has a social base, which provides the support and the terror squads, but which is badly misled since the fascist dictatorship operates decisively against the interest of its social base. Militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, and, perhaps the most critical component, a rabid propaganda that intentionally raises panic and hate while disguising its true nature and intentions under the cover of a phony populism, are among the necessary elements.

Despite national differences that result in major differences in the appearances of fascism, the class nature is consistent. Big business is invariably the supporter of fascism, no matter what a fascist movement’s rhetoric contains, and is invariably the beneficiary.

Mural paintings in honor of  Jecar Neghme of Chile's MIR in the place where he was killed by the Pinochet government. (Credit: Ciberprofe)

Mural paintings in honor of Jecar Neghme of Chile’s MIR in the place where he was killed by the Pinochet government. (Credit: Ciberprofe)

Instituting a fascist dictatorship is no easy decision even for the biggest industrialists, bankers and landowners who might salivate over the potential profits. For even if it is intended to benefit them, these big businessmen are giving up some of their own freedom since they will not directly control the dictatorship; it is a dictatorship for them, not by them. A few of this class will oppose the institution of a fascist dictatorship, some will be ambivalent and perhaps a few were squeamish about the Nazis’ virulent anti-Semitism.

It is only under certain conditions that business elites resort to fascism — some form of democratic government, under which citizens “consent” to the ruling structure, is the preferred form and much easier to maintain. Working people beginning to withdraw their consent — beginning to seriously challenge the economic status quo — is one “crisis” that can bring on fascism. An inability to maintain or expand profits, as can occur during a steep decline in the “business cycle,” or a structural crisis, is another such “crisis.”

Massive corporate subsidies and the funding of gigantic projects, such as military buildups and monumental buildings, are used to combat stagnating or declining profits. If the crisis is severe enough, the level of subsidies and projects required can be achieved only against the will of working people, for it is from them that the necessary money will come, in the form of reduced wages and benefits, increased working hours and the speeding-up and intensification of their work. Fascism overcomes resistance through force.

Exploiting middle class anxieties

But, no matter how powerful they are, numerically these big capitalists are a minuscule portion of the population. How to create popular support for a movement that would ban unions, turn working people into helpless cattle, regiment all spheres of life, destroy all freedom, mercilessly destroy several groups of society, reduce the standard of living of those who still had jobs and inevitably lead to war? This is not an appealing program.

The Nazis, for example, skillfully appealed to German middle class fears of economic dislocation, the increasing numbers of unemployed blue-collar workers, the threat of being swallowed by big business and political instability (although the Nazis were the most responsible for the last of those four), creating the social base needed by the economic elite to bring its movement to power. A movement that was as anathema to the middle class as it was to the lower economic ranks, although its middle class supporters were blind to that reality as the Nazis simultaneously appealed to its grudges against societal elites.

Leon Trotsky, the sharpest observer and analyst of fascism of his time, exposed at the time the false facade of the Nazis. The party’s full name was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, a name intentionally chosen to fool the middle and lower classes. Capitalism was discredited in Germany, so the Nazi leadership let a populist socialist-sounding program be put forth, and Hitler himself thundered against bankers, albeit generally as part of his anti-Semitic rants.

Many storm troopers believed the party’s rhetoric, even as Hitler was saying very different things to his corporate benefactors and the storm troopers were being used to burn union offices and beat and kill the workers who presumably were the victims of the bankers the storm troopers’ leaders were fulminating against. In a vivid 1932 essay, Trotsky wrote:

“In National Socialism, everything is as contradictory and as chaotic as in a nightmare. Hitler’s party calls itself socialist, yet it leads a terroristic struggle against all socialist organizations. It calls itself a worker’s party, yet its ranks include all classes except the proletariat. It hurls lightning bolts at the heads of capitalists, yet is supported by them. … The whole world has collapsed inside the heads of the petit bourgeoisie, which has completely lost its equilibrium. This class is screaming so clamorously out of despair, fear and bitterness that it is itself deafened and loses sense of its words and gestures.”

A fascist régime can not take root without a social base. Although we are accustomed to seeing storm troopers or their equivalent as coming from the depths of society, the middle class largely supplies that base, as was the case in countries as different as 1930s Germany and 1970s Chile. The historian Isaac Deutscher, in the third volume of his Trotsky biography, The Prophet Outcast, captured the mood of German shopkeepers and other middle class people who came to ruin during the Weimar Republic:

“The Kleinbürger normally resented his social position: he looked up with envy and hatred at big business, to which he so often hopelessly succumbed in competition; and he looked down upon the workers, jealous of their capacity for political and trade union organization and for collective self-defense. … At big business the small man shook his fists as if he were a socialist; against the worker he shrilled his bourgeois respectability, his horror of class struggle, his rabid nationalist pride, and his detestation of Marxist internationalism. This political neurosis of impoverished millions gave [Nazism] its force and impetus.”

Great for profits, awful for workers

It is important to remember, however, that fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini were appointed to power, not elected. It is true that the Nazis came in first place in Germany’s July 1931 vote, although with just 37 percent of the vote. The Nazis’ showing in another vote three months later declined to 33 percent and totaled two million less than the combined vote for the Social Democrats and Communists. The traditional nationalist conservative parties decided to “use” Hitler in the belief that they could control him; that the Nazis were in such a position was due to the massive money they received from Germany’s bankers, industrialists and large landowners. A representative of those landowners, Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, was president and appointed Hitler chancellor. It took Hitler only three months to consolidate his power.

Mussolini, too, was appointed prime minister by King Vittorio Emmanuel and received heavy support from Italy’s capitalists. What did they — and capitalists in Spain, Chile and Argentina — receive for their investment in fascist movements?

  • In Germany, corporate profits more than doubled in five years, while from Hitler’s ascension to power on January 30, 1933, to the summer of 1935, wages dropped 25 to 40 percent. In 1935, a “labor passport” was instituted in which the employer wrote reports on the holder. The employer could confiscate the passport at will, without which employment could not be taken, effectively making it impossible to change jobs. In 1938, it was formally made illegal for a worker to change jobs.
  • In Italy, from 1926 to 1934, industrial wages were reduced at least 40 to 50 percent, while agricultural wages were reduced 50 to 70 percent. Unemployment meant the specter of starvation, and as a further whip to keep wages down, children were regularly used in agricultural and factory work as substitutes for fired adults. From 1935, many factory employees were placed under direct military discipline; missing more than five days of work was a penalty subject to nine years’ imprisonment. All workers had to carry a “labor passport.”
  • In Francisco Franco’s Spain, real wages in 1949 were 50 percent of those in 1936. Rationing lasted until 1952; the rations alone were insufficient to maintain human existence. The historian Paul Preston, author of two books that closely examine Franco and his regime, quoted Hitler aide Heinrich Himmler as calling the Franco regime “more brutal in its treatment of the Spanish working class than was the Third Reich in its dealings with German workers.”
  • In Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, the majority of workers earned less in 1989 than in 1973 (after adjusting for inflation). Labor’s share of the national income declined from 52 percent in 1970 to 31 percent in 1989. The minimum wage dropped almost by half during the 1980s, and by the end of that decade, Chile’s poverty rate reached 41 percent and the percentage of Chileans without adequate housing was 40 percent, up from 27 percent in 1972. One-third of the country’s workforce was unemployed by 1983.
  • In Argentina, the main union federation was abolished, strikes outlawed, prices raised, wages tightly controlled and social programs cut. As a result, real wages fell by 50 percent within a year. Tariffs were reduced deeply, leaving the country wide open to imports and foreign speculation, causing considerable local industry to shut. For the period 1978 to 1983, Argentina’s foreign debt increased to $43 billion from $8 billion, while the share of wages in national income fell to 22 percent from 43 percent.

It was not inevitable then, it is not inevitable today

Although there were differences among these régimes due to national characteristics, and the ratio of armed street gangs and storm troopers versus direct repression by the military varied considerably, organized extreme violence, up to and including massacres, is the common thread. This mass violence is what the world’s capitalists are prepared to do if their rule is threatened, or even if their profits are in serious jeopardy.

Violence is certainly not absent from the conduct of formally democratic capitalist governments but there is a large difference between that and what is meted out by fascist régimes, at least internally. We lose our understanding of what fascism would mean in everyday life, and erode our ability to combat the tendencies from which it derives, if we obliterate these differences.

The German Communist Party pretended not to know the difference in the early 1930s, preferring to concentrate its attacks on the Social Democrats rather than the Nazis under the inane idea that the Social Democratic-run Weimar Republic was already “objectively fascist” and that the Nazis would not make much difference. The Communists very swiftly found out otherwise, becoming the first to be rounded up. In the years after World War I, the Social Democrats helped the German military and traditional right-wing parties suppress not only Communists but workers’ revolts in general — not excepting their own social base — thereby paving the road for Hitler.

On top of those blunders, the Communists and Social Democrats had their own militias, which could have countered the Nazi storm troopers, but were never put into action. It was not ordained that Hitler would come to power, or that other fascist régimes would do so. Chile’s Left was highly organized, for example.

History does not repeat itself neatly, but the wide differences among the five examples cited underscore that the threat of fascism exists in any and all capitalist countries. That does not mean that fascism is inevitable, although if capitalist economies continue in a generally downward spiral, some capitalists will undoubtedly begin thinking of it as a last-ditch effort to maintain profits despite the bad ending such régimes invariably meet. It can’t be denied that some of the pieces of fascism are in existence — including militarized police forces and ubiquitous spying agencies.

A better world, one designed to fulfill human need rather than private profits, not only is necessary for human salvation, it is the only way to put an end to the risk of turns to the authoritarian Right, in nationalist, fascist or other forms. That can only arise from organized social movements, confident in themselves and linking hands across borders. May the new year accelerate the process.

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61 comments on “Our world is awful, yes, but it isn’t fascism — yet

  1. Deke Solomon says:

    I define ‘fascism’ as the dictatorship of big business and my definition of ‘business’ includes banks. So what we’re living with/under is a fascist system as far as I’m concerned. I see no need to split the hairs any thinner than that. As they say: ‘If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.’
    And I don’t know where you get your history of the Weimar, but histories of Weimar that I’ve read (Bessel, Richard. ‘Political Violence and the Rise of Nazism: The Storm Troopers in Eastern Germany 1925-1934.’ Yale University Press, 1984; Eksteins, Modris. ‘The Limits of Reason: The German Democratic Press and the Collapse of Weimar Democracy.’ Oxford University Press, 1975; Leopold, John A. ‘Alfred Hugenberg: The Radical Nationalist Campaign Against the Weimar Republic,’ Yale University Press, 1977. Stark, Gary D. ‘Entrepreneurs of Ideology: Neoconservative Publishers In Germany, 1890-1933,’ University of North Carolina Press, 1981) agree that Nazi and Communist militants fought each other in the streets for years before the Nazis finally won out.

    • Well, Deke, for a guy who claims to dislike intellectuals, you sure read a lot …

      In the Germany of those days, all the parties (there were several) had their own militias. Needless to say, the Nazis were much more aggressive in this than others. There were sometimes street clashes among militias, the Communists and Social Democrats not excepted, but not routine battles.

      The Communists lost a lot of their credibility with their disastrous actions leading up to Hitler’s appointment. Besides the “social fascist” line alluded to in the post, the Communists actually supported a Nazi referendum to unseat the Social Democratic government of Prussia, a territory that then constituted the biggest unit of Germany. Unseating it during the circumstances that then existed would have only benefited the Nazis. There are plenty of other examples; see the book recommendation below.

      The Social Democrat leadership flatly refused to allow its militia to into the streets because Hitler was appointed by Hindenburg, thereby making his ascension “legitimate” and “constitutional,” bizarre as that sounds. So Hitler took power without a shot being fired and without real opposition; it took him only three months to make a clean sweep and assume dictatorial power, enabling the Nazi terror to operate through the state instead of as extra-legal but tolerated force.

      The best recommendation I can give on the Nazi rise to power is The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, a collection of contemporary articles by Leon Trotsky and also containing an introductory essay by Ernest Mandel. I recommend this book to everyone; it will definitely clear up people’s thinking.

      Finally, as to the ducks of today, I would remind you (and all other of this week’s critics) that we are having this conversation in our homes, not in a prison, concentration camp or exile. Nor are we dead. That is a quite significant point.

      • rwe2late says:

        Here’s another way of looking at it.

        Some want to focus on DOMESTIC repression as critical to defining “fascism”.
        Is it ?

        The “fascists” see advantage in militarism/brutal repression both domestic and abroad.
        The so-called “Democrats” (of various stripes) support militarism/brutal repression abroad, but see political and other advantage in avoiding repressive domestic policies.
        The actual “Left” and some Libertarians oppose militarism/repression at home and abroad.

        Overseas, the Empire ( along with its subordinate dependencies) now practices “fascism” in all respects (assassinations, torture, militarism, invasions, apartheid, “shock doctrine” capitalism, etc.).

        The “Democrats”(neo-liberals) and fascists are allied strategically in support of empire, though they may differ in tactics. Both agree with the necessity of capitalism to seek military and financial dominance. Capitalism, after all. is ultimately about controlling markets (monopolizing) and access to resources (privatizing).

        The “Democrats” will support domestic repression so long as they can ostensibly believe it is “legal” and “necessary”. Unfortunately, all the laws needed to enforce a fascist police state are already on the books in the USA. There are also the matters of the world’s biggest prison system and the militarized police.

        The “Empire” exists both domestic and abroad.
        It appears unrealistic to expect those who hubristically have no “solidarity” with those oppressed by the empire abroad, to have much concern for those persecuted by the Empire at home.

        How and whether that compartmentalization and hubris can be overcome is extremely hard to envision at this time.

        • Among ordinary United Statesians, there is indeed a compartmentalization between domestic and foreign repression; this is predominant among libertarians and the Right in general. Some of this does exist among the Left, but in my experience people on the Left generally oppose U.S. imperialism and all the repression in other countries that goes with it as much as they oppose repressive apparatuses at home.

          It certainly is true that no real advance or change for the better is possible without unyielding solidarity with people in other countries, wherever we live. The Empire is a many-tentacled machine that does not hesitate to impose violence on people in the global South, more readily than it can dish out at home.

          I do think it important to understand what forces are responsible for the state of the world, who is benefiting from the repression, why it happens. But also to use precision in the words we use to describe the political world, otherwise we make it very difficult to understand the world, which in turns renders us ineffective in changing it.

  2. Ed says:

    ” In 1935, a “labor passport” was instituted in which the employer wrote reports on the holder. The employer could confiscate the passport at will, without which employment could not be taken, effectively making it impossible to change jobs.”

    This is funny. You know we have something like this in the US now, don’t you? Background check and reference checks serve the same purpose. Plus to enter much of the labor force the worker needs to pay up front for a college degree.

    For once, I disagree with your points. If fascism is “capitalism with the gloves off” which is how you seem to describe it, then the threat of capitalism adopting fascist methods is always present. And you bring in the tired canard of the failure to form popular front movements as being why the 1920s and 1930s fascist took power. Generally what the left does has nothing to do with fascism taking power, its something the right resorts to when the right (not the left) decides for whatever reason that parliamentary and constitutional institutions aren’t working for them. Sometimes these constitutions are really corrupt, as in Argentina, sometimes leftists and liberals are getting too successful in getting a better deal for the powerless through them, as happened in Germany.

    These days, if nothing else, the threat of ecological disaster will make following constitutional niceties pointless.

    • Deke Solomon says:

      Fascism is the rational outcome of capitalism. Capitalism is incipient fascism.

    • To say that fascism is a movement of the Right is to say the sky is blue. The same to say that the potential for fascism exists in all capitalist societies.

      But to say the Left has “nothing” to do with it is badly mistaken, because it is only an organized Left that can block a fascist movement. But that can not be done unless we know what it is we are fighting against. If we can’t tell the difference between a fascist state (with its concentration camps and total bans on any dissent, punished by immediate prison or execution) from a bourgeois sham formal democracy (where there remains some scope for opposition and different political groups contend even if on very imbalanced terrain), we are in sad shape.

      Talk to a Holocaust survivor — then you will understand the difference.

  3. Richard Burrill says:

    Excellent article. I shall share this widely with friends.

  4. Mark Williams says:

    Very insightful analysis, however i don’t see how you can know this much about Fascism and not acknowledge that the US is clearly on that road. You even mention that many of the pieces are in place already. If you can see that, then I would ask you what is currently standing between us and full blown Fascism? I submit to you that with the expansion of executive powers that occurred during the W administration that the only thing now lacking is a charismatic leader. If W had had (or if the next Republican President has) the nerve to implement martial law, who would stop them? The most prominent feature of the rise of fascism is the silence of the broad middle ground of democracy which is the only force that has the actual power to suppress their ascension. This silence is ubiquitous; grounded first in the simple wish to live ones life without paying any attention to government, then by acceptance of propaganda, and finally by fear. What feature of the current situation do see as having the power to unite the middle in outspoken opposition to present trends?

    Moreover, you have missed the most terrifying difference between our current situation and all the previous examples. Once in place, Fascism has to be brought down by outside power, but the scope of today’s (shall we call them pre-Fascists since you are unwilling to call them Fascists?) is global; their aim is global Fascism, and one of the ‘pieces’ is that already many corporations are more powerful than many states. If they succeed in the US, who will have force of arms sufficient to prevent them from achieving their global aim, and if they achieve global Fascism where will the outside force come from to end their reign? If we (the left) lose now, as seems more likely than not, it will truly be the Thousand Year Reich.

    You say that Fascism is not inevitable, and certainly that is true in some sense, but the first task of fascism is to neutralize the base of democracy through misinformation and propaganda. I submit that by alliance with religion and outright ownership of news outlets and much of the apparatus of government, this is already accomplished in the US today. If you disagree, then in all seriousness, name the force than has the power to make the middle rise up and smash down our pre-Fascists, because i would like to escape from the depressing place that i am in right now and be as optimistic as you.

    Thank you

    • This post borrowed some bits and pieces from a pamphlet I once wrote, The Winners and Losers of Fascism. In the pamphlet, I did note some of the moves by various U.S. government administrations that have put into place pieces that could be used to install martial law. My belief is that fascism could never come to the U.S. through storm troops or armed gangs in the streets; it would be imposed from above through martial law. This potentiality, to my mind, makes the work of the counter-recruitment movement all the more valuable.

      Mark, you raise crucial points in asking what group(s) can block the rise of fascism/corporate totalitarianism and the role of the “broad middle” of society. In the modern capitalist state, what we call somewhat euphemistically the “middle class” is a significant factor simply because of its large size. Yet these middle class are highly heterogeneous and with so many competing interests that it is impossible for these middle classes to be the political force its weight in the population suggests. The middle classes are going to follow one side or another when a society became so dangerously unstable that an extreme Right movement threatens to grab state power.

      In 1930s Germany and 1970s Chile, the middle classes followed their country’s elites, siding with a fascist movement. When that happens, the gates are thrown wide open to fascism. When the middle classes see their actual interests more clearly, then they can follow and join a social movement from below from the Left. This was the case in Russia in 1917 — the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and Bolsheviks were the parties that supported and endorsed the peasants’ seizure of farmland in the countryside and the urban workers’ desire to take control of their lives in the cities. (Let us set aside for now the tragic turns of the October Revolution.)

      When the German middle classes backed the Nazis, they slit their own throats, in effect. Our task today is to patiently work to demonstrate to all working people (and that is the overwhelming majority of a capitalist country, middle classes included) that movements of the Right will only lead them to ruin. Certainly, continuing on the world’s current path will lead us to disaster — and many people currently in the middle class will be declassed, falling into poverty. Some of these will continue to cling to their (now former) identity and resist drawing conclusions; but many will became much more open to messages of the Left and economic democracy when they discover the hard way where their previous political allegiances led.

      When a substantial majority of working people are prepared to act in an organized fashion in their own interest, there won’t be enough repression that can stop it. We are a vast distance from that day. But if we don’t work on this need and stick with it, the world will become a much nastier place than it already is as the owners of capital apply more repression to keep themselves in the saddle and maintain their profits in the face of dwindling ability to buy what their products, and as the Earth approaches the limits of pollution, resource extraction and environmental degradation. So … what choice do we have?

      • Mark Williams says:

        Yes, What are our choices now is the question? I note that you didn’t name a force that is poised to mobilize the middle against fascism. Clearly we should keep pushing back, and we should talk to as many people as possible, and it is even faintly possible that we will win, but if we don’t, and i reiterate that this seems considerably more likely than not, then the next big question for us if Fascism continues to gain ground is whether to leave. What will be the signs by which we can know that it is time to go and if we wait any longer it will become too late to escape? And what countries might be the safest for fleeing anti-fascists?

        • The specific lineup of groups will vary from country to country, depending on local circumstances. But having said that, I believe we can look toward the growing social movements of Greece and Spain for the types of progressive coalitions might be assembled elsewhere. In Greece, Syriza is a coalition of more than a dozen organizations spanning a wide swath of the political spectrum with considerable popular backing. In Spain, the Indignados movement is also widely popular, and recently began contesting elections through a new party, Podemos.

          The economic crisis is further advanced in Greece and Spain; those are countries where people who have been in the middle classes are more ready to hear a message critical of capitalism because of the pain they have suffered. That in itself is never sufficient, of course, as Ireland demonstrates. But I have twice in the past several weeks read of significant and effective Irish social movements born as grass roots groups that eventually became NGOs (non-governmental organizations) dependent on state and rich-donor funding, and became neutralized. With no more effective opposition, the road was clear for the Irish people to be bled dry to pay off banks.

          In any advanced capitalist country, a coalition of groups will carry on the necessary organizing work, creating links among one another and reaching out to those who logically are reachable. Different groups would stress different issues and have different followings and participants, but work to build strong ties among them through linking the issues to larger structural problems. In a country with deep racial and ethnic divides such as the United States, much leadership will, and should, come from the most oppressed groups. Those of us with relative privilege (as Whites or as men, not in a class sense) must be willing to understand, and relinquish, those privileges. The multi-cultural nature of the anti-police brutality movement in the U.S. is a good start.

          Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Indignados have broad support, certainly among their countries’ middle classes. This can be replicated in other countries. Of course in some countries, such as the U.S., there is the added hurdle of an especially intense individualism that has to be overcome. As economic conditions decline further in the future — not all at once and not without occasional upturns — more people will open to alternative explanations. Those explanations are there, but have to be communicated in everyday language without jargon, and solutions proposed have to be on new models reflecting the lessons of history, not trying to replicate the past.

          If we fail and we have to flee a rising fascist tide, I do hope we will know when conditions have become too dangerous. There will be a long buildup to that point, unless there is a sudden military coup. In North America and Europe, a military coup seems extremely unlikely, so we should have signs. (The U.S., however, does have a risk of some sort of martial-law declaration.) We’re a long way from there for now, fortunately.

    • Deke Solomon says:

      Mark Williams wrote “i don’t see how you can know this much about Fascism and not acknowledge that the US is clearly on that road.”

      Solomon sez: The technique is called “splitting hairs.” It works for those who use it because it is a form of agressive denial. By splitting hairs, the hair-splitter makes the subject at issue appear to be something other than what it actually is. So a “fascist state” becomes indistinguishable from a “bourgeois sham” to the hair splitter. And because what appears to be a fascist state is actually just a “bourgeois sham,” those who see it so are justified in their refusal to act or speak against it. It’s a sham, after all, so why waste one’s breath in speaking against it?

      Solomon sed.

      • Deke, you are not paying attention. The very point of articles I wrote like this is to point out the dangers of fascism, and part of that is to not lull people to sleep.

        Remember the lesson of 1930s Germany: The Communist Party kept screaming that the Weimar Republic was fascist and decided to concentrate its fire on the social democrats rather than the Nazis. When the real thing hit, in 1933, they found out very rapidly the difference between a decaying right-wing sham democracy and an actual fascist government.

        By terming as fascist what was not yet fascist, people were lulled to sleep and therefore did not do what was necessary to defeat fascism before it took power. You are making the same mistake.

        • Deke Solomon says:

          Was it JUST “a decaying right-wing sham democracy” or was it JUST incipient fascism? I say, the human condition being what it is, the only difference is the label one chooses to put on that particular state of affairs. There is no certain difference.

          • Part of learning how to analyze a state in which fascism has begun to march, and is unmistakably menacing society, is to grasp the differences between a deteriorating republic and an outright fascist state. In the years running up to Hitler’s takeover, the Nazis could have been stopped, and would have been, had center and left organizations united to combat them.

            Part of the failure, and this is particularly true for the German Communist Party, is to not appreciate what a Nazi-dominated state would do as opposed to an ordinary formal democracy, even one with undemocratic features and power imbalances, as the Weimar Republic was. If you study what happened, you’ll find vast differences pre and post Hitler’s ascension to power.

            If you run around screaming “fascism” at everything you don’t like, you will be unable to recognize the real thing when it becomes a threat and you’ll be unable to adequately oppose it. When you find yourself in a concentration camp or having to flee into exile to survive, you’ll appreciate the difference.

  5. RE: “Our world is awful, yes, but it isn’t fascism — yet”

    I haven’t disagreed with this writer until today. WE ***DO HAVE FASCISM***…but to quote HW Bush, it is a “KINDER, GENTLER” FASCISM…

    a “KINDER, GENTLER AUSCHWITZ….

    a “KINDER, GENTLER” slavery…

    a “KINDER, GENTLER” (slower) GENOCIDE…

    “KINDER, GENTLER GENOCIDE(S)…

    “KINDER, GENTLER” CRUSADES…

    “KINDER, GENTLER LYNCHINGS…

    “KINDER, GENTLER” EUGENICS……

    A “KINDER, GENTLER” EMPIRE of PERMANENT WAR…

    to quote Chris Hedges who quotes Sheldon Wolin, it is “INVERTED TOTALITARIANISM…

    IF THE BADGED LYNCHINGS OF YOUNG BLACK AND LATINO MEN and the aberrational “broken windows” black belt, bloody policing of trivialities and

    use of SWAT TEAMS to SERVE WARRANTS AND SUMMONSES and BUST SMALL-TIME MARIJUANA GROWERS…

    and the wholesale ABANDONMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES…

    and the ***MILITARISTIC*** UPARMORING OF LOCAL POLICE BY THE US MILITARY AND so-called HOMELAND SECURITY to make LOCAL POLICE DEFACTO ISRAELI-STYLE OCCUPATION FORCES…

    and ***SPYING*** by the NSA and FACEBOOK and GOOGLE and the CIA and ***TORTURE BY THE CIA and PENTAGON…

    as well as THE RELENTLESS AND RUTHLESS INCESSANT DAILY PICKPOCKET THIEVING BY WALL STREET FROM THE POCKETS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE from “pet rent” to bank fees for overdraft protection transfers of capital from savings to checking to “payday lending” to PENALTIES for NOT signing up for fucking USELESS and EXPENSIVE OBOMNEYCARE

    IS ***NOT*** FASCISM and ***CONFISCATORY FASCISM*** AT THAT, THEN I DO ***NOT*** KNOW WHAT FASCISM IS….

    Frankly, if this otherwise excellent and perceptive writer doesn’t think we don’t have it is FASCISM ***YET*** then I don’t know WHAT THE FUCK he is WAITING FOR…

    — thom prentice (and a fine rant for the New Year 2015 it is lol)
    Jan1 by Systemic Disorder https://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/what-is-fascism/

    • Thomas, you need to stop hyperventalating. Had you noticed that we are having this conversation from our homes (or perhaps offices) and that nobody is breaking down our doors for reading or writing this material? In fascism, if we weren’t already dead, we’d be having this conversation in prison, a concentration camp or in exile. A big difference.

      Talk to a Holocaust survivor about what fascism is like. Or read about the Mauthausen concentration camp. This one is personal, for this harshest-category Nazi concentration camp is where Marxists and Slavic intellectuals were sent (among others); I happen to be in both categories. This is where I would have been sent by an actual fascist régime. At least 150,000 people were murdered or worked to death there; “extermination by work” was the specific intent.

      Here are two articles you should read before your next rant:

      http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/MauthausenEng.html
      http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/othercamps/mauthausen.html

  6. I can see merit in both camps here – they both seem partly right.

    In The Coming Struggle for Power (1933), Marxist John Strachey defines fascism as a transition state that occurs when the working class is duped into supporting political and economic measures that are severely detrimental to their own welfare. According to Strachey, if fascism is allowed to progress unchecked, it eventually transitions into a totalitarian dictatorship..

    • Fascism is a total dictatorship, it is not a “transition state,” But it is very much true that its social base is “duped into supporting political and economic measures that are severely detrimental to their own welfare.”

  7. tubularsock says:

    Tubularsock has a question. “At its most basic level, fascism is a dictatorship established through and maintained with terror on behalf of big business. It has a social base, which provides the support and the terror squads, but which is badly misled since the fascist dictatorship operates decisively against the interest of its social base. Militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, and, perhaps the most critical component, a rabid propaganda that intentionally raises panic and hate while disguising its true nature and intentions under the cover of a phony populism, are among the necessary elements.”

    Now just how is this not a description of the United States Tubularsock see today? Just wondering.

    • To reiterate some of my replies above, I note that we are having this conversation from our homes (or perhaps offices) and that nobody is breaking down our doors for reading or writing this material. We are not having this conversation in prison, a concentration camp or in exile. See also the descriptions of a Nazi concentration camp, linked to in my reply to Thomas Prentice.

      The point is that conditions and repression can get far worse than they already are. If we blind ourselves to this, we render ourselves unable to defend ourselves against whatever new outrages the capitalist elite and their governments may have in store for us. Sham bourgeois democracy is not fascism, not even close.

  8. Nancy Kogel says:

    pete – i don’t feel well read or knowledgeable enough to respond on your site to this writing or the 6 or so comments that followed it; however, i want you to know that i found it very instructive and helpful. as usual well written, relevant and informative! thank you so much.

  9. Nancy Kogel says:

    ps – i shared on FB and Twitter

      • Deke Solomon says:

        It’s telling that you appreciate praise from someone who, admittedly, doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Thank YOU for doing so.

        • You don’t know Nancy, but I do. She is an expert in some topics; fascism doesn’t happen to be one of them. She is also a committed activist in human rights issues and animal rights issues with a highly developed sense of ethics.

          Our education should always be ongoing; education is a central raison d’être of this blog — for me just as much as those who read and comment. You would do well to take a lesson from Nancy, who continues to educate herself and commits herself to serious organizing work. None of us knows it all, Deke, not even you.

  10. I also agree with Thomas Prentice’s comment. Look up Chris Hedges’ interviews with Sheldon Wolen. see specifically: https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/tag/inverted-totalitarianism/

    I also suggest that you re-read your blog post, https://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/tisa-censorship-no-privacy/ which when Dandelion Salad republished it, I added the “fascism” tag to it.

    Ralph Nader has called this fascism for a number of years. Plenty of articles/videos here: https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/?s=nader+%2B+fascism

    • I attended the Left Forum in New York City in 2012 when Chris Hedges was one of the speakers at the closing plenary. There he bragged about hanging out with Civic Forum leaders during the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. Problem here is that it was those very same leaders who instituted shock therapy and a Thatcherite brand of capitalism. So we have a credibility gap here.

      As to Ralph Nader, here is an alternative view, written by me and published by the Green Party’s national theoretical magazine, Synthesis/Regeneration: http://www.greens.org/s-r/29/29-09.html. Incidentally, I do have an appreciation of Ralph, and I was once endorsed by him when I was running for a seat on the New York State Green Party state committee. But that does not require me to not point out the limitations of his thinking.

      Once again, I note that we are having this conversation from our homes (or perhaps offices) and that nobody is breaking down our doors for reading or writing this material. We are not having this conversation in prison, a concentration camp or in exile, nor are we subject to execution for expressing these thoughts. For what actual fascism is like, see these two articles:

      http://www.jewishgen.org/ForgottenCamps/Camps/MauthausenEng.html
      http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/othercamps/mauthausen.html

      Rather big difference in conditions from what you, I and others reading this experience.

      • We are discussing two different things here. I never mentioned Nazism. We are going on different definitions of fascism, you are thinking Nazism, and I am going by the definition that states when corporations and government merge equals fascism.

        When I gave you examples of written pieces or videos with Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges, I was giving you instances of when they were writing and/or talking about fascism. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter what they believe or write about another topic or issue. Let’s keep to the one issue: Fascism.

        I still highly recommend learning about inverted totalitarianism, then you will understand the definition of Fascism that I go by.

        • It does appear we have different understandings. Neither Ralph Nader or Chris Hedges are experts on fascism, and their views on the topic are not pertinent to me. If Ralph “calls this fascism” then he is flatly wrong.

          One thing that we should be clear about, however, is that Nazism is fascism — the most virulent form of it. Again, fascism is a specific form of capitalist dictatorship. To say the merger of government and fascism equals fascism is, effectively, meaningless, because capitalist governments always provide a hand for corporations, or, if we want to be more precise, for the top-level executives and financiers who control and profit from corporate extractions of surplus value.

          There is no “merger” of these in a fascist state because capital remains private; the fascist government imposes severe repression on workers to benefit capitalists, much more severe than can be imposed in a formal democracy. That idea of a “merger” that is sometimes floated seems to come from a supposed quote of Mussolini’s. I am not convinced he said that; but if he did it isn’t an actual definition. Mussolini had no systematic program and tended to allow significant ambiguity so that people would read into it whatever they might wish to. What we need to examine is not a quote that may or may not have been said, but rather what was the concrete results. In the case of fascist Italy, an excellent source is Under the Axe of Fascism by Gaetano Salvemini.

          That extreme force was there in Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, the “Process” of Argentina and other examples. Nazi Germany is on a continuum with these other countries.

          “Totalitarianism” is a useless word with no actual meaning; it is a propagandistic word invented by conservatives to slap on to communist countries. It is better to discuss political and economic forms with words that have precise meaning. Fascism is a word with a precise meaning. Again, we would be having this discussion in jail or a concentration camp if we were living under fascism, assuming we weren’t simply killed.

          • Here is what I generally go by for a definition of Fascism, by an expert in Fascism:

            https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/fourteen-defining-characteristics-of-fascism-by-dr-lawrence-britt-2003/

            Inverted Totalitarianism is different than totalitarianism, which is why I suggested learning about it.

            • I did read carefully the “14 defining characteristics” although I have encountered it before. Unfortunately, every one of them can be and are present in a variety of governments, including formal democracies such as the U.S. and many others, to a greater or lesser degree. Although Lawrence Britt is too sophisticated to reduce fascism to storm troops, his list of characteristics deal with surface manifestations and methodologies of rule maintenance. Entirely missing is the class nature of fascism.

              In short, all 14 items on the list are characteristics of right-wing governments in general, including stable formal democracies. They are not characterizations of only fascist régimes; although these characteristics are certainly implemented in more severe form in those. Absent from the list is any concept of the extreme violence that accompanies fascist régimes, which is far beyond what is applied to internal populations by a formal capitalist democracy.

              The power of industrialists and financiers — concentrated through the corporations they control and other institutions they dominate — to infuse their ideology throughout a society and to hold decisive influence over all levels of government is standard in any capitalist country. In ordinary times, a formal “assent” from working people is used to maintain this system of inequality, with timely concessions made when necessary, which are later taken back. It is only when a capitalist economy so breaks down that it is impossible for capitalists to maintain profitability and/or the ruled start to withdraw their consent, that capitalists start toying with a fascist movement.

              In fascism, the veneer of democracy is removed and replaced by the use of terror because that is the only way to extract the wage cuts and reduced working conditions. The expansive nature of at least some fascist countries is because living standards have been driven so low, internal demand can’t possibly meet supply. Foreign expansion is one way of propping up profit levels in this situation; massive government contracts (as with Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s) is another, although this can also be intertwined with specific national characteristics that lead to either expansion or a military buildup. The military buildup, of course, is also necessary to maintain the pervasive internal terror that keeps the population from organizing resistance.

              “Inverted totalitarianism” is defined as “a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics” in which consumerism and “sensationalism” are used as distractions and everything is commodified. We do not need a meaningless invented terminology to describe this. We already have a word for it: Capitalism.

              Those who invented the term “inverted totalitarianism” as simply obscuring the nature of capitalism; they are pretending that capitalism is OK and we need only oppose the currently supposedly “mutant” variety of capitalism that has somehow been hijacked by some cabal. Unfortunately, that is a position held by many people, even some who are prominent commentators on the Left. The term that is used widely around the world to describe the present state of capitalism is “neoliberalism.” Neoliberalism is the logical development of capitalism and results from the inability of capitalists to maintain their profit levels once the expansions of the Keynesian era ran their course.

              Once again, “totalitarian” is a meaningless word invented by right-wingers so they would have an all-purpose insult to hurl at communist countries (note that it is never applied toward U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia). That a couple of people decided to dust it off, and put a Left-wing gloss on it by attaching an adjective does nothing to alter that a meaningless word is meaningless.

          • You’ve made some good points.

  11. xraymike79 says:

    I would have to agree with the other commenters here that we really cannot have a complete discussion of fascism without including America’s very successful brand of tyranny, inverted totalitarianism. I don’t believe that we’ll ever have the classic form of fascism here because it’s not necessary. Most Americans are happy with the present way of living as long as they have the freedom to choose between product A and product B. They have no interest in environmental issues which are really the defining issue of our time and will determine the fate of our species. As they say, “There’s no business on a dead planet!”

    In case you think people are concerned about the environment and resource availability, check out Gallop:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/1675/most-important-problem.aspx

    • I just replied above to the artificial concept of “inverted totalitarianism,” so I won’t repeat myself.

      It is true that most United Statesians think democracy is the free choice between corporate products; they’ve spent their lives being told that is democracy. The very fact that the U.S. brand of capitalist formal democracy is successful and stable means there is no need for fascism. If it were to come to the U.S., it would likely involve martial law but would still have a social base. Something like the Tea Party, which although containing many well-meaning but deluded people is a creation of corporate elites. Notice that Occupy was smashed through police repression, while the Tea Party was given free reign.

      There is no alternative to organizing and building a mass movement. Never has been, never will be.

      • xraymike79 says:

        Very true about the Tea Party, an astroturf group well documented by various documentarians:

      • Regarding the heated debate about the meaning of “fascism” and the question: “Are we THERE yet?”: I think that people need more words to describe the worsening conditions in this country—they go to “fascism” to satisfy their need to express worsening degrees of awfulness—for which words that they’ve previously used will no longer suffice.

        • You’ve made an excellent point here. We do need to replenish our political vocabulary. However heated this debate has been it has been a healthy one because we live in a world in which freedoms are under threat, in which massive structural inequalities are becoming ever more acute, and we are struggling to place what is happening in some kind of context.

      • Brad Mayer says:

        I already mentioned how utterly ahistorical all the current popular concepts of “fascism” are, as it concerns the USA. What are we to make of the USA from the 1870’s to the 1930’s, a period of one of the most untrammelled and naked “dictatorships of capital” in world history, where “uppity” workers were usually met with the mailed fist?

  12. xraymike79 says:

    The dude is still alive:

    “Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate the kind of customes, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy…–that’s where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. They want a political order subservient to the needs of the economy.”

  13. xraymike79 says:

    WOLIN: … I think if you go back way to the Athenian democracy, one of the things you notice about it is that it paid citizens to participate. In other words, they would be relieved from a certain amount of economic insecurity in order to engage actively in politics. Well, when we get to our times and modern times, that kind of guarantee doesn’t exist in any form whatsoever. We barely can manage to have an election day that isn’t where we suspend work and other obligations to give citizens an opportunity to vote. They have to cram a vote into a busy, normal day, so that the relationship between economic structures and institutions and political institutions of democracy are just really in tension now, in which the requirements of the one are being undercut by the operations of the other. And I don’t see any easy solution to it, because the forces that control the economy control to a large extent public opinion, modes of publication, and so on, and make it very difficult to mount counter-views.
    HEDGES: Well, in fact, to engage in real participatory democracy or political activity is to put yourself in a more precarious position vis-à-vis your work, your status within the society.
    WOLIN: There’s no question about it. And that’s true of, I think, virtually every activity. It’s now certainly frowned upon in academic work, and certainly in public education it’s frowned on. And there’s no effort made to really make it a bit easier for people to participate. And the intensity that economic survival requires today leaves most people exhausted. There’s–and understandably. They don’t have much, if any, time for politics. So we’re in a really difficult situation, where the requirements of democracy are such that they’re being undermined by the realities of a kind of economy and society that we’ve developed.
    HEDGES: Which you point out Hobbes foresaw.
    WOLIN: He did. He did indeed. And his solution was you surrender your political rights.
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=12557

    • “[T]he intensity that economic survival requires today leaves most people exhausted. … They don’t have much, if any, time for politics.”

      That is a very real reality and contributes to the lack of resistance thus far. Work speedups and deskilling are implemented to maintain profits through the extraction of more value from employees, but the added benefit for capitalists and industrialists of their employees having a lack of time and energy to resist is surely not an unnoticed byproduct. And perhaps not even a “byproduct.”

  14. Tyler says:

    Great post. Obama is to the right of Nixon, isn’t he? I tend to think Obama is a rightist.

    • Obama governs to the right of Nixon, I agree. But the time of Nixon and the time of today are different times. There were strong and persistent social movements that forced the political spectrum leftward in the 1960s well into the 1970s, and not even the White House was immune from them. We do not have large, sustained movements today, enabling Obama to move rightward with little penalty, at least until liberals sat out last November’s mid-term elections.

      There is a reasonable argument to be made that Obama is adrift, simply allowing Bush II/Cheney polices to remain in place. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t particularly matter, does it? Those policies are still there.

  15. Joel Meyers says:

    The U.S. has more inborn peculiarities that incline it to fascism than the classical fascist regimes. Its history, unlike Germany or Italy, begins with genocide against the indigenous population and race-based slavery at the core of its economy for centuries, with sequels lasting and in some ways worsening, to the current day.

    In a coexisting contradiction, it also issued a constitution and a Bill of Rights, which hold out an implied ideal of a democratic republic.

    The U.S. is the leading example of how the worst features associated with fascism can be implemented with a pluralist, electoral facade, however corrupt and manipulated by a tiny oligarchy of high corporate finance.

    Christopher Hedges, whom you mentioned above, is involved in a stalled lawsuit contending that the Annual Defense Appropriations Acts, several times in a row, contained provisions which are as fascistic as any that can be found anywhere.

    Namely, those provisions grant illegal, unconstitutional powers to the current and subsequent presidents, to identify arbitrarily anyone in the world, explicitly including “citizens” of the U.S. as enemy combatants.

    Thereupon, the provisions warrant that the military may “detain” (read “dispose of”) the indicated person(s), without trial or any due process or even notification. In Argentina and Chile, they called it “disappearing” someone.

    I have not been able to find out, having questioned scholars, whether in the written laws, der Fuehrer or il Duce were given these powers, or whether U.S. written law, alongside its Bill of Rights, actually excedes them, or merely copies them.

    Suffice it to say that these provisions excedd anything written into law while Bush was resident in the White House, installed by coup d’etat, after losing the popular vote and falsifying the Florida vote.

    Further, under the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act, a network of concentration camps with a capacity of millions have been built and are maintained, awaiting only the inmates, on command.

    Actually, political concentration camps existed in the U.S. at least since they were mandated by provisions of the 1950 McCarran-Walters Internal Security Anti-Subversive Act (concentration camp provisions written by überliberal Hubert Humphrey).

    We are only one 9/11-type pretext away from the implementation of an emergency junta to solve whatever crisis can be cooked up to public panic.

    While under the U.S. Constitution an oligarchy consisting of much less than 1% exclusively ruled every major and most minor aspects of society over the overwhelming majority, they did so through a corrupt, fraudulent and authoritarian elected officialdom.

    But in 1947, Congress passed and then-(unelected) President Truman signed into law the National Security Act, creating 14 new permanent, unprecedented intelligence agencies, beyond the practical control of any elected bodies, as an alternate power. This machinery, the relatively inexperienced U.S., built and put into place under the tutelage of both the imperial British and Nazified German intelligence, with the personal participation of Reinhard Gehlen, and was immediately fielded in support of fascist forces around the world, for example in the Greek civil war, pitting the Nazi collaborators against resistance forces. Fascist coups overthrowing elected governments soon followed in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Brazil, Congo, Chile, Argentina, supervised by the CIA.

    A test on November 22, 1963, decided which source was really in charge: The JFK assassination.

    A report written in the name of Earl Warren, liberal Chief Justice of the United States, at the urging of the resulting successor President Lyndon Johnson, unanimously and uniformly parroted by every major media source and every elected official, denied any role by any governmental agencies, a tissue of transparent lies, blaming the assassination on an innocent man, who according to the presented evidence, could not possibly have been the “lone” assassin. Malcolm X famously commented that the Kennedy assassination was “the chickens coming home to roost,” clearly indicating that an apparatus set up to perform coups d’etat and assassinations in foreign countries could very well strike domestically.

    Kennedy had fired CIA architect Allen Dulles, who participated in the Warren Commission, over being tricked into the Bay-of-Pigs fiasco attacking revolutionary Cuba. Kennedy had publicly called for withdrawal from Vietnam, but the Vietnam war was massively escalated from its preliminary stage to the systematic bombing of North Vietnam and 600,000 occupying U.S. troops, costing about 4,000,000 Vietnamese lives.

    At this point it is not much of a question of elections, but the destruction of the police state apparatus and machinery, which would require a revolution.

    For the immediate future, as broad as possible a coalition, beyond today’s minuscule forces of the committed Left, is needed.

    The basis of such a coalition is a unity around the defense of individual rights, militarism, and escalation of war around the world.

    The “war against the world” is the core of destruction of the Bill of Rights in practice, while the currently constituted imperialist capitalism blocks, or often turns into its intended opposite, any serious reform.

    • You have given us much to think about, Joel. Let me first respond to one of your concluding remarks: “At this point it is not much of a question of elections, but the destruction of the police state apparatus and machinery, which would require a revolution.

      We are beyond the point of tinkering with reforms. I would never argue against reforms, for we should never oppose an amelioration of conditions, even if temporary, but if we truly want to put an end to the madness of global capitalism, and the imperialism and violence it spawns, we have to create a better world. We can debate the specifics — myself, I have always been skeptical of the idea that Kennedy intended to end invention in Vietnam — but there is no denying the broad brush of what you have wrote.

      As to repressive apparatuses inside the U.S., the pamphlet that I wrote (in 2003) that was the basis for this blog post contained a few pages discussing that. Here are a couple of excerpts from that (citations omitted):

      “Lt. Col. Oliver North, in 1984, helped draft a plan to impose martial law as the National Security Council’s liaison to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. The plan included suspending the Constitution, appointing military commanders and turning over control of government to FEMA in the event of ‘crises’ that include ‘widespread internal dissent’ and ‘national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad,’ according to a 1987 Knight-Ridder report. It is known that dissent at the level of the Vietnam War protests would qualify. I vividly remember watching the Iran-Contra hearings when a Democratic panelist attempted to question Lt. Col. North about the martial-law plan; Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, brusquely silenced him, tersely saying that topic would not be mentioned. The topic was not mentioned again.

      A 1993 Cox News Service report found that FEMA’s budget for its secret programs was 12 times what it spent on disaster relief. This report, though, is something of a coverup itself since it only discusses ‘preparation for nuclear war’ and never addresses the verboten topic of martial law. The report only once refers to unspecified ‘national-security programs.’ During summer 2002, FEMA, now being subsumed under the new Department of Homeland Security, began seeking contractors to build ‘temporary cities’ in remote areas. FEMA says these cities would be for people fleeing weapons of mass destruction, but later that summer Attorney General John Ashcroft said he seeks to create internment camps for U.S. citizens deemed undefined ‘enemy combatants.’ Coincidence? …

      From the late 1960s, the U.S. Army, national guards and police departments have coordinated efforts in ‘Garden Plot,’ a series of ‘war games’ in which martial law is imposed, political opponents rounded up and dissent crushed. At a 1969 conference held in conjunction with one of these ‘war games,’ Nixon Deputy Attorney General Charles O’Brien declared that ‘anything goes. A civil disturbance anywhere in this state is an attack on the state itself.’ In 1984, FEMA began ‘Rex-84′ with the Department of Defense, national exercises to practice making mass arrests and detentions in anticipation of “civil disturbances, major demonstrations.’ ”

      I completely agree that we need to form the broadest possible coalition. My intent with the post was not to minimize the threat of fascism, but rather to point out that more vigilance is needed because conditions could become much worse that they already are. If we lose sight of that, we make ourselves more vulnerable to it. Thanks for an important lesson in history, Joel.

    • Brad Mayer says:

      I can only note that if former fascists were recruited by a then victorious and still expansive US imperialism, it does not necessarily follow that ipso facto “fascism” was imposed upon the targeted countries. Rather, these were *politically transformed* (if not ideologically) in the service of US imperialism. Yesterday’s “functional fascist” objectively ceased to be so. Of course their anticommunism was quite “functional” to reactionary imperialist politics.

      Another point in re the USA: This country also has a long history of combined “public-private partnerships” orchestrated by the state. The fascist version was called “corporatism”. In fact the more you look at it, the more classical European fascism looks like a cheap ripoff of selected features of the USA, such as eugenics, White supremacy, state-orchestrated class “collaboration”, genocide, slave labor, incessant imperialist expansion, etc.

      • Brad Mayer says:

        And I forgot: the concentration camps!

        – slave labor camps aka “plantations”;
        – indigenous POW camps aka “reservations”;
        – “internment centers” for Chinese and later Japanese;
        – the present massive “prison industrial complex”;
        – “interment camps” for undocumented immigrants.

  16. Frank says:

    What was done then cannot be done the same way today. Fascists are far more clever. Firstly, they call themselves Conservatives, second, they avoid the use of force against citizens and instead use Orwellian propaganda, the media, and soft coercion to control, harass, abuse, manipulate and control. I’m speaking specifically in terms of endemic unemployment, price rigging, racketeering, forcing wages and benefits down, attack on social spending, elimination of rent controls, etc. This, they call, “reform.” Finally, once they have restructured government and its means of operation to benefit only large corporations they will be in a position to use the police and military to promote fear and a security state. Canada and the USA, the UK and much of Europe has been in this situation for a decade, some states for longer. To say that we are not seeing the development of a more sophisticated, less obvious Fascism is to miss the point of what Fascism is entirely. It will not remain static and will change as civilization changes. In the 1930s few would have thought that Religion and Conservative politics would unite to create two large Fascist empires (USA and the Muslim Empire). But it exists today. I just wish I had a clue about how it is going to evolve but at present all I can see is a future of endemic urban warfare on the scale of Dublin throughout Europe later this century.

    • Frank, there is no doubt that forms of fascism can, and will, change over time. The Chile of Pinochet and the “Process” of Argentina were different from the fascisms of Germany, Italy and Spain. As I have written, fascism in the U.S., were it to come, would be in still different form, most likely in my opinion involving a declaration of martial law with accompanying heavy use of the military, wrapped up in old-fashioned right-wing populism with Christian conservatives forming a social base.

      But to write “they avoid the use of force against citizens” is a contradiction. Fascism is explicitly the use of force to suppress a population. The policies and actions you itemized are the every-day developments of capitalism. Fascism is a dramatic intensification of repression when capitalists believe they can maintain their power and profits no other way. Conservatives are not all fascists — far from it — however odious their political positions are.

      As I recounted in the original blog post and in responding to earlier comments, we disarm ourselves when we can’t tell the difference between a formally democratic state with police-state characteristics and an outright fascist state. When you are rounded up into a concentration camp, you will quickly see the difference.

  17. Brad Mayer says:

    Fundamentally agreed to SD’s definition, particularly as it opposes the all-too-common viewpoint on the US Left that the USA “is already fascist”, for which the extension to Trumpism is another instance. Likewise the CPUSA called Reagan a “fascist” to round up votes for the Democrats. The fallacy is easily punctured when we recall that in the USA, from the end of Reconstruction to the end of the New Deal, standard capitalist operating procedure for the suppression of strikes was to launch against the workers hired gangs of strikebreakers fortified by Pinkertons and other privately organized “security forces”, usually working closely with the local police – and the municipal police forces themselves were first organized for the precise purpose of attacking the worker’s movement. As was the FBI. When all else failed the state militia, and finally Federal troops, were deployed.

    The USA is infamous in history in the direct violence exercised against the worker’s movement, giving it one of the most relatively violent labor histories in the world.

    Are we to conclude that the USA was “already fascist” 140 years ago?

    SD leaves out two criteria that must be made explicit: those of 1) imperialism *in crisis* and 2) a well organized, advancing worker’s movement perceived as a mortal threat to the class supremacy of the bourgeoisie. The criterion “big business” implies imperialism, but there is more to imperialism beyond its sine qua non, the export of capital. Hence it is a problem to characterize semi-colonial and non-imperialist countries as “fascist”. In the case of Chile, 2) was certainly in effect, but Chile is not an imperialist country. Same with the Videla regime in Argentina – both bloody dictatorships backed by US imperialism. Same with the Assad regime in Syria, without the close US support. None are fascist.

    So I conclude that fascism is specific to imperialist capital in crisis. And Trumpism merely reveals the “seeds of fascism” that are always already present in the USA. US imperialism itself is clearly also in a deepening crisis and that meets 1), but we won’t see a real fascist movement until we also see a mass independent worker’s movement vie for political supremacy. And the interesting thing about the present electoral moment in the USA is that the bourgeois political crisis is *fundamentally* driven by the awakening of different sectors of the US working class. This in turn has reproduced the same bourgeois political crisis within the so-called “white working class” itself, a formation the structural result of White supremacy as the oldest enduring support for the US bourgeois regime and state. To the extent that Trump and Sanders pull electoral support from different wings of this “white working class” – and let’s be clear that this is of course a view of the class struggle deeply distorted by the undemocratic US electoral system, and its clear that both Trump and Sanders also pull support from other middle “class” sectors (and expalins in part the “whiteness” of Sanders support – to this extent a “civil war” has opened up within this “white working class” itself.

    This is a very critical aspect of the present situation in the USA that must be grasped by revolutionary socialists. This “white working class” structure is in the process of demolition that has now carried over into a process of its own ideological and political *self-destruction* by a left-leaning section of some of these “white workers” themselves! OTOH, another backward, older sector demoralized by de-industrialization still adheres to the old White supremacist structure via Trump. But the collapse of the White supremacist structure will remove the main barrier to the emergence of an independent working class political movement for power.

    And that is the real meaning of Trumpism for the class struggle in the USA. It is a reminder that in a big, rich imperialist country like the USA, a certain section of the working class can not only be swayed by reactionary politics (such as the long history of anti-communism in the USA), but “propertied” workers could even be recruited to a fascist movement that would launch a real civil war within the US working class. And I believe the first shot in that civil war has just been fired!

    • You’ve given us an excellent summation of the state of the U.S. today, Brad. We are in broad agreement, although I would differ somewhat from your analysis of Chile and Argentina. I do realize my designating those régimes as fascist is controversial and many Leftists would also disagree. Your point on imperialism is well taken, but I would stand by my position on the basis of the internal processes of those regimes, which were clearly to suppress strong workers’ movements and impose drastic cuts to wages and living standards.

      Also, Italy in the early 1920s was, to use the world-systems formulation, a “semi-peripheral” country similar to Chile and Argentina. Thus a strict analysis based on where a country stands on the imperial pecking order breaks down, as Italy is the literal birthplace of fascism.

      But as to your bigger point, that of a widening split within the U.S. white working class, I believe you have put it very well and succinctly. You also write:

      “[W]e won’t see a real fascist movement until we also see a mass independent worker’s movement vie for political supremacy.”

      And that gets us to the heart of the matter. Capitalists have control over the country; there is no need for them to conjure a movement that could escape their control.

      • Brad Mayer says:

        Yes these are simply differences in particular perspectives that will always be present, not differences in principle. Otherwise what would there be to discuss in order to get at the truth? 🙂

        For instance, I definitely think Italy was and is (a weakest) part of the imperialist core. So to was and is Spain even after the loss of its colonies to the USA – Spain still held a part of Morocco from which Franco sprang, NB. A key weakness of Italy was the highly uneven development between the industrial North and rural South, where landlordism played no small part in the rise of Fascism. In fact I think what I call “classical fascism” was not only the result of a crisis of “big business imperialism” in Europe after WW1, but had a very specific connection to the crisis in extremis of the “post-feudal” European “Old Regime” landlord aristocratic bourgeois caste that had been the principal social force that plunged Europe into the catastrophe of the World War in the first place. It was this caste whose effective political dominance collapsed most completely with the defeat of ‘classical fascism” in the Second War, to be repalced with that of US “representative commercial republicanism” (not “democracy”, the USA has never been even bourgeois democratic – but perhaps just another perspective quibble).

        The USA, after all, still subsists upon a 240 year old constitutional structure born out of 18th century English Whig mercantilist political economy. It is an effectively “pre-industrial capitalist” political structure, today the world’s effective “Ancien Regime”. THAT is to be taken in mind when contemplating the possibilities of “American fascism”.

        • The uneven economic development of Italy and uneven political development of Germany are factors rarely touched upon, and they did have their effects. From a 2003 pamphlet I wrote on the class nature of fascism:

          “In the first years of fascism, there had been almost two movements, one urban and one rural, with Mussolini a product of the former and many local fascist leaders representing the latter, over whom Mussolini had limited control. The movement had to become more unified to seize power, and Mussolini and his urban faction gaining the upper hand within fascism made such unity possible.

          The contradiction between big businessmen and rural landlords was not decisive because both wished to intensify their hegemony in their respective spheres and these goals could be accomplished together. Landlords wished to suppress organizing by the peasants; big businessmen wished to suppress unions. Both were able to accomplish their goals through fascism and both contributed financially to the movement. The March on Rome could not have happened without the financing of the fascist squads.”

          The German aristocracy, the Junkers, certainly played a major role in igniting World War I; German military officers tended to come from that caste but even those who didn’t reflected those interests. Their dominance even after the industrial takeoff of Prussia and then a united Germany was reflected in a political system in which the government ministers were responsible to the kaiser and not parliament, which was simply expected to support whatever the aristocracy and bourgeoisie wanted, even though those elites had to make concessions to the Social Democrats due to the SPD’s growing strength.

          After World War II, Germany, Italy and the rest of Europe leap-frogged past the U.S. in political development with the institution of parliamentary systems at minimum partially based on proportional representation. The U.S. truly is an “ancien régime” and its backward political institutions, most notably the single-seat district, winner-take-old system that nullifies any attempt at breaking the two-party corporate system. And without breaking that duopoly, there will be essentially impossible to dismantle U.S. imperialism and militarism.

  18. Thank you for an interesting read, broadly agree with misuse of the term, however for the sake of argument recently read Hobsawm’s “Age of…” series and he had some surprising and counter-intuitive things to say about fascism, for one he didn’t consider Franco a fascist, more relevantly he didn’t buy into the whole “tool of big business” notion…

    “As for the ‘monopolistic capitalist’ thesis, the point about really big business is that it can come to terms with any regime that does not actually expropriate it, and any regime must come to terms with it. Fascism was no more ‘the expression of the interests of monopoly capital’ than the American New Deal or British Labour governments, or the Weimar republic. Big business in the early 1930s did not particularly want Hitler, and would have preferred more orthodox conservatism. It gave him little support until the great slump, and even then support was late and patchy. However, when he came to power, business collaborated wholeheartedly, up to the point of using slave labour and extermination camp labour for its operations during the second world war.”

    • Thanks for a thoughtful comment, I’ll add that anything written by Eric Hobsbawm is worth consideration.

      Hitler had considerable material support from German big business from the early 1920s, by no means all or even a majority for many years. But the Nazis could never had have supported hundreds of thousands of storm troops, and have carried out the level of propaganda and other work they did, without significant material support. Nazi members could have not have come close to generating that level of money.

      For most big industrialists, it would have been no easy decision to have gotten behind the Nazis because they were giving up some of their own freedom in exchange for the ability to be absolute dictators in their relations with their employees and the working class in general. Fascism is a dictatorship for big business, not by big business.

      Certainly is it true that big business will reconcile itself to whatever regime will enable it to continue to accumulate, although, given the conditions of Germany in the early 1930s, a dictatorship was necessary from their point of view. Most big capitalists would likely have preferred authoritarian rule by one of the traditional conservative parties, true, but that was not possible. Those parties, and the Junkers and capitalists animating them, thought they could use Hitler, but Hitler, as he swiftly demonstrated, had other plans.

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