FASCISM IN THE WORLD TODAY
THE NEED FOR ANALYSIS
Reactionary political movements are on the rise in the world today. In Europe nationalist and fascist parties and movements are gaining support in many countries – France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc. Additionally some people claim that regimes of a fascist character have power in a number of countries, e.g. Syria and North Korea (DPRK). Some other countries are arguably heading in a fascist direction, e.g. Turkey, China. The term “fascist” is often used to derogatorily refer to any right-wing person or party the speaker does not like, e.g. Donald Trump. This not at all useful.
There is an urgent need to properly analyse different types of right-wing regimes to provide guidance for taking appropriate and effective action against them. For example, characterising the Trump presidency as “fascist” if it is not in some concrete meaningful sense is not likely to result in the generation of effective tactics and strategy to block the implementation of his reactionary policies. If it is to have any useful meaning then “fascism” must mean something more definite and specific than “very reactionary and oppressive”. The Islamic Republic in Iran is very reactionary and oppressive but is it fascist in the way that were the classic cases in Italy and Germany? The same can be said of military rule in Egypt and Myanmar. A clearly defined model of fascism must be put forward which definitively distinguishes it from from other types of right-wing rule. This is not simply a matter of academic interest but necessitated by the need to produce a guide for political action.
Fascist political systems are very reactionary and oppressive but so are all states based on capitalist societies. We should not forget that imperialist societies with liberal democratic regimes, e.g. Britain, France, USA, have brought about the oppression, exploitation and deaths of many millions of people around the world especially in their colonies and former colonies. Fascism has no monopoly in ruling, oppressing and exploiting people. In the case of fascism the issue is to identify the specific characteristics which distinguish it from other types of political systems in capitalist societies.
The approach taken here is on the basis of comparing past regimes which have generally been identified as “fascist” to arrive at a set of key core characteristics which clearly distinguish fascist from other types of political systems. Then the resulting model is applied to the analysis of some contemporary societies to determine whether or not they can be objectively regarded as fascist. Of course, fascism is not a static entity set in tablets of stone and may well have some different or additional secondary features in its current forms.
This approach has some similarities to the ideal type method advocated by Max Weberi. In constructing models of various social phenomena, e.g. capitalism, Weber tended to put the main emphasis on states of social consciousness, e.g. the Protestant ethic, with less attention paid to social structures, e.g. class divisions. Taking a Marxist approach here, both aspects of consciousness and structure are taken into account.
In isolating and describing the factors which give rise to fascist types of states it is assumed by many commentators, including Georgi Dimitrov, that the same causes will be present in all instances of this phenomenon. This is not necessarily the case. It is quite possible for the same outcome to come about as a result of different combinations of causative factors. This is known as equifinality. Dimitrov argues that it was finance capitalists who instigated fascism in Italy and Germany. This, I argue, is somewhat of a simplification of what happened in those cases. However if it is accepted that fascist regimes emerged in non-imperialist Libya and Syria, then they were not set up by finance capital but were put in place by local military elements.
THE DIMITROV DEFINITION OF FASCISM
People examining fascism from a Marxist-Leninist perspective usually orientate themselves around the analysis of fascism put forward by Georgi Dimitrov who was the General Secretary of the Communist International from 1934 until its dissolution in 1943. The assumption of state power by the Nazis in Germany in 1933 was big shock for and blow to the international communist movement. Dimitrov was trying to formulate an analysis of fascism which would enable the communist parties to effectively fight back against it.
According to Dimitrov: “Fascism is not a form of state power “standing above both classes — the proletariat and the bourgeoisie,” as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted. It is not “the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie which has captured the machinery of the state,” as the British Socialist Brailsford declares. No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy, fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations…. The development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country.”ii This definition is not very precise and does not say much about the particular characteristics of fascist regimes. It is more a moral condemnation than a detailed scientific description. Dimitrov almost certainly had in mind the recent case of the triumph of fascism in Germany where finance capital was very strong. However, before that fascist regimes had been established in Italy and Portugal, countries still relatively capitalistically underdeveloped, as the Comintern had pointed out, and where finance capital was not very strong. The same was true of Spain where a fascist regime was established by 1939. Also in less developed countries in Eastern Europe , e.g. Romania, fascist regimes were established in this period. In the countries where finance capital was most developed – Britain, France, USA – apart from Germany, fascism was never a very serious threat. It can be argued that fascism is more likely to emerge in societies where capitalism and imperialism are weakly developed and are faced with strong internal challenges from workers and peasants led by revolutionary organisations. Dimitrov is dismissive of the role played by various middle strata elements in the emergence of fascism, i.e. petit bourgeois, peasants, intelligentsia, military personnel. It is a matter of historical fact that the fascist movements in Italy and Germany originated among disaffected former soldiers, struggling peasant farmers and declasse non-manual employees. They were not dreamed up by finance capitalists. Only at a certain point in the class struggle did sections of the bourgeoisie turn to the fascists and finance them as an effective means of warding off communists and socialists. When fascist governments were formed then, although some of their leading members were of middle strata origin, their actions were ones which primarily favoured the interests of finance capital and not those of the social strata from which these leaders originated. The same is true of social democracy. Its leaders originate from working class and middle strata backgrounds yet social democratic governments under capitalism primarily serve the interests of finance capital, e.g. the British Labour Government 1997-2010. What these two cases demonstrate is that it is the character of the capitalist state apparatus which determines that the individuals constituting a particular government act mainly to maintain the bourgeois status quo. The offices of a government serving capitalist interests do not actually have to be occupied by capitalists. Another problem with Dimitrov’s analysis is that he does not provide any detailed description of the state and institutional structures of fascism and how they differ from other forms of capitalist rule. Also he does not give an outline of fascist ideology and explain its appeal. Dimitrov’s definition of fascism needs to be considerably developed to adequately explain the coming to power of fascist regimes in the period between the First and Second World Wars let alone any contemporary developments which might reasonably be categorised as “fascist”. It should also be noted Dimitrov’s analysis of fascism led directly onto the formulation of and adoption by the Comintern in 1934 of the United Front Against Fascism policy which turned out in actual practice to be a disaster. (For a critique see The Unholy Alliance: The United Front Against Fascism and War, 1935-47, Marxist-Leninist Programme Commission, 1983). CORE CHARACTERISTICS OF FASCISM Some of the pre-World War Two societies generally regarded as fascist will be submitted to comparative analysis so as to identify a number of core characteristics shared among them. These societies are Italy, Portugal, Germany and Spain. There are other cases which could arguably be included – Hungary, Japan, Romania – but they will be excluded in the first instance. The model below distinguishes ideological and structural characteristics although in reality they exist as a dialectical unity. Any particular society may not exhibit all of the characteristics identified here. But if it has a significant number of these characteristics then it will display qualitative differences from other particular societies and thus can reasonably be described as fascist.
It is nationalistic, chauvinist and often racist. It claims that people’s welfare can only be guaranteed if they are members of a strong nation. The nation is seen as having undergone some decline in the past which has weakened it. This has been brought about by individualist liberalism, class conflict and alien foreign influences. There is a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of traditional solutions. This weakness needs to be reversed so as to establish a stronger, more durable nation in the future. There are threats, both from within and without, to the continued existence of the nation. The traits of strong masculinity are essential to strengthen the nation and there should be no pretence that the sexes are equal. Conflicts within the nation, especially class conflicts, need to be overcome so as to achieve national unity. Individuals should completely subordinate themselves to and serve the interests of the nation. Internal enemies should not be tolerated and must be eliminated by firm measures including violent methods. Socialists and communists in particular must be eliminated. Threats from other countries need to be dealt with, if necessary, by means of war. Indeed, the preparation for and the waging of war will strengthen the nation. The nation must be in a permanent state of readiness to fight its enemies. The nation has a right to expand into other countries if this serves its interests. The greatest service an individual can perform for the nation is to sacrifice himself in war.
Organisation of Society
Any sort of democracy and social equality is an illusion and a clearly stratified autocracy is the appropriate form of rule. A supreme charismatic leader stands at the head of this hierarchy and his commands must be obeyed unquestioningly. He expresses the will of the people and is the source of the nation’s ideology. Other views are the products of dissenting and disruptive intellectuals and should be suppressed. The official ideology is anti-rationalist and anti-materialist and stresses the unique, spiritual qualities of the nation. It is fairly hostile to traditional religions and subordinates them to state directives. The findings of modern science are of value only in so far as this knowledge can be used to strengthen the nation. In so far as any sort of legislative assemblies exist they have no real power which is concentrated in the leader and his immediate associates. The basis of the regime’s power is a highly disciplined, paramilitary mass movement which draws its members from all sections of society. There is an extensive security apparatus to control dissent. Large, well equipped armed forces are necessary to deal with both internal and external enemies and these are commanded by and are directly responsible to the supreme leader. The sphere of civil society is very restricted with voluntary activities subject to state control. Industry and commerce remain within private ownership but are closely supervised by and directed by the state which organises both employers and employees into “corporations”. As far as possible, the nation should be economically self-sufficient with foreign trade kept to a minimum, a policy of autarchy. The state extracts large revenues from privately-owned and state-owned economic enterprises and additionally there is extensive corruption in economic and public life. The state seeks to influence and control all aspects of civil society so as maintain and strengthen national values.
Conditions Giving Rise to Fascism
Apart from Germany, the other three countries considered here – Italy, Portugal and Spain – had relatively weak economies, being far less industrialised than were the much more developed capitalist economies of northern Europe. The economic difficulties of Portugal and Spain were of long-standing and had to a considerable degree been brought about by the loss of much of their colonial empires. In the case of Italy it had got in late on the imperialist carve-up of Africa in the nineteenth century and thus had fairly modest colonial possessions. Germany had lost all its colonies as a result of suffering defeat in World War One.
Portugal, Italy and Spain still had large agricultural sectors with many poor peasants in economic difficulty. There were growing working classes, many of them from peasant backgrounds, concentrated in rapidly expanding industrial centres such as Turin and Barcelona. As is often the case with first generation proletarians, these workers tended to be very militant and strongly influenced by revolutionary doctrines, especially anarcho-syndicalism. Armed uprisings occurred. Germany had a longer-established, large working class organised into large trade unions and with many workers supporting the Social Democrats and Communists. Germany had been hit particularly severely by the Great Crash of 1929 and the resulting impoverishment stirred up great working class discontent The bourgeoisie in these countries felt threatened by the growing and radicalised working classes.
None of the four countries mentioned here had long-established, stable political systems. All of them had experienced serious political upheavals and dramatic regime changes. They had weak states with limited popular legitimacy unable to adequately deal with long-standing peasant and working class grievances. In three of these countries – Italy, Germany and Spain – there was a relatively weak sense of national unity. Italy and Germany had only become unified national states in the late nineteenth century while some parts of Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country, had strong separatist movements
This model is an ideal type description. In particular cases the details may be more complex. For example, the political organisational structure of Spanish fascism was more complex than in the Italian and German cases. Even so, there is a complex of interrelated core features here which distinguishes this type of fascist political system from other types of governance in capitalist societies, e.g. liberal democracy, authoritarianism, bureaucratic capitalism and military rule.
CONTEMPORARY CASES OF FASCISM
A preliminary survey of the world today reveals two countries which strongly conform to the model of fascism outlined above: Syria and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). In addition in both of these cases the supreme leadership has become hereditary; the Assad family in Syria and the Kim family in North Korea. In both societies no expressions of dissent from the present regimes are tolerated and are ruthlessly suppressed.
The legitimating ideology of the Assad regime is Ba’athism which clearly has fascist characteristics. The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was also based on Ba’athism and in its characteristics resembled the model of fascism presented here. The Gadaffi regime in Libya also conformed to the fascist model.
The Assad regime had long been a client state of the Soviet Union and then Russia. It relied heavily upon these states for military equipment and support. The Syrian ruling class is a comprador bourgeoisie. The direct military intervention in Syria since 2014 of Russian armed forces saved the Assad regime from defeat by its internal enemies. As a result the Syrian state is now a puppet regime of Russia and Syria has become a neo-colony of Russia. The most ruthless forcible suppression is handed out to any dissidents whoever lid they might be.
The regime established in 1948 in the northern part of Korea was explicitly socialist and carried out sweeping land reform. It was led by Kim il-Sung and despite the devastation brought about by the Korean War (1950-53) economically developed rapidly, faster than the southern part of the peninsula under the US puppet regime. Politically, proletarian democracy did not develop and by the nineteen nineties, then under the leadership of Kim’s son Kim Jong-il, the country was in serious economic difficulties. Heredity leadership became firmly established with Kim Jong-un succeeding his father. This regime has effectively abandoned Marxism as its legitimating ideology. Instead it espouses ‘Juche’ which is anti-materialist and racist. Mao Tse-tung suggested that if the process of socialist transformation went wrong then a fascist regime could well be the outcome. This seems to have happened in North Korea which strongly resembles the model of fascism presented here.
Another regime which is often described as “fascist” is the Islamic Republic of Iran. It certainly has many of the features of fascism but whether it is fully fascist is debatable. Periodical contested elections for the national presidency still take place although in a somewhat restricted way. It is certainly a very reactionary regime but this does not automatically make it fascist. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether or not Iran is fascist or some sort of “authoritarianism”.
Another very reactionary regime is the one in Saudi Arabia. Given the hereditary nature of its ruling class it might be described as “feudal” but at the same time it has a fully developed capitalist economy. It does not have a mass movement supportive of the regime. Its legitimising ideology is a branch of Islam, Wahhabism. Again, it might be more accurately characterised as a type of authoritarianism.
Leftists, including Maoists, have often characterised the Turkish regime as fascist. Many claim that Turkey has been fascist ever since the foundation of the modern Turkish state by Kamal Ataturk in 1923. The military played the major role in establishing the Turkish state and have directly intervened in its governance on a number of occasions. They see themselves as the guarantor of a secular state as opposed to an Islamic one. The periods of direct military rule in Turkey have been very oppressive and have targeted socialists and communists. At the same time it is the case that Turkey has experienced periods of rule by governments formed from popularly elected parliaments. The past political order in Turkey might be accurately characterised as “military” whereby no government can rule without at least the implicit consent of the military. In this respect it resembles Pakistan where the military periodically directly intervenes in national political affairs.
Turkey has experienced a resurgence of Islam in recent decades. In 2002 the Conservative and Justice Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected into government office. Since then it has pursued a policy of growing Islamisation of Turkish society. Also the oppression of the Kurds has intensified. In 2016 there was an unsuccessful military coup against the Erdogan regime. This provided the Islamist government with the opportunity to have a mass crackdown of its opponents. This led on to the holding of a referendum in 2017 which approved a new constitution which embodied a presidential system of government whereby the president had very wide-ranging and sweeping powers. In 2018 Erdogan was elected President for a five year period. There seems to have been a shift in power relations in Turkey with the military playing a lesser role than in th past. While it would not be accurate to characterise Turkey as fascist at present it has been heading in a very authoritarian direction and fears that the Erdogan regime could develop into outright fascism are well founded.
A powerful country where trends towards fascism are growing stronger is China. Since the revisionist coup d’etat in 1976 socialist relations of production have been completely destroyed and a state capitalist class has emerged consisting of the top echelons of the Communist Party of China in close alliance with the owners of private capitalist enterprises, e.g. Huawei. State institutions are made up by self-selection by members of the state bourgeoisie. Oppositional political parties to the CPC are not allowed. A certain amount of critical political and intellectual debate is still possible in China but this is steadily being limited. In particular growing restrictions are being placed on the use of the internet. Any serious dissent is not tolerated. The current President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, has emerged as the supreme leader. His decisions cannot be challenged. The Constitution has been changed so that he can enjoy unlimited periods in office and his political line has been elevated into “Xi Jinping Thought” thus trying to give it the same status as Mao Tse-tung Thought. The latter was internationalist in character while the former is nationalist and chauvinist.
China is now economically expansionist on an international scale. It is a major exporter of capital to many countries, especially in Africa. Thus it is imperialist. Also it is rapidly developing and upgrading its armed forces explicitly to back-up its overseas ventures. It is the rising imperialist power on a world scale setting out to challenge American imperialist hegemony. Given the features mentioned here, China can accurately be characterised as an emergent fascist state. (For more detailed analysis see ‘Apologists for Chinese Imperialism’ at http://www.revolutionarypraxis.org/?cat=205).
Another case of a formerly socialist state heading in a fascist direction is Russia. With the strengthening of revisionist tendencies after the death of Stalin, especially the weakening and dilution of socialist relations of production, the Communist Party of China, led by Mao, came to characterise the Soviet Union as having a system of state capitalism. With the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the opportunity arose for opportunist would-be capitalists to get their hands on, to steal, valuable state enterprises and become overnight billionaires – a sort of latter day “primitive accumulation of capital”. Many of these entrepreneurs held positions in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union apparatus which they used to get their hands on state enterprises at bargain prices. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who became the richest person in Russia, was a full-time Komsomol official. Other members of the new capitalist class were people who had operated in the unofficial, underground economy which emerged within the Soviet Union in its declining decades. Many of these were violent criminals, the Soviet mafia. Also actively involved in the scramble for privatising state assets were members of the security ministry, the KGB, now called the FSB. Vladimir Putin was a Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB, then deputy mayor of St. Petersburg before being appointed Prime Minister by President Boris Yeltsin. The present economic organisation of Russian capitalism is dominated by the “oligarchs”, billionaire capitalists in closes association with the higher echelons of the Russian state apparatus. It is suffused by rampant corruption.
The Russian Federation has an elected president and an elected parliament. But throughout its history there have been allegations of ballot rigging particularly in the repeated elections of Putin as President. Rival candidates have been disqualified or assassinated. Putin heads the United Russia party which propagates a line of Great Russian chauvinism. In Russia it is widely known as “the party of crooks and thieves”, its members being deeply involved in corrupt practices in the state and economy. The other political parties represented in the national parliament offer little opposition to Putin’s increasingly dictatorial rule. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is largely supportive of the Putin regime. It is antisemitic and has a positive view of the Russian Orthodox Church which also is antisemitic, homophobic and misogynist. The Putin regime has been very supportive of the Church which it sees as useful in promoting Russian nationalism. If you want to do business in Russia then it must done within the strictures laid down by Putin and the FSB. Otherwise you will be shutdown, or expropriated or even worse. Putin is an enthusiastic admirer of the writings of Ivan Ilyin, a Russian fascist of the interwar years. The Bolsheviks expelled Ilyin from Russia along with other reactionary intellectuals. Putin has had selections of Ilyin’s writings distributed to members of the state bureaucracy. The ideology being propagated by United Russia has been taking on an increasingly fascistic character.
The imperialist character of contemporary Russia has already been mentioned with reference to the case of Syria. Putin has made it clear that he wishes to incorporate into the Russian Federation at least some of the former Soviet Republics in Asia. The Russian state has sent personnel and weapons to the Central African Republic. It has been trying to revive some of the alliances that existed with African states during the Soviet era. There is a strong drive to establish economic interests such as mineral extraction rights although it is a long way behind China at present. It is not just the luxury London property market which attracts investment from Russian oligarchs. Also it is modernising and strengthening its armed forces. Russia is an emerging imperialist power.
There is still in Russia a certain amount of freedom of expression although this is steadily being curtailed with increasing state restrictions on the mass media. If Russia continues on its present course on the consolidating dictatorship of Vladimir Putin then it will become a full-blown fascist state.
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All of the possible cases of fascist regimes discussed here need further investigation. But in the meantime it is necessary to draw at least some provisional conclusions in terms of current revolutionary strategy and tactics
FLIRTING WITH FASCISM
Some Marxist-Leninists, including some who call themselves Maoists, have expressed “support” for some of these reactionary regimes. This is usually premised on the false supposition that any regime which falls out with US-led Western imperialism must have some sort of progressive character. This is a fallacy. In Libya and Syria there were genuine mass popular uprisings against the Gadaffi and Assad regimes. They were not the result of machinations by US imperialism as claimed by many leftists. In the case of Libya the Western imperialists had brought Gadaffi in from the cold. Tony Blair had been sent to kiss him. Of course, the imperialists like to be on the winning side in any upheavals in countries that interest them. Thus they quickly drop regimes they previously backed if it suits their convenience as happened in the case of Libya.
At the same time the leftist supporters of such fascist regimes denounce brave workers and peasants who attack tanks with their bare hands. The leftist “anti-imperialists” claim that the Gadaffi and Assad regimes represent the interests of the “national bourgeoisie” and thus are objectively anti-imperialist. On the contrary these regimes have a comprador bourgeois character whereby they directly collaborate with one or another imperialist power. They enrich themselves at the expense of the petit bourgeoisie and the masses. True, the result of the popular uprisings in Libya and Syria has brought about chaos as rival imperialists have intervened and Islamic fundamentalists have seized opportunities. But this is hardly a reason to argue for the continuance of highly oppressive fascist regimes. The seeds of their destruction were sown from within, not from without. People who claim to be Marxists should ask themselves why there are no significant communist forces in these countries who could have steered popular revolt in a different direction.
There are some leftist elements, particularly the Communist Party of Great Britiain (Marxist-Leninist), who claim that China is still on the socialist road and playing an anti-imperialist role in the world. They also claim that Russia is anti-imperialist. In fact these two capitalist countries are rapidly developing imperialist powers which increasingly are coming into conflict with the Western imperialist powers. As the “have-not” imperialists in the world today, China and Russia are more adventurist and aggressive than the established imperialist countries in the Western bloc. There is some resemblance here to the situation in the nineteen thirties when the have-not fascist-led imperialist countries of Italy, Japan and Germany became increasingly bold in their challenges to the more established imperialists of Britain and France.
Revolutionary Marxists must face up to the fact that we live in a world where new inter-imperialist rivalries are opening up which will lead to major wars unless prevented by revolutionary insurrection. It is up to us to build Marxist-Leninist-Maoist forces capable of taking the initiatives necessary to ensure that this calamitous scenario does not occur. And in countries where fascism is emerging we should say so and oppose it.
i An ideal type in this sense is not a normatively best case but “ideal” only in the sense that it exists as ideas in the mind of the researcher. These ideas are abstracted from examination of concrete instances of the phenomena concerned and constitute a simplified, one-sided model of the real life phenomenon, e.g. capitalism. This model is then used as a guide for examining further possible cases of the phenomenon under investigation with a view to further developing the model to a more sophisticated level, e.g. monopoly capitalism.
ii Dimitrov’s writings on fascism are to be found in the volume Dimitroff, Georgi, The United Front: The Struggle Against Fascism and War, Proletarian Publishers, San Francisco, 1975.