What is fascism? When one asks this question, they are met with a multitude of irreconcilable explanations. Liberalism offers claims that fascism is a psychological confusion, or a product of ignorance, or even that it is the result of an authoritarian personality type. Certainly idealist, elitist drivel if one ever saw it. Historical developments don’t simply emerge from the mind’s machinations bringing them forth. It is, rather, the other way around. Marxism certainly offers a more accurate explanation, although the line which the Comintern took with regards to what fascism is was still lacking. As Georgi Dimitrov explained in The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism, the Comintern line on fascism was that:
…fascism in power…. [is] the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of 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.
Dimitrov was certainly correct in identifying fascism as being associated with the development of world imperialism, or finance capitalism. And, as is often noted by Marxists, fascism arises in times of economic crises, which are a consistent periodic event under capitalism due to the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. However, the perception of fascism as wholly a movement manufactured by the haute bourgeoisie is inaccurate.
The tendency of the rate of profit to decline, and associated crises, plays a strong part in the development of fascism. Having noted this, we must also identify that fascism in the 20th century arose in Southern and Central Europe, most famously in Germany and Italy, which I will focus on in my examination of historical fascism. Preceding fascism’s rise were two important developments relating to imperialism: growing monopolization as a result of the centralization of capital, and the growth of a labor aristocracy, whose high standard of living was funded by superprofits reaped from the proletariat under the yolk of imperialism, and who thus became loyal to the imperialist world order. The former led to the ruining of much of the petite-bourgeoisie, who were either proletarianized or were threatened with imminent proletarianization. As Marx said on the diminishment of the petite-bourgeoisie in Capital Volume 3:
“A fall in the profit rate, and accelerated accumulation, are simply different expressions of the same process, in so far as both express the development of productivity. Accumulation in turn accelerates the fall in the profit rate, in so far as it involves the concentration of workers on a large scale and hence a higher composition of capital. On the other hand the fall in the profit rate again accelerates the concentration of capital, and its centralization, by dispossessing the smaller capitalists and expropriating the final residue of direct producers who still have something left to expropriate. In this way there is an acceleration of accumulation as far as its mass is concerned, even though the rate of this accumulation falls together with the rate of profit.”
With the development of productive forces also came the growth of a mass of a surplus labor population, as fewer workers were needed for a large output. With these pre-conditions came the basis for fascism.
So, we see that fascism is certainly a class movement, rather than a simple product of haute bourgeois fabrication. Fascism is, further, a class collaborationist movement. Fascism is a movement which tends to find its strongest foundation in the petite-bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy, and emerges during crises due to the threat which those pose to these classes. The strong petite-bourgeois element in fascism is made clear in the common rhetoric against globalized capitalism, which is something that threatens the petite-bourgeoisie with ruin. Fascism further tends to find recruits among the lumpenproletariat, with offers of social mobility won through conquest and pillage. Fascism does come to an association with finance capital in most of the cases which it finds success, but it does not come from the haute bourgeoisie. Rather, the classes most invested in fascism, who are often otherwise filled with resentment of the haute bourgeoisie, find themselves forced to form a class coalition with finance capital in order to solidify their ascendance and reproduction, and finance capital finds benefit in this as far as it offers a class collaborationist solution to capitalist crises, certainly a more appealing option to them than socialist revolution. Further, we must identify that fascism is a movement dominated by men, which is the basis of its patriarchal rhetoric and actions. Component to fascism is a patriarchal reaction to the entrance of women into the proletariat and into “male” professions, which poses a threat to the gendered division of labor. Fascism attacks the LGBT community alongside developments which tend toward the liberation of women because it seeks to preserve reproductive gender and sexual relations, to ensure the growth of the labor force, of potential soldiers, and of labor-power. To acknowledge this as the reality of fascism is to understand that fascism is, yes, a result of the decay of capitalism, but that it is a truly mass movement, rather than one merely poured down from above. As Clara Zetkin writes in The Struggle Against Fascism (emphasis added):
“…we view fascism as an expression of the decay and disintegration of the capitalist economy and as a symptom of the bourgeois state’s dissolution. We can combat fascism only if we grasp that it rouses and sweeps along broad social masses who have lost the earlier security of their existence and with it, often, their belief in social order. Fascism is rooted, indeed, in the dissolution of the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state. There were already symptoms of the proletarianization of bourgeois layers in prewar capitalism. The war shattered the capitalist economy down to its foundations. This is evident not only in the appalling impoverishment of the proletariat, but also in the proletarianization of very broad petty-bourgeois and middle-bourgeois masses, the calamitous conditions among small peasants, and the bleak distress of the ‘intelligentsia.’”
The development of imperialism led to WWI, which ended in the defeated nation of Germany being wracked by impoverishment and crises, developments which threatened the livelihood of the petite-bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy. Before the war, Germany was in the midst of industrial capitalist development, and still held a mass of the petite-bourgeoisie while simultaneously experiencing the developments wrought by imperialism, in particular the growth of the labor aristocracy. The devastation of the war and the demands the Triple Entente placed on the nation posed a threat to these classes.
Conversely, Italian fascism arose with a much weaker basis than German fascism. Why? Italy lacked a strong development of a labor aristocracy, and did not hold as great a mass of petite-bourgeoisie as Germany did. Further, Italy was not as capitalistically developed as Germany was, and still held semi-feudal conditions and institutions. As a result, the Italian fascists failed to find a strong, independent base among the masses, and had to rely almost entirely on an alliance with the haute bourgeoisie and semi-feudal elements, particularly the monarchy, in order to find success. Thus, Italian fascism much more resembled the typical capitalist autocracy rather than appearing as an especially new form, which led some Marxists, particularly within Italy, to conclude that fascism did not represent a particularly significant break from previous capitalist social formations.
Fascism in both Italy and Germany relied on imperialism and primitive accumulation as a means of reaping spoils to distribute among their citizens, a process which bought them loyal fascists. Italy colonized Ethiopia, though it lacked the industrial development to make much conquest beyond. By contrast, the Third Reich, holding the highly developed industrial capacity of German capital, conquered much of Central and Western Europe, enslaving peoples as a means of reaping superprofits and slaughtering peoples as a means of opening land and capital for German settlers (another means of buying loyal fascist citizens). As J. Sakai writes in The Shock of Recognition:
“Fascism de-proletarianized Aryan society. Or to put it more precisely: it created an Aryan society that had never existed before by de-proletarianizing and genociding the former German society. The Nazis pursued Adolf Hitler’s evolving strategy, which was to simultaneously promote both techno-industrial development and the Aryan re-organization of classes. If it is the superior race man’s destiny to be both a fierce soldier and ruler over others — as the Nazis held in a core belief — then how can this superior race man at the same time be packing groceries for housewives at the supermarket or bucking production on the assembly line? In 1940 Nazi Labor Front leader Robert Ley said in an amazingly revealing speech: ‘In ten years Germany will be transformed beyond recognition. A nation of proletarians will have become a nation of rulers…’ By the millions, newly Aryanized men were shifted into military & police service and into being supervisors, office workers, foremen, straw bosses and minor bureaucrats of every sort. The new proletariat that started emerging was heavily made up of involuntary foreign & slave laborers, retirees, and — despite Nazi ideology about women’s ‘natural’ place in the kitchen and nursery — women.”
Fascism’s class collaborationism, its promotion of a synthesizing national economic structure, is only possible as far as the proletariat ascends to the ranks of the labor aristocracy and petite-bourgeoisie. This is done through colonial conquest and primitive accumulation. Fascism must also rely on the reinforcement of cultural hegemony in order to strengthen the cohesion of the nation. It does this through genocide and slaughter, as with the infamous industrial extermination in the form of the Holocaust. The Holocaust represents the peak of fascist colonialism, exploitation, and brutality, carried out in the name of buying loyal citizens by reaping superprofits, by opening land, labor, and capital, and by reasserting cultural hegemony.
Let us now turn to the modern day, in particular America. Fascist movements are once again growing, particularly in Europe, America, and other settler-colonial nations, such as New Zealand and Australia. In fact, they are moving forward with strength and massive numbers in their ranks. Why is this? Because, in the case of Europe, the labor aristocracy and petite-bourgeoisie are threatened by continuing capitalist crises, particularly the continuing global resistance to imperialism and decay of imperialism’s coherence. Take the example of Britain, the former core of world imperialism. The National Front-turned-BNP, Britain First, National Action, the EDL, and other fascist movements have found such liveliness due to the mass of labor aristocrats who have been proletarianized or are faced by imminent proletarianization. In the case of America and other settler-colonial nations, this still applies, but there is also the even more deep-seated interests of settlers, whose livelihood has been bought with the dispossession and exploitation of indigenous and black people. We see the height of fascist development in these nations, with major movements and frequent terror attacks, as with multiple shootings in America and the recent shooting in New Zealand. Modern fascist movements in particular have pronounced anti-capitalist elements, coming forth in the form of third positionism and eco-fascism. These are the responses of the labor aristocracy and petite-bourgeoisie to the growing crises of world imperialism. Fascism continues to attack women’s liberation and the LGBT community, with common recruitment tactics among fascism focusing on appeals to men’s reactionary hatred of feminism and the LGBT community.
Historic anti-fascism among the world Communist movement operated on the assumption that fascism is a development of the haute-bourgeoisie, which is why it saw failure in nations which the dictatorship of the proletariat was not yet established in. By contrast, in the USSR and other socialist states, no major fascist movement grew while the Communist Parties ruled. Why? Because they were already repressing and liquidating the mass of the petite-bourgeoisie, and never developed a labor aristocracy. The Communist movements in capitalist countries didn’t hold state power, and therefore could do no such thing. Thus, their anti-fascist activities were bound for failure, as they continued to incorrectly identify the roots of fascism.
Modern day anti-fascism is plagued by different problems. Modern day anti-fascism lacks unity. Unity in organization, unity in strategy and tactics, even unity in identifying what fascism is and why it arises. This latter disunity is the most devastating, as answering such questions is foundational for developing a plan of action. Anti-fascists cheer over the perceived defeat of fascists by the obstruction of any coordination of another major rally like Unite the Right, but fail to acknowledge the continuing growth of fascism as a movement, albeit with more respectable optics, and the growth of fascist terror, which serves to punish those who challenge settler, labor aristocrat, petite-bourgeois, and patriarchal interests. There is also far too much acceptance of liberal rhetoric and solutions, from appealing to metaphysical universal values like tolerance and intolerance of intolerance as somehow offering a means of resisting fascism, to advocating gun control to combat terror (if it is even acknowledged that reactionary developments are behind the growth in individual mass violence, rather than simply blaming mental illness). This latter solution is especially harmful, as any gun control policies would largely harm the colonized, who are criminalized by the colonial bourgeois state, and would further cement the settler petite-bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy’s monopoly on violence, as they are far less likely to be arrested for crimes and their fascist movements already hold large stashes of weapons. Any gun control would simply harm the proletarian movement and ensure yet another block in the way of socialist revolution. To support gun control is to support the bourgeois state, and any so-called “socialist” who buys into it as a solution is a tool of the bourgeoisie and colonialism.
Further, there is a failure to acknowledge the real basis of fascism. There is a lack of recognition that fascist terror is strongly concentrated in settler-colonial nations, targeting the colonized, and that fascism responds to developments which are effects of the continuing crises of imperialism. Among these are the growing migration of people from the global south, impoverished by imperialist plunder, to the imperial core, and the absolute international connection of markets, a result of imperialist development. The former development in particular is met with brutality, from both militias seeking to terrorize migrants to settler-colonial states like the US enacting brutal violence and terror on said migrants, placing them in concentration camps. We are already seeing the rise of fascism. With climate catastrophe mounting, we will see fluxes of climate refugees as the global south faces devastation, and fascism will become more pronounced as the citizens of the imperial core defend their spoils against those they have reaped them from. We do not have time for a decentralized, disorganized, pluralistic, undisciplined anti-fascist movement. We are in the eve of imperialist development, on the verge of total extinction. Drastic action is necessary in the face of climate change and fascism, the latter of which will very likely become the ruling power in the West in the coming years as a response to continuing and deepening crises.
In order to succeed in the struggle against fascism, and imperialist devastation as a whole, we must strive for socialism. The anti-fascist movement cannot succeed without the unity, discipline, and organization offered by a vanguard party. Further, it is only socialist states which have succeeded in repressing the roots of fascism. Observe how pronounced fascism has become in the fallen socialist states, and understand the wrath of repressed reactionary classes returned to power. In the context of the West, we must acknowledge anti-imperialism as essential to destroying fascism and capitalism, and support all nations victimized by imperialism in their struggles, including the indigenous and black nations of the Americas. Anti-fascism cannot succeed in settler-colonial nations unless it is component to a de-colonial socialist movement. The settler masses must be repressed and placed under the rule of the colonized, and this cannot be done without the iron discipline and organization of a vanguard party. We must also attack the gendered division of labor, and ensure that women and the LGBT community are strongly dominant in the leadership of the socialist movement. Again, I say, for anti-fascism to find success, it must have uniformity of theory and practice. Plurality will not attain victory. Now is the time for drastic action.