Today, like other times in history, we face an economy on the verge of collapse. Recession, depression and military defeats are being incurred by the leading imperialist power; it is clear that events are not going according to plan as far as the United States and other states with economic bonds to it are concerned. Additionally, we see a reactionary and violent political current emerging in the United States in response to this—one that speaks of reversing the "socialism" of those to their left politically via "Second Amendment solutions" if necessary. This reactionary turn in the political mainstream has been dismissed by many bourgeois liberals as merely the result of the lamentations of an ignorant bloc of semi-literate rightist destined to fade into irrelevance within the next few election cycles. Yet, as it appears that capitalism's crisis will only worsen, the potential for an increasingly militant and violent movement to "restore America's place in the world" grows by leaps and bounds. In order to understand, undermine and defeat such a movement before it gains sufficient power to crush working people is a topic of the utmost importance. In order to achieve this end, one must understand the ideology, history and tactics for resisting fascism.
Fascism emerged in the early twentieth century as the brainchild of Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator whose Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) acquired power in 1922 and wielded an iron fist against those groups it saw as being subversive and undesirable. Once it had butchered its population of trade-unionists, communists and objectors, it turned its violence outward, embarking on an imperialist program uninhibited by an international community more concerned with an emerging socialist Soviet Union. Within the same decade, Hitler's Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party) emerged and, by 1933, found itself in power in Germany.
Other regimes emerged in Europe and found themselves within a camp of fascist powers bent on expanding their imperial possessions and influence over the whole of the Western world, and once the appetites of fascism's expansions could no longer be contained, an inter-imperialist struggle emerged that would cost the lives of some 56 - 60 million people. Had it not been for an alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western European "democracies," Europe would have been dominated by fascism for decades.
The last remnants of fascist reaction did not die with the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and others. In fact, in the aftermath of the Second World War, fascist organizations and officials went from being hunted down to being recruited by the West during the Cold War. From the Balkans to Latin America, fascists and other nationalists were commissioned with the task of butchering resistance to American imperialism, providing intelligence on Soviet efforts abroad through think-tanks and fomenting counter-revolution in Soviet republics and Latin American states trying to shrug off domination by foreign capital.
This lead to the legitimization of political parties and figures by the West with discernable ties to the campaigns of genocide in World War II. In addition to such parties, who participate in the governments of the former Warsaw Pact, there are a litany of organizations in the US and abroad who uphold the politics and crimes of the fascist regimes of old. In the United States, there are active National Socialist parties and groups who merge the symbol of the Nazi swastika with an American flag. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who publish monthly reports about racist, nationalist and homophobic groups operating within the US and host an interactive map of such groups on their site, there are numerous White Nationalist movements with a presence in all 50 states. Such groups have been active in intimidation and violence towards immigrant groups, the Jewish community, homosexuals and others who they view as being "inferior beings" and "trespassers in their white nation." While these groups are considered to be on the political fringe and most are inclined to dismiss their existence as a threat to overall society due to their small numbers and discredited ideology, their presence and continued activity is still cause for alarm.
Today, as one economic crisis shifts into the next, as many find their futures and livelihoods in jeopardy thanks to the machinations of capitalism's crisis, extreme reaction rears its ugly head as a "solution" to the problems of contemporary capitalism. With emotionalist rhetoric, nationalist statements, convenient scapegoats and militant ideology, the fascist menace is able to find a niche with those dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Even now, blatant fascists are working closely within the anti-immigration movement, slipping tidbits of their racist doctrine and hyper-nationalism among crowds of people with already reactionary leanings. The result of such a merging of a fascistic "fringe" with a coordinated reactionary movement trying to capitalize on the new depression has the potential of pushing larger sectors of the disenfranchised white community into their camp, resulting in more frequent acts of fascistic terror like the attempted bombing of the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Washington this year, or the bombing of the Oklahoma City building in 1995. Even worse, if we are not wary of fascism and its ability to seduce society with its violence and convenience, we may repeat history and see our once "democratic" society fall into fascism in earnest.
To help us understand fascism, three books will be taken into consideration: Fascism and Social Revolution by R. Palme Dutt, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Corporate Power in America by Bertram Gross and The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich. These works will be rated in three ways: their definition of fascism, how they account for the successes of fascism in the 20th century and their method for resisting fascism. Each author comes from a different background, both in ideology and methodology, which is also important to consider in regards to the viability and the accessibility of the perspective they put forward. Such details will also be included as they are prudent to our understanding of the author’s perspective, though complete biographies of each author will be absent in this work. Once we have assessed the works for each criterion, this work will conclude with which of these works represents the strongest understanding of fascism and is of the greatest use to contemporary students of and partisans against fascism.
The first work up for consideration is Rajani Palme Dutt’s 1934 work entitled Fascism and Social Revolution. Dutt was a British Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who worked as a theoretician and journalist for the Communist Party of Great Britain and who was particularly active in the Marxist-Leninist and anti-imperialist movement in India in the early 20th century (Bose). Like his party at the time, he held to the Third International’s ideological line and, as such, upheld the anti-fascist stance of the Soviet Union. Having done practical work on behalf of the worker’s movement internationally, as well as experiencing the bestial nature of imperialism first hand as an activist in Indian resistance to British colonialism, Dutt’s life’s work revolved around resisting the very structures which necessitate the rise of fascism in its defense. As well, having been an active communist revolutionary during the epoch of fascism’s rise in Europe, his perspective was formed at the time of active fascist regimes and affords him an insight only a contemporary to fascism’s rise can provide.
Dutt’s Marxist-Leninist perspective implements dialectical materialism, allowing him to assess the material conditions within social phenomena and understand the origins and directions of social movement beyond mere assessments of culture. This is a useful perspective for assessing fascism because fascism as an ideological and political force adapts itself to the ideological and political currents of the social circumstances in which it manifests. As such, to merely categorize fascism based on one incidence of fascism, to merely cite one manifestation of fascism for its cultural and political peculiarities in one’s defining of fascism, is to miss the larger picture and the larger forces at work.
In defining fascism, Dutt cites the 1928 Programme of the Communist International which describes fascism thusly:
“The fascist system is a system of direct dictatorship, ideologically masked by the ‘national idea and representing of the ‘professions’ (in reality, representation of the various groups of the ruling class). It is a system that resorts to a peculiar form of social demagogy (anti-semitism, occasional sorties against usurer’s capital and gestures of impatience with the parliamentary ‘talking shop’) in order to utilize the discontent of the petit-bourgeoisie, the intellectual and other strata of society; and to corruption through the building up of a compact and well-paid hierarchy of fascist units, a party apparatus and a bureaucracy. At the Same time, Fascism strives to permeate the working class by recruiting the most backward strata of the workers to its ranks, by playing on their discontent, by taking advantage of the inaction of social democracy, etc.” (Dutt 109).
The Communist International’s definition, which sees fascism as an attempt to defend and restore capitalism from communist revolution, cuts through fascism’s deceptive left-sounding proclamations and outlines its purpose thusly:
“The principle aim of Fascism is to destroy the revolutionary labor vanguard, i.e., the Communist sections and leading units of the proletariat. The combination of social demagogy, corruption and active White terror, in conjunction with extreme imperialist aggression in foreign politics, are the characteristic features of Fascism. In periods of acute crisis for the bourgeoisie, Fascism resorts to anti-capitalist phraseology, but, after it has established itself at the helm of the State, it casts aside its anti-capitalist rattle, and discloses itself as a terrorist dictatorship of big capital” (Dutt 109).
It is essential to understand that while fascism is a reactionary force which seeks to defend capitalism from proletarian revolution, it is prone to adopt slogans and names whose stated pro-working class position is pigeonholed by their reactionary ideology and militant anti-communism. The butchery of fascist regimes carried out against communists, trade-unionists and other opponents to the agenda of capital can be said to be similar in spirit to the mayhem in which the White Army intended to inflict on the Bolsheviks to abort the Russian Revolution. General Lavr Kornilov’s proclamation, “We must save Russia! Even if we have to set fire to half of it and shed the blood of three-fourths of all the Russians!” (Lincoln 86) demonstrates in a similar vein the will to butchery that the defenders of capital have towards the worker’s movement; a will to butchery that invading fascist armies would visit upon Russia’s workers decades later.
Throughout the text, Dutt uses this understanding to assess the rise and development of fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria after laying out the political and economic circumstances giving rise to fascism. We are made to see fascism as a force arising out of a failure of liberal capitalism and social democracy in the wake of capitalist crisis naturally arising from its moribund imperialist form. In this analysis, Dutt directs our focus towards social democracy as a force that is ultimately complicit in fascism through sabotaging the workers’ movement:
“The distinction of Social Democracy and Fascism is no less important to understand than the parallelism.
Both are instruments of the rule of monopoly capital. Both fight the working-class revolution. Both weaken and disrupt the class organizations of the workers. But their methods differ.
Fascism shatters the class organizations of the workers from without, opposing their whole basis, and putting forward and alternative “national” ideology.
Social Democracy undermines the class organizations of the workers from within, building on the basis of the previous independent movement and “Marxist” ideology, which still holds the workers’ traditions and discipline, in order more effectively to carry through the policy of capital and smash all militant struggle” (Dutt 175).
Dutt later goes on to describe how social democracy has within it the “germs of fascism,” being that it’s non-Marxist perceptions and pursuit of “socialism” trends towards a “socialism” along nationalist lines which is, in principle, similar to the concept of “national socialism” and eventually allies itself with fascism through its opposition to communist revolution (Dutt 177, 185).
Stemming from his understanding of fascism as being the natural end result of moribund capitalism, as well as considering the failure and inevitable complicity of social democracy in fascism’s war to subdue the proletariat and defend the position of capital, the only true solution to the threat posed by fascism is communist revolution. He ends the book with the following passage:
“Whatever the black hells of suffering and destruction that have still to be passed through, we face the future with the certainty and confidence of approaching power, with contempt for the barbarous antics of the doomed and decaying parasite-class enemy and its final misshapen progeny of fascism, with singing hearts and glowing confidence in the future. ‘The last fight let us face. The Internationale unites the human race’” (Dutt 309).
These inspiring words are not without a historical precedent to back up the viability of Dutt’s proposed solution. In the instance of the revolution in Albania, communist revolutionaries were able to organize an anti-fascist resistance force to expel armies of invading Italian and German fascist forces as well as root-out and eliminate fascist and monarchist forces within Albania who collaborated with the invaders, and in the midst of this struggle laid the foundations of a socialist society which lasted for several decades. Faced with the prospect of annihilation, Albanian workers waged a tireless revolutionary struggle against fascism, securing their survival and the victory of socialism against fascism and capitalism. If fascism is to be defeated in the future, one had best heed the lessons of revolution’s success and social democracy’s failure in regards to anti-fascist resistance.
This perspective would likely get a good deal of flak from that asserted by Bertram Gross, who puts forward a more conventional left perspective in his work Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Corporate Power in America. In stark contrast to the perspective put forward by a communist revolutionary like Dutt, Gross would seem to hold a perspective more in line with the liberalism of F.D.R. Gross, a political scientist and legislative author for several New Deal policies (and, later on in life, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act) followed a Keynesian economics perspective and spent his career advocating for reform in both an academic role and as a policy writer. Considering this background, it comes as no surprise that his methods aren’t of the Marxist variety as Dutt’s were.
While the first chapter of his book catalogues the rise of fascism in Germany, Japan and Italy, Gross’ work is not a study of traditional fascism. Rather, the focus of his book is on an assertion that there is a newer fascist model. In his introduction, he states:
“From the right, we are warned against the danger of state capitalism or state socialism, in which Big Business is dominated by Big Government. From the left, we hear that the future danger (or present reality) is monopoly capitalism, with finance capitalists dominating the state. I am prepared to offer a cheer and a half for each view; together, they make enough sense for a full three cheers. Big Business and Big Government have been learning how to live in bed together and despite arguments between them, enjoy the cohabitation. Who may be on top at any particular moment is a minor matter-and in any case can be determined only by those with privileged access to a well-positioned keyhole” (Gross 2).
This trend towards increasing cohesion between capitalist enterprise and government institutions is what he calls “friendly fascism” and asserts that this is the new danger to “democracy” as it exists in the West. He cites the post-WWII era as being a time of transition towards greater partnership between arms producers and other industries vital to the Cold War efforts; an economic model which looks for solutions in this partnership and subverts constitutional democracy rather than make reforms along the lines of Gross’ preferred Keynesian model. He goes on to outline how the economic trends of increased corporate welfare, a blurring of the differences between the leading political parties (and their increasing tendency to conform to a corporate-friendly line), an authoritarian educational system, an increased fetish for “professionalism” and a general deterioration of culture and mental health are indicators of a new form of repressive system seeking to subvert democratic machinery for the purposes of aiding this new synthesis of corporate and government power. He concludes his work saying that, while “friendly fascism” has not established itself yet, there is a clear danger posed for its emergence in coming years.
Rather than implement a method grounded in materialist dialectics, Gross’ method ultimately stems from socio-cultural assessments of Cold War capitalism under the stewardship of Cold Warrior presidents, ultimately being consummated in the Reagan Administration’s all-out assault on social policy going back to F.D.R. If we consider that this 1980 work comes at a the high point of this trend (and considering the author’s own opposition to such trends), what we have here is less of a sober analysis of an emerging evolved form of the fascism of old and more of a Keynesian polemic against Reagan-era policy.
While this is a worthwhile topic for exploring, ultimately it isn’t germane to the topic of fascism as it is of concern to our purposes here. Beyond expressing alarm at the cultural expressions of late capitalism, to a Marxist, he’s making a moot point. This “friendly fascism” is less a new, emerging threat to an established order than a natural evolution of capitalism in its final imperialist stage. Fascism played a different role in history, serving to defend decaying capitalism from the toiling masses and wield reactionary ideology for the purposes of upholding an open terrorist dictatorship over workers. Neo-liberalism’s agenda is different, allowing those in the capitalist class who desire immediate profits and utilize government machinery for that purpose. “Friendly fascism” is nothing new; merely a trending of imperial capitalism towards more open and sincere centralization of power in practice balanced with an increase of ideological and political barriers towards parliamentary challenges of this order.
In addition to making a moot point, Gross’ solutions to the problem of “friendly fascism” are about as toothless as social democracy’s solution to the fascism of old: reform and parliamentary bargaining stemming from peaceful social movement. He even goes as far as to say that there is a possibility of “defectors” from the friendly fascist camp (Gross 380). Here one is reminded of Dutt’s analysis of the role of social democracy in the resistance to capitalism. With the liberal, non-solution that Gross proposes (one which is thoroughly grounded within the confines of the system which bore this “friendly fascism”) one wonders how Gross would fare organizing resistance to actual fascism.
The final work up for consideration is Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Reich was an Austrian-born psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who wrote this work the very year that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor while still living in Germany. It is also worth noting that he had before joined the German Communist Party and was an activist on their behalf from 1930 to 1933. When one of his psychological texts was attacked and his identity of being on the progressive end of politics revealed, Reich was forced to flee the country in order to escape fascist repression.
Reich’s theory stems from an attempt to reconcile Freudian psychoanalysis with Marxism. Reich argued against the typical Freudian perspective justifying that neurosis develops within a social context which is physical, sexual and economic. This “mass psychology” represents a social-psychological theoretical perspective; one that differs greatly from both a purely psychological and purely social perspective. For this and other theoretical and methodological reasons, Reich was and remains an incredibly controversial figure in the field of psychology. His perspective, while paying homage to Marxism within the first chapter, quickly moves beyond Marxism and a materialist perspective asserting that there must be more to understanding fascism than its political economy. He argues that fascist ideology exists as an extent of society and social actor’s repression of sexuality. Fear of sexuality and of sexual emancipation has aided fascism in putting forward an ideology which was authoritarian and repressive in regards to sexuality. He analyzes this “authoritarian ideology” in chapter five as stemming from the basic family unit in society:
“The father's economic position as well as his position in the state are reflected in his patriarchal relationship with the other members of the family. The authoritarian state has a representative in every family, the father; in this way he becomes the state's most valuable tool. The father's authoritarian position reflects his political role and discloses the relationship of family and authoritarian state. The same position which the boss holds in the production process, the father maintains in the family. He in turn reproduces submissiveness to authority in his children, especially his sons. This is the basis of the passive, submissive attitude of middle class individuals toward Führer figures” (Reich 53).
His psycho-sexual analysis continues with an assessment of the Nazis’ race theory as having the latent function of limiting sexual freedom which threatens the ruling class through the use of organized mysticism (Reich 88-89). This “organized mysticism” can be understood to be, in effect, a resistance to materialism (so-called “Cultural Bolshevism”) through nationalism and organized religion. (Reich 120-121) Reich even analyzes the symbol of the swastika itself being used as a symbol of sexuality and work, implying that there is an unconscious message communicated in fascist propaganda by the very symbol itself (Reich 98-103).
Stemming from this psycho-analytic base, he moves forward to an overall criticism of “authoritarianism” and, throughout the remainder of the book, condemns both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. His perspective here is highly anti-political, as is his solution to fascism and “authoritarian ideology,” so-called work-democracy:
“Work-democracy is not an ideological system. Nor is it a “political” system, which could be imposed upon human society by the propaganda of a party, individual politicians, or any group sharing a common ideology. Natural work-democracy is the sum total of all functions of life goverend by the rational interpersonal relations that have come into being, grown and developed in a natural way... Work -democratic ‘politics’ is distinguished by the fact that it rejects all politics and demagogism” (Reich xxxi).
What we are left with at the end of Reich’s mass-psychoanalysis is a rejection of both of the previous methods at resisting fascism for a method which, purposefully, has no method. This Utopian construction, along with the impracticality of his mass-psychological perspective in anything beyond the most academic of debates, makes Reich’s work little more than a rejection of resistance to fascism beyond one’s own psycho-analytic perspective. While his work was an interesting read, we feel that there is little to gain from utilizing his perspective.
These three texts represent differing theoretical methods for understanding and resisting fascism. All three recognize fascism as a repressive and reactionary system which threatens the lives and well-being of workers. Yet, due to differing ideologies and understandings of fascism, the solutions offered vary. On the one hand, we have Dutt, who proposes communist revolution in the face of fascistic counter-revolution. Then we have Gross, who sees the new fascism as emerging from neo-liberalism and argues for the same solutions that failed in resisting the fascism of old. Finally, we have Reich, who rejects politics and ideology as a means of resisting fascism’s mass-psychology and asserts a Utopian model with neither a plan of action nor an ideological or material base in its stead. If we are to have an understanding of fascism coupled with an understanding of resistance to fascism, it is clear that the latter two perspectives must be scrapped, for their failure in providing a coherent plan of action stems from their failure to understand fascism’s essential base in capitalism’s economic and political structure, as well as an understanding that the only means of combating fascism is a political, ideological and material assault on the very structure of modern capitalism.
Bose, Dilip. Rajani Palme Dutt—Great Son of the Indian People. Unity Publishers, 1975.
Dutt, Palme. Fascism and Social Revolution. 2009. Wild Side Press.
Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. South End Press, 1999.
Lincoln, W. Bruce. Red Victory: a History of the Russian Civil War.
Reich, Wilhelm. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. 3rd. edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980.