Marxist Understanding of Fascism #1: Definitions and Framework

I wanted to start a series that outlines the general historical trends of capitalism in decay, and how these ever sharpening crisis lead to one of two outcomes: socialist revolution and the transformation of society, or a false revolution in the form of fascism. First, a definition:

“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.” — Georgi Dimitrov

The method and madness of fascism should not be considered uniform or unchanging, as that is the liberal perspective. ‘If it’s not anti-Semitic, if it’s not exactly like Italy or Germany, it doesn’t count!”, they say. This sentiment of course, misses the point. Fascism very simply is the ‘final solution’ to class conflict put forth by a threatened bourgeoise. A follow up article will discuss the many paths to fascism that may yet occur in the 21st century: eco-fascism, neoliberal fascism under slogans of equality and ‘human rights’, more classical conservative backlash leading to a theocratic fascist takeover…history is being written daily, hourly, by the minute. If you consider yourself an anti-fascist, it’s important to recognize the signs.

Above, I brought to light key differences in the ideological outlook of liberals vs Marxists: empiricism and idealism vs a dialectical materialist outlook on history.

Empiricism asserts that knowledge and truth can only come from the outside world, whereas idealism assumes that truth and knowledge come solely from the human mind, from within. Idealism splits the mind and body in an unscientific and naïve way. Materialists see and analyze the interplay between internal and external world, seeing the world and history as a constant state of change. We know that the human mind is formed and molded as a consequence of material forces in the external world, and the two cannot be separated.

Dialectical thinking abandons rigid and static abstractions, fully comfortable with flexion in the face of constant change.

In America, the history and threat of fascism has been highlighted by workers and activists for decades, but as capitalism enters new stages of accumulation, with evolving methods of surplus value extraction, how fascism manifests is the result of particular conditions in a given capitalist country. Here is how Paul Robeson described fascism in 1948:

“…the essence of fascism is two things…let’s take the more obvious one first. Racial superiority. The kind of racial superiority that led Hitler to wipe out six million Jewish people, that can result any day in the lynching of Negro people in the South or other parts of America, the denial of their rights…[Fascism is] the power of the resources of a nation in the hands of a few, and the use of state power as Hitler or Mussolini or the police in Kansas City to beat down any attempt to strive towards any kind of democratic rights or freedoms.” — Paul Robeson

Fascism needs a definition and a framework, if we are to understand it. It’s characteristics, in a very generalized way, are:

  1. A country or countries struggle in the highest stage of capitalism, imperialism, to find markets and secure profits. Germany for example, was subject to brutal conditions as punishment for WWI, which worked to immiserate and motivate sections of the working class towards rightist radicalization. This can also occur as a response to a strong and organized left, who do not allow the bourgeoise to extract necessary profits from labor. Either way, the impetus for radical change in a rightward direction must be there. Fascism is not just a group of racist rabble-rousers, it is most often a highly organized assault on the working class, funded and backed by the segments of the ruling class that stand to benefit.
  2. The country needs colonial growth, but is unable to expand as needed for capital security. Profit rates fall, national bourgeoise get restless and angered. Nationalism blooms like an ugly flower, fostering a spirit/need for ‘national rejuvenation’.
  3. Usually, fascism uses legitimate worker grievances to build organized power that can be wielded by a party and shadow state (those that fund these movements to allow them access to power ‘off the books’). There are also examples of a more ‘top-down’ fascism, without any real base in the workers and petit-bourgeoise circles. This type is most often created and supported by an external imperialist force (most commonly the United States).
  4. Having seized power, the bourgeoise elements solidify their control with an authoritarian turn, liquidating the communists/socialists, decimating worker’s rights (trade unions, co-ops, labor laws), and even eliminating a portion of the liberals, who are shocked to be the target of the very violence they turned a blind eye to.

This last point is why one can say that fascism is a ‘false revolution’ of the bourgeoise over the proletariat, whose legitimate energy is turned on its head and distorted for the gain of the ruling class.

A framework for analyzing past and future fascist dictatorships was lain out by Antonio Gramsci, and consists of three lenses of analysis:

  1. Conjectural factors
  2. Structural factors
  3. Systematic factors

Conjectural factors are the specific set of conditions in a nation that give rise to hyper nationalism, a merging of the capitalist state with an often spiritual mythology underpinning the social support for the movement. Some segments of the working class, faced with exploitation, alienation, hyperinflation, income insecurity, retirement risks, feel that things need to be conserved and restored to a previous condition. They wish to roll back the clock in their favor. This also happens to be in the favor of the ruling class, who use their material wealth and influence to bankroll the politicians and mouthpieces necessary to spur this base into action against the progressive elements of society.

It’s important not to separate fascism from its conjectural ties to a particular cycle of capitalist accumulation. In the case of Germany and Italy, capitalism was fully in its imperialist phase, coming out of the first world conflict over imperial territories, and had re-divided the world amongst the victors. This drawing of lines cut out certain nations, laying the groundwork for a decline in profits, inflation crisis, and other crisis of capitalism that can lead to a turn to the right. Writers such as Domenico Losurdo have argued that the Nazi concentration camps can be seen as a continuation of colonial slavery, only different in the fact that they were based at home, versus in the colonized periphery. This pokes holes in the liberal tendency to view Nazism and fascism as ‘exceptional’ or unique, versus part of a continuum and continuity of violence in the name of profit.

Structural factors are equally important in understanding the likelihood and emergence of fascist states. How has capital accumulation changed since WWI and WWII? Tremendously! We can’t expect to understand fascism in the 21st century with accounting for this evolution. Capitalists now secure their profit in a highly financialized economy, complete with debt apparatuses and an even larger and more powerful rentier class than previously imaginable. Asset management companies like Blackrock Group act as modern embodiments of the cartels Lenin spoke of in the early 20th century, aiding in the capital consolidation necessary for imperialism and legitimizing it in the eyes of the public. Globalization has led to super-exploitation and a deindustrialization of economies, something that very well could have forestalled socialist revolution and rolled back the clock in the developed nations. The structural factors include the laws and regulations enforced and codified in bourgeoisie parliament, as well as capitalist hijacking of democracy in elections decided by who received the most material support when campaigning: the motivation and underlying factors that necessitate these structural features are systematic in nature.

Systematic factors position fascism as a practice as a product of the capitalist system, whose precise forms vary depending on the structural phase of capitalist development and the specific socio-historical conjunction in space and time. What this means practically is that we cannot view fascism in isolation, but must see it in history and contemporary society as a product and consequence of class warfare. An example of this would be viewing Italy and specifically Nazi Germany fascism as a continuation of class conflict started in 1917, when 12 capitalist countries banded together and joined the Russian civil war against the Bolsheviks. When this effort failed, a new system was born that ruptured the ideological integrity of capitalists across the world: another world WAS possible. These same capitalist states worked together to bankroll and direct Nazi Germany against the ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’ curse in the East. The people may have simple wanted ‘living space’, but the fact that this living space was specifically the East and the USSR is not coincidence, it was a loaded gun pointed at the first worker’s state.

I hope this article gave us a decent base to build off of in the coming months, as we use this framework (conjectural, structural and systematic) to try and understand the rise of Italian, German, and American fascism, and how things might look in the near future. In understanding this system of capitalist decay, we can learn to oppose it fully and not be tricked into rooting for a populist, false revolution.

Thank you for any time you put in reading this or interacting with it. If you have ideological questions or disagreements, feel free to comment. The building of collective knowledge is important to any communist movement. Solidarity and love!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store