(my current best understanding of) Fascism, in a nutshell

UPDATE (2016 09 17 0418 CDT):

After a conversation with my comrades, I realized that the definition offered below is too broad. While I intend to update this post more thoroughly, for now I want to say that two aspects need further narrowing:

1. The ideology of fascism is not just right-wing–one that supports the law of value. The ideology of fascism is reactionary–it is actively opposed to the leftist elements in liberalism and actively seeks a return to an era of more open terror against oppressed-nations and gender-oppressed people.

2. It is not enough for there to be a nationalism that moderates and suppresses class struggle–what is distinct about fascism is the hyper-nationalism, which is not just pride and focus on the nation but a supremacism, an exceptionalism, to the point of including open and unapologetic justifications for expansionism and domination of other nations.


There is a tendency among some Marxists to be picky about the definition of fascism—like, can we call it fascism if it’s not in an imperialist country?—but I don’t think this pickiness is useful. I think the whole point of trying to make an analysis of fascism as a distinct form of capitalism (and a movement that sometimes emerges within capitalism) is that it can give us predictive power. I think a globally applicable definition gives us that necessary predictive power, whereas reserving the term “fascism” for imperialist-country movements only needlessly requires us to come up with an additional term to refer to basically the same phenomenon in non-imperialist countries.


What is fascism? I would define it as “a revolutionary right-wing movement consolidated around ideas of national supremacy.”

“Revolutionary,” here, means believing in proactive, extra-legal violence to attain state power, and open terror as a strategy once it has taken state power.

“Right-wing,” here, refers to wanting to preserve the existence of private property—i.e., capitalism.

And “nation,” here, is not strictly the Marxist definition put forward in works like “Marxism and the National Question.” Instead, the “nation” that is exalted by a fascist movement can be a more fictional nation.

For instance, the Trump movement’s fascism and the Bundyites’ fascism focus on the united states as a whole, and Erdogan’s fascism takes Turkey as a whole, as the nations to be exalted—but neither of these is actually a nation in the Marxist sense, and both are instead a “prisonhouse of nations.” Other, more traditional forms of fascism (e.g., Nazism and neo-Confederate white supremacy) do venerate things that more closely match the Marxist definition of “nation.”


A discussion of fascism doesn’t offer any predictive power until it explains where fascism comes from. People with a fascist mindset don’t come from nowhere.

Fascism emerges like clockwork in times of crisis in capitalism. Fascism’s main social base is a “middle class” (the petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy) being squeezed out of existence by increasing wealth stratification between the working poor and the super-rich. Fascism and social democracy are created by the same social forces—”middle classes” trying to resolve the contradictions of capitalism without abolishing capitalism, with the fascists usually being led by a particularly reactionary wing of the capitalist class, and the social democrats by a fairly “progressive” section of the capitalist class.

The solution that both movements offer to this crisis is to perpetuate and cling to a mythology about bygone glory days of the nation when capitalism was fundamentally decent, and trying to end the current crisis by trying to restore the nation to that former glory.

By its nature, the so-called “middle class” exists in a state of ideological groundlessness and confusion. The “middle class” lacks the clarity about the workings of society that both the working class and the capitalist class have. The working class gains awareness of a class structure directly by being confronted day by day with capitalism’s heavy exploitation and oppression, whereas the capitalist class grasps the existence of class in order to perpetuate their rule.

The danger in this “middle-class” ideological groundlessness is that it gives the fascist movement a wildly inaccurate “class analysis,” so they inevitably find some scapegoat(s) other than capitalism. This lets them recruit from the working class as well, because workers, who inevitably grasp that there is a class structure but not necessarily its specific inner workings, may be able to believe that after the scapegoats are neutralized, businesspeople will be able to give them good-paying jobs, or the crisis will otherwise be resolved.

The fact that the middle class is being threatened both from below (by the threat of being outcompeted by people lower in class) and from above (because they can tell they are being screwed by at least some section of the “elites”) means that scapegoats are usually sought in both directions. These scapegoats can be a shady section of the capitalist class (such as Jewish people are alleged to be), or immigrants from economically weaker countries, or Catholics or Muslims, or some “impure” ethnic group that is “dirtying” or “destabilizing” the nation genetically and/or culturally. Leftists also get targeted, usually both for “causing trouble” (and thereby exacerbating the crisis) and for “enabling” and protecting the scapegoats.

Another way fascists use nationalism to recruit workers is to claim that the capitalist class are being jerks *currently* because some of them are degenerates being corrupted by the scapegoats (or *are* the scapegoats), but the capitalists who join the fascist movement are patriotic and will love you and be kind to you because you’re both part of the same nation, and that’s more important than the fact that you’re from different classes.


One final point to make is about fascism’s relationship with social democracy. Importantly, they both attract a significant segment of the oppressed and exploited of a society away from revolutionary politics back toward a worldview that can never liberate them. And by promoting a mystifying view of society and discouraging armed self-defense at the precise time when fascism is growing, social democracy objectively facilitates the success of fascism, because fascism never goes away of its own accord but has to be defeated with organized force.

This is why the leading anti-fascist orientation has to be a revolutionary leftist one—it is fine for the anti-fascist movement to be partially composed of social democrats *tactically* (contingently, short-term) as long as they agree with confronting and isolating fascists, but anti-fascism cannot accept social democrat leadership *strategically* (unconditionally, long-term), because that ultimately disarms the working class literally and ideologically when they most urgently need to be as armed as possible both theoretically and militarily.

Edit (2016 06 26 1834 CDT):

When I recently shared this on reddit, /u/skeeran commented adding some really thoughtful nuance to the question of fascism in imperialist countries vs. fascism in imperialist-dominated countries. Their two comments appear below. Their first was,

I’m not sure if you’re giving adequate consideration to the role of imperialism, though. Consider that the class basis for both fascism and social democracy is generated by imperialist capital. In addition to sharing a social base, both ideologies have proven to be pro-imperialism, and indeed accomplish their policies with large governments funded by imperialist loot.

And then their second, when I said that that was a very good and important point and asked whether they thought it was unfair to call Pinochet’s regime fascist, was,

I think that, shall we say, comprador fascism, as we might consider the political formations that were put in place in Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Ukraine, and even perhaps including such organizations as the Islamic State would have to be formulated differently from the imperialist fascisms that we observe in Italy, Germany and Japan. Another prototype to examine might be the “fascist” (in form, though not social basis) collaborator governments that Germany and Italy put in place in the territories they conquered. These could be compared with the fascist comprador governments that imperialism (primary US imperialism) put in place in the third-world in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fascism as it appears in imperialist countries, at the later stages of capitalist development, takes on an imperialist form, savagely attacking their neighbors and destroying foreign rival capital to essentially create a capital vacuum to fill. The policy of Liebensraum, while framed in terms of national destiny (much like the policy of “Manifest Destiny” in the USA), was ultimately a desire by monopoly capital to liquidate its rivals and expand into the gaps left behind. In the 20th century, this meant securing colonies and conquering access to resources. In the 21st century, economic warfare and financial control may be more important than military conquest (see China’s entry into Africa and US hegemony over Latin America).

Comprador fascism simply cannot follow these examples. They are not in a geoeconomic position to do so. Dominated nations led by comprador states must by necessity be weaker, without the worker’s benefits that were typical of European fascism. Generally, it seems that these states require outside interference in order to maintain stability at all. The combination of low state funding, high worker exploitation, and no economic space for the petite-bourgeoisie, would seem to prohibit a solid social basis for fascism from forming. That would seem to be why so many fascist leaders in oppressed countries and their political organizations (e.g. Papagos in Greece, Pinochet in Chile, Poroshenko in Ukraine, Suharto in Indonesia, Rhee in Korea, etc.) required assistance and support from an imperialist country to take power and legitimize themselves.