Parametricity

What is fascism, and what does it have to do with capitalism?

Posted at — Oct 17, 2022

The purpose of this post is to clarify the relationship between the following things

What is fascism

Fascism is part of how capitalism defends itself in times of extreme crisis.

Capitalism as a system is prone to crisis. It occasionally goes into periods of severe social dislocation, where there may be droughts, food shortages, and immiseration of all kinds.

As Marxists, we know this and seek to express this pain politically toward the correct action of overthrowing capitalism.

Capitalist parties of course cannot do that. They must provide a political expression of this pain that does not point towards capitalism as the culprit.

Fascism is one such strategy, and it presents itself rhetorically as a “revolutionary” politics, even though it does not break with capitalism. We can see this very clearly in the speech of Italy’s new Fascist prime minister Meloni.

She describes an alienation which is created by the economic functioning of capitalism, but blames it on an unnamed “they”, later clarifying this to a vague group of “financial speculators”.

The rhetoric mystifies the functioning of capitalism by blaming a particular group for the problems instead of the real cause — the social system itself. And it coopts the Socialist critique of the alienation produced by capitalism and the Socialist defense of humanity. It directs these critiques not against their real cause — capitalism — but against some scapegoat: Jews, immigrants, finance capital, gender-nonconforming people, etc. Usually local capital (factories, etc.) is held up as a good, productive thing, even though it is inseparable from the finance capital fascist rhetoric rails against.

In the 1930s in Europe (and in the 1960s in Indonesia), Fascism had a component of mass mobilization as well. Paramilitary groups were created to destroy the militant working-class organizations of the time. In our own time, without a comparably powerful working-class movement, this component of Fascism is likely to look different.

The social basis for fascism is usually a coalition between

Liberalism

Liberals are committed materially and rhetorically to capitalism. As a result, they cannot fix the causes of the crisis that produces fascism, nor can they even fully acknowledge it. This results in them ceding ground to fascists who can at least acknowledge the crisis, even if they provide false solutions.

The strategy liberals in the US are currently taking is putting themselves forward as the defenders of democracy against the scary threat of fascists.

Unfortunately, this strategy actually leads them to abetting the rise of far-right policitians. Because the Democratic Party has so little to offer voters except as a lesser-evil, it has been trying to make the alternative even scarier by funding far-right Republicans. In the 2022 primary season, Democrats and aligned groups have spent almost $44 million so far in boosting far-right candidates on the theory that they will be easier to defeat in general elections. This is the same theory that led the Clinton camp to encourage Trump to run in 201612.

Democracy

We often hear about democracy being under threat by Fascism. First we should try to understand what is meant by democracy.

We can break up “democracy” into a few related but distinct things:

  1. Institutions. The institutions of voting and the formal representative bodies like congress.

  2. Rights. These can be broken down into several categories as well.

    1. Individual civil rights. The right to free speech, the right to impartial treatment by the legal system, the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of one’s characteristics, access to abortion, and so on.
    2. Capitalist rights. These are the rights required to support the functioning of the capitalist economy. Principally property rights.
    3. Workers’ rights. These are the rights that allow workers to legally exist as an organized class. Namely, the right to a union, the right to strike, the right to be a member of other workers’ organizations like socialist parties, etc.

Fascism often involves the erosion of both the formal democratic structures, and all rights except for the capitalist rights, because fascism has capitalists in its base and makes no attempt to challenge capitalism.

Socialism

Effective opposition to fascism must be anti-capitalist, because the roots of fascism are the crisis tendencies of capitalism. Resistance — like that of liberals — that does not acknowledge this fact is likely to fail when the crises get bad enough that some response is demanded. Ultimately, because fascism is an out-growth of capitalism in crisis, the abolition of capitalism and construction of socialism is the only thing that can defeat fascism for good.

In responding directly to fascism, as socialists, we are committed to defending individual civil rights and workers rights. We may also be interested in defending formal democratic structures depending on the situation, even if we have our critiques. We may collaborate with liberals on these fights, but not at the expense of giving up our organizational independence and right to criticize coalition partners.

At a strategic level, unlike liberals, we can and should present explanations of the current crises and prescriptions for solving them on a socialist basis.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bill-clinton-called-donald-trump-ahead-of-republicans-2016-launch/2015/08/05/e2b30bb8-3ae3-11e5-b3ac-8a79bc44e5e2_story.html ↩︎

  2. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/hillary-clinton-2016-donald-trump-214428/ ↩︎