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Issue #1508      6 July 2011

You might be a Marxist if ...
You believe fascism is inherent in capitalism

Capitalists always deny the plain truth that their system is propped up by fraud, violence, and terror. Capitalist criminality follows from the reality that capitalism is fundamentally about exploiting workers; consequently, capitalists have a vested interest in crushing all working-class resistance to exploitation. Once these facts are acknowledged, it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to realise that the capitalist class will resort to the most extreme forms of savagery imaginable if they decide this is necessary to keep the working class in line and themselves in control. This conclusion follows in the abstract just from analysing the nature of capitalism and it is borne out in reality by the long history of capitalist attempts to tyrannise over the working class.

Violence is not the only tool that capitalists use to get workers to tolerate exploitation, for the bourgeoisie rule through a combination of force and fraud. They will use deception in lieu of violence as long as it proves effective. Capitalists are always willing to trick workers into accepting the capitalist system through the ceaseless propaganda of the profit-driven, capitalist-controlled media and to dupe the working class into believing that it possesses a real political voice through corporate-controlled “bourgeois democracy”.

With its Fox News and other corporate media outlets and its pay-to-play, winner-take-all political system, the United States is a good example of a country with a capitalist-controlled culture and a democracy of the rich that strongly favours the interests of for-profit corporations and top income earners. But whenever capitalists sense that workers are becoming class conscious, that socialist ideas are taking root among the populace, and that mere propaganda and a falsely representative “democracy” are no longer enough to keep the working class docile and socialism off the agenda, then the capitalists use their control of the state apparatus to implement extreme methods of repression including state-sponsored murder and mayhem.

Fascism is the name for the ferociously brutal form of dictatorship that capitalists impose on society whenever they fear that their usual methods of pacifying the working class are failing. Fascism wreaks violence and terror upon the working class in an attempt to prevent any moves toward socialist revolution. The great Bulgarian communist, Georgi Dimitrov (1882 - 1949), called fascism “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”

Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and Pinochet’s Chile are often cited as textbook examples of fascist regimes, but fascism exists to one degree or another wherever capitalist regimes are exercising state repression against their working classes. Dimitrov pointed out that fascist tendencies are found in all capitalist countries; bourgeois ruling classes resort to full-fledged fascism when capitalism’s general crisis becomes so acute that the bourgeoisie fear losing power to an increasingly radicalised and militant working class. Since fascism is inherent in capitalism, a pertinent question to ask about any capitalist country is to what degree the seeds of fascism have developed along the path to full maturity.

Dimitrov also enumerated several uses of fascism that will sound strikingly familiar to workers around the world who are now living through an unusually dire and critical period of the capitalist crisis:

1) capitalists use fascism to enforce the shifting of the entire burden of the economic crisis onto the backs of working people;

2) they use fascism to launch and sustain perpetual imperialist wars in order to wrest control of foreign markets, command access to natural resources, and spread capitalist exploitation all over the globe; and

3) they use fascism to attack and destroy revolutionary movements for working class emancipation in their home countries and throughout the world.

Many definitions of fascism can be found on the Internet and in printed literature. Most of them define fascism by placing all emphasis on its use of violence, terror, racism, militaristic nationalism, and harsh suppression of democratic freedoms to achieve its goals. Yes, fascism uses state violence and terror and many other malignant, reactionary tactics to achieve its political aims, but it takes a Marxist, class-based analysis to identify fascism’s essence and overriding goal.

Fascism is political violence, but it cannot be reduced to political violence in general. In its mature form, it is the organised, state-sponsored violence of the capitalist class against the working class. It is a tool used to facilitate capitalism’s general goal of preserving its hegemony over the working class on both the national and global levels by suppressing all attempts by workers to emancipate their class through progressive reforms and socialist revolution. Fascism is the most ferocious form of capitalist oppression of the working class. Any definition that disregards the class nature of fascist violence fails to capture fascism’s essence.

Although a clear understanding of what fascism is and how to fight it is fundamental to the Marxist outlook, Marx and Engels, never wrote about fascism per se. That is because fascism didn’t arise until the early 20th century, long after Marx and Engels were dead. But it is likely that the rise of fascism would not have surprised them had they lived to witness it.

They were both well aware that social progress, whether through reform or revolution, always gives rise to violent resistance by the most reactionary elements of society. As young men, Marx and Engels experienced the violent counterrevolutions that turned back virtually all democratic gains of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848, and they also lived through the brief triumph and brutal suppression of the world’s first working-class government during the Paris Commune of 1871.

Perhaps Marx and Engels came closest to anticipating fascism in their idea of the “pro-slavery rebellion”. Marx and Engels had taken to calling the American Civil War a pro-slavery rebellion in reference to slave owners’ attempts to preserve the slave system through state violence. They later extended this idea to any form of counterrevolution or rebellion against both revolutionary and reformist threats to capitalism.

For example, in an 1886 preface to the English edition of Capital Engels said that Marx did not expect the English ruling class to submit even to a peaceful transition to socialism without launching a “pro-slavery rebellion”.

Is the United States ruled by fascists? Let’s first consider the way our ruling class treats the rest of the world. For much of our history our rulers have used our people’s energies and talents as well as our country’s vast resources to suppress national liberation movements, support right-wing, anti-socialist dictators, and engage in numerous imperialist wars and interventions while attempting to disrupt and destroy all major socialist movements and countries. Thus a very strong case can be made that our ruling class has imposed a fascist foreign policy on the world. This is true notwithstanding our country’s fight against European and Japanese fascism in World War II – whoever said that fascist countries can’t fight one another? What about our rulers’ behaviour at home?

There is no questioning the fact that slavery, genocide, xenophobia, racism, religious hatred, attacks against working people, attempts to curtail and suppress democratic liberties, and countless other reactionary tactics have been used by our ruling class to mold this country into the world’s leading right-wing imperialist power. Still it cannot be said that our rulers have succeeded in imposing a full-fledged fascist regime in this country.

If they had, this writer and many like him would have been silenced long ago. What has prevented our fascistically inclined ruling class from turning this country into an ultra-right capitalist dictatorship is the survival, despite all right wing assaults upon them and albeit in increasingly restricted forms, of the democratic rights and liberties enumerated in our constitution’s Bill of Rights.

This brings us to the question of how to combat fascism, a subject that could fill volumes. Suffice it to say that if the working class in general and American workers in particular fail to form militant mass organisations dedicated to protecting their democratic rights and liberties and purging them of their capitalist imposed limitations; if they fail to supplement these with additional rights to employment, education, housing, and healthcare; if they fail to put an end to imperialism, then the United States will continue its drift towards fascism.

If you believe that fascism is capitalist political violence against the working class, that it must be fought and defeated in order to preserve the political space necessary to protect and expand workers’ democratic rights, and that the elimination of fascism must be part of any transition to socialism, then you might be a Marxist already, or you might be ready to become one.

Note: A number of references in his Collected Works show that Lenin was aware of Italian fascism and deeply interested in the Italian communists’ efforts to combat it. He and the Bolsheviks also had plenty of first-hand experience fighting against right-wing counterrevolutionary warlords in the bloody Russian civil war of 1917-20.

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