Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

In order that we may fight fascism we must first understand and be able to characterize the nature of fascism. It will perhaps not surprise readers to find that precise definitions of Fascism and what may constitute Fascist organizations vary greatly.

Perhaps one of the most widely known contemporary theorists on the topic is that of Roger Griffin, who has attempted to provide a general epistemology of fascism. Griffin is among those who have suggested the ability to detect a 'fascist minimum' by which to judge organizations as Fascistic [2]. Underlining the 'Fascistic minimum' for Griffin is a 'mythical core' at the very heart of Fascism aligning rebirth and regeneration from the destitute of democratic liberalism; the crisis expressed by this system providing the vision or 'birth pangs' of a new order [2]. Needless to say the basis of the 'fascistic minimum' is contested though common 'ideological' and 'practical' themes run through many of the characterization of Fascism I intend to outline. Griffin recognizes, as do many theorists writing on the subject, the context for Germany Nazism as occurring during a period of "national re-birth".

Traverso within the ‘Origins of Nazi Violence’ provides one of the most in-depth descriptions of the historical roots of Nazi violence, outlining a view of Nazism strongly aligned with the history of colonial rule - as treatment which were previously reserved for 'natives' by colonial rulers are utilised for the purposes ofNazi rule. Within this colonial period Traverso argues that an anti-univeralist, hierarchical basis for rule is provided from which future Nazi movements could expand. Such rule was implicitly anti-humanitarian, serving to dehumanize native populations as 'less civilized' (read: 'less human') than their oppressors, the links with the Nazi treatment of 'minority' groups seems clearly self-apparent within this account [5].

The 'origin' of fascistic violence is also a topic touched upon by M. Mann within the comprehensive work 'Fascists'. Mann suggests that the violent nature of Fascism can be in part understood in reference to the attempts by such organizations to court the influence of young male leaders [6]. For Mann young men "set the character of Fascism" - a fascism understandable as dependent upon forms of excessive machismo encourging escalating forms of militarism - and Para militarism. These were the same young men who had experienced the nature of these forms first hand from within the 'small political groupings' which sought to inspire the spirit of the Volk [6:151].

It's perhaps possible here to make a distinction that has been noted elsewhere with regards to the clear context within which Mann locates the ideology of fascistic movements namely the cultural, social and political context of a post first-world-war European setting. We can contrast this approach to the suggested general 'trends' Paxon identifies with fascistic movements [8]. The point has been made elsewhere by our comrades in the SWP, that a fixed context-dependent reading of Fascism can mean an inability to respond to the changing face of Fascism, and the suggested ability to manipulative both Ideology and Practice to serve interests embodied by Fascism [8b]. A tool with which to explore this idea is provided by Paxon. Within 'The anatomy of Fascism' we find a focus upon the practical implications of such movements - Paxon argues that we can't 'essencialise' fascism with narrow unyielding definitions, instead we must look to function of such movements [8]. Such an approach makes sense if we look even briefly at the approach adopted by both Fascist and Nazi organizations after the First World War. Examples from Fascist history are wide-ranging; it is generally acknowledged that Mussolini had to adapt the ideological content of the movement to the role and position of a powerful catholic church with a clear influence among ordinary Italians [9] it has also been noted that Italian fascists could at one point be found in a coalition among other groups, all the while readying themselves with "clubs, knives and pistols" [10:7]. Similarly the incorporation of forms of anti-Semitism originally alien to the nature of Italian fascism suggests the absence to a firm or fixed adherence to unchanging ideology. In contrast to the approach of Griffiths and others Paxon identifies Five “movements" characteristic of fascism, defined not on the basis of ideological content but instead maneuvering tendencies [8].

While Paxon has been criticized by theorists such as Sternhell for the absence of a focus upon ideology, it is perhaps interesting to note that Paxon makes a point which we may find echoes of in the characterization of Neo-Marxist approaches. Paxon in fact suggests that much of the 'revolutionary anti-capitalist' far-right left capitalism untouched, suggesting that the bourgeoisie viewed the movement as initially favorable to its interest [8]. We can of course find echoes of this view within the work of Gramsci, a point we shall now turn to.

Within 'What is fascism and how to fight it' Trotsky outlines what may be described as a Marxist-Leninist theory of fascism. Trotsky was of course writing during a period in which the comintern line expressed via the German Communist Party equated Social Democracy with variant forms of 'Social Fascism' - criminally failing to make the distinction between Social Democracy and Fascism, and thus provide the sufficient analysis of the specific nature of fascism. This is a fact made more poignant by the relatively longer gestation period of the German Communist party - and the hindsight provided by the experiences of the Italian Communist Party [1]. What is perhaps most interesting about Trotsky's writings on the subject of fascism is the clear absence of a viable revolutionary party and the disastrous implications for the proletariat. Trotsky notes the "weakness and strategic importance" of the revolutionary party during a relatively mature revolutionary situation [1]. While it may be clear that we are not in a “mature revolutionary situation” today, the absence of such a revolutionary party - even in the most embryonic of forms - is painfully apparent.

Trotsky notes that Gramsci alone managed to recognize the real threat posed by Fascism within the Italian Communist Party. Of course Gramsci was jailed in 1926 during a period of heightened fear following an alleged attack on the life of Mussolini in Italy and wrote his famous 'Prison Notebooks' whilst captive [4]. Within 'Democracy and fascism' Gramsci suggests, mirroring the argument outlined by Paxon to some extent, the role fascism played in reducing the minimal democratic standard prevailing within Italy during a pre-fascist period in its attacks on the labor movement. Though Gramsci argues that the bourgeoisie was unable to control the fascist movement whose services it originally served.

Perhaps one of the messages Trotsky articulates most clearly is the clear need to utilize a principled Leninist approach to the tactic of the united front in order that we may combat the implicit aims of Fascistic movements: the attempts to destroy “even that minimum to which the democratic system has been reduced.. The purpose for which it was designed[10].

[1] http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm
[2] Fascism: Oxford Readers - Edited by R. Griffin
[3] "Vision of the perceived crisis of the nation betokening birth-pangs of a new order" – Fascism
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci#Imprisonment
[5] Traverso - Origins of Nazi Violence
[6] Michael Mann - Fascists
[7] Paxon - 'The Anatomy of Fascism'
[8] International Socialism: 112 / Autumn 2006
Jim Wolfreys notes for example that M. Mann characterises Le Pen's 'Front National' as "rightist populist" and not Fascist.
[9] A fact perhaps poignantly illustrated by those pictures that display Mussolini stripped of the military regalia he appeared to wear in most public depictions, swapped for the clothes of a bourgeoisie gentleman upon meeting prominent church leaders.

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