Saturday, June 11, 2016

What is Fascism?

Socialism #1.01 written for Irish Socialist Worker.

John Molyneux

What is Fascism?

Is Trump a fascist? It is a reasonable question to ask given that Trump is a right wing racist, misogynistic, homophobic, imperialist bigot and bully and that there is also no shortage of people willing to call him a fascist.

In actual fact he’s not: he’s a right wing racist, misogynistic, homophobic, imperialist bigot and bully, but not a fascist – at least not yet.

Understanding why this is so helps us to understand what fascism was and what it is today – the better to recognise it and defeat it whenever it appears.

Fascism was a mass counterrevolutionary movement that arose in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. It took power first in Italy (where the name ‘fascism’ came from) led by Mussolini, then in Germany (where it was known as Nazism) and then in Austria, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere. Fascist movement of various degrees of strength arose in most countries in this period, including France, Britain and Ireland.


Racism, nationalism, sexism, homophobia and authoritarianism were all features of fascist ideology – in the case of the Nazis anti-semitism played a crucial role – but they were not its defining characteristics and they are much more widespread than fascism.

Let’s be clear – all these reactionary ideological themes have been around a lot longer than fascism. Victorian England, for example, was very racist, nationalistic, sexist and homophobic and, obviously, highly imperialist; it was not fascist. Ireland in the 1950s was certainly conservative, nationalist, racist, sexist and homophobic; it was not fascist.

The USA today, despite Obama, is deeply racist as it has been since its foundation (witness the regular police murder of black people), very sexist in many ways, nationalistic and imperialist and has a horribly brutal penal system; it is not a fascist state.

What distinguished fascism historically was that it was a movement, largely based on the lower middle classes enraged by the economic crisis, which existed both within and outside the ‘normal’ framework of elections and parliamentary politics and which could be, and was,  used as a counter-revolutionary fighting force against ‘communists’, ‘socialists’ and the labour movement as a whole.


What distinguished the fascist regimes was that they dispensed with parliamentary democracy and crushed and broke up all forms of independent opposition, especially opposition from the workers’ movement - trade unions, socialist parties and the like.

It was these characteristics, not just reactionary ideas or even extreme brutality (which sadly has been a feature of the whole history of class society), that made fascism so useful to the capitalist class in times of economic and political crisis and such a mortal threat to the working class and the left – literally a matter of life and death.

It was also a key feature of these fascist movements that they arose mainly from the lower middle class who were enraged at their treatment by the banks and big capital and so deployed a certain anti-banker, anti- capitalist rhetoric. But they came to power, not just by their own strength, but with the support of the capitalist class, and in power they governed in the interests of that class.

This brings us back to Trump. Trump is not (yet) a fascist, not because he is some kind of liberal but because he hasn’t sought to organise an extra-parliamentary movement on the streets which can take on the left and the workers. He could do this in the future but he hasn’t done it yet.

Neither has Nigel Farage of UKIP in Britain, who is also a far right racist populist, but not a fascist.

However, this doesn’t mean there is no fascist threat. Unfortunately across Europe there are a number of significant fascist movements and parties which have grown during the austerity years: they include Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, and the Front National in France.

In Britain there was the BNP but they have largely fallen apart. In addition there are many smaller groups and movements, like the EDL and various Pegida outfits who would like to be able to establish serious fascist parties. So there is no room for complacency.

Combating fascism is a vital task for socialists and the left. It requires both mobilising against them on the streets and building a major challenge to austerity and the system from the left.

In Ireland there has been no significant fascist movement since Eoin O’Duffy’s Blue Shirts in the 1930s. We need to keep it that way.

That’s why the highly effective mobilisation against Pegida Ireland before the election was an important victory for the left.