“For much of the U.S. left, fascism is little more than an epithet – simply another way to say ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ applied loosely to quite different social movements as well as to various aspects and elements of capitalist reaction. But for those with more of a ‘theoretical bent’ fascism in essence is, and always has been, a ‘gorilla’ form of capitalism. That is, fascism is a system of capitalist rule that would be more reactionary, more repressive, more imperialist, and more racist and genocidal than current ‘normality’ of ruling class policy. Many of those who see fascism as essentially capitalist also minimize the extent to which it is a sharp break with ‘normal’ forms of capitalist rule. They see it as just the extreme end of the continuum of systemized repression that characterizes late capitalism. Often this is expressed in the view that capitalism contains an inherent drive towards fascism, a trip some believe has already been completed.”
Here then is the basis for an exploration into the nature of fascism that also sets out to initiate debate about tactics and strategies in confronting it. Don Hamerquist, American author of Fascism & Antifascism, argues fascism has the potential to become a mass movement with a substantial and genuine element of revolutionary anti-capitalism; that simplistic viewpoints about fascism have been – and still are – paired with simplistic and inadequate anti-fascism. In his opening words, he states:
Anti-fascism was either confined to the terrain of reformism or collapsed into the general struggle against capital. In the rest of this paper I hope to demonstrate what’s wrong with the first point, and to develop an alternative to the second.
Leading things off with a brief look into history, Hamerquist attempts to demonstrate that the common left view has interpreted fascism, since its emergence, as a capitalist reaction to the threat of an organized working class challenge to capital. Outlining how the core of this view saw fascism’s mass base rooted in ‘competitively insecure sectors of the capitalist class’, never as a tendency ‘within’ the working class, he warns that in the present frame, such a position will lead to a “serious blurring of the distinctions between the politics of a revolutionary left and those of various militant anti-capitalist fascist tendencies.”In brief consideration of the potential prospects and contradictions of capitalism, Hamerquist states, “There is no doubt that in response to these developing crises some elements of resurgent fascism will ally with capitalist reaction” but in his opinion, “these are unlikely to be the decisive and defining elements in this country.” The potential for a strategically significant section of U.S. capital opting for a fascist state is seriously questioned as he asks, “even without such ruling class support, might a pro-capitalist variant of fascism gain hegemony over the various elements of right wing reaction and shape it into a unified mass movement that could impose fascism on the capitalist ruling class as well as the rest of society”?
As Class Action have similarly articulated, Hamerquist points out that we face conditions very different from other places and times in history where fascism has gained a mass following and built a significant challenge to state power, but that there exists a real danger that the fascist movements will be the main beneficiary of capitalism’s developing contradictions. He also draws attention to the failings of the left operating on “the unstated assumption that in any competition with fascists for popular support we win by default. When the secondary issues underlying this assumption are eliminated, two main grounds for it remain. This first is the belief that all of the significant fascists will expose themselves as pro-capitalist. The second is the belief that fascism is inevitably white supremacist.”
Hamerquist recognizes the link between white supremacy and support for capitalism in the U.S. and acknowledges that any white fascist movement there that isn’t ‘categorically opposed to capitalism’ would be white supremacist. But for the purposes of this thesis, he focuses on the third position variant of fascism (one that envisions a ‘third way’ between fascism and capitalism) that he believes poses the greater threat.
It makes a direct appeal to a working class audience with a warped, but militant, socialist racialist-nationalist program of decentralized direct action that has at least as much going for it as the warped reformist, nationalist, and pervasively non militant schemes of the established left. Not only does it intend to appeal to the working classes and the dispossessed – in distinct contrast to groups like the National Alliance; but at least some elements within it explicitly aim to recruit from the ranks of the militant left, and not from the radical right.
While I suspect the above approach (apart from the ‘recruit from the ranks of the militant left’ part) is standard fare for most fascist organizations anyway, I’m not altogether convinced the threat of third-positionism isn’t being overstated here. The participation of working class people in anti-globalization protests, for instance, has been absolutely nothing the organized Left can take credit for. It’s something that can be easily ‘taken away’ if serious changes in basic approach aren’t made. The turf can be lost to practically ‘any’ tendency on the far right. The real danger lies in failing to calculate the reasons why, in order to see it coming and prevent total calamity.As for the ‘recruit from the ranks of the militant left’, part, I would still argue that the primary danger lies in the far right appealing to the left’s constituency before they’ve been won over! Show us examples of people on the militant left convinced enough to switch allegiances and we’ll gladly see the backs of people not worth having on our team, period.
Indeed, elements of third position politics are hard to distinguish from common positions on the left, even from positions held in some of the groups that are closest to us. For example, some punks and skinheads who view themselves as working class revolutionaries, some elements of RASH, and even participants in our own organizations are ambiguous on issues which should clearly differentiate right from left. These ambiguities, and actually this may be too mild a term, include romanticized views of violence, male supremacy, susceptibility to cults and omniscient leadership, and macho opposition to open debate and discussion with respect for individual and group autonomy.
Ambiguity here is certainly a theme. While I almost cringe waiting to hear what ‘some elements of RASH’ might be defined as, I also sense some underestimation of how informed discussion on these crucial points has been amongst those who’ve been on the sharp end of the debate for more years than fingers. Considering the left has become dominated by the middle class in composition and therefore hasn’t committed to effecting social change from within the working class, it comes as little wonder that groups like RASH seem ambiguous – they’re worlds apart! This is reflected in the personal rather than political treatment of rank and file fascists that Hamerquist accurately points out elsewhere. Just that it happens to militants of our stripe as well. As for the ‘ambiguities’ pinpointed here, these are symptomatic of anti-social gang culture, so I’m not sure painting political stripes on them is useful.
Next, Hamerquist warns of the dangers of ‘militarization’. Fears of political action degenerating into gang warfare in its purest form are indeed well grounded. And while this discussion isn’t necessarily new to the uninitiated, it’s certainly worth repeating. As Hamerquist correctly points out,
The capitalist state and its repressive apparatus is a player in the conflict between anti-capitalist left and neo-fascist right. It has interests in disrupting and diverting both sides. It has interests in setting the terms and circumstances of their opposition to each other.
Along the same thread, it’s worth adding a few cents to the statement: “There is no meaningful sense in which fascism can be strategically defeated while capitalism survives.”
While this may stand to reason in theory, it leaves room for misinterpretation. Surely a complete victory against fascism isn’t something that will be achievable while society is organized the way it is. But in a practical sense, space needs to be cleared in a range of areas where – if fascists are active – the building of progressive working class influence can otherwise range from difficult to the impossible. ‘Strategically’ is the key word here, but what is the strategy? Are we talking about occupying turf and influence while incrementally building sway in a given area over time, or are we talking about wild misadventures seemingly designed to attract maximum repression and community scorn? When you’re actually entrenched in the community and have nothing to do with the theatrics of a visiting rent-a-mob, things can change dramatically.
Hamerquist succeeds in delivering the understanding that the movement is still using the old left’s failed theories about fascism and anti-fascism from the 1920s. He also has a good finger on the pulse in his assessments of far-right trends and outmoded left rationale. Sure, some stuff in here could be argued against, but I think the spirit and intent of the paper encourages this. The fact that Fascism & Anti-Fascism is brave enough to tread uncharted territory is reason alone to recommend it.