This paper is directed towards a narrow audience of revolutionary activists who, hopefully, will not demand a finished product. It is not finished and probably will never be. Much of what I say will be controversial and is certainly open to challenge. On some points I would not be so unhappy to be proven wrong. I realize that I make a number of generalizations without what would normally be regarded as sufficient evidence, and I haven’t adequately checked some of the evidence that I do offer. Feel free to shoot down any part of the argument, but remember that on the major points, validity isn’t ultimately a scholastic matter, but an issue that will be determined and “decided” in struggle. Much depends on what we, and also the fascists, do and don’t do.
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 systematized repression that characterizes late capitalism. Often this is expressed in the view that capitalism contains an inherent drive towards fascism. A trip that some believe has already been completed.
In opposition to this position, I think that fascism has the potential to become a mass movement with a substantial and genuine element of revolutionary anti-capitalism. Nothing but mistakes will result from treating it as “bad” capitalism—as, in the language of the Comintern, “the policy of the most reactionary sections of big capital”.
Fascism in my opinion, is not a paper tiger or a symbolic target but a real and immediate danger both in this country and around the world. However, the nature of this danger is not self-evident. It requires clear explanation and it requires the rejection of some conventional wisdom. Fascism is not a danger because it is ruling class policy or is about to be adopted as policy. Not even because it could have major influences on this policy. Nor is it a danger because of the “rahowa”, racial holy war, that is advocated by some fascist factions. The policies of official capitalism carried out through the schools and the criminal justice and welfare systems are both a far greater and a more immediate threat to the health and welfare of people of color than fascist instigated racial attacks and their promotion of racialist genocide. The real danger presented by the emerging fascist movements and organizations is that they might gain a mass following among potentially insurgent workers and declassed strata through an historic default of the left. This default is more than a possibility, it is a probability, and if it happens it will cause massive damage to the potential for a liberatory anti-capitalist insurgency.
In this country, particularly, radical anti-fascists must be prepared to compete ideologically and every other way with fascists who present themselves as revolutionary and anti-capitalist and who orient towards the same issues and constituencies as the left. This is not to deny that capitalist reaction exists within and influences fascist movements, perhaps even decisively in some places and at some times (Eastern Europe?). However, I think that both logic and evidence supports the conclusion that this side of fascism is on the wane in this country and in many other areas of the so-called developed world.
When fascist movements, theories, and governments emerged following WWI, the common left view was that, in essence, they were a policy of capitalist reaction intended to counter the possibility of a serious working class challenge to capital. Of course, fascism was seen as more than a normal capitalist policy option—like tight money or protectionism. It was a “policy”, but one that had relatively autonomous popular support. It was a policy, but one advanced by the most reactionary neanderthal wing of capital, while the “liberal” “progressive” wing opposed it, putting fascism at the center of major disputes within the ruling class. This position cut across the ideological spectrum, and was even expressed by major anarchist leaders; e.g., Durruti,
“When the bourgeoisie sees power slipping from its grasp, it has recourse to fascism to maintain itself.”
Features of fascism that don’t fit this picture are normally ignored or dismissed as some kind of black propaganda from the ruling class. But historically these have been pretty significant features. Mussolini and Italian fascism developed out of the Italian Socialist Party and subsequently picked up some important figures from the Italian Communist party. German Nazis were national socialists and a large section of their following and some of their leadership were serious about socialism and anti-capitalism. (This is the Strasser-Brownshirt tendency that is the historical antecedent of the so-called third position, a growing factor in the current fascist movements.) Even the Hitler wing of the NSDAP was clearly anti-bourgeois.
From the early twenties it could not be denied that fascism had a mass base. However, most left analyses placed this base in competitively insecure sectors of the capitalist class; in pre-capitalist classes resisting proletarianization; and in essentially declassed elements, the lumpen, not in the working class. Any fascist influences within the working class were attributed to some extreme form of “false consciousness”, or were discounted as the effects of temporary and accidental features of capitalist development (like losing a major war) which would be eliminated by the engine of history. At the heart of fascism in this view were, on the one hand and playing the strategically decisive role, the most reactionary elements of capital, and on the other hand a street force composed of gangs of opportunistic and essentially cowardly thugs. Fascism was a club over the working class, not a tendency within it. With the notable exception of Reich’s position on the mass psychology of fascism, there was little serious examination of the actual and potential mass popular appeal of fascism.
This simplistic view of fascism was, and still is, paired with a simplistic anti-fascism. The main strand of anti-fascism was essentially social democratic. This stressed the need for a defensive popular unity against fascism premised on the general understanding that it was the policy of capitalist weakness—a final resort position for most of the ruling class. Since a complacent and comfortable capitalism would have no need to resort to fascism, the social democratic response (and the same essential positions were held by many who weren’t organized social democrats) was to strengthen and stabilize “democratic” capitalism through the incorporation and institutionalization of trade unionism and the subordination of all struggle to parliamentary and legal considerations. The resulting de facto endorsement of liberal capitalism follows right along the track of social democracy’s increasingly reformist and evolutionary general politics. Not surprisingly, since they shared the view that fascism was essentially a form of capitalist rule that became more attractive to the ruling class when capitalism was in a weakened position, the Communists (Third International) ultimately wound up at a place quite similar to social democracy. However, before the eventual convergence there were important differences that demarcate a second strand of anti-fascist politics, a strand which at times has been very antagonistic to the reformist position even though it shares important underlying assumptions with it.
During the so-called “third period” of the late twenties and early thirties, communist orthodoxy posed working class revolution as the answer to fascism as well as to various other inconveniences, all of which would be eliminated as the byproduct of the elimination of capitalism. (The Italian communists who had early experience with fascism in power had significantly different positions, but in conditions of emerging Stalinism, they kept pretty quiet). If this “left” anti-capitalist stance led to a temporary strengthening of fascism, that was acceptable—an attitude made famous by the German C.P. slogan, “After Hitler, Us”. A parallel communist position of the period presented social democracy and fascism as two not so different sides of the same capitalist coin. Social democrats were “social fascists”, and any strategic alliance with social democracy against fascism was excluded. In fact, there were examples of tactical alliances between Communists and Nazis against the social democrats. This is notwithstanding the well-known clashes between armed fascists and communists during this period. Clashes that are frequently exaggerated for reasons of post facto communist public relations.
Some of the positions taken in the debates about Spanish politics during the thirties follow a pattern similar to “third period” positions. Ironically these are often anarchist criticisms of the popular front governments, and particularly of the participation in these governments by the anarcho-syndicalist leadership of the CNT-FAI.
This “left” position is the second, much weaker, strand of anti-fascism. Elements of it re-emerge regularly as revolutionary groups see mainstream leftists evading confrontation with capitalist state power or even colluding with it, while undermining radical victories and potentials. All done in the name of anti-fascist and anti-right wing politics. This makes the “left” position understandable, but doesn’t make it correct. At the present time 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.
(Some populist and anti-capitalist fascists are already promoting a position of “left-right convergence”, arguing that such historical differences are largely irrelevant and should be superceded. (See the Spartacus Press or other National Revolutionary websites for numerous examples.) On the other hand, the state and some flacks on the liberal left, are attempting to buttress the legitimacy and hegemony of capitalism by presenting a picture of a supposed “terrorist” merger of the extremes of left and right. I will deal with this “left-right” convergence issue, both as presented by some fascist tendencies and as an element in capitalist ideological hegemony, at a number of points in the course of this paper.)
Shortly after Hitler came to power, and with Nazi Germany posing an obvious military threat to the Soviet Union, the communists made the dramatic change in anti-fascist policy and theory that is associated with the name of Dimitrov and the slogan of the united/popular front. No longer would fascism be defeated through the defeat of capitalism. Now, the policy was to defeat fascism by saving capitalism from its own fascist potentials and propensities. This would be accomplished by developing the broadest possible popular alliance—even broader than that envisaged by orthodox social democrats—around the defense of bourgeois liberty and bourgeois parliamentarianism. This period of the united/popular front against fascism lasted through the military defeat of Germany and Italy except for the brief, but historically very significant, reversion to a corrupt and hypocritical variant of the third period positions during the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939-40.
After the defeat of fascism in power in WWII, the Communist policy morphed into the familiar pseudo-strategy of anti-monopoly coalitions and anti-monopoly governments; focusing against the “ultra right” and relying on alliances with “democratic” and “progressive” sectors of capital for “peace, democratic rights, and economic progress”. Hidden in the dialectical wastebasket is the classic Marxist tenet of bourgeois democracy being the preferred form of capitalist rule. The net result was, and still is, institutionalized support for a never-ending succession of capitalist lesser evils. Frequently this involves de facto support for the policies and positions advanced by the sector of capital that actually controls the main levers of state power. One of the more familiar examples of this approach in action in this country, was the support of both social democracy and the CPUSA for “peace candidate”, Lyndon Johnson, against Goldwater in 1964, an historical moment when a challenge to all capitalist policy options was clearly developing momentum.
Insofar as there is thinking here, the underlying thought is this: first, fascism, rather than being a unique and specific danger, the policy of capital’s extremity forced on it by its weakness in the face of adversity, becomes the permanent project of a “bad”, “reactionary”, “warlike”, “ultra right” sector of capital. Bourgeois democracy; parliamentarism, constitutionalism, legalization of trade unions, rather than being a double-edged collection of questionable “people’s victories”, become the best possible terrain for waging popular struggle against capital, a neutral ground that must be defended against the “ultra-rightists” and fascists who would obliterate it. It would be possible to spend a lot of time on the history of these positions, and on various examples of their implementation, but for purposes of my argument there are two central points. Fascism was capitalism, but of a “bad”, gorilla variant. 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.
The way we estimate the shape and the prospects of the incipient fascist movement in this country has a lot to do with our estimates of the prospects for capitalism. If we project a period of relative stability and balanced development, capitalist hegemony, particularly in the metropolitan center, can be maintained through ostensibly neutral mechanisms which hide the realities of domination and subordination. This will keep fascist movements (and likely the left as well) on the margins of society. If, on the contrary, capitalism is entering a period of major social and economic dislocation, a period of crises, the growth of the left, and, as well, the growth of fascist movements will be both a manifestation of the crises and a reaction to them.
There are good reasons why fashionable leftism no longer revolves around conceptions of capitalist crisis. We can remember the theories of “general crisis” and its various “stages”. The predictions of the “final crisis” and of the collapse of the capitalist world system. We also should know what actually collapsed. There’s certainly nothing wrong with delivering some kicks to Soviet “Marxism”’s simplistic economic determinism, but it shouldn’t extend to accepting capitalism’s unlimited flexibility by default, preventing serious discussion of the system’s limits. While I don’t directly argue the issues of capitalist crisis in this paper, I realize that the points that I do make imply a definite position that can certainly be challenged. Be that as it may, I think that capitalism, although superficially reascendent, contains defining and ultimately terminal internal contradictions. Of course these don’t preordain a dismal capitalist future, or even necessarily give us the capacity to make specific predictions about this future. They do make it proper, even prudent, to assume a capitalist system that is crisis prone and crisis ridden. Carefully read, serious Marxism does not claim that capitalism will inevitably collapse or that it will be inevitably succeeded by communism. It claims that: “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, (in) that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition—question of life or death—for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations—two different sides of the development of the social individual—appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.” (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 706)
This “crisis in the law of value” is the reality that underlies the distortions and absurdities currently characterizing global capitalism. It is the stuff of the ecological crises, and of the marginalization of labor as well. It ties opulence to famine; medical marvels to epidemics; tremendous productivity to meaningless drudgery. This crisis does raise specters, but not only that of communism. Marx was aware of a different possible future one that also is a specter, the specter of “barbarism”—of the “common ruin of the contending classes”. Capitalism’s current contradictions provide the potentials for revolutionary fascist movements, the basic ingredient, I think, of “barbarism”, just as certainly as they provide potentials for a revitalized revolutionary left. It is not ordained that it will be a revolution from the left rather than an attack from the right that will “blow this foundation sky-high”. Indeed, if we listen to T. Kazynski, and other less exotic advocates of deindustrialization, capitalist collapse might result from processes that reflect neither left nor right goals or visions. This is why some very diverse political tendencies subordinate all issues to the preparation for survival in a post-collapse era.
There is no doubt that in response to these developing crises some elements of resurgent fascism will ally with capitalist reaction. But in my opinion these are unlikely to be the decisive and defining elements in this country.
Let’s look at this as two different, though closely related, questions. First, is there a potential that a strategically significant section of U.S. capital would opt for a fascist state? Second, even without such a 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.
I want to focus on the first point in this section. However, the second point cannot necessarily be ruled out, so in a later section I will deal with the potentials of a mass pro-capitalist fascist movement without important links to any major sectors of the ruling class.
Obviously, if an important section of capital opts for fascism, it will have a major impact on the politics and the potentials of fascist mass movements.Even as it enjoyed greater visibility and more material resources, the cohesion and coherence of the overall fascist movement would be weakened by the defection of more radical and militant fascist positions. Its path towards power would orient towards coups and putsches and away from popular insurgency. To varying degrees, this is what happened in the processes of the victories of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain.
However, we face conditions that are different in major ways from Germany of the twenties and from most other historical situations where fascism gained a mass following and challenged for state power. Germany after WWI was a defeated and humiliated nation with a politically and economically shackled capitalist class. In Germany, accurately or not, the left anti-capitalist revolutionary potential certainly looked real and substantial—sufficiently substantial to force a reactionary unity on a capitalist class that was in no position to respond to the working class insurgencies with substantial pre-emptive concessions. Similarly, in Italy in the early twenties, and in Spain slightly later, a large and militant anarchist and socialist upsurge faced a weak and poorly developed capitalist class that could reasonably conclude that it needed to rely on the fascist card. In these conditions a significant sector of the ruling class did develop an interest in imposing a fascism “from above”, developing a relationship with those sectors of the autonomous fascist mass movement that were not genuinely committed to the more radical aspects of the fascist program. Despite this, even in Germany, the nazi political structure had a clear and substantial autonomy from the capitalist class and the strength to impose certain positions on that class. German national socialism was never just a tool of the entire ruling class, or even of a reactionary sector of it. When this has been recognized by the left, it has usually been viewed as something of a “bonapartist” situation, which, though important for historical moments, is always eventually overweighed and overwhelmed by the realities of class interests. Indeed, it is believed that exactly this triumph of ruling class interests occurred in Germany when Hitler crushed the fascist left wing in 1934 and made a compact with German capitalism. A parallel argument applies to Mussolini’s accommodation with the Vatican and Italian capitalism.
The German left communist, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, infiltrated the top circles of the German Association of Manufacturers and much later wrote a book with an on the spot description of the actual relationships between the nazi movement and party and various capitalist groupings. His book makes it clear that the nazis had substantial independence from the capitalist class even after the pro-capitalist right wing coup in the German fascist movement. This independence, according to Sohn-Rethel, went beyond bonapartism. He thought that the German fascist state and society were developing features that foreshadowed a new “transcapitalist” exploitative social order.
The most important of these features was fascist labor policy where, in significant areas of the economy the distinctively capitalist difference between labor and other factors of production was obliterated. Labor, not just labor power, was consumed in the process of production just like raw materials and fixed capital. The implications are barbaric and genocidal and genocide was what occurred. But this was not the genocidal aspect of continuing primitive accumulation that is a part of “normal” capitalist development. That type of genocide is directed mainly against pre-capitalist populations and against the social formations that obstruct the creation of a modern working class and the development of a reservoir of surplus labor. The German policy was the genocidal obliteration of already developed sections of the European working classes and the deliberate disruption of the social reproduction of labor in those sectors—all in the interests of a racialist demand for “living space”.
There is no significant parallel between our situation and the conditions in which German, Spanish, and Italian fascism developed. U.S. centered capital is triumphant on a global scale, not defeated and disorganized. Its main concern is to avoid unnecessary disruptions to its hegemony, and if it were to support the fascist option, particularly in this country, it would obviously be just such a disruption. We might hope differently, but no significant internal or external challenges from the left are pushing U.S.-centered capitalism towards such acts of desperation. Some more or less marginalized sections of the ruling class (e.g. Millikin ?) might develop ties to fascist movements and provide resources that could help coalesce a reactionary right bloc. However, this would only happen at the cost of diluting and undermining the militance and radicalism of the fascist constituency, channeling it into reformist and parliamentary arenas where it will have difficulty moving beyond pressure group status. We can hope that the fascists will be as blind to the dangers of this course as much of the left certainly is, but, as I will show in the course of this paper, we had better not depend on it.
Nature of fascist danger
It is easy for U.S. anti-fascists to be lulled into complacency because of the historic stupidities and religiosity of fascist groupings in this country. But fascists who can think are emerging, and as they do, there will be a base for their kind of thinking. The emerging fascist movement for which we must prepare, will be rooted in populist nationalist anti-capitalism and will have an intransigent hostility to various state and supra-state institutions. The essence of anti-fascist organizing must be the development of a left bloc that can successfully compete with such fascists, presenting a rev-olutionary option that confronts both fascism and capitalism in the realm of ideas and on the street. As I have said, unless the left can become such an alternative, there is a real danger that fascist movements will be the main beneficiary of capital’s developing contradictions. It would be convenient if, for lack of an alternative, large numbers of people would automatically rally behind the left’s various tattered flags wherever they got basically pissed off. However, in a crisis there will be alternatives to the left—fascist ones, and the left may very well not look like much of an alternative to capitalism. Sadly it will not only be hard to distinguish the U.S. left from various liberal capitalist factions, the lines between it and some of the fascists are also likely to be pretty indistinct.
Nevertheless, most of the U.S. left operates 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. The first is the belief that all of the significant fascists will eventually expose themselves as pro-capitalist. The second is the belief that fascism is inevitably white supremacist. I want to deal with the elements of this assumption separately and at some length. Of course, this separation is for purposes of discussion only. In reality white supremacy and support for capitalism are normally linked. In this country, white supremacy has been a central factor in capitalist social control, and it is certain that any white fascist movement in the U.S. that was not categorically opposed to capitalism would be white supremacist.
People are not stupid and unable to see political reality. To the contrary, they are smart and see the truth more clearly than the left. This extends beyond the popular view that leftists are just another species of politician to a basic skepticism about the left’s vision of the revolutionary alternative to capitalism. Don’t forget that the left is saddled in the popular consciousness with the Soviet and Chinese models (for some a treasured burden). These models look a great deal like fascism to the average person. They look a lot like fascism to many fascists, old and new. Wasn’t it Mussolini who said that Stalinist U.S.S.R. was “fascism without a market”?
There will be no widespread popular confidence that those who identify with the currently non-existent “actually existing socialism” in any of its phases and permutations are reliable anti-fascists or that they should be entrusted with power under any circumstances. Nor should there be. The truth is that many left groups function like fascists—organizing themselves in cultist obedience to a maximum leader and proposing models of a good society that emphasize typically fascist virtues like discipline, loyalty, and sacrifice. Other left perspectives are just liberal reformism served with some nostalgic rhetoric. It’s not at all uncommon to find both features in the same left organization.
Do we think that all of this has escaped popular notice and will have no consequences? How could that possibly be the case? It would not be difficult to pre-empt the terrain of discontent from this left of ours. Certainly this is more likely to happen than that all of the fascists will decide to help us out and become pro-capitalist. Let’s look at this issue in more detail.
Following fairly logically from the position that fascism is just a capitalist policy option, the U.S. left (also the British or at least the old Searchlight people along with their many other blemishes) has tended to view the actual fascist and neo-fascist groups as more or less of a joke. Their political positions are treated as propaganda that should not to be taken seriously, as just a cover for an opportunistic mixture of thugs, nuts, and cops that is essentially in the pay of sectors of the capitalist ruling class. Accompanying this is the terminally foolish conception of fascist cadre as cowards and bullies who will run from anyone willing to fight. Such positions should have died quietly a quarter century ago with the appearance of the Turner Diaries in this country. This novel, based of Jack London’s Iron Heel, was written by William Pierce, who until his recent death was head of the fascist National Alliance and previously a major figure in George Lincoln Rockwell’s Nazi group. The Turner Diaries is not a cartoon-Klan concoction. It elaborates a radical critique of the existing capitalist social structure and goes to some lengths to differentiate revolutionary fascists from reactionary, but reformist, right-wingers. Beyond a political perspective, the Turner Diaries lays out a moral and ethical framework for U.S. fascism which, whatever else can be said about it, is not opportunistic or lumpen. The left in the U.S paid essentially no attention and, with few exceptions, drew no political conclusions. Much of it is probably still, after two decades, familiar with the Turner Diaries only through its mention in newspaper accounts as a major influence on Timothy McVeigh, the Order, the Posse Commitatus, the Phineas Priesthood, the World Church of the Creator, etc.
Although the Turner Diaries were clearly revolutionary, they make a narrow and moralistic attack on what they picture as the essential corruption of U.S. society. Pierce is not enthused about anti-capitalism. His criticisms of U.S. capitalism focus on excesses and abuses, criticizing the alleged dominance of the financial element over the productive (sic) element. William Pierce was totally aligned with the Hitler wing of the Nazi spectrum. His politics rested on a mix of anti-Semitism, white supremacy, myths of a heroic white past, and other assorted aryan garbage. His vision of an alternative society was hierarchical, authoritarian, and patriarchal. This worldview may find mass support in fundamentalist right-reactionary circles, but it has distinct limitations in popular appeal elsewhere.
Pierce’s attempt to create an American variant of classical German Nazism has resulted in new fascist formations that frontally attack him and his organization, the National Alliance, for being insufficiently anti-capitalist, insufficiently militant, and far too bureaucratic and hierarchical. A struggle is developing among fascists over whether they should try to corral and capture the generic right or, alternatively, whether they should confront and challenge right wing variants of reformism and parliamentarianism while looking elsewhere for a political base. This provides a good place to raise a question mentioned earlier. Might an essentially pro-capitalist fascist tendency heading a mass reactionary movement develop the autonomous strength to impose fascism “from below” on a corrupt and weakened capitalist ruling class? There is absolutely no doubt that this is the intended and preferred strategy of the National Alliance and a number of other fascist groups in this country and elsewhere in the world. They would like to gain hegemony over the massive amorphous right-reactionary base and build incrementally from this base towards power. (Of course, another part of their perspective involves the penetration of key institutions, the military and the police and the development of real military assets of their own.) These fascists advocate both open and covert participation in the Reform Party, in the Right to Life movement, and in various conservative political and social movements in order to implement their perspective.
This strategy has obvious parallels to approaches of the traditional Marxist-Leninist left. Whether the strategy is advanced by authoritarians on the right or on the left, it generates the same sorts of criticisms and opposition. Capitalist development creates an anti-capitalist fascism that will neither retreat nor evaporate when confronted by what it sees as pro-capitalist fascism. Long before Pierce’s strategy succeeds, it has created its own fascist challenge, a challenge that it will have great difficulty defeating or absorbing.
Which variant of fascism will prevail? Will they cancel each other out? I have my opinions but I could be wrong. What I do know is that, on this point as on all others, the most dangerous left assumption is that the easier road is the one that we will be traveling. The worst error the left could commit in this situation is to assume that Pierce’s variant of fascism will ultimately prevail because it looks most like the best recognized historical model, German National Socialism. This assumption might ultimately prove to be true, but acting on it now only means that fascism will be effectively discounted as an ideological challenge, whatever significance it is assigned in other respects. This then becomes another support for an ultimately suicidal complacency about the left’s own perspectives and visions. The only remaining question will be whether we get done in by the fascists or by the capitalists.
Some of the conflicts and contradictions in the fascist camp are apparent in the fascist music/cultural magazine, Resistance. Recently the magazine was taken over by the National Alliance, and its revitalization and reorientation admittedly took a lot of Pierce’s time. It is clearly an attempt to appeal to and organize radical white skinheads. In the first issues after the magazine came under National Alliance control some polemical articles by orthodox fascists led to an outraged and hostile response from the magazine’s audience. One article criticized “undisciplined” and “tattooed” skinheads and argued that they should join the army and learn military skills. Another attacked the conception of “leaderless resistance” as infantile and amateurish. A further argument challenged any orientation to the “working class”. The reaction to these traditional fascist positions led to the dismissal of one editor, and a formal editorial apology from his successor.
It is likely that Pierce’s successors would have to modify his entire conception of white aryan culture if they want to seriously contend with more radical fascists for this base. I wouldn’t presume to predict how this situation will ultimately work out. However, I do think that while the likes of Pierce might prevail organizationally and/or through force for a period of time, it is unlikely that they can win a conclusive ideological triumph.
However unfortunate this was for him and his organization, Pierce’s categorical critique of U.S. society in the Turner Diaries provided part of the impetus for the reemergence of the Strasser/Rohm “socialist” wing of fascism in the U.S., the so-called “third position”—a fascist variant that presents itself as “national revolutionary”, with politics that are “beyond left and right”.
(There appears to be two distinct wings to the third position. One calls itself the International Third Position, ITP, and tends to be more predictably racist, anti-feminist, anti-semitic, homophobic, etc. There is also a distinctly religious character to their politics. The other wing is called “National Revolutionary” or “National Bolshevik”, and is much more radical; categorically attacking “Hitlerian fascism”, and going to lengths to argue that they support all movements that are genuinely anti-capitalist. Some National Revolutionaries like the NRF in England are still overtly racist and white supremacist, despite their support for certain liberation movements; e.g., the Irish and Palestinian. Others, as indicated in some quotes I will introduce later, claim to completely reject white supremacy. Various National Revolutionary groups and ideologists also have differences about anti-Semitism that parallel their differences on racism and anti-imperialist national liberation. I would recommend that people look at the material of both groups. This can be done easily by beginning from the websites for “americanfront” and for the international third position.)
This third position variant of fascism poses a different and, I think, greater danger to the left than Pierce and the National Alliance. 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 class and 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.
It is one thing to talk about abstract potentials for a militantly anti-capitalist brand of fascism. It’s another to show evidence that something like this is actually developing. I believe that there is some evidence in this country and that there is a great deal of evidence in the rest of the world. The first indicators appeared when fascist groups began to move away from their traditional base in white racist reaction and look for recruits and influence in areas which the left naively believes are part of “its movement”. I’m including a statement about the Seattle WTO demonstrations from our World Church of the Creator friend, Pontifex Maximus to illustrate this development:
“What happened in Seattle is a precursor for the future—when White people in droves protest the actions of world Jewry not by ‘writing to congressmen’, ‘voting’, or other nonsense like that, but by taking to the streets and throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of the enemy’s machine. I witnessed some of what happened in Seattle firsthand, for as chance would have it, I was in Seattle from December 2 until December 5 to meet with Racial Loyalists there and speak at the yearly Whidbey Island vigil honoring Robert J. Mathews. I witnessed some of the marches, and while there was certainly a fair amount of non-white trash involved in them, the vast majority were White people of good blood, who can be mobilized in the future for something besides their economic livelihood or environment; their continued biological existence. It is from the likes of the White people who protested the WTO (and who in some cases, went to jail for illegal actions) that our World Church of the Creator must look to for our converts—not the stale ‘right wing’ which has failed miserably to put even one dent in the armor of the Jewish monster. Did the right wing hinder the WTO? No. They were too busy ‘writing their congressmen’—congressmen who were bought off a long time ago, or waiting for their ‘great white hope’ in shining armor who they can miraculously vote into office. The reality, though, is that there is invariably a kosher U or K on that armor. How many defeats must they suffer before they realize that a change in tactics is advisable? No, it was the left wing, by and large, which stymied the WTO to the point where their meeting was practically worthless, and we should concentrate on these zealots, not the ‘meet, eat, and retreat’ crowd of the right wing who are so worried about ‘offending’ the enemy that all too often, they are a nice Trojan Horse for the enemy’s designs.”
So Matt Hale believes, “It is from the likes of the White people who protested the WTO (and who in some cases, went to jail for illegal actions) that our World Church of the Creator must look to for our converts—not the stale ‘right wing’.” Is he just deluded? I don’t think so. On the one hand, Matt Hale carries some baggage that would hinder his approach to our constituency, though the baggage is to some extent disposable. Weighing against this, he can appear to be, and probably is, more militant, more “revolutionary”, and particularly in military ways, more effective, than the existing left. Hale’s position shows the will and intent to break out of organizing approaches that have entrapped fascists before. We had better plan on the emergence of fascists that are substantially better able to exploit these initiatives than a hopeful, but frustrated, aspirant to the Illinois bar.
Consider the following passage from a statement by Louis Beam, the advocate of “leaderless resistance” and former head of the Texas Klu Klux Klan, who speaks to and for a militant, but more populist than socialist, variant of the third position: “While some in the so-called right-wing sit at home and talk about waiting for the Police State to ‘come and get them,’ some other really brave people have been out confronting the Police State, instead of hoarding guns that will never be fired, these people were out bravely facing the guns of the New World Order.
“…My heart goes out to those brave souls in Seattle who turned out in the thousands from both Canada and the U.S. to go up against the thugs of Clinton and those who put him in office. I appreciate their bravery. I admire their courage. And I thank them for fighting my battle…“Soon, however, there will be millions in this country of every political persuasion confronting the police state on streets throughout America. When you are being kicked, gassed, beaten and shot at by the police enforcers of the NWO you will not be asking, nor giving a rat’s tail, what the other freedom lovers’ politics ‘used to be’—for the new politics of America is liberty from the NWO Police State and nothing more.” (L. Beam, Radical Okie Homepage)
The left had better begin to deal with the fact that issues that are regarded a part of our movement; “globalization”, working class economic demands, “green” questions, resistance to police repression etc. are now being organized by explicit fascists and others who might as well be. Nor do we have a patent on decentralized direct action. That is exactly what the fascist debate around “leaderless resistance” is about. Finally, the question of who and what, exactly, is anti-capitalist remains very much unsettled. Some of the fascists take positions that at least appear to be much more categorically oppositional than those of most of the left. I said earlier that many third position fascists explicitly aim to recruit from the ranks of the left. This isn’t as quixotic as it might appear. 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 some participants in our own anti-fascist 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 of omniscient leadership, and macho opposition to open debate and discussion with respect for individual and group autonomy.
There is a more serious similarity between third position ideology and the views of one important tendency in our section of the left. Various green anarchists advance a strategy of anti-capitalist de-industrialization and ruralism based on decentralized cooperatives. Various fascist national revolutionaries explicitly argue for a similar strategy. Of course, the fascists present this position in opposition to multiculturalism and, more particularly, in opposition to immigration and foreigners. No significant element of the left in this country would currently accept these positions, although this may not be so true elsewhere in the world.
Even so, many U.S. leftists do believe that large sections of the population are so deformed by their patterns of consumption and by their acquiescence in relationships of domination and subordination that they cannot be considered as potential revolutionary subjects. This is a position which can also be found, not coincidentally, in such artifacts of the dominant culture as the movie, The Matrix. When the left combines these elitist perspectives with militant, but diffuse, actions against capitalist targets, the result can take on more than a passing resemblance to the “strategy of tension” admired by many European fascists and acted on by some.
Of course a major goal of our political practice should be to increase the “ungovernability” of capitalist society. But this cannot be done without taking adequate account of the effects of our actions on the actual living conditions of masses of people. We have to recognize and criticize the elitism and arrogance in our camp that writes off large sections of people as terminally corrupted. Blood and soil fascists, who are mainly concerned with “their own kind”, can, and do, treat masses of less favored people as redundant and mere objects. We can’t.
Fascism and white supremacy
This leads me to the second source of unthinking complacency in the left view of fascism (perhaps Gramsci’s term, “imbecilic optimism”, is more appropriate). This relies on the assumption that fascism must be white supremacist. Thus even if it is granted that fascism might have some mass appeal, the argument is that this can’t extend beyond the “white” population. The emerging non-white working class majority in the U.S., not to mention in the world as a whole, will provide the left with a solid and stable bloc, perhaps a majority even here, that, while it may be reformist, must be at least latently anti-fascist. There are obvious historical roots for this thinking, but it is dangerously wrong.
Two points: First, there is a real potential for working relationships and alliances between white fascist movements and various nationalist and religious tendencies among oppressed peoples. In no way does this potential involve the denial of the reality of white supremacy and racial and national oppression. It only means that the left cannot count on the responses to this pattern of oppression, privilege and domination fitting into its neat and comfortable categories.
Second, there is no reason to view fascism as necessarily white just because there are white supremacist fascists. To the contrary there is every reason to believe that fascist potentials exist throughout the global capitalist system. African, Asian, and Latin American fascist organizations can develop that are independent of, and to some extent competitive with Euro-American “white” fascism. Both points deserve elaboration.
Despite all of its rhetoric of “mud people” etc., even the WCOTC brand of white fascism could conceivably reach some level of tactical agreement with certain conservative forms of Black nationalism. This has happened before in this country and elsewhere in the world. Remember that even Malcolm X, met with the KKK while he was still working within the Nation of Islam. However, it is unlikely that such agreements would have more than some public relations significance. The same does not hold with respect to many of the “third position” fascists. They argue that their support of white separatism entails that they also recognize the right of other peoples to their own nations and cultures. Some of them deny that they are white supremacist at all and attack other fascist and racist groups for being white supremacists. Consider the following representative statement from the head of the neo-fascist American Front:
“I am far from a White supremacist. To me a White supremacist is a reactionary of the worst kind. He focuses his energies on symptoms rather than the disease itself. The disease is the System—International Capitalism—NOT those who are as exploited, often as badly or worse, as White workers are by it. Yes, We actually see more in common, ideologically, with groups like Nation of Islam, the New Black Panther Party or Atzlan than with the reactionaries like the Hollywood-style nazis or the Klan. In the past we’ve worked with Nation Of Islam and single issue Organizations like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front when the opportunity arose. I’m sure the future holds more common actions and Revolutionary coordination between our ‘Front’ and others of like mind.”(americanfront.com, Interview with Chairman)
Many leftists might dismiss this position and others like it as contradictory and insincere, irrespective of how many of them could be introduced. I wouldn’t deny the problems and contradictions that are inherent in the racial nationalism of the American Front. It is certainly possible that the “Chairman” could be spouting lies and disinformation. However, Black movements are already used to a great deal of contradiction and insincerity from the predominantly white left, not to mention mountains of hypocrisy. They are not likely to instantly dismiss expressions of political agreement and offers of solidarity from neo-fascists, particularly when they come with the prospects of material support. Nor will they be alienated by the explicit support of these fascists for the Palestinian struggle, the IRA, and the Zapatistas.
However, whatever the possibility for tactical alliances between white fascist formations and non-white organizations, this issue is not at the heart of the problem. As barbarism emerges throughout the global capitalist system one of its motivating forces will be the alternation of competition and cooperation among fascist blocs—with the competition dominating. In this country and around the world some of these fascist blocs will be, and, in fact, already are, Black and Brown.
Potentials that exist for a militant left exist for militant fascism as well. This is true in Uganda. It is true in Utah. If we limit our conception of fascism to Euro-American white supremacy, the only social base for fascist movements in most of the world, specifically in Africa and Asia, would be the atavistic remnants of white colonialism. We would be forced to another complacent conclusion, namely that only the left could develop a mass militant and anti-capitalist response in the areas of the world where the contradictions of capitalism and neo-colonialism are most severe. Such a conclusion would fly in the face of all empirical observation and of good sense.
Mass movements based in religious fundamentalism and various types of warlordism exist everywhere in the third world. They often have anti-capitalist features and frequently these have a quasi-fascist aspect. This should not be surprising. The crumbling structures of the national liberation states and the fragmented and demoralized elements of the communist movements in these areas are more likely to be fertile grounds for fascist development rather than a force against it. The foreign control of capital, labor, and commodity markets distorts the development of parliamentary and trade union traditions. The form of global capitalism that dominates in the periphery of the world capitalist system is not healthy terrain for the reformist leftism that predominates in capital’s historic center.
The current situation of capitalism, its “crisis” if you please, impels a reemergence of genocidal tendencies in the capitalist center, a reemergence that is pushed by fascist ideology and organization around issues of labor and immigration policy and “eco-fascism”. However, the really pressing danger of genocide is developing in Africa and Asia. On the surface it appears that fratricidal conflicts within neocolonial structures combined with famine and disease are the cause of genocide in the third world. However, underneath these conflicts, hidden behind a careful hands-off public relations stance, lies international capital. The real responsibility lies in the essential acquiescence and the elements of complicity by the dominant sectors of international capital and the states in which its power is centered. If capitalism can survive the upheavals that these neo-colonial conflicts entail, no foregone conclusion, they will ultimately serve dirty capitalist interests by wiping out “surplus” labor. Whether or not this happens, this process leaves a substantial residue of fascist ideology and organization in the Third World, that is not restricted to the neo-colonial elites, but also exists on a mass level.
On a world scale, capital has largely succeeded in incorporating anti-imperialist nationalism through the neocolonial bag of institutions and ideologies. In this country neocolonialism involves important changes in class composition in the Black community. One of these is the development of a Black neocolonial elite that is important to capitalist hegemony. This elite combines a sort of nationalism with little radical potential with pro-capitalist reformist ethnic interest group politics.
Any revitalized Black insurgency will have to challenge the Black neocolonial elite and its ideology from a radical anti-capitalist and internationalist perspective. Beyond this, a revitalized Black insurgency will have to deal with reactionary religious fundamentalism and lumpen criminal organization. These are mass phenomena in Black communities across the country that already display fascist tendencies in their treatment of women and gays, in their attitude towards discipline and order, and in their use of violence and intimidation to limit and control discussion and debate. It must be said that a critique of the Black elite as corrupt and as betrayers of the interests of their people can be made by fascists. We are not talking about a critique from white fascists but from Black fascists with their own issues and agendas which, in all likelihood, will be at least partially hostile to those of white fascist movements and organizations. The revolutionary left in the Black Nation will have to compete with such fascists for the allegiance and support of some of the most disaffected and militant people of color. It does not portend well for this competition that maintaining “unity” and “morale” make some Black radicals reluctant to differentiate themselves, not only from Black reformists, but from Black crypto-fascists as well.
Historically the Black movement is at the center of every progressive development in this country. We certainly must hope that it has the resources to deal with these problems successfully, but we cannot blind ourselves to the difficulty of the tasks and assume that the right side will necessarily triumph in time.
Militance, and militarization
While there is something left and radical-seeming about confronting organized fascists in a military or quasi-military fashion, this “hard” approach, besides being risky, often carries a load of conservative political baggage. Frequently this is the same old united/popular front—massing the greatest possible quantitative strength by developing alliances based on minimum agreements, agreements that are inevitably within the framework of capitalist hegemony.
There is no meaningful sense in which fascism can be strategically defeated while capitalism survives. Unfortunately for us, capitalism constantly grows fascists. Indeed, it is forming and reforming the social base for fascist movements at an accelerating pace. On the other hand, if capitalism were to collapse or be politically defeated anywhere in the world, this would not necessarily mean an end to the dangers of fascism. Under some conditions fascism might both contribute to this collapse and be its major beneficiary. So much for, “After Hitler, us.”
This is not to deny that fascism may present a real military danger, both in general and specifically for the revolutionary left. Effective anti-fascist organizing can not be implemented without the development of a cadre with military experience and capacity. Anti-fascists must mount a military response to the actual fascist organizations if only for self defense, and there is no doubt that such activity may help organize our forces and raise our morale. This can be important, particularly in early stages of activity. Indeed, since military capabilities are essential assets for a revolutionary left, this is one reason to choose anti-fascism as an area of work. However, we must be aware of the dangers in this area and recognize that a military response will never be all, or even most, of what is needed to successfully deal with the fascist threat.
There is an important tendency in the anti-fascist movement to place the confrontation with, and the military defeat of fascism, as a precondition, perhaps an essential precondition, for an assault on capitalism. This looks like a variation on the Chinese strategy (at least it was once their strategy) of “protracted people’s war”. This is my reading of the RASH position, although it is all by implication and I would be surprised if in this case much is owed directly to Lin Piao, Mao and Giap. It is also the way that I understand the position of Britain’s Red Action.
I think that seeing anti-fascist work as primarily military, and premising a strategy on the possibility of its military defeat is a fundamental mistake. The truth is that no genuinely committed movement can be permanently defeated purely by military strength even when that strength is overwhelming and has state power behind it. We know that this is true for the revolutionary left, we had better learn that it can be true for the revolutionary right.
At times the anti-fascist movement may win military victories, but these are often pyrrhic. While fascists may have been driven off the street in some situations, this is no ground for triumphalist claims if, as is often the case, fascist sentiment and organization keeps on growing in other forms. It is always possible that our “victories” are only part of a process of different fascist tendencies gaining ascendancy and working out new and possibly more effective tactics, ones that can minimize our impact. My argument here is not against militance and confrontation directed at the fascists and, for that matter, against the state. These are absolutely vital. It’s against basing political work on shoddy and careless thinking, and forgetting that we should, “Claim no easy victories.”
As Gramsci noted, in military tactics the emphasis is on attacking points of weakness and encircling points of strength, while in revolutionary political struggle it makes little sense to attack minor players and weak arguments. Politically defeating the weakest and wackiest of the fascists is not strategically significant. Neither are successful military ventures against isolated, unprepared or exposed fascists. Anti-fascist work in this country at this time is fundamentally a political contest with the fascists for a popular base. To do well in this contest we need to develop a coherent alternative to the fascist worldview that confronts the strongest points of its best advocates. Alexander Dugin, for example, not William Pierce or Matt Hale. Of course our alternative must simultaneously confront liberal reformist “capitalist” anti-fascism.
There is another exceedingly important consideration. The left and the fascists aren’t the only players in these games. The capitalist state also plays a major role, but not one that is uniform, predictable and obvious. Notwithstanding the simplistic rhetoric of some leftists, the state seldom wants an organized and public fascist presence. Usually its public intervention is an attempt to ritualize and defang confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists, buttressing capitalist hegemony while making both sides look and feel a bit ridiculous. But this isn’t all that is involved. Think back to Greensboro where a police informant apparently instigated the Klan attack on the Communist Workers Party, or to the Secret Army Organization fascists in Southern California where agents pushed plans for assassinations of left leaders. Along with cases like these where the state has promoted conflict by siding with the fascists, there also are situations where they let the fascists and anti-fascists “fight it out”—a preference that we have all heard expressed by various cops on the street.
However, it is still another possibility that I believe is the most relevant to us. The state can tolerate a certain level of anti-fascist illegality on our part just as well as it can look the other way at certain actions of the fascists. Currently, many of our “street” victories do seem to involve tacit police cooperation at a certain level; implicitly sanctioning, or at least not confronting, our tactics and deliberately choosing not to investigate and prosecute at the level which would easily be possible. We have to be smart about this. The behavior of the state in this area is certainly not benign and it is not being smart to think that it is unplanned and accidental. However, when I read Red Action’s self-congratulatory descriptions of its confrontations with English fascists—and I have seen similar reports from various ARA sources—I don’t see any recognition that such success could only occur for a significant time period with police acquiescence at the minimum. Such “acquiescence” can be withdrawn at any point, and, until it is, it can and will be used politically against the anti-fascists both by the fascists and ultimately by the state. Keep in mind that in our confrontation with the fascists, the side that is identified with the state is ultimately going to lose politically although it may appear to be winning some street fights. And this is the least of the problem. We must also consider the possibility that the state is engaged in a more active counter-insurgency policy, a policy that attempts to determine the content of both the fascist and the anti-fascist movements and to keep the content of their interaction essentially encapsulated. (I want to come back to this point later.)
The left does have important advantages over all fascists, some of which will be mentioned later, but, generally speaking and certainly in this country, organized anti-fascists are at a major disadvantage in the military arena. Clearly the fascists have more military skills and a more substantial and better-prepared logistical network than we do. It is obvious that they are more able to draw on support and resources from within the armed forces and the police. With time, if we have it, and effort we could conceivably catch up in some of these areas of logistics and training.
However, even if we did catch up, one fact still provides a military advantage for the fascists, even where they don’t have such clear superiority in resources and training. Fascism is fundamentally a doctrine of justified force to advance selected special interests. Fascists do not worry too much about who and what is injured by their use of force. The left must, if it is to be true to a universal vision of liberation. When we abandon this vision and rationalize non-combatant casualties and collateral damage as the fascists might, the heart goes out of both our confrontation with fascism and our radical critique of capitalism. The prime beneficiaries of this will be the various liberal ideologists who are promoting the notion of the essential unity of the radical extremes.
This gets to the fundamental danger in overemphasizing the military side of anti-fascist work. A danger that is serious, whatever policy the state pursues. The “victories” in this area often have a major political cost. Combating serious fascist tendencies through physical and military confrontations is no joke. It requires a serious attitude towards internal security often including the limitation of discussion and debate and the compartmentalization of information according to “need to know” criteria. It requires a conscious decision to avoid those confrontations that might end in defeat or use up too much of our scant military resources. Since it could be fatal to rely on the state continuing to take a neutral or passive attitude towards such a project, security must be maintained against the police as well as against the actual fascists. Organizationally, there is an inevitable pressure here towards clandestinity. Strategically, the direction is towards military considerations taking priority over political ones. Under such circumstances the most dedicated organizers will often be forced to stand aside from potentials for mass militancy in order to maintain and protect a military potential. I realize that there may be situations when exactly this approach is needed. However, we should be very sure we are at such a point before taking steps that may be irreversible.
There are many examples of situations where the real or presumed need to function militarily has done much more serious damage to the movement than to its targets. This damage takes the form of militarizing the movement without conclusively defeating or, often, without even weakening the core politics of the enemy. Even within a best case scenario, militarization of the anti-fascist movement will always undermine essential political and cultural elements of our challenge to fascism, not to mention our alternative to capitalism. However, this best case example, one where we enjoy some military successes without major consequences from the state, is hardly the most probable case. In addition to the critical political damage that we do to ourselves by militarizing our movement, we could also suffer costly military defeats from the fascists, and major legal and political onslaughts from the system.
One argument of this paper is for a priority on anti-fascist work. It is important to put this argument in the context of an approach to political priorities in general. Sometimes mass popular movements dictate where and how we work and are ignored only at the price of sectarian irrelevance. But this is not the case at present, barring some major developments coming out of the Seattle WTO action. Instead there are a range of issues and organizing areas, all of which have legitimacy and potential and all of which present unique problems along with some common ones. Given the limitations in quantity and quality of the left in this country, not to mention those in our sector of it, there is no possibility to explore the potentials in every possible area of work. Since our choices between priorities will have to be made with no prior guarantees that they will turn out to be wise ones, we cannot forget the potentials and possibilities in the options that we have not chosen. If we do, our movement may rot in strategic dead ends, or, when we make necessary changes, they can appear to be arbitrary and even inexplicable, disrupting and disorienting the work. So what are the criteria for evaluating whether one area of political work or another should be a priority? I’ll confess in advance to most forms of “leftism” and my position here will probably only be confirmation of this. I think that there are only two such criteria; first the extent to which the work develops a revolutionary cadre able to both think and act, and, second, the extent to which it helps develop a popular culture based on a core of intransigent anti-capitalism. I want to conclude this paper with some thoughts on the relationship of each of these criteria to anti-fascist work. I know that I am dealing largely with anarchists for whom vanguard party and professional revolutionary belong in the same out-basket as Moonies and cops. There are things to talk about here, but without dealing with most issues of party and organization, we can agree that it is important to discover and develop activists who are radical and militant and who are willing and able to formulate, implement, criticize and modify a collective political practice. This is what I mean by cadre. To the extent that the core group of cadre is growing in size and in capabilities, an area of work is relatively successful. If questions develop about changing the focus of work in an area, or even about moving resources to a different political priority, the extent to which cadre have been developed will determine how serious and productive the discussions are, and whether criticisms and disagreements can also be serious and productive and conducive to organized and collective changes in direction.
A substantial group of rebellious and anti-authoritarian young people is attracted to militant anti-fascism. The essence of this spontaneous anti-fascism certainly isn’t an elaborated critique of fascist theories or a detailed understanding of the actual history of the fascist movement. It’s more of a gut level rejection of the traditional fascist notions: who’s superior and who’s inferior; what constitutes a good life and what’s corrupt. Fascists want a society and culture restricted to those they define as superior people. We don’t. They want discipline and order; we want autonomy and creativity. Their goal is an idealized, basically mythical, past, we want a totally different future. They line up behind maximum leaders; we want a critical and conscious rank and file.
This spontaneous consciousness is a tremendous advantage for anti-fascism vis a vis fascism in all of its variants including the most radical and anti-capitalist. The appeal of freedom and autonomy is far greater than the appeal of the fascist alternative of duty and self-sacrifice not to mention its cults of justified supremacy. Of course, spontaneous anti-fascism is more vulnerable when forced to deal with the emerging third position fascism that breaks with the traditional fascist verities and doesn’t fit traditional leftist categories. However, even in this case the left has an advantage. The neo-fascists, even those who call themselves, “national anarchists”, don’t find it easy to separate from their history in a way that can give them credibility as a force for liberation and autonomy. Even more important, the racialist cultural autarky which is the root premise of even the most radical among them, looks more like unhealthy inbreeding than anything liberatory.
It is important to note that the national revolutionary fascists are aware of the historic weaknesses in their position and blame traditional fascists such as the National Alliance who they bitterly attack for their failure to oppose all of the institutions of official capitalism. It’s also important to realize that the left can easily lose its initial advantages, if it is so lacking in militance and anti-capitalist commitment that the problems the radical fascists have with their white myths, illusions about natural order, and various other aspects of ideological baggage can be overshadowed and overlooked.
The same radical popular consciousness is also a tremendous advantage for us against the hegemony of capital. Spontaneous anti-fascist consciousness does not see liberal capitalism and parliamentary democracy as the anti-fascist alternative. More typically it breaks with official society on many levels. Rebelliousness and anti-authoritarianism are directed at the schools, the police, the job and the family, not only at the fascist’s version of the good society. In fact, hopefully, even if not quite accurately, official society is usually seen as a hypocritical masked paternalistic version of the fascist worldview.
This anti-fascist constituency provides an important source of revolutionary cadre. We have to go to it. It will not necessarily come to us. Of course, there are spontaneous potentials in areas of work other than anti-fascism, but for a couple of reasons they aren’t as large and they aren’t as promising. One reason involves issues of reformism and self-interest. At this stage of the movement, no one is genuinely anti-fascist solely from the sort of narrow self-interest motivations that plague other areas of radical organizing (including much organizing against the “right”). Fascism is rejected as a worldview and lifestyle, not because it is costing fifty cents an hour or something like that. As a consequence, many of the types of concessions and maneuvers that capital uses to co-opt and contain popular movements, approaches which are premised on appeals to narrow self and sectoral interests, have minimal impact on an anti-fascist movement.
Consider the main capitalist concession that can be offered to defuse militant anti-fascism—illegalization of fascist organizations, the terrain where liberals and conservatives debate the First Amendment. It is not hard to point out two facts to potential cadre, no matter how new and inexperienced they may be. First, the illegalization of fascist organizations can and will easily, and with pretty much parallel arguments, be turned against anti-fascist and revolutionary left organizations. Second, insofar as fascism is a real social movement, its illegalization is likely to consolidate its revolutionary credentials with its potential base and help differentiate it from, and strengthen it relative to, the reformist right—not something in the interests of revolutionary anti-fascists. Another potential of anti fascist work is that, as contrasted specifically with anti-“ultra right” work, much of it is necessarily illegal or, at least, is on the extreme margins of capitalist legality. This dictates tactics and attitudes, and provides experiences that are important parts of the development of a revolutionary opposition. This work is good “practice” in a couple of different meanings of the term. In other areas organizing has a much greater likelihood of turning potential revolutionaries into reformists and/or cynics.
There is one major practical problem with anti-fascist work compared with other potential uses of the same human and material resources. The capitalist state and economic structures provide a permanent arena and relatively fixed targets for organizing. In contrast, in anti-fascist work, we appear to be dependent on the fascists having sufficient success to make them a real and palpable danger.
While capitalism, globally and nationally, will continually reinvigorate the base for fascism unless a left revolutionary alternative conclusively preempts it, at any given time or place the fascist movement may go through protracted periods of retrenchment or may embark on self-defeating projects. It is not a certainty that they always and everywhere will appear as a viable social movement, much less the sort of strategic threat that I have been indicating. There is little importance to symbolic anti-fascist organizing, or to muscle-flexing exercises against crackpots and dysfunctional teenagers, and at times it may appear that this is all there is to the fascist movement. This leads to questions about spending resources in what looks like a political sidechannel.
This possible dilemma strengthens one prior point. To the extent that anti-fascist work has developed a core of organizers, a cadre, the ability to make assessments and judgments that lead to a change in focus are improved. Whatever changes are called for can be implemented with greater resources and more clarity than would have otherwise been possible. However, in a more basic sense, it is likely that a weakening of the forms of fascism that we find relatively easy to locate and organize against, masks the growth of more sophisticated forms, better able to challenge us on “our issues” and with “our base”.
One final point. Much left political work is essentially administrative routine and/or academic discussion. Out of this comes, not cadre, but more bureaucrats and professors, and we have enough of both. In the Phenomenology, Hegel puts the “risking of one’s life” as a central part of the emergence of genuine freedom out of servitude and subordination. This is an important concept. A moments thought will show that this element of risk and potential transformation is central to anti-fascist work, while it is pretty deeply buried in other arenas. Fascists are deeply committed to their views and are willing to kill and die for them. It takes some time, but eventually this imposes some serious thinking on anti-fascists, thinking which can lead to some of them committing to anti-capitalist revolution as a vocation.
This leads to the question of revolutionary culture, the other criterion for evaluating an area of work. I have argued that one tremendous advantage for anti-fascists is that the attraction of freedom and creative space is far greater than any fascist appeal to duty, self-sacrifice, order and certainly more attractive than racialist solidarity. Of course, this advantage is undermined by various authoritarian and sectarian tendencies in the left that are as hostile to freedom and creativity as the fascists, although they do not normally attack it openly. These tendencies pose obvious difficulties in relating to the spontaneous potentials of anti-fascist work.
However the limitations of the left are only the surface of the problem. Our main difficulty is not so much that we appear to be hypocritical, although we often do, as it is that our alternative appears to be utopian—to be a vision that can’t work and that is fundamentally at odds with social reality. This view, that communism (or perhaps I should say, anarchism) is utopian because it is not based on natural order, on “blood and soil”, is one essential ground for the racialist view of culture which is shared by all fascist tendencies, whatever their other differences. The same pessimism about the viability of the left’s objectives is also at the root of the pervasive popular cynicism, and passivity. Needless to say, this mindset is actively propagated by the dominant capitalist culture.
Building a revolutionary culture means beginning the practical demonstration that our alternative vision can “work”; that it can survive as an organizing principle without being either co-opted by the dominant culture or compressed into a self-contained and essentially elitist “alternative”. This culture must be something that is palpably ours, and that can remain “ours”. This involves developing the internal resources to prevent insurgent cultural initiatives from eroding into matters of style and fashion and becoming merely a more or less skewed reflection of the dominant culture without the capacity to deal with the movement’s internal problems and contradictions.
I don’t feel able to do much more than indicate a few issues here. First, all fascists even the most radically anti-capitalist, view what they term as multiculturalism or internationalism as essentially degenerate and opposed to the proper order of things. The physical and social separation of people along racial and ethnic lines is crucial to the fascist worldview, even to tendencies that ostensibly reject the familiar larding of white supremacy. They all argue that society based on the opposite principles cannot work. Of course, passive acceptance of the inevitability of this same separation is normal capitalist common sense.
It is just as crucial for us that our cultural alternative to fascism and capitalism challenge racialism. A revolutionary culture must be practically internationalist, a space for the coming together of people of different racial and cultural backgrounds. Of course there are problems and dangers in this and it won’t happen without effort and conflict. It is one thing to say that we have to respect autonomy and encourage the expression of differences without abandoning the attempt to build a coherent counter-hegemonic challenge to official society. But it is quite another to even partially accomplish this in reality. Real conflicts and contradictions are involved. They cannot be wished or defined out of existence or resolved verbally. The difficulty is increased because there are a number of tendencies within our movement that are politically opposed to it, for a range of quite different reasons. Some believe, just like some of the radical fascists, that freedom and autonomy are the fruit of the revolution rather than preconditions for it. Others basically question the attainability of genuine solidarity, often for quite understandable reasons. Second; a revolutionary culture must recognize the distinction between and oppressed and oppressor and organize against it practically. Much of the left recognizes only one side of oppression, its impact on the group subject to it—failing to see the centrality of opposing popular acquiescence and participation in it. This is a common position in the left and one that is shared by the most radical and anti-capitalist of the fascists. We can’t allow a concrete opposition to the entire range of oppression, national, sexual, and gender, and specifically to the ways in which it is popularly implemented and sanctioned, to be subsumed into a generalized and abstract opposition to a common enemy, capitalism. Not only does this entail a certain approach to political work, it entails a definite obligation on the radical culture to practice internally what it professes as a social goal. Third, a revolutionary culture must not incorporate violence into its internal functioning. This is an extremely important distinction with all variants of fascism and unfortunately with many variants of leftism. It has to be a place where everyone feels safe, particularly those who are the objects of violence in society generally. This is not at all easy to combine with the importance of militance in the general struggle, with the necessity to reject strategic pacifism, and with the need to sharply challenge and vigorously debate various ideas and attitudes which inevitably will be a part of the scene.
What Will Do As A Conclusion
It’s been pointed out that in the form of an argument for a priority on anti-fascist work, I have actually been arguing for a certain critical stance towards the left that is not really dependent on accepting this priority. This is true, and particularly so in the final sections. Hopefully, if nothing else, the emergence of anti-capitalist fascism will be a “gift from Allah” (not my phrase but I love it), pushing the left to deal with the crucial weaknesses in its analyses and perspectives. If it isn’t, something else will have to be found.
This is a draft and, probably obviously, the concluding sections are particularly fragmentary. There is a group of questions that I initially incorporated into the body of the argument, but then it seemed to me that they made things too complicated and too confusing. However, I think they are important issues, so I’ve put them into an appendix on the relationship of fascism and capitalist state repression.
Obviously, my argument puts a lot of weight on the emergence of an anti-capitalist “third position” variant of fascism. It was hard to find a way to make this point while raising questions, which I think must be raised, of the extent to which that position is authentic and rooted, or alternatively, the extent to which it may be shaped by some repressive initiatives by the state. Even when we establish that the fascist movement is not in any important respect just an adjunct of capitalist repression, a lot of questions about the specific relationship of repression to fascism remain. Some of these require research and investigation. All of them require serious thought and debate.
It is undoubtedly true that state repression, including systematic population mapping and, more importantly, active counter insurgency organizing under the rubric of anti-terrorism and low intensity conflict, is becoming more important in this country and around the world. While still attempting to maintain an ideology and rhetoric of harmony and equilibrium, important sectors of capital have come to accept that the potential for radical insurgency is a permanent feature of the political landscape, not an anomaly or an exceptional situation. Thus there are organized and sophisticated policies aimed at crushing, diverting or preempting such insurgencies in their early stages before they become serious challenges to capitalist power.
(Contrary to common left prejudice and public statement, none of the more significant fascist groups in this country make support for state repression the political focus of their work. This is in distinct contrast to the common positions in the reformist and legalist section of the conservative right. Parenthetically we might note that these are the elements, Buchanan, et.al., that some reformists on the left see as potential coalition partners against “neo-liberal globalization”. This convergence of reformism of the right and the left has more reality that any convergence of radical extremes.)
State (and supra-state) repression, particularly its new features, is increasingly important and must be understood and organized against, but it is not, in itself, fascist. Organizing against state repression as if it were essentially fascism will lead to serious errors. In this country for the foreseeable future, state repression will be organized to complement and supplement, and not to replace “normal” methods of capitalist rule. This is different from situations elsewhere in the world, where state connected death squads and para-police vigilantism are important features of fascism.