In the Bay Area, RUF has organized and participated in demonstrations against fascist demagogues. In these struggles we have seen the importance of linking anti-fascist work to larger anti-imperialist efforts. We also found that there is a great deal of confusion about the nature of fascism itself. In this article we aim to clarify these topics to aid in the anti-fascist struggle.
Anti-fascist protesters march in Berkeley, CA to oppose Amber Cummings, the police, and the rise of fascist forces in the U.S.
On September 1st, 2019 Amber Cummings, a known alt-right organizer planned a rally at UC Berkeley under the slogan of “Say No to Marxism.” This was the latest reactionary mobilization in Berkeley which aimed to attract white supremacists, ultra conservatives, and overtly fascist groups. Working with several other organizations, the Bay Area chapter of RUF organized a counter protest to confront this reactionary group under the slogan “Fascism Out of Berkeley.” Actions like these help working-class people and middle-class activists recognize the basis to oppose the ruling class, to put forth revolutionary politics, and to establish larger anti-fascist coalitions that show solidarity with anti-fascist struggles around the globe.
While the action was a success overall, there were also shortcomings that are worth mentioning. As the principal organizers of the event, we made serious efforts to involve as many individuals and organizations in this action as possible, many of which expressed different political ideas and including some very liberal ones. This action gave the local RUF members vital experience with building larger coalitions and working with diverse, contradicting political tendencies. In the course of this struggle, it became clear that there was confusion about what fascism is. Before, during, and after the rally fascism was discussed by many in loose, abstract ways. This sort of confusion regarding the fundamental nature of fascism is a major problem for progressive and revolutionary forces in this country, especially at a time when fascism and far right forces are on the rise. If there is not clarity on the nature of fascism, it will be extremely difficult to build an anti-fascist movement that is a part of a larger movement against capitalism and imperialism.
In response to these confusions in the wider anti-fascist movement we recognized there is a serious need to develop a concrete understanding of fascism. Therefore, in this article we aim to answer a basic question: what is fascism? In order to clarify this, we define fascism, review fascism throughout history, and examine the current state of fascism internationally and the need for solidarity with anti-fascist movements across the globe.
Benito Mussolini (left) and Adolph Hitler (right). These two fascist leaders joined with Japan in the Anti-Comintern pact to crush communist and anti-colonial movements around the world.
What is Fascism?
When most people think of fascism, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy are often the first examples that come to mind. In the U.S., many people’s understanding of fascism is based on popular depictions of these brutal regimes. However, most of these popular depictions—especially Hollywood movies and TV shows—do not go beyond a surface level analysis. In order to come to a deeper understanding of fascism, it is important to understand society in terms of social classes and consider the nature of the state.
In State and Revolution, Lenin pointed out that the state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. Under capitalism our society is composed of an exploiting and exploited class where one class—the capitalist class—rules society through the oppression of another class (the working class) and, as Marx states, the capitalists establish “order” that creates the social and economic conditions to best serve their own capitalist interests. This social and economic order is maintained and perpetuated by the state. It legalizes and increases the oppression and exploitation experienced by the exploited classes by various means. Despite fundamentally serving the capitalist class, the state in capitalist society is presented as neutral, and in countries like the U.S., everyone is promised “their day in court.” Even in capitalist countries where there are such legal formalities, the overall nature of the state is to serve capitalist interests.
Fascism is but one form of capitalist class rule where the conflict between the capitalists and the working-class is handled through the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary and chauvinistic elements of the ruling class. A fascist regime’s use of terror works to criminalize any and all dissent of the people, even at the level of basic protests and strikes.
Fascist regimes are particularly hostile to revolutionaries and revolutionary politics as these regimes aim to ultimately strip the masses of their capacity to overthrow the capitalist class. Fascist state suppression can take the form of mass arrests, assassinations of revolutionaries, or outright genocide. It is important to note that according to this basic understanding of fascism, the United States is not currently a fascist state. Capitalist class rule in the U.S. takes on another form: capitalist democracy.
Under capitalist democracy, the ruling class allows the general population more freedom to organize, express opinions, and protest. There are so-called “free” elections held where pre-selected candidates—who all serve the interests of the capitalists—are voted for by an electorate that is generally misinformed by the media and education systems of run by the ruling class. But while there are generally more partial freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and organization, it is important to be aware that these rights can be stripped away even if the dominant form of class rule is capitalist democracy as opposed to fascism. Generally for oppressed nationalities and immigrants these rights are tenuous at best.
During the Spanish Civil War communists and workers from all over the world traveled to Spain to fight against the fascists. They were part of the International Brigades which flew the three-colored flag on the right.
As we will see later, the assassination of Fred Hampton and the Red Scare and McCarthyism are but a few examples of how a capitalist democracy like the U.S. still is fundamentally violently repressive. It’s important to understand that violent repression is an essential part of capitalist democracy. If people fail to grasp this, then they will fall into the trap of excusing the horrors of capitalism in the name of combating fascism.
The primary thing to consider when determining if a state is a fascist one or a capitalist democracy is the dominant form in which the ruling class enacts its dictatorship over the working-class. Regardless of which form is employed, it is the people’s task to seize the means of production from the ruling class and smash the existing state in order to liberate the masses by ending all forms of capitalist class rule.
Fascism Throughout History
The era of capitalism has seen many societies transform into fascist dictatorships, where blatant terrorism is used against the people as the normal form of maintaining the power of the capitalist class. Nations such as Germany, Italy and Spain were feudal/monarchical societies that had slowly begun to transition into modern capitalist states. These nations slowly assumed the form of capitalist democracies, although they preserved many monarchical and feudal features. However, as capitalist development increased in these nations, the contradictions between the working people and the ruling class were only heightened. Big labor movements and revolutionary struggles shook these countries to their core.
The First World War and internal unrest pushed these countries to the brink of revolution. It was during these periods that the most reactionary sections of the ruling class came to power in order to preserve capitalist domination through the use of the most brutal methods to quell dissent and satisfy the imperialist ambitions of the capitalist class of each nation. Japan is a unique example because it never assumed the form of a “liberal democracy” before transforming into an industrial fascist state. It instead developed a capitalist class within the old feudal ruling class that quickly adapted to modern industrial practices. In particular, the Japanese armed forces developed as the leading capitalist force in the country. These militarists had a vested interest in imperialist expansion, which they aimed to justify by a fascist logic that Japanese people were genetically superior to all other people.
Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi diplomats in 1938. Ford worked closely with Hitler and Nazi Germany to support their fascist policies.
In the case of Italy, Germany, and Japan, these nations pursued an aggressive expansionist policy to seize territory and markets from rival imperialist powers. In a very short period of time, these fascist powers seized much territory that had either been directly controlled by other capitalist imperialists or at least was in their “sphere of influence.” For an extended period of time the Western capitalist powers tried to placate the fascists in a bid to satisfy their own interests.
For example, after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain called this brutal onslaught the price of “peace for our time.” What he and other imperialists hoped is that the Nazis would eventually invade the Soviet Union and destroy the workers’ and peasants’ state that had been established there after the capitalist class had been overthrown in 1917.
The western imperialists hoped that after the Nazis fought the USSR, that they could swoop in and pick up the pieces. Contrary to most popular media narratives in this country, the U.S. actually did not enter the European theater to fight the Nazis until after it was already clear that they were losing to the USSR. The truth is that a big section of the U.S. ruling class wanted to side with the Nazis, and big capitalists like Henry Ford were even given awards by the Third Reich. This shows that the difference between fascists and liberal capitalists is not so great.
The United States today is not a fascist country but a liberal capitalist democracy. Under liberal democracy, the ruling class still employs brutal repression on working people. The U.S. has consistently repressed the people throughout its history, from deploying gangs of police to brutalize working people to massive surveillance campaigns against activists and the entire public. The U.S. is a world leader at incarcerating the poor, with over 2 million people in prison in this country. Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are far more likely to be brutalized and incarcerated than white people in this country. The War on Drugs is many generations old and consists of a series of policies meant to destabilize working communities in order to limit their ability to organize and resist their daily oppression. All of these attacks happen as a normal part of the everyday functioning of capitalist democracy but do not represent the open, terrorist dictatorship of the ruling class.
T.M. Cunningham (left) , M.S. Lane (middle), and Irenee Du Pont (right) were three of the capitalists who plotted the 1933 fascist coup. Du Pont was the founder of the DuPont company which supplied the Nazis with chemical weapons for atrocities including the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
However, as resistance and rebellion grows in the U.S., the masses will see the state attacks escalate. The Red Scare of the early 20th century are a prime example of such escalation. In the early 20th century there was a swell in labor organizing activity with massive strikes occurring all across the country. The U.S. government begin arresting thousands involved with union activity, citing possible communist ties of those arrested.
In West Virginia and Colorado, attempts to unionize and struggle against brutally oppressive working conditions took the shape of the “Coal Wars” a series of bloody conflicts between miners and mine companies. The mine companies would work closely with private detectives (including the infamous Pinkertons) and local law enforcement to intimidate, harass, and even murder anyone trying to challenge to power that coal companies had over mining towns and the people working within them. Around the same time, the government repeatedly and regularly violated its own laws on freedom of speech and assembly in attacks all kinds of progressive activism as the U.S. entered World War 1. It is important to differentiate between these periods in American history and other societies living under open terrorist dictatorship. America was still a capitalist democracy under McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Capitalist democracy is just incredibly brutal and barbaric.
It’s also important to point out that for the most fascist sections of the ruling class, these methods of repression were seen as not brutal enough! This is clearly shown by the Wall Street Putsch of 1933. At this time there the most reactionary section of ruling class felt that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration was making too many compromises with the working class.
The New Deal drew from the profits of these capitalists in a state-sponsored effort to buy off the working class and divert them away from revolution. Capitalists at large corporations such as the Anaconda Mining Company, DuPont, Ford, and J.P Morgan got the idea that they could fund a fascist military takeover of the U.S. and hoped to hire disgruntled World War 1 veterans as a private military force. These capitalists were so upset by having to give up some of their profits that they felt it made sense to lead a coup, and to align themselves with the Nazis. They also saw the growing anti-colonial and communist movements globally as a major threat to their bottom line. Their plot was uncovered and foiled but no consequences ever befell the conspirators.
When the U.S. entered another period of more intense political upheaval in the 60s and 70s, the government created a massive surveillance infrastructure to monitor, intimidate, and assassinate revolutionaries. One major aspect of this infrastructure was the FBI’s CounterIntelligence Program, known as COINTELPRO. This program began in 1956 and was used to spy on the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the New Left, Communist Groups, and the Black Panther Party.
Chicago pigs smile as they carry Fred Hampton’s corpse out of his apartment after they killed him in his sleep.
One notable example of COINTELPRO’s work was the assassination of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. The ruling class feared that Hampton would become a beacon of nationwide resistance against the white supremacist capitalist system of the U.S. Additionally, the state felt threatened by the Chicago Panthers’ work to build alliances with radicals outside of the Black community and the FBI was worried that this could serve as an example to others to follow. The Federal Government worked closely with Chicago Police Department, who had a long grudge against Hampton. Together, they gunned Fred down while he was asleep in bed next to his pregnant fiance.
While this attack, and others like it were particularly heinous it must be reiterated that this wasn’t the main method of class rule deployed by the U.S. state at that time in history or since. Overall the U.S. ruling class prefers subtler methods of control such as propaganda and limited overt repression. Richard Nixon called protests the “release valve of democracy.” In this sense, he clearly understood that allowing some forms of protest was essential to maintaining the status-quo.
When the state turns outright fascist and suppresses all forms of dissent, the people’s rage at the unjust system can quickly boil over into a revolution. From this it becomes clear that an essential aspect of capitalist democracy is the creation and promotion of political dead-ends for people to join in and protest around. This can be seen in the immense work done by the state to establish NGO’s and Non-Profit Organizations as “acceptable” avenues of protest. This speaks to the ultimate goal of capitalist class rule; to perpetuate the class relations in our present society that lead the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.
The U.S. and Fascism Abroad
The U.S. generally supports a different form of class rule in its neocolonies than within its own borders. The U.S. has no problem working with fascist forces abroad to advance its own interests. Likewise, it generally employs a fascist form of rule when it invades and occupies another country. U.S. imperialist dominance is built on the brutal oppression and exploitation of working people abroad. As this domination intensifies, anti-imperialist movements form to combat this exploitation. The capitalist class does not want to risk governments coming to power that are hostile to U.S. corporate interests. While such interventions are often justified by claims of spreading “freedom and democracy” around the world, the U.S. capitalist class actually have no problem toppling democratically elected leaders around the world to establish fascist dictatorships more suitable to the interests of the U.S. elite.
The overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende is one of the most famous examples, but the U.S. has sponsored over 100 coups in South and Central America since World War II. In the 1960s, the U.S. worked closely with far-right elements within the Chilean armed forces and even had many of them educated in U.S. military academies. The U.S. also cultivated a class of neoliberal economists and functionaries known as the “Chicago Boys” (named this because they were educated at the University of Chicago) to serve as the new policy makers. After Allende was elected the U.S. worked to isolate the Chilean economy. All aid to Chile was cut off and no new economic aid agreements were permitted.
Indian Prime Minster Narenda Modi (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump (right) share a moment at the 2019 G7 Summit. Modi is a member of an openly fascist party in India.
The U.S. funded media outlets and political “advocacy groups” inside Chile in order to foment unrest as the nation struggled beneath the economic pressure. Allende was not a revolutionary. He and his party opposed any sort of armed struggle against the ruling class Chile. While Allende created some minor welfare programs for the poor, the U.S. government’s main concern was that he would lead Chile away from U.S. control and into the orbit of the imperialist Soviet Union. On September 11th 1973, the Chilean armed forces—with support from the U.S. government—seized control of the Valparaíso sea port and then surrounded the Presidential Palace. The military then disconnected or destroyed radio stations and phone lines in order to isolate the government from the rest of the country and limit the public’s knowledge of how events transpired. Allende himself refused to surrender, the Presidential Palace was ultimately bombed, and Allende died during the chaos. It is not known definitively if he took his own life or if he was killed in the bombing.
The military quickly consolidated its rule with U.S. support and arrested thousands of opposition members. Thousands were also killed during the opening days of the coup. The military and its Commander in Chief, Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years and over 250,000 Chileans would be imprisoned during the dictatorship.
The events in Chile are but one example of the U.S.’s modus operandi for handling resistance within the neocolonies. The U.S. has sponsored coups all around the world. Similar polices of fascist repression and even outright genocide have been employed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and countless other countries around the world. In all these instances, the U.S. worked to develop ties with broad coalitions of reactionaries forces. Including conservative-religious extremists and feudal interests in less economically developed nations. It’s also important to note that these neocolonies either remained outright fascist or slowly transformed into some form of neocolonial democracy. Regardless, the system of imperialist exploitation and capitalism remained. At present, some of the U.S.’s closest allies are outright fascists and the U.S. elite have worked tirelessly to court other fascist regimes.
On September 26th, 2019 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to over 50,000 people in Houston Texas where he was joined by none other than Donald Trump. India’s alliance with the U.S. was first reignited by the Clinton Administration and the subsequent steps taken by consecutive administrations—especially the Obama administration—clearly highlight how close the two nations have become in recent years. Modi is a member of the Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) an openly Hindu fascist political party. When he was Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat he oversaw a pogrom of Muslims that left well over 1,000 dead and displaced around 200,000 people. Because a few Christians were also killed in this massacre, Modi was banned from the United States. However, as Modi rose to national prominence and as the U.S. developed a closer alliance with India, Obama overturned the ban and reconciled the U.S. with Modi and his fascist political party.
As competition between the U.S. and China heats up, the U.S. alliance with India has become even more important for the capitalists of this country. Many companies are now moving production out of China and into India but this relationship goes deeper than new factories. In 2008, the U.S. sold almost no weapons to India and as of 2018, the U.S. is the 2nd largest supplier of weapons to India (the largest seller being Russia) and U.S. generals hope to overtake Russia in the near future. These ties reflect the importance of India in the U.S.’s larger strategic goals in the region and its growing economic importance. India sits at a very important crossroads between different markets for imports and exports of goods as well as conflict zones. The U.S. has been working to steer India away from other imperialist powers such as Russia or China in the hopes that India will eventually serve as a key ally against the U.S.’s rivals.
Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba was arrested in 2013 by a swarm of police and military officials. The Indian government claimed that he had been “waging war against the state,” but in reality his only crime was being a vocal critic of the government.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi is a fascist. During his time in office, lynchings of Muslims have skyrocketed. The escalating hate crimes are also affecting the Dalit people in India. The Dalits—the so-called “untouchables”—are a section of society that occupy the lowest rung on the Hindu Caste system. The targeting of religious and social minorities is a key aspects of Hindutva, the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (Modi’s political party), which calls for the Hindus in India to do to the Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe. Modi’s government has already begun this process by revoking the citizenship of around 2,000,000 Muslims in the state of Assam and placing Kashmir—the only Muslim-majority state in India—on lock down. Modi’s party’s openly fascist politics aim to blame poor Muslim, Dalit, and indigenous people for the economic problems that the people in India face. However, these problems are fundamentally a result of the class society in India and the plunder of India by foreign companies.
In India, intellectuals speaking out against the violent rhetoric and the fascist violence of the Indian state have been targeted, arrested, and even assassinated. The revolutionary scholar G.N Saibaba, who is almost 90% disabled was given a life sentence under colonial era sedition laws. These laws, which were once used by the British to suppress the anti-colonial struggle, are now being used by the modern Indian state to suppress any and all dissent.
Saibaba was arrested by the previous administration, the Congress Party. This highlights the fascist nature of the Indian state itself, which is not reducible to a particular political party or any political figure. The systematic oppression and violent repression of minority groups has a long history in India and is not solely the result of any single political adminstration. It is engrained in the very nature of the Indian state itself.
Saibaba is one of many intellectuals arrested for working in solidarity with the oppressed people in India. Despite claims that India is the world’s largest democracy, this system of participation is limited at best and contrary to even liberal notions of democracy. Merely having some form of elections does not determine the character of class rule. The Indian state’s open terrorist attacks on the masses of people is proof that the ritual of elections means very little. What’s more, vote-buying and election rigging are the norm in India. So even this incredibly limited democratic freedom to cast a ballot once every few years (and pick from a pre-selected group of corporate-backed candidates) is little more than a right on paper.
One of many sword-wielding fascist militias in India. Many of these forces are armed and sponsored by the government. Modi relied on these militias to carry out his 2002 pogrom in Gujarat.
For the U.S., it is vital that they have lackeys securely in power in other countries. Alliances with fascists like Modi and the BJP are often quite advantageous to their corporate interests. Not only do these fascists crush rebellion against imperialist plunder of their country, they also scapegoat the poor as well as religious and ethnic minorities. This diverts people’s attention away from the imperialist plunder of India and provides a smokescreen behind which the U.S. capitalist class , and other imperialists can hide.
While fascism is not a principal danger in the U.S. at present, there is still a need to show solidarity with international anti-fascist struggles, especially when the fascists are armed and funded by the U.S. government. Support for fascism abroad is a key aspect of U.S. foreign policy and for those of us here in this country there is a need to take a stand against U.S. imperialism and its fascist allies abroad. Similarly to fascism, anti-fascism and imperialism are terms that are frequently used but in abstract ways. Therefore, there is a need to develop an understanding of what anti-fascism is and looks like and why anti-imperialism is a key aspect of anti-fascism in the U.S.
Anti-Fascism and Anti-Imperialism
Anti-fascism at its core is opposition to the open terrorist dictatorship of the capitalist class. Different sections of the population will oppose this for different reasons. Some will have illusions about the nature of capitalist democracy. These illusions are generally pretty strong among middle class activists. However, for revolutionaries in the U.S. there is a need to have comradely struggle with those who oppose the excesses of fascism but not capitalist class rule itself. There is still a basis to work with these people but there will be a constant struggle to ensure the character of the movement will be revolutionary and not some liberal project to “protect our democratic values,” which ultimately serves to justify and legitimize capitalist democracy and exploitation.
There is also a need for anti-fascist work in the U.S. to support anti-imperialist struggles around the world. Given the role that this country plays in arming and sponsoring fascist regimes globally, anti-fascist organizers must work to expose and oppose this. Otherwise the work can lead to a narrow focus on the U.S. without a broader understanding of the nature of fascism or of U.S. imperialism. The struggle against fascism is not limited to the U.S. situation; it is part of the larger class struggle going on all around the world.
The international working-class has a long history of anti-fascist activism. The struggles in China are a prominent example. Between 1937 and 1945 during the Sino-Japanese War, the United Front Against Japan was formed by the Chinese Communist Party. Its mission was to resist the Japanese imperialist invasion of greater Asia and the Pacific Rim during World War II. The Japanese waged a brutal campaign against the Chinese people. The policy of the Japanese fascists was known as the “Three Alls”: Kill all, Burn all, Loot all. The anti-fascist United Front was able to leverage the extreme contradictions between the Japanese Fascists and the masses of people in China and greater Asia. The United Front included the communists, the peasantry, and even capitalists and feudal landlords who were opposed to the Japanese invasion. This struggle was a beacon for revolutionaries across the world. Revolutionaries today must look toward other similar struggles against fascism such as the movements in India and the Phillipines and work to support and learn from these struggles.
Mao Zedong speaks to the Chinese people during the War of Resistance against Japan. The United Front policy of the Chinese Communists prepared the grounds for nationwide revolution.
This United Front against fascism in China was not only able to defeat Japan but also created the basis for further revolutionary struggle. The threat of the Japanese invasion created the basis for the United Front to work with even Chinese capitalists for a time. However as the situation developed and the Japanese were pushed out of mainland China, the capitalists tried to assume the dominant position within China.
The revolutionary movement was able to consolidate the successes of the United Front Against Japan to unite the working class and the peasantry to defeat the Chinese capitalists and abolish feudalism. This situation was further complicated as the U.S. government threw its weight behind the capitalists and tried to install a “friendly government” in China. The revolutionary movement was able to expose these maneuvers by the capitalists and the foreign imperialists and they were soundly defeated. The struggle of the Chinese Revolution therefore was a complex interlinking an anti-fascist united and anti-imperialist struggles, as well as opposition to feudalism and capitalism. All of this brought the working class, peasantry, students, and revolutionary intellectuals together into a large revolutionary movement that was ultimately able to overthrow the oppressors and establish a socialist society. These efforts have very important lessons for us today.
On September 1st RUF worked to build solidarity with international struggles against fascism. Members created banners with anti imperialist slogans and made many efforts to discuss the nature of fascism with participants in the run up to the march. However, the action was not able to put forth a clear anti-imperialist message and struggled to combat all the liberal ideas expressed by other organizations. This is not surprising given the present dominance of liberal ideas among many leftist groups in this country. The struggle to overcome these ideological shortcomings is a long-term process.
The struggle against fascism takes a different form across the world. For many liberal democratic imperialist countries it is often a struggle to be internationalists. Activists within such countries must recognize the insidious role of capitalism and imperialism in the development of fascism. Additionally, activists must see the need to stand in solidarity with working people abroad and to form a larger coalitions against imperialism. In linking up anti-fascist work to larger questions like the nature of capitalist imperialism and the role that the U.S. plays globally, it is possible to clarify to people the basis to go beyond a liberal opposition to fascism. This is an step towards people adopting a revolutionary approach. It is a great thing that many people are willing to stand against fascists like Amber Cummings, but this by itself is not sufficient to upend the white supremacist capitalist power structure in this country and smash the basis for fascism. Only through revolution is this possible. Building up a larger anti-fascist front to combat the rise of far-right forces in this country is an important part of developing the revolutionary movement.