Some thoughts on American Fascism and Our Contemporary Situation

“The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves sufficient scope to individuals; it has limited useless or harmful liberties and has preserved those that are essential. It cannot be the individual who decides in this matter, but only the State.”
–Benito Mussolini, 1922

“Fascism is capitalism in decline.”
–V.I. Lenin

In the late 19th Century, banking and industrial capital merged to form finance capital and ushered in the Age of Proletarian Revolution. V.I. Lenin pointed this out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. However, Lenin by no means meant that Imperialism (monopoly capitalism) would not itself continue to evolve until it was overthrown. In fact, he emphasized that we must define imperialism “as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely as moribund capitalism,” or capitalism in decay, capitalism rotten ripe for revolution.

He emphasized that this decay was by no means negated by the rapidity of its growth, that the accelerated growth rate was symptomatic of its rottenness and parasitism. And that this decay manifested itself most profoundly in the countries richest in capital. Since Lenin’s time, we have seen the evolution of Fascism as an even more virulent form of imperialism.

Lenin also recognized that in whatever stage of its evolution, capitalism balances two approaches to maintaining its power and control over the working masses 1.) The Carrot — bribery and liberal concessions, and 2.) The Stick — violence and repression. In Lenin’s words:

“The receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists in one of the numerous branches of industry, in one of the numerous countries, etc., makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all the others. The intensification of antagonisms between imperialist nations for the division of the world increases this striving. And so there is created that bond between imperialism and opportunism, which revealed itself first and most clearly in England, owing to the fact that certain features of imperialist development were observable there much earlier than in other countries.”

Fascism emerged in Italy and spread to Germany and other countries which did not have the colonial base to extract super-profits from to compete with the Western Democracies in the employment of bribery for the workers. Thus they employed “the stick.” Ironically, Fascism, founded in 1919 by Benito Mussolini, should come from the name of a bundle of sticks. The Italian name of the movement, fascismo, is derived from fascio, “bundle, (political) group,” but also refers to the movement’s emblem, the fasces, a bundle of rods (sticks) bound around a projecting axe-head that was carried before an ancient Roman magistrate by an attendant as a symbol of authority and power. In Mussolini’s words:

“…For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose this spontaneous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century, and would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century – repudiated wheresoever there has been the courage to undertake great experiments of social and political transformation; for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Fascism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.”

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy, Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism—Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights—Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause—The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic, or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists; terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military—Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism—The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media—Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security—Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined—Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected—The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed—Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions am either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts—Fascist nations tend to promote -and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment—Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often wiling to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption—Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections—Sometimes elections in fascist nations am a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections. “Fascism Anybody?” Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, p. 20.

George Jackson pointed out in his essay “Classes at War: Mobilization and Contra-Mobilization,” that at home Amerika’s liberal fascist mode took on the form of liberal democracy in the “New Deal,” and after WWII as Cold War liberalism—which applied neocolonialism in the 3rd World (namely replacing European colonial administrations with overtly fascist ones under the pretense of promoting “democracy.”) While at home, Cold War liberalism combined intense anti-Communist propaganda and McCarthyism with liberal concessions promoting opportunism in the trade unions and the Civil Rights movement.

The super profits generated from super exploitation in the 3rd World financed the bribery of a section of the industrial working class to the point where some unionized workers were actually being aid more than the value of their labor. This served the dual purpose of both winning the unions away from the “reds” and “radicals” who had built them and enabling the large multinational-based corporations to squeeze out and absorb the smaller national-based companies, who could not pay the higher wags and compete, allowing the monopoly capitalists to consolidate their control over the U.S. economy.

WWII had pulled the U.S. economy out of the “Great Depression.” As Richard B. DuBoff pointed out in Accumulation and Power: An Economic History of the United States:

“Only the second world war ended the Great Depression. “Rearmament” commenced in 1940, and over the next year, before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, military spending jumped more than six-fold, to 11 percent of the GNP. It rose to 42 percent of the GNP in 1943-44. Under this immense stimulus, real national product increased 65 percent from 1940 through 1944, industrial production by 90 percent…What had really happened between 1929 and 1933 is that the institutions of the nineteenth-century free market growth broke down, beyond repair…The tumultuous passage from the depression of the 1930’s to the total economic mobilization of the 1940’s was the watershed in twentieth century capitalism. After that nothing would ever be the same; there was no going back to the days of a pure, practically unregulated capitalist economic order.”

The merger of corporate and state interests was a reality. As Fred J. Borch, the president of G.E., put it in a speech before the Economic Club of New York on November 9, 1964: “Overriding both the common and cross-purposes of business and government, there is a broad pattern – a consensus if you will, where public and private interests come together, cooperate, interact, and become the national interest.”

Mussolini would have applauded loudly.

Let us return again to Lenin for it is impossible to really grasp what fascism is without firmly grasping what imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism is all about, for it is the economic essence that drives fascism and determines the form it will take:

We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism. This in itself determines its place in history, for monopoly that grows out of the soil of free competition, and precisely out of free competition, is the transition from the capitalist system to a higher socio-economic order. We must take special note of the four principal types of monopoly, or principal manifestations of monopoly capitalism, which are characteristic of the epoch we are examining.

Firstly, monopoly arose out of the concentration of production at a very high stage. This refers to the monopolist capitalist associations, cartels, syndicates, and trusts. We have seen the important part these play in present-day economic life. At the beginning of the twentieth century, monopolies had acquired complete supremacy in the advanced countries, and although the first steps towards the formation of the cartels were taken by countries enjoying the protection of high tariffs (Germany, America), Great Britain, with her system of free trade, revealed the same basic phenomenon, only a little later, namely, the birth of monopoly out of the concentration of production.

Secondly, monopolies have stimulated the seizure of the most important sources of raw materials, especially for the basic and most highly cartelized industries in capitalist society: the coal and iron industries. The monopoly of the most important sources of raw materials has enormously increased the power of big capital, and has sharpened the antagonism between cartelized and non-cartelized industry.

Thirdly, monopoly has sprung from the banks. The banks have developed from modest middleman enterprises into the monopolists of finance capital. Some three to five of the biggest banks in each of the foremost capitalist countries have achieved the “personal link-up” between industrial and bank capital, and have concentrated in their hands the control of thousands upon thousands of millions which form the greater part of the capital and income of entire countries. A financial oligarchy, which throws a close network of dependence relationships over all the economic and political institutions of present-day bourgeois society without exception—such is the most striking manifestation of this monopoly.

Fourthly, monopoly has grown out of colonial policy. To the numerous “old” motives of colonial policy, finance capital has added the struggle for the sources of raw materials, for the export of capital, for spheres of influence, i.e., for spheres for profitable deals, concessions, monopoly profits and so on, economic territory in general. When the colonies of the European powers, for instance, comprised only one-tenth of the territory of Africa(as was the case in 1876), colonial policy was able to develop—by methods other than those of monopoly—by the “free grabbing” of territories, so to speak. But when nine-tenths of Africa had been seized (by 1900), when the whole world had been divided up, there was inevitably ushered in the era of monopoly possession of colonies and, consequently, of particularly intense struggle for the division and the redivision of the world.

The extent to which monopolist capital has intensified all the contradictions of capitalism is generally known. It is sufficient to mention the high cost of living and the tyranny of the cartels. This intensification of contradictions constitutes the most powerful driving force of the transitional period of history, which began from the time of the final victory of world finance capital.

Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations—all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism. More and more prominently there emerges, as one of the tendencies of imperialism, the creation of the “rentier state”, the usurer state, in which the bourgeoisie to an ever-increasing degree lives on the proceeds of capital exports and by “clipping coupons”. It would be a mistake to believe that this tendency to decay precludes the rapid growth of capitalism. It does not. In the epoch of imperialism, certain branches of industry, certain strata of the bourgeoisie and certain countries betray, to a greater or lesser degree, now one and now another of these tendencies. On the whole, capitalism is growing far more rapidly than before; but this growth is not only becoming more and more uneven in general, its unevenness also manifests itself, in particular, in the decay of the countries which are richest in capital (England).”

In the space between WWI and WWII, monopoly capitalism plunged the world into the Great Depression, with the exception of the then socialist Soviet Union. The overtly fascist axis powers (led by Germany, Italy and Japan) formed a bloc to challenge the Western European imperialists and the U.S. for a redivision of the world’s spheres of influence and domination. (After the Spanish Civil War, fascist Spain and Portugal remained “neutral.”) There were strong movements towards overt fascism in the West, most notably in France, but also in England with the national front, and in the US, where the KKK reached its peak strength in the 1920s and the American Nazi party (and others of their ilk) held mass rallies. A significant section of the bankers, (including Prescott Bush, George W. Bush’s grandfather, who was Hitler’s banker in New York), and industrialists, like Henry Ford (who was awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler), openly called for overt fascism in America. Time Magazine even made Mussolini its “Man of the Year.”

While FDR and his “New Deal” did not pull the US economy out of the Great Depression, it did stave off overt fascism and succeeded in pulling a significant section of the rising Left into the opportunist belief that socialism could be achieved through liberal democratic reform rather than revolution. Few identified the “New Deal” as a covert form of fascism.

When the Axis Powers made their bid to conquer Europe and grab up their rivals’ colonial possessions, and at the same time to invade an attempt to conquer the Soviet Union, the Left jumped to unite with their own bourgeoisie, forgetting the class struggle in the name of a United Front against Fascism.

The Left had a hard time coming to grips with the rise of fascism and flip-flopped on how to respond to it. At first it was seen as no big threat. Many former socialists and anarchists were recruited into its ranks during fascism’s “left” phase, when it was out of power. Mussolini had himself been kicked out of the Socialist Party, and Hitler had been a police spy within the socialist movement. So they were familiar with how to conduct propaganda to appeal to sections of the working masses. After gaining power, the fascist moved against the Left with a vengeance. This too was hard for the Left to gauge and the tendency was to only recognize fascism in its overt form and see it as wholly outside the framework of bourgeois democracy.

The Class Character of Fascism

“Comrades, fascism in power was correctly described by the Thirteenth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.

The most reactionary variety of fascism is the German type of fascism. It has the effrontery to call itself National Socialism, though it has nothing in common with socialism. German fascism is not only bourgeois nationalism, it is fiendish chauvinism. It is a government system of political gangsterism, a system of provocation and torture practiced upon the working class and the revolutionary elements of the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia. It is medieval barbarity and bestiality, it is unbridled aggression in relation to other nations.

German fascism is acting as the spearhead of international counter-revolution, as the chief instigator of imperialist war, as the initiator of a crusade against the Soviet Union, the great fatherland of the working people of the whole world.

Fascism is not a form of state power “standing above both classes—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie,” as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted. It is not “the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie which has captured the machinery of the state,” as the British Socialist Brailsford declares. No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy, fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations.

This, the true character of fascism, must be particularly stressed because in a number of countries, under cover of social demagogy, fascism has managed to gain the following of the mass of the petty bourgeoisie that has been dislocated by the crisis, and even of certain sections of the most backward strata of the proletariat. These would never have supported fascism if they had understood its real character and its true nature.

The development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country. In certain countries, principally those in which fascism has no broad mass basis and in which the struggle of the various groups within the camp of the fascist bourgeoisie itself is rather acute, fascism does not immediately venture to abolish parliament, but allows the other bourgeois parties, as well as the Social-Democratic Parties, to retain a modicum of legality. In other countries, where the ruling bourgeoisie fears an early outbreak of revolution, fascism establishes its unrestricted political monopoly, either immediately or by intensifying its reign of terror against and persecution of all rival parties and groups. This does not prevent fascism, when its position becomes particularly acute, from trying to extend its basis and, without altering its class nature, trying to combine open terrorist dictatorship with a crude sham of parliamentarism…” -Georgi Dimitrov, (The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism,” Main Report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International).

It is a big mistake to view overt fascism as stronger and more dangerous than covert fascism. Rather it is an expression of weakness and desperation. So long as they can, the monopoly capitalists will mask their dictatorship and maintain the illusion of liberal democracy.

Dimitrov had this backwards. The Axis Powers were from the start weaker than the more established western imperialists, and they were doomed from the start to lose their bid for world domination, but few in the Communist movement, other than Mao Tse-tung, could see this. When ordered to subordinate the Chinese Red Army to the nationalist KMT, he only changed the Army’s name. He never surrendered control of it nor the liberated base areas it controlled to the KMT, whom he recognized as being fascist to the core. He never gave up the initiative of the Chinese Communist Party and its revolutionary orientation to the United Front against Fascism.

Unfortunately, this was not the case elsewhere. Even the Communist International was disbanded in the interest of building closer ties with the Western “democracies.” In Amerika, the CPUSA completely let down its guard and abandoned the class struggle, and it deluded itself with the illusion of postwar cooperation between the US and the USSR and was completely taken by surprise when the US initiated the Cold War. So were the CPs of Western Europe and the leadership of the Soviet Union.

Instead of rallying the workers and masses to resist McCarthyism, the Party ordered its cadre who were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee to plead the fifth like criminals and meekly accept being blacklisted. It liquidated the party in the South without discussion, and it ordered half its cadre to go underground and await the onset of “fascism” and left them there. When the revolutionary upsurge came in the 60’s, there was no communist vanguard party to give it leadership. It had thrown itself on its sword in the 50’s. It was up to the revolutionary masses to create their own vanguard party.

America is moving towards overt fascism, because of weakness:

“As in Italy and Germany in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s, business associations clamour for more deregulation and deeper tax cuts. The gradual erosion of antitrust legislation, especially in the United States, has encouraged consolidation in many sectors of the economy by way of mergers and acquisitions. The North American economy has become more monopolistic than at any time in the post-WWII period.”

U.S. census data from 1997 shows that the largest four companies in the food, motor vehicle and aerospace industries control 53.4, 87.3 and 55.6 per cent of their respective markets. Over 20 per cent of commercial banking in the U.S. is controlled by the four largest financial institutions, with the largest 50 controlling over 60 per cent. Even these numbers underestimate the scope of concentration, since they do not account for the myriad interconnections between firms by means of debt instruments and multiple directorships, which further reduce the extent of competition.

Actual levels of U.S. commercial concentration have been difficult to measure since the 1970s, when strong corporate opposition put an end to the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to collect the necessary information.

Fewer, larger competitors dominate all economic activity, and their political will is expressed with the millions of dollars they spend lobbying politicians and funding policy formulation in the many right-wing institutes that now limit public discourse to the question of how best to serve the interests of business.

The consolidation of the economy and the resulting perversion of public policy are themselves fascistic. I am certain, however, that former president Bill Clinton was not worried about fascism when he repealed federal antitrust laws that had been enacted in the 1930’s. Paul Biglioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now?” Toronto Star, November 27, 2005.

The monopoly capitalist class is in trouble. Not because the left is so strong, but because imperialism is moribund capitalism, and it is in the cave from within.


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