Nowadays when people speak of fascism, they speak of Nazis and jack boots, Mussolini, and Franco.
Classical fascism gained a mass base among the ruined middle classes in Europe after the First World War, when economic crisis, especially in Germany and Italy, drove millions to look for a strong leader. In Germany, an attempt to carry out a workers’ revolution in 1918 had failed. Fascist demagogues, using anti-capitalist rhetoric, deflected mass anger into extreme nationalism and the scapegoating of minorities. They violently broke up workers’ organizations, attacking communists and socialists. Eventually the fascists got the support from big capital that they needed to take over the capitalist state, laying the basis for a second imperialist world war.
Fascism is an extreme right-wing form of capitalist rule. Fascist ideologies still exist in different forms in most capital- ist countries and in former colonies that are ruled by puppet regimes. In the U.S., fascism is closely linked to the ideology of white supremacy and shows itself in many institutions and cultural tendencies.
Fascism celebrates the nation, the race, or the state as a community transcending all other loyalties. It emphasizes a myth of national rebirth after what it calls a period of decline (read from today’s pundits: “a return to American values”). Fascism celebrates unity and power through military strength. It can pro- mote a sense of superiority, imperialist expansion and genocide against communities of color.
State-sanctioned violence against groups who hold opposing political views is also a manifestation of fascism — thus Hitler’s Germany targeted Communists as well as Jews. Fascism is a last resort of the ruling class, which uses it to smash all working-class organizations. In a pure fascist society, working class political parties and trade unions are outlawed, social legislation is overturned, civil liberties are rescinded, and democratic institutions are destroyed or subverted, all in order to keep the capitalists in power.
While those characteristics fulfill the technical definition of fascism, the meaning of words can change over time along with the experiences of people. Therefore, today in the U.S., many Black, Asian, and Latino/a workers, Native peoples, immigrant workers, LGBTQ people, youth and students feel that the capitalist state policies they struggle against represent fascism.
Some Marxists contend that people of color in the U.S. have always lived under a form of semi-fascism. U.S. policies responsible for the genocide of Native peoples; the enslavement of African people; the theft of half of Mexico and the resulting oppression of the Chicano/a people of the Southwest; the theft of Hawaii and Puerto Rico; the rise of the prison-industrial complex; the passage of the Patriot Act; domestic wiretapping and spying on political organizations; and other forms of se- vere state repression, either historic or current, have been likened to fascism by the impacted communities.
Fascism’s approach to politics is both populist — in that it seeks to activate “the people” as a whole against perceived oppressors or enemies — and elitist — in that it treats the people’s will as embodied in one leader, supported by big business interests, and from whom authority proceeds downward. Fascist tendencies can become stronger during periods of economic downturn, when middle class elements as well as workers are hurting and more likely to buy in to demagoguery against im- migrants, LGBTQ people and workers of color and place their hope in the false promises of renewal that fascism claims to bring. Workers, particularly white workers, have a responsibility to resist the capitalist policies some view as fascist and to fight back against the potential resurgence of traditional fascist movements during times of economic crisis.
- Neo-fascism in the 1980s: Where It Comes From – by Sam Marcy