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FASCISM AND WHAT IS COMING--from forthcoming issue of Turning the Tide

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  • Michael Novick
    Lead editorial from the up-coming issue of Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education (Volume 16 Number 2, Summer 2003). Available
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 8, 2003
      Lead editorial from the up-coming issue of "Turning the Tide: Journal of
      Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education" (Volume 16 Number 2, Summer
      2003). Available from ARA, PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232; 310-495-0299;

      Michael Novick,
      Anti-Racist Action-LA/People Against Racist Terror (ARA/PART)
      with responses from other ARA and anti-fascist activists

      There are, roughly speaking, three views of fascism out there: 1) the way
      fascism presents itself; 2) the way competing rulers, and competing
      strategies and ideologies within imperialism present it; and 3) the way
      working class oriented revolutionaries, whether anarchist or socialist,
      have traditionally seen it. I think all those views are wrong, but I'll
      sketch them out. I think incorrect understandings of fascism reflect
      incorrect understandings of class society and colonialism.

      Fascism presents itself as revolutionary, anti-capitalist and
      anti-communist, nationalistic and militaristic, a vanguard that welds
      together a "volk" into a fighting machine in which a new state and social
      order is created that purges weakness, sentimentality, and "alien"
      influences, particularly insofar as it defends "womanhood."

      Competing imperialist ideologies and rulers, generally speaking, portray
      fascism as uniquely totalitarian, nationalistic, militaristic, racist,
      religiously and xenophobic, to which anti-gay and anti-woman have been
      added more recently.

      Communist and anarchist analyses have tended to portray fascism as
      reactionary, anti-working class but using racial and religious scapegoating
      to manipulate workers into lining up behind an iconic "maximum leader."
      Sexual repression, particularly latent or repressed homoeroticism, is often
      emphasized. All three views portray fascism as the master of propaganda and
      spectacle, (and as noted, as nationalistic and militaristic).

      What's wrong with these views? How can a more correct understanding guide
      anti-fascist practice?

      Fascists, rival imperialists, and euro/worker-centric communists and
      anarchists, all have, for purposes of their own, reasons to disguise the
      true nature of fascism, and to distinguish it categorically from other
      "less evil" forms of class society and oppressive/exploitive rule. Fascists
      want to present themselves as revolutionary anti-capitalists (may even
      believe they are) in order to cement a mass base and mass participation in
      their effort.

      Other rulers and imperial ideologies/strategies want to portray fascism as
      evil incarnate, the bogey man in comparison to whom their exploitation,
      oppression, militarism and repressive measures look benign or justified.
      They use fascism as a threat to dangle if resistance steps up -- "Look how
      much worse things can be; we're the best deal you're going to get." Kind of
      "apres moi, le deluge" -- unite with your own bourgeoisie because fascists
      would be so much worse.

      Euro/worker-centric socialists and anarchists are blinded to the true
      nature of fascism -- and of their own projects --because they believe their
      approach will run their advanced industrial societies better (that is, deep
      down they still accept the empire). In some cases they are actually seeking
      an alliance with "their own" bourgeoisie, with whom they can make common
      cause against the fascists.

      If all these views are wrong, what is right? People understand that there
      is a vital connection between imperialism and fascism. As the US has become
      more openly imperialist, there is a common widespread fear that "fascism"
      is on the immediate horizon here, coming from the Bush administration. But
      to really understand what is going on, we need to take a step back to get a
      clearer and more valid picture of the real context of empire and class
      society within which fascism operates.

      The Imperial Roots of "Fascism"

      European nation states are better understood as empire states. Great
      Britain/UK, France, Spain, Sweden, etc. were each an empire in themselves,
      consolidated within a territory and an economic bio-region through the
      leadership of the bourgeoisie (leadership therefore implying the
      independent participation of other classes and strata, whose efforts were
      cohered and subsumed into the bourgeoisie's project). Germany and Italy --
      where fascism emerged most fully and triumphally -- both had failed to
      consolidate such empire states completely or in a timely manner. The
      fascists set themselves the task of accomplishing what their bourgeoisies
      had failed to do -- propel Germany and Italy into full domestic empire
      state status and full international participation in carving up the rest of
      the globe. (This is actually quite similar to what happened in the Czarist
      Russian empire, where the communists set themselves the task of completing
      the revolution the Russian bourgeoisie had proven itself incapable of
      carrying out, particularly in agriculture).

      So, we see that fascism in Europe, particularly German and Italian fascism,
      set itself the task of completing the empire-state building process that
      their bourgeoisie had proven incapable of carrying out. For Germany,
      especially, this meant redrawing the map of Europe itself, and building an
      extensive empire within the heart of Europe. This ultimately proved
      intolerable to the British (and the US), who thus delineated Hitler's
      Germany in particular as beyond the limits of "acceptable" imperialist

      But Hitler's philosophy, ideology and mechanisms of rule were rooted in
      imperialism, in lessons learned from US empire building and 'race
      relations' -- reservations, sterilization, white supremacist mass
      organizations, mass merchandising. Some of the cells which formed Hitler's
      National Socialist German Workers Party were actually composed of former
      members of the US KKK who returned to Germany in the 20's after the US Klan
      collapsed. Nazi views and practices also grew out of the German colonial
      experience in Africa, where they carried out a mass genocide of the Herero
      people of Namibia (aka German Southwest Africa). The Nazi party
      distinguished itself from other right wing parties and movements, however,
      in its willingness to develop armed power outside the alleged 'monopoly' of
      the state, and to carry forward independent action based on other class
      strata, regardless of bourgeois dictates.

      Fascism: Bringing Colonial Rule Home

      In general, fascism can best be understood as bringing the methods of
      imperial rule in the colonies into the metropole. In the colonies, genocide
      has been the rule, not the exception, of imperial rule. "Democracy" is
      only for a select few of settlers; dictatorship and slave labor applies to
      the indigenous and other colonized people. The corporate model developed in
      colonial enterprise. The first corporations were the colonizing
      corporations -- British East India Company, Hudson's Bay Company, etc. --
      who could bear the costs and risks of colonization because of shared and
      limited liability, and exercised state power directly over the colonized
      territories and populations. The mass base of participation in colonial
      rule came via the settler population, who participated actively and often
      independently in land grabs and extermination without waiting for bourgeois

      All this was translated to the metropole by Hitler, however he may have
      defined or proclaimed his system. Except that the mechanisms --
      dictatorship, slave labor, corporatization of the state and society, mass
      participation in militarism, looting and oppression independently of the
      bourgeoisie -- were seen operating directly within the German population at
      large, including against its racially and ethnically defined minorities,
      and its European neighbors.

      To say there is no difference between capitalism and imperialism in
      general, and fascism in particular, is wrong. Fascism is a form of
      imperialism in extremis, moved to taking desperate measures in the name of
      survival (often, but not only, because of the strength of its conscious
      opposition). The degree to which fascism must emphasize its mass appeal and
      its revolutionary face is a measure of the weakening of the grip of
      "normal" imperial and colonial thinking within the working classes, and of
      their allegiance to the deal they got. It is important to understand that
      saying imperialism sometimes take fascist form is not the same as
      attributing fascist to a ruling class plot. All forms of imperialism,
      especially 'modern' imperialism and colonialism, have always been
      cross-class projects, in which working and other "subordinate" classes have
      always participated independently and directly, not merely under the
      direction of the bourgeoisie or "ruling" class.

      Where there is not a revolutionary anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist
      threat manifest in the ranks of working and oppressed people, fascism may
      still appear necessary or desirable to the rulers or other strata because
      of other threats or other weaknesses of the bourgeoisie. What's more,
      fascist regimes are not necessarily going to ally with each other because
      of ideological affinities. Alliances will shift between and among
      'democracies' and 'dictatorships' just as they did before, during and after
      World War II. So we may see US Christian fascists opposing Arab Muslim
      fascists or Hindu supremacist fascists. This "anti-fascism" does not
      preclude simultaneous fascist initiatives in their own society. Similarly,
      state and bourgeois-based fascist elements may move against other fascist
      forces within their own society, particularly those that emphasize the
      anti-elitist face of fascism. Fascism has always presented itself as a
      competing ideology for state building and economic advancement in colonized
      societies in opposition to anarchist, communist and other
      socially-liberatory ideologies. While such fascisms have often been
      subordinate to larger imperial forces, to the extent they prove capable of
      or interested in independent action, the fascism of imperial powers will
      define them as a particularly critical enemy.

      The US is a special case because the US is a settler colonial, as well as
      an imperial society. It has always had elements of what became known as
      fascism operating within its society and state against internally colonized
      and enslaved populations and territories. The mass participation and base
      for this has fundamentally been the white settler population (although
      people of color have at times been incorporated, in a neo-colonial or
      modified settler role).

      George Jackson: "Fascism is Already Here"

      This is what George Jackson meant when he said fascism is already here. It
      was not rhetorical hyperbole or meaningless substitution of 'fascism' for
      'capitalism.' The Black colony and especially Blacks within the prison
      system (the new plantation/reservation = concentration camp) lived and live
      under conditions of fascism (including a cross-class racist alliance of
      white supremacist prisoners and guards who uphold the rule of the
      bourgeoisie and its state). But this is not true only in the prisons. The
      channeling of Black youth into prisons, parasitic criminal organizations,
      the military or neo-colonial regulation systems is a manifestation of
      fascist-style domination and incorporation of a threatening population. The
      fundamental basis of white privilege is that white working people are
      spared such fascist methods of rule so long as they remain loyal.

      So there are substantial mass strata (including among white workers) for
      whom fascism of the more modern, "European" form has appeal, as well as
      sectors of the bourgeoisie and of the bureaucratic governing class who are
      accustomed to and predisposed towards fascist style rule. However, the turn
      to fascism does imply a change in the composition, structure, powers and
      rationale of the state, and in the forms of domination and exploitation of
      the metropolitan working class. The types of oppression and exploitation
      that have been directed at the (internally) colonized population begin to
      make themselves felt against the settlers as well, even as they are being
      courted and propagandized to adopt a new and more intimate and totalitarian
      identification with the rulers and empire.

      I think this does describe what is happening in the US today. How better to
      understand the consolidation of support for Bush even as the economy sinks
      from the toilet into the septic tank? It is happening primarily from the
      top down - orchestrated by the Bush regime and its supportive faction of
      the bourgeoisie. Only secondarily is it driven from the bottom up (more so
      from clerical fascist forces and neo-confederates closely allied to the
      rulers, less so from the white proletarians and petty bourgeois elements
      who are drawn into neo-nazi and other armed and violence prone formations.
      That means we must seriously prepare for situations of much more naked
      repression, perhaps akin to those which pertain in the colonial and
      semi-colonial areas -- the dirty war in Argentina, the Pinochet regime in
      Chile, the death squads in Central America, the Israeli Occupation Forces
      in Palestine, etc.

      Economic Crisis of the Empire and Industrialism

      These statist, imperial forces see quite clearly that the economic and
      environmental crises facing their system require a re-incorporation of mass
      support on a different basis than the old imperial bribe. They also foresee
      and openly promise a period of 'endless war' and increasing militarization
      of the entire society. Less openly, but no less relentlessly, they are
      girding up for a military showdown with China. The prospect of taking on
      that battle, in the context of a dwindling economic pie of which they are
      taking a larger share, necessitates both increased repression and inventive
      methods of obtaining consent, for which 'fascism' is as good a code name as

      The reason it's important to consider whether Bush is building a fascist
      state in the US is not a matter of semantics but of survival. Or perhaps
      more currently, we need to understand exactly how the rulers are
      transforming the nature of the state, and what initiatives will be
      undertaken by or allowed for non-ruling class forces to push forward
      fascism independently of the rulers. In a certain sense, whether we call it
      fascism is immaterial. The question is, what room do we have to maneuver,
      what timetable do we have to operate on, what methods of organization and
      struggle are appropriate or likely to be successful in the current
      period? The timetable and nature of organizing, as well as the means of
      struggle appropriate and necessary to pursue, will be affected by the
      nature of the state we confront. So will the kind of alliances we can make
      and the type of organizations we build.

      Withstanding Fascism & Brutality

      Fascism, however we "define" it, has meant a particularly brutal and harsh
      form of governance within imperial metropoles, a much more active pursuit
      of genocide, a more naked and totalitarian form of domination of labor and
      other mass organizations. This is not a linguistic question. Other forms of
      social and political organization are also capable of such excesses. In the
      third world, imperialism has long operated through dictatorial,
      militaristic puppet regimes that carried out bloody repression. Whether
      those can correctly be called "fascist" is arguable -- they are responding
      to pressures from above and outside their own societies and often have a
      limited mass base within. But if we are facing anything close to that, we
      need to adjust our organizing dramatically.

      I think the current political context in the US, whether we label it
      fascist or not, calls for a whole range of things connected to the idea of
      more clandestine struggle (I am not thinking of illegal or armed action
      here). Nonetheless, we do need to incorporate the same sense that
      'from-below" fascist forces have long grasped - that independent political
      action must make use of all forms of struggle and all means of exerting
      countervailing power.

      We need to strategize based on an understanding that mainstream media work
      is almost entirely pointless, at least as currently conceived. The FCC has
      put the finishing stroke on a set of media "regulations" that will finalize
      the transformation of "journalism" and "entertainment" into corporate/state
      propaganda. Previous court rulings have made it clear that freedom of
      speech and the press are essentially protected only for corporate
      interests. Mainstream electoral work in an era where the Supreme Court and
      ruled and enforced the doctrine that there is no individual right to vote
      in the US is similarly pointless. I think some alternatives are happening
      --developing our own media, pirate radio, webcasting, using indymedia --
      but remember, the Internet is closely monitored and subject to being choked
      off. I think we might want to look back into bulletin board systems (direct
      connect phone call into a computer storing information). We need to
      cultivate media that serve people of color -- there was a significant
      difference between the attitudes of people of color towards the war, and
      the coverage of the war in POC media (even bourgeois, mainstream, corporate
      POC media) than those of the white population and the general media.
      Chicken or egg doesn't matter here, but in NY, Chicago, LA, Atlanta etc.
      there are Black, Spanish-language, Asian and other "minority" oriented
      media outlets that still provide a little room and outlet that is
      unavailable in general-audience print and broadcast media.

      Relatedly, we need to focus more energy on less public forms of organizing
      -- something besides demonstrations. I think we need to organize deeper and
      more sustained initiatives of our own away from public scrutiny, not simply
      reacting to state and fascist provocations, and. We need to listen more,
      both as a means of intelligence gathering on the enemy but also
      understanding what's on the minds of the people we want to work with and
      among. We need to develop community-based grass roots anti-racist and
      anti-empire work that has some endurance and that rewards people in the
      doing of it. I am not saying to abandon confrontation with nazis, but the
      public venues are going to be increasingly controlled and subject to
      massive repression. The same holds true for anti-globalization protests at
      WTO-type gatherings. We need to think about methods of infiltration and
      subversion, as well as counter-organizing a base for anti-racist culture
      and resistance among people who would otherwise be drawn to the nazis.

      Organizing Below the Radar

      We need to build a legal/self defense component into all our work,
      anticipating busts, frame-ups and harassment. We need to build stronger
      outside networks of support for people locked down, materially and
      otherwise. There needs to be thought about safe houses, cultivation of
      supporters who never do anything public to identify themselves with the
      anti-racist movement, secure means of covert communication, transportation
      and release and dissemination of information. In other words, we need to
      adopt some methods of organization better suited to conditions of
      occupation or fascism, and to the extent we can get at all ahead of the
      curve on this, it will be a lot easier to do, and a lot likelier to survive
      the repression. We need to think about building redundancy in all that.

      Organizing and outreach into the prisons and the military are vital. These
      spheres, along with workplace organizing, have always had some of the
      characteristics of occupation or fascism that impede open organizing. They
      are vital areas in which to work (the degree of state and bourgeois
      repression applied in these arenas under "normal democracy" being a measure
      of their strategic importance). They are an important proving ground of our
      ability to organize under such conditions as well as our capacity to craft
      a message and practice that engages the people we want to reach. This is
      also true for work with high school students, for many of the same reasons
      (especially as the military increasingly penetrates the schools).

      A key to understanding fascism is grasping, and countering, the appeal
      fascism makes to women. The male-dominated left tends to discount the
      revolutionary potential of women, the need for a strategy to deal with the
      role of violence in the lives of women and children, and the efforts of
      fascists to present themselves as the answer to women's problems. A
      fuller discussion and an attempt to develop practice based on a deeper
      understanding of those issues must take place in a sustained way. They
      definitely relate to this whole period. The state has moved into this arena
      in various ways. Bush's use of Afghan women as justification for launching
      his war on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Afghanistan is one clear example.
      Another notable one is creation by the Pentagon of a network of organizers
      out of "army wives," whose job it is to maintain morale and support for the
      war efforts among the families of the troops.

      Faith-based groups some of whom are hard-core pacifists, must be addressed
      in an anti-fascist strategy, just as "White Rose" Catholics formed one base
      of anti-fascist resistance in Hitler's Germany. Such groups also have a
      long history of civil resistance, sanctuary-type activities regarding
      unjust immigration policies, and otherwise breaking the law or doing secret
      work for reasons of conscience. I think we might be able to learn a great
      deal from them. I invite responses and discussion of these ideas. We are
      printing some here and will have further responses and dialogue in the next
      issue of Turning the Tide: Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research &
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