the invisible fascism

Dora Longo Bahia, Black Bloc, 2015 Silkscreen on fiber cement (12 pieces) - 39,5 x 19,5 cm each


The bourgeois conception of fascism aims to conceal its structural and systemic character, as well as the profound material causes that drive its conjunctural emergence

“We need to understand that, contrary to what we are told by the American media, fascism is not a circumscribed phenomenon, limited in time and space, which occurred a long time ago. Quite the opposite. Fascism is something omnipresent, widespread, it exists everywhere.” (Vincent Navarro).

In recent history, only one country in the world:

+ strove to overthrow over 50 foreign governments

+ created an intelligence agency that killed at least 6 million people in the first 40 years of its existence

+ developed a draconian police surveillance network to destroy any internal political movement that challenged his rule

+ has built a system of mass incarceration that locks up a larger percentage of the population than any other country in the world, and which is embedded in a global network of secret prisons and torture regimes.

While we usually call this country democracia, we learn that the fascism it only happened once in history, in one place, and it was defeated by that democracy we mentioned above.

The ubiquity and elasticity of the notion of democracia could not contrast more strongly with the narrowness and rigidity of the concept of fascism. After all, it is said that democracy was born some 2500 years ago and that it is a defining feature of European civilization, and even one of its unique cultural contributions to world history. Fascism, by contrast, allegedly erupted into Western Europe in the interwar period as an aberrant anomaly, temporarily halting the historic march of progress immediately after a war was fought to make the world "safe for democracy." Once a second world war destroyed it, or so the narrative tells us, the forces of good then began to tame its 'totalitarian' evil twin in the East in the name of democratic globalization.

As evaluative concepts whose substantive content is far less important than their normative charge, the term democracy has been perpetually expanded, whereas the word fascism is constantly interdicted. The Holocaust industry played a key role in this process through its efforts to single out Nazi war atrocities to the point where they became literally incomparable or even impossible to "represent", while purported democratic forces benevolent to the world. are repeatedly taken as the ideal model of global governance.

Concepts in the class struggle

The ongoing debate over the precise definition of fascism has often obscured the fact that the nature and function of definitions differ significantly depending on the epistemology employed, that is, the general structure of knowledge and truth. For historical materialists, rather than conceiving of them as quasi-metaphysical entities with fixed properties, concepts such as fascism are always up for grabs in the intricate dynamics of class struggle. The search for a universally accepted definition of a generic concept of fascism is therefore quixotic. This is not the case, however, because concepts are relative in a purely subjectivist sense, meaning simply that each person has his or her own idiosyncratic definition of such notions. Indeed, they are relational in a concrete and material sense, as they are objectively situated in class struggles.

It is bourgeois ideology that presupposes the existence of a universal epistemology outside the class struggle. She acts as if there were only one possible concept for each social phenomenon, which certainly corresponds to the bourgeois understanding of the phenomenon in question. From a materialist perspective, what this ultimately means is that the bourgeois ideology inherent in the very idea of ​​a universal epistemology, as it surreptitiously strives to eliminate all rival epistemologies, is part of the class struggle.

If we look more closely at the differences between these two epistemologies, which are rival versions of the very function of concepts and their definitions, we realize that materialists – in sharp contrast to the idealism of bourgeois ideology – conceive of ideas as practical tools of analysis. that allow for different levels of abstraction, and whose value in use lies in their ability to describe material conditions whose complexity goes beyond their own particular limits. From this perspective, the aim is not to define the essence of a social phenomenon like fascism in a way that could be universally accepted by bourgeois social science, but rather to develop a two-way working definition. On the one hand, this is a definition that works because it has practical use value: it provides a coherent outline of a complex field of material forces and can help us to situate ourselves in a world full of struggles. On the other hand, such a definition has heuristic value and is subject to further reworking, as Marxists recognize that they are subjectively situated in objective socio-historical processes, and that changes in perspective and context may require their modification. This can be clearly seen in the three different dimensions that I will use to develop an operational definition of fascism: the conjunctural, the structural, and the systemic.

multidimensional analysis

The approach of historical materialism in relation to fascism gives primacy to practices, placing them within the social totality, which, in turn, is analyzed through heuristically distinct, albeit interconnected, dimensions. The conjunctural dimension, to begin with, refers to the social totality of a specific place and time, such as Italy or Germany in the interwar period. Historically speaking, we know that the term fascism emerged as a description of the particular mode of political organization undertaken by Benito Mussolini, but that it was only theorized gradually, in fits and starts. In other words, it did not appear as a doctrine or a coherent political ideology that was later implemented, but rather as a rudimentary and half-finished description of a dynamic set of practices that transformed over time (in the beginning, unlike what came to be later, fascism in Italy was reformist and republican, advocated women's suffrage, supported some timid pro-worker reforms, had feuds with the Catholic Church, and was not overtly racist).

It was only after the fascist movement had evolved and begun to gain power that Mussolini and a few others attempted to retroactively consolidate their disparate and shifting practices in such a way that they could be fitted into a coherent doctrine. On numerous occasions, Mussolini himself insisted on this point, writing, for example: “Fascism was not the nourishment of a doctrine previously elaborated on a table; he was born out of the need for action, and he was action; it was not a party, but, in the first two years, an anti-party and a movement”. José Carlos Mariátegui carried out a perceptive and detailed analysis of the internal struggles that existed early on in the Italian fascist movement, which was polarized between an extremist faction and a reformist camp with liberal leanings. Mussolini, according to Mariátegui, occupied a centrist position and avoided unduly favoring one group over the other until 1924, when the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the fascists. This brought the conflict between the two Fascist factions to a pitch of tension, and Mussolini was forced to choose. After an unsuccessful nod to the liberal wing, he ended up siding with the reactionaries.


Since its origin, therefore, the concept of fascism has been the object of social and ideological dispute, whether in the clash between extremists and reformists within the fascist camp, or, more generally, between fascists and liberals within the capitalist camp. Ultimately, these conflicts were subordinated to the broader conflict between capitalists and anti-capitalists. It is from this point of view of intertwined levels of struggle that we can establish a first operational definition of fascism, once it has more or less consolidated, identifying how it emerged from a very specific conjuncture and stage of the war. of global classes. In the threatening wake of the Russian Revolution (which was followed by failed revolutions in Europe and later the Great Depression in the capitalist world), Mussolini and his gang used mass communications and propaganda to carefully and effectively mobilize sectors of civil society. – and particularly the petty bourgeoisie – with the support of the big industrial capitalists, using a nationalist and colonial ideology of “radical” transformation, in order to crush the labor movement and catapult wars of conquest. At this level of analysis, fascism is, in practical terms, in the words of Michael Parenti, “nothing more than a final solution to the class struggle, the suppression and full harnessing of democratic forces for the benefit and profit of the darkest financial circles. high. Fascism is a false revolution.”

This conjunctural analysis is, of course, very different from liberal narratives about fascism, which tend to focus on superficial phenomena and superstructural elements that are separate from any scientific consideration of international political economy and class struggle. Taking it as a “hate policy”, as an “us against them” logic, as a rejection of parliamentary democracy, as a question of aberrant personalities, as a rejection of science or other similar things, it comes to the same thing: the liberal view of fascism is concerned with its epiphenomenal traits rather than relating it to the social totality. It is the latter, however, that gives these traits – when they do exist, in one form or another – their precise meaning and function. In this regard, it is worth remembering the observation of Martin Kitchen, when he says that “all capitalist countries produced fascist movements after the crash from 1929 ”.

If the bourgeois concept of fascism obscures the social totality of the conjuncture in which European fascism, precisely under that name, historically emerged, it casts an even more extensive shadow over the structural and systemic dimensions of fascism as a practice. As we will see in the case of George Jackson, Marxists have insisted on the importance of inscribing the conjunctural analysis of European fascism within a structural frame of reference, with the aim of revealing the forms of fascism operating without certain contexts that liberal theorists often claim. that do not exist, or claim that they are, somehow, of little significance. With a closer look, the interwar United States, for example, reveals striking structural similarities with what happened in Italy and Germany.

Finally, the broader dimension of analysis, which appears to be invisible to liberals, is the capitalist world system. As historical materialists such as Aimé Césaire and Domenico Losurdo have argued, the barbarism perpetrated by the Nazis must be understood as a specific manifestation of the long and deep history of colonial carnage, which brought capitalism to every corner of the planet. If there is something extraordinary about Nazism, Césaire pointed out, it is that the concentration camps were built in Europe, not in the colonies. In this way, he invites us to place the conjunctural and structural dimensions of analysis within a systemic conceptual framework, that is, one that accounts for the entire global history of capitalism.

The bourgeois concept of fascism seeks to single it out as an idiosyncratic phenomenon, which is largely or wholly superstructural, in order to preclude any assessment of its ubiquitous existence in the history of the capitalist world order. Instead, the historical materialism approach proposes a multidimensional analysis of the social totality, with the aim of demonstrating how the conjunctural specificity of interwar European fascism can be better understood when we place it in a certain structural phase of the capitalist class struggle and, ultimately, in the systemic history of capital, which came into the world – in the words of Karl Marx to describe primitive accumulation – “oozing blood and mud from every pore, from head to toe”. As we move up or down in levels of analysis, the precise meaning and operational definition of fascism may change on account of the material factors involved, and some have therefore preferred to restrict the term fascism to its conjunctural manifestations (which may, at times, sometimes be useful for clarity). However, even if the latter strategy is employed, a complete analysis of fascism that inserts it into the social totality ultimately requires an integrated explanation in which it is recognized that the conjunctural is situated in the structural, and that the latter, in turn, , is incorporated into the systemic. Taken as a practice, fascism is a product of the capitalist system and its precise forms vary depending on the structural phase of capitalist development and the socio-historical context in question.

The ideology of the exceptionality of fascism

Simone de Beauvoir once said in a joking tone that “in bourgeois language, the word man means a bourgeois man”. Indeed, when members of the colonial ruling class known as “the founding fathers of the United States of America” solemnly declared to the world that “all men are created equal,” they did not mean that all human beings were truly equal. It is only by understanding its unspoken premise- that man means bourgeois man – that we can fully apprehend its true purpose: the nonhumans of the world can be subjected to the most brutal forms of dispossession, enslavement, and colonial butchery.

This double operation, whereby a particular (the bourgeoisie) tries to pass itself off as a universal (humanity), is a well-known feature of bourgeois ideology. Its inverted form, however, is perhaps even more elusive and insidious since, as far as I know, it has not been widely diagnosed. Rather than universalizing the particular, this ideological operation transforms the systemic into the sporadic, the structural into the singular, the conjunctural into the idiosyncratic.

The case of fascism is exemplary. Every time his name is invoked, we are ritualistically redirected by the dominant ideology to the same set of peculiar historical examples in Italy and Germany that are supposed to serve as general standards against which we judge any other possible manifestations of fascism. According to a methodology alien to the principles of science, it is the particular that governs the universal, and not the other way around. In its most extreme ideological form, this means that if there are no high boots, greetings from siegheil and goose-stepping soldiers, then we cannot say that this is what is commonly known as fascism.

This ideology of the exceptionality of fascism is a natural result of the bourgeois notion of fascism. By conceptualizing German-Italian fascism as something sui generis and defining it primarily in terms of its epiphenomenal characteristics, it cuts it off from its deep roots in the capitalist system and blurs structural parallels with other forms of repressive governance around the world. This ideology thus plays a crucial role in the class struggle: it takes a general feature of life under capital and turns it into an anomaly, which some have even sought to elevate, in the case of Nazism, to status metaphysics of something incomparable in its irreducible singularity. The particular, therefore, serves to hide the general.

A dragon in the belly of the monster

George Jackson vehemently rejected the ideological particularization of fascism and pointed out all the structural similarities between European fascism and repression in the United States. Not by chance, a liberal critic once pointed out that the USA could not be considered a fascist country simply because Jackson said so, immediately dismissing his structural analysis as if it were just a subjective opinion (a classic case of liberal projection). Jackson's argument, however, was not reducible to a pronouncement. ex cathedra, but it was based on an accurate, materialistic comparison between the situation in the United States and Europe. “We are being repressed right now,” he wrote. “There are already courts that abdicate justice, there are already concentration camps. There are more secret police in this country than in all the others put together – so many of them that they already constitute an entirely new class that has attached itself to the power complex. The repression is here.”

When Jackson refers to the US as "the Fourth Reich" and compares US prisons to Dachau and Buchenwald, he is obviously breaking with "the protocol of exceptionality" that drives the Holocaust industry by elevating European fascism to the unique status of something incomparable. And yet, what he is actually doing in his analyzes of the US is simply rejecting the unscientific approach to fascism described above, which emphasizes idiosyncrasies in order to hide structural relationships. Instead, starting from the other extreme, with a materialist analysis of the prevailing modes of governance in America, here is what he found:

The new corporate state [in the United States] was consolidated overcoming several crises, implanted its dominant elites in all important institutions, wove its agreements with the labor sector through its elites, erected, coldly and savagely, the most colossal network of protection agencies, full of spies, that you can find in any police state in the world. The violence of this country's ruling class in the long process of its march towards authoritarianism and its last and highest stage, fascism, cannot be equaled in its excesses by any other nation on earth, today or throughout history.

Those who would dismiss this as hyperbole, thereby refusing even historical comparisons, simply reveal one of the most insidious consequences of fascism's ideology of exceptionality: any materialist analysis of comparable situations is a prioriverboten[I].


Instead of recoiling in horror at the term fascism, which has been ideologically restricted to some now-distant historical anomalies, or to what George Seldes called “faraway fascism,” Jackson draws the most plausible conclusion from the point of view of an analysis based on historical materialism: what is happening ahead from their eyes in the United States is an intensification and generalization of what took place, under slightly different conditions, in Italy and Germany. In fact, he directly identifies the driving forces behind the control of perception that tries to blind us to American fascism as being a cultural product of that same fascism:

“Right behind the expeditionary forces (the pigs) come the missionaries, and the colonizing rage is complete. Missionaries, with the benefits of Christianity, teach us the value of symbolism, dead presidents, and the discount rate. […] In the area of ​​culture […] we are linked to fascist society by chains that have strangled our intellect, messed up our intelligence, and which make us stagger backwards in a wild and confused flight from reality”

Furthermore, Jackson, like other Marxist-Leninists, identifies the core of fascism in “an economic rearrangement”: “It is the answer of international capitalism to the challenge of international scientific socialism.” His nationalist garb, he rightly insists, should not distract us from his international ambitions and his colonizing impulse: “At its core, fascism is capitalist and capitalism is international. Beneath its nationalist ideological shells, fascism is always, in the last analysis, an international movement.” Jackson, therefore, responds to the ideological overinflation of the concept of democracy by increasing the scope of the concept of fascism so that it encompasses all violence, repression and control active in the imposition, maintenance and intensification of capitalist social relations (including the State of reformist welfare). Some may prefer to distinguish between this broader form of fascism, which would include authoritarian and liberal regimes alike, and a more specific definition of fascism that refers to the extensive use of state and parastatal repression with the ultimate purpose of increasing capitalist accumulation. However, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive definitions, since the violence of capitalist social relations can assume many different guises – direct repression, economic exploitation, social degradation, hegemonic subjection, etc. – and it is exactly that that Jackson brings up.

Demystifying the bourgeois concept of fascism

The bourgeois conception of fascism aims to conceal its structural and systemic character, as well as the profound material causes that drive its conjunctural emergence, in order to present it as something absolutely exceptional, circumscribing it in a determined time and place. This conception seeks to convince us, at all costs, that fascism is not an essential aspect of capitalist domination, but rather an anomaly or an extraordinary disruption of its normal course of functioning. Furthermore, it presents it as something distant, burying it in a past already overcome by democratic progress, labeling it as a future threat if people do not conform to the dictates of the liberal regime, or sometimes locating it in exotic lands. that are still too “backward” for democracy.

The materialist approach to fascism refuses the blinders imposed by the manipulation of perception inherent in the bourgeois concept and clearly identifies the double ideological gesture of capitalist domination, which inflates and even universalizes its supposedly positive traits, building a mystical history of the so-called Western democracy, and erases or particularizes its negative characteristics by converting fascism into an idiosyncratic anomaly. From the other extreme, historical materialism examines how really existing capitalism depends on two modes of governance that operate according to the treacherous logic of the “nice cop/rebel cop” interrogation tactic: where and when the nice cop is unable to from convincing people to play by the rules of the capitalist game, the rebel policeman of fascism is always lurking, hiding in the shadows, to do the dirty work by any means necessary. If the latter's club appears to be an aberration when compared to the good-guy cop's benevolence, it is only because one has been induced to believe the false antagonism between them, which disguises the fundamental fact that they are working together towards a common goal. While it is certainly true, from a tactical organization point of view, that dealing with the histrionics of the good guy cop is generally more preferable to the brazen barbarism of the rogue cop, it is strategically of the utmost importance to identify them for what they really are: partners in capitalist crime. .

*Gabriel Rockhill is professor of philosophy at Villanova University (USA). Author, among other books, of Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy.

Translation: André Campos Rocha

Originally published on the portal Counter-Punch.

Translator's note

[I]In German, "forbidden", "vetoed"

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