By James Thompson

There have been many attempts to define fascism in an effort to understand it. Some maintain that fascism is the capitalists’ last option. Others ask, “What is fascism but the death throes of capitalism?”

Fascism has also been described as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” According to Georgi Dmitrov in a collection of his reports in 1935 and 1936 Against Fascism and War, 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.”

He points out that German fascism, i.e. Nazism or National Socialism, has been the most reactionary form of fascism. He explains, “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.”

Fascism has manifested itself in many other nations, including most notably, Italy, where Mussolini declared that fascism should be more appropriately called “corporatism” since it represents the merger of the state and corporations. It also appeared in Spain under Franco and other countries. It is important to remember that fascism can be thought of as a logical extension of capitalism. It is one of the forms of rule that can take place under capitalism. It is not an economic system in and of itself. Fascism is a form of government intended to protect the interests of the capitalists through violence and oppression.

The capitalist press has been very effective in blurring the distinction between fascism and communism. Many people in the U.S.A. equate and confuse the terms. The main difference is that fascism is a form of government which safeguards and promotes the interests of the capitalists, whereas communism safeguards and promotes the interests of working people. Fascism is anti-democratic and only allows the political will of the capitalists to be expressed, whereas communism is pro-democratic and only allows the political will of the working people to be expressed.

There has been discussion among leftists in the U.S.A. as to whether the Bush administration was a fascist government. Many maintain that the policies of Bush and his cronies were fascist in nature. Others argue that the policies were different from those seen in fascist countries between the two World Wars. Norman Markowitz in his article “On Guard Against Fascism” published in Political Affairs (May, 2004) states “The domestic policy of fascism was to destroy the independent labor movement, all socialist and communist parties and all democratic movements of the people. The foreign policy of fascism was to completely militarize the society and organize the people to fight imperialist wars and accept and glorify such wars on nationalist and racist grounds…As both ideology and policy, fascism was the rabid response of a decaying capitalism threatened by the workers’ movement at home and anti-colonial movements abroad. The forms that fascism takes can change and be updated, but these are its essential characteristics.”

Gerald Horne, in his article “Threat Needs Study” in Political Affairs (July, 2004), calls for more study of the fascist movement in this country. He points out that there are organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center which track the activities of the extreme right. He also notes that the Center for Responsive Politics tracks political donations. He suggests that donations from certain sectors of finance capital could be tracked to political candidates and organizations.

Horne points out that many scholars maintain that fascism has historically developed as a reaction to the development of strong progressive movements which support the interests of working people. He goes on to note that some academics don’t think a fascist movement is likely to develop in the U.S.A. because there is no strong progressive movement currently. Whether there is a viable progressive movement in the U.S.A. is debatable, especially considering the mass movements which have been so conspicuous in 2006. As the right wing has mounted its assault on working people, the positive achievements of the twentieth century in civil rights, education, social security and health care become more apparent. One can conceptualize the recent actions of the right wing as a reaction to the gains of the progressive movement.

From a dialectical materialist point of view, we can see that the development of capitalist, fascist, socialist and communist movements are developments in the struggle between the owners of the means of production and the workers. As Marx pointed out, “All human history hitherto is the history of the class struggle.” The interests of fascism and communism are just as opposed and irreconcilable as the interests of working people and capitalists. As capitalism weakens, its options narrow and it is more likely that it will desperately grasp for fascist methods to sustain itself. Much as a wounded animal is more likely to bite, capitalism in its final stages is more likely to use direct violence against working people. However, just as the animal ensures its own destruction through violence, so it will go for capitalism.

It is noteworthy that there are similarities between the tactics employed by Bush and fascist movements in the past. Don Sloan, in his article “The ‘F’ Word” in Political Affairs (May, 2004) does a good job of comparing fascist tactics and those of the Bush administration. Sloan warns “It can’t happen here? It can happen here? It is happening here.”

It is easy to use the label “fascism or fascist” when trying to discredit our opponents. We, the people of conscience on the left, should be careful however when we apply labels. Applying labels tends to de-humanize people and is a tactic used in military training. Soldiers are taught to think of their “enemies” as subhuman thus making it easier to kill them. We must remember that a number of people apply labels to us. Do we really want to respond to mudslinging by mudslinging ourselves? People on the left use “fascist” far too easily these days to label people promoting policies they don’t like. It would be more useful and productive to attack the policies we do not like and explain that the reason we do not like them is that they are harmful to working people. Throwing around labels and failing to use a class analysis is counterproductive at best. Such tactics may actually hurt the credibility of progressive movements who engage in such behavior.

We do not like the “fascist like” tactics employed by our government, but it is important to remember that unlike Nazi Germany, we still have trade unions, opposition political parties such as the CPUSA, and a progressive press to include the People’s World and others. Writers such as Michael Parenti and publishing companies such as International Publishers are still publishing articles and books. We have not had book burnings and university professors are not clubbed and imprisoned. No Communist in the U.S.A. has been put in a concentration camp by the Bush or Obama administrations.

Nevertheless, it will be important for people on the left to keep identifying clearly those tactics and developments that are not in the interest of the working class and mount united struggles against each and every one of them. This is already happening in the case of the War in Iraq, immigration policy, and the struggle to save social security. These struggles will move our country forward and will help build a strong progressive movement that can bring about positive social change. We cannot forget and must not abandon the gains made in the last century. Indeed, it is time to start making new gains for this century.


Georgi Dmitrov, Against War and Fascism, (International Publishers, New York, 1986).

Gerald Horne, “Threat Needs Study,” Political Affairs, (July, 2004).

Norman Markowitz, “On Guard Against Fascism,” Political Affairs, (May, 2004)

Don Sloan, “The ‘F’ Word,” Political Affairs, (May, 2004).