Some things going on at the moment would justify the idea of a return of fascism in many parts of the world. Indeed, as in the past, we are facing a considerable decline in the so-called “rule of law”, that is, the abandonment of democratic forms of rule by the wealthy (the “democratic dictatorship of the wealthy classes”) and the establishment in its place of forms of rule that in many ways mirror classic forms of fascism.
Juan Diego García
Of course, any strict defining characteristic should not be sought, because even the fascist regimes of the last century were not entirely the same; and nor were the so-called “Western democracies” which were not exempt from harbouring in their midst many elements similar to fascism.
In France, for example, the collaborationist regime of Vichy had important support from the middle classes and very wealthy who saluted the Nazi invader because “at last there was order and fewer strikes or communists marching through the streets”; and of course, after the collapse of fascism, all of them had been in the resistance.
The ill-fated King Edward VIII was a well-known supporter of Hitler and indeed in the United States the KKK had free passage in its marches (including New York itself), the Jews were considered by many as “dangerous communists” and important figures such as Henry Ford himself not only visited Nazi Germany several times and declared his admiration for the Third Reich, but memorialised this view in his books.
Were there not American companies that maintained close economic ties with Germany even during the war? Was not the Bush family guilty of this?
There is one defining characteristic fascists do share: their instrumental idea of bourgeois democracy – democracy they support only if it allows the profits of capital to be preserved – but they fail to acknowledge, even defending their claims within that same bourgeois order, that threat posed by the influence of labour might place this at risk.
Representative democracy is then acceptable provided popular forces fail to swing it in their favour in any significant manner.
Hence, the possible capital-labour pact – at the root of all reformist attitudes – becomes a risky commitment that the ruling class will subvert insofar as the relationship between these influences allows, until its dominance is complete, and the rule of law and any form of social, political and economic democracy is a thing of the past or a mere formality to pay lip service to.
To a large extent, this is precisely what current dictatorial neoliberalism is, which – faced by the dangers posed by social opposition to it and given the requirements that tough global competition places on each property-owning group – opts inwardly to subvert social progress, ensuring its control with authoritarian or openly terrorist regimes and launching military conquests abroad.
Trump embodies this fascist ideal in a very obvious way and international manifestations of fascism are demonstrating – each in their own particular context – the same phenomenon. Bolsonaro in Brazil is an example, at least in terms of his background, his government programme (neoliberal in the extreme) and his barely concealed intentions to contribute to the armed aggression against Venezuela.
Fascism is not the result of some megalomaniac leader bearing paranoid character traits (although this helps a lot, no doubt) nor does it arise on the back of misconstrued decisions by social and electoral majorities which establish governments (although this also helps legitimize its acquisition of power ).
In reality, fascism is a form of domination characteristic of capitalism itself, even if its contradictions lead to very acute crises and even if there is a need to abandon the democratic rules of its regime to replace it with a system of social control that only works if it is based on terror.
It is not possible to separate the emergence of fascism from the great crises of the capitalist system; and analysts prepared to link the current manifestations of fascism with the current crisis and above all with the one that is now brewing at the very heart of the global capitalist system are not thin on the ground.
In this context, warnings of a new world war in the making do not seem so dramatic, one in which the protagonists are not only countries on the periphery of the system as they have been until now, but the larger nations. The relatively weak political conscience of social majorities and especially their weak organization greatly facilitate the progress of the far right.
The crises of the left (in particular the end of “real operating socialism” in the USSR and the collapse of the social democratic model in Europe) do not seem to have been taken on board seriously enough by its parties and organizations which in so many ways it appears are still prisoners of their past, beset by factions and divisions that make them even weaker and above all because they lack an auspicious mission to galvanise the majority.
In this sense, the enormous loss of legitimacy brought about by neoliberalism to the system of democracy is informing social majorities more than the left’s alternative discourse.
Of course, despite the many defeats of the left and other social movements, there are quite a few positive factors that might prevent the advance of fascism.
The victories of the extreme right cannot hide the emerging universal rejection of the neoliberal model and above all the view that this model (which is much more than a mere way of managing the economy) does not succeed in alleviating harsh living conditions for broad sectors of society, that it merely widens the gulf in inequalities and that – contrary to the apologetic discourses of its ideologues- it is not succeeding in putting an end to cyclical crises: crises which when they occur and coincide with certain favourable conditions for the opposition may not only defeat fascism but even open the door to projects that aim to radically change that very system.
And indeed, one of these favourable conditions is the unity of socialist and democratic forces. When Hitler got the order to form a government, he did so because democratic and socialist forces could not agree.
There were many Nazis in the German Parliament, but they were a minority compared with socialist, communist and democratic middle-class groups which, if they had overcome their differences, might have prevented Hitler from coming to power.
A few months later, these leaders of socialism and democracy ended up in concentration camps, murdered or in exile; a harsh lesson that the left and democratic elements should not forget.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – email@example.com)