The 2020s and Fascism: the Marxist view of Social Revolution, the Danger of Fascism, and the Danger of Liberal Distortions of Fascism. By: Noah KhrachvikRead Now
In 2022, we are entering a period of what’s often referred to in old Marxist texts as ‘social revolution’. Due to the developments in production, the old formations of society can no longer remain stable, and begin crumbling under the weight of their own contradictions. In Marx’s day, it was the advent of industrial capitalism; in Lenin’s, it was imperialism and finance capital. Our development in production was the computer revolution, the centralization of capital as and completion of its global dominance, and the debt economy. Because of the various economic crises, this causes debt bubbles and the upper limits of the falling rate of profit. The 2000’s in general, and the 2020’s in particular so far, seem to be marked by a widespread de-legitimacy of what’s often referred to as ‘the establishment’, or the ‘powers that be’ that make up our ruling class--finance capital and its various state machinery, the established economic order. The working class sees its conditions continually getting worse, and begins searching for answers and solutions to these problems.
Marxism Leninism shows us how to look beyond the surface appearance of such phenomenon in society, and de-mystify them, so to speak--to look into the history of what led to this moment using dialectical materialist methodology, allowing us a much deeper and more thorough understanding of where we’re at, what the current dangers are, and what the tasks of the working class and the Communist Party should be.
So where are we? What got us here?
Well, without going too deep into it and changing the entire subject of this essay, we can begin with the repression of the Communist Party. The McCarthyism era and second Red Scare allowed for a hitherto unexplored area of class struggle from the capitalist class: redirection of potential revolutionary energy. It was this period that saw the emergence of the “new left,” an apparently left wing movement, but liberalized and anti-Communist. The “new left” phenomenon arose partly in response to negative views of the USSR pushed by the capitalist class and a backlash that the first worker state had not created some liberal, individualist utopia where no one had to work anymore and everyone could do whatever they want, and partly due to the repression of the Communist Party here in the USA, leaving them to build new things on their own from scratch, without the guiding influence of those who had experience in class struggle. Because of this, their movement was detached from Marxism, devoid of a scientific understanding of society, with large and important sections of it directly funded and controlled by the establishment.
The new left led as many working class people as they could reach (with billions invested into the project in various ways, from various factions of the ruling class) away from the class analysis and methods of Marxism Leninism, which history had already taught us could be successful in overthrowing the capitalist class and putting the working class in power. The new left also attacked the “old left” (read: Marxist Leninist, or Communist) factions, which had the concrete result of aiding the capitalist class in class struggle, and in the main, to “culture war” narratives; the addressing of issues, sure, but from the bourgeois perspective, with class removed from the central role the Communist movement had discovered. Over time, this allowed the academy, a thoroughly bourgeois institution, to develop and maintain a hegemony over what America viewed as “the left.” For example, Theodor Adorno’s work The Authoritarian Personality and other similar works supported, funded, and published by the CIA’s operation: Congress for Cultural Freedom, would compare Communism, the USSR, and Communists with fascism. Similarly, there are progressive intellectuals, activists, and journalists who worked for the capitalist state who would play a similar role as that of capitalist academia. One such intellectual and activist was Gloria Steinem, who wrote glowingly about her time working for the CIA and gave us a version of women’s liberation that suspiciously lacked class analysis. The role of capitalist academia and the way its influence grew in this period are essential for us to recognize in order to understand how we got to where we are now. As Lenin said, in his Three Sources and Three Components of Marxism,
Throughout the civilized world the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of “pernicious sect”. And no other attitude is to be expected, for there can be no “impartial” social science in a society based on class struggle. In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage-slavery, whereas Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as foolishly naïve as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers’ wages ought not to be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.
If we combine this important lesson with another Lenin teaches us, the white-washing and dishonest use of revolutionary figures by the capitalist class, in order to recuperate what they stood for and mislead the working class, we can begin to understand that there is not much real Marxism to the institutions of the capitalist class. Like they have done with important revolutionary and civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., they effectively put a sticker that says “Marxism” or “Communism” or “Revolutionary” on bourgeois ideology, attempting to mislead us.
This same phenomenon rears its head in our society today, as liberals influenced by bourgeois social science of the “new left” call themselves Marxists, but attack genuine Marxism from their ivory tower as ‘class reductionism’.
In 2021, how the American working class views “the left” is largely based on the distortions, liberalism, and anti-Communism of the “new left” era, and the academy, controlled as it is by capitalist class interests, with its inherent defense of wage-slavery. With this being the only thing people had access to, how could it not be? Today, we have an entire generation of people who have never heard of the Comintern, or seen the Marxist view of society itself, let alone the Marxist view of phenomena within capitalist society, such as fascism.
But let’s back up a step and discuss Adorno and “The Authoritarian Personality”, as this narrative regarding “fascism” is the widespread view on the modern left, and understanding that it is directly from the capitalist class is only step one in understanding the errors the liberal world outlook makes in its understanding of fascism, and the clarity the Marxist Leninist view can give us.
So what is this liberal view of fascism, and why is it wrong?
Well, like most things from the liberal perspective, its initial mistake is in how it views societal motion. From the liberal perspective, good ideas poof out of the ether and are put into practice and good things happen, or bad ideas do and bad things happen. There is an all-encompassing “blank slate,” which all things are built upon, and the conditions of the real world, which both inform how we view things and create our possible avenues of action, are only an after-thought, if they’re considered at all. (It individualizes this as well, but this is outside the scope of this essay.) For liberalism and Adorno, there is a set of bad traits and ideas that they deem “authoritarian” and “Fascist”. These ideas are inherent and make up its essential qualities from the liberal perspective, but they seem to be birthed entirely within each individual’s consciousness, and suddenly (maybe through magic? Or a few “bad apples”?), everyone in society is evil. Which is… er… insane.
Everyone who has ever Googled the word Fascism has been made aware of Umberto Eco’s 14 points that make something Fascism. This is a perfect view of the liberal outlook’s mistakes. They pre-define a thing, and then attempt to make society and reality fit this preordained definition, completely oblivious to the material reality, the real history, and the contradictions that give rise to such phenomenon. In this pre-ordaining, they make the common liberal mistake of confusing form for content. They are unable to separate the essential features that make Fascism what it is from the features it takes on within a given time and place it arises. The content of Fascism is, like all things, defined by its motion and interconnection for Marxism. It is capitalism in crisis mode. When liberal, bourgeois democracy can no longer sustain the system of wage slavery and begins breaking down (as we see happening in a period of social revolution), then fascism forms in order to do that job for it. The form this phenomenon takes in any given time and place are unique to the history of that time and place; however the capitalist class goes to extremes to defend itself.
Adorno and the “new left” and bourgeois academy would have us believe these things are immaterial. That, instead, fascism is when a lot of people all somehow develop similar psychological characteristics. (Some of his character traits that are supposedly fascist are a bit ridiculous, as well. They seem designed specifically to make everything outside petty bourgeois individualism somehow the equivalent of Mussolini or Hitler.) This would lead one to believe someone could be “mostly fascist”, or “a little bit fascist”, and other silly nonsense that distracts us away from the real content of what makes fascism dangerous.
In contrast, Marxism Leninism teaches us that, to quote the great beard his-own-self, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” For Marxism Leninism, it is the objective contradictions within society itself that govern its motion; that thought is only the most advanced form of matter itself. In Marxism Leninism, we see Fascism arise due to concrete and objective contradictions of capitalism during certain crises, its natural cycles of boom and bust, as it continues in its development and undevelopment over time. Ultimately, it is class struggle that is the driving factor of all societal motion, which is essential to the understanding of the unique crises economic revolution causes (the inability to live in the old way, for both the masses and the ruling class). Such unique crises essentially create the need for the capitalist class to historically resort to, as Dimitrov said, “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital” and defend itself at all costs from both other competing capitalists and the rising working class.
With the upward limit of the phenomenon of profit rates falling in a given cycle, the capitalist class is faced with an utter inability to solve the crises and must defend wage slavery with new methods outside its old liberal order. This is what brings about the threat of fascism. And this is the same period we refer to as the “social revolution”. There is a relationship between the opportunities and dangers this presents to the Communist Party and the progressive forces of society.
During this period, with the working class becoming disillusioned with the system, we see a rise in all forms of radicalism, as the brilliant Gus Hall discussed in his 1970 essay “The Crisis of Petty Bourgeois Radicalism”. Petty bourgeois consciousness, a subject worthy of study in the USA of 2022 in its own right, creates a sector of petty bourgeois radicals, and when this sector runs up against its own impotence and inability to create the changes necessary in society, some of them give up the struggle, sliding into nihilism or anarchism, but others harden, become more determined. Like steel. This is only one of the reasons that we see the Communist Party rebuilding with such intensity now. The importance of the Communist Party and its Marxist Leninist analysis cannot be overstated, especially regarding the threat of fascism, which always comes at such times of intensified contradictions of capitalism, as the bourgeois side of the class struggle. The Communist Party’s role in this era is to rally this disillusioned working class, to spread class consciousness, and to make it a “class for itself”.
This is how Dimitrov viewed it when he spoke at the Comintern Convention in 1932 with his famous address entitled: “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism.”
The title of this address is interesting, as it marks the difference in the Marxist Leninist world outlook. Fascism is inherently a phenomenon of capitalism, and of the capitalist class. What creates a threat of fascism is the same thing that creates revolutionary potential: the crises of capitalism. Historically, fascists have been used like mercenaries by finance capital, in order to smash the growing workers’ movement. It is not anything so simplistic and liberal as “the revenge of the petty bourgeoisie,” which is ultimately nothing more than an anti-Communist distortion dressed in oldy timey revolutionary jargon to blame the contradictions of capitalism on the middle peasants, or its modern American equivalent in the rural American worker or newly disillusioned small business owner whose business was crushed and the property gobbled up by various banks and investment firms during the COVID crisis. It is not, as individualists and idealists believe, some collection of traits in individuals, most of which could be applied to anyone who isn’t a liberal. And I think we’ve gone over enough of the Marxist outlook by now to know that it does not find its genesis in the working class or different confused ideas the masses may have after a lifetime of bourgeois ideology being pushed on them. It is, instead, ultimately, the last defense of the capitalist class to protect itself from capitalism itself in a period of acute crises or social revolution, and the form it takes is always unique, according to the situation that capitalist class finds itself in.
So where does this leave us?
Well, how is our capitalist class made up? It seems as if the most reactionary and chauvinistic elements of capital are no longer at the tippy top of the pyramid, instead occupying a place slightly lower. The Koch Brothers and associated cartel could be considered part of this, for example, with the Proud Boys organization their loyal foot soldiers. The World Economic Forum, Davos, the old WASP network of Rockefellers, Morgans, and the like have been pushed into a sort of social liberalism by the advance of our class struggle over time. How will this affect the formation of an American fascism, and what does it say about our period of social revolution and the dangers we face?
The potential for socialism is here in the USA. And it is here like we haven’t seen since the great William Z Foster was at the helm. Our crumbling standard of living, de-legitimacy of the state, and inability for liberal democracy to continue functioning in the old way, attacked on all sides by the capitalist class in order to resolve the crises in one faction or another’s favor, has seen to that. But we cannot forget that the potential for fascism is also here. If we do not properly understand this phenomenon and rally the working class to work in its own interests, the capitalist class certainly will. Only it won’t be in its own interests. It will be in theirs. And we’ve seen this problem once already in history. I don’t think we can afford to let it happen again.
Noah Khrachvik is a proud working class member of the Communist Party USA. He is 40 years old, married to the most understanding and patient woman on planet Earth (who puts up with all his deep-theory rants when he wakes up at two in the morning and can't get back to sleep) and has a twelve-year-old son who is far too smart for his own good. When he isn't busy writing, organizing the working class, or fixing rich people's houses all day, he enjoys doing absolutely nothing on the couch, surrounded by his family and books by Gus Hall.