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From: Haines Brown <brownh@hartford-hwp.com>
Subject: Re: The only difference between Communism and Fascism
Newsgroups: alt.politics.communism
Message-ID: <pan.2002.>
Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 14:32:40 GMT

The only difference between Communism and Fascism

By Haines Brown, contribution to a dialog in the alt.politics.communism newsgroup, 18 July 2002 [slightly edited for clarity]

On Wed, 17 Jul 2002 22:50:55 -0400, antiproperty wrote:

> Kurt Weber: The only difference between Communism and
> Fascism is that the Fascists are honest about what they're
> doing, and thus morally superior to Communists.

> As opposed to you, an anti-communist who hangs out in a
> communist discussion forum?

Please, guys, this is a serious topic, although I suspect rather quaint and misplaced. An association of communism and fascism is a relic of Cold War anti-communism and has less relevance today because (unfortunately) there no longer seems to be a generalized abhorance of fascism and also because the model of communism was then Stalin's Soviet Union. The question necessarily forces us to employ useful and agreed upon definitions of both fascism and communism, but that ios not here the case. So first let me reflect a little upon the meaning of the word fascism.

The term fascism in origin refered to the concentration of political offices within the hands of the Roman Emperor, centered on his office of being head of the military. Since these offices were represented as swagger sticks, the symbol of fascism is a bundle of sticks with an axe at the center, and the Latin word "fasces" was actually only a bundle of sticks.

However, it would be a gross misunderstanding to call the Roman Emperors fascist in any modern sense, for the magnitude of their political power by modern standards was slight, and imperial politics did not much impinge on people's lives. Today must go beyond a purely political definition such as a non-separation of powers, for which we have a perfectly good word, authoritarian. Even the word dictatorship does not quite capture the horrors implied by our modern notion of fascism.

One of the problems of definition is that we use the term fascism to refer to quite different movements and behaviors. This is why an empiricist definition, such as that of Alan Bullock, forces us to be a little arbitrary when it comes to deciding whether the word fits in particular cases. Here is his list of empirical traits, although I've taken some liberty with them in order to evaluate the extent to which his typical properties fit communism:

1. Ultra-Nationalism. This suggests the context of modern fascism is the bourgeois state. While communist movements can also be nationalist at certain points and national movements socialist, they don't seem intrinsically so. In particular, communists are principled internationalists, while fascists are quite the opposite, aiming at exclusion, not inclusion. So, as we look into the matter more deeply, communists and fascists seem the opposite in this respect.

2. Authoritarian. While communist movements can be authoritarian as well as bourgeois regimes, there seems to me to be a basic difference. The authoritarianism associated with fascism seems to be a consequence of systemic crisis, and it does not offer any escape from that authoritarian order. The authoritarianism that may be associated with a communist movement seeks to build the revolutionary unity and discipline needed to arrive at a non-authoritarian future. While this has proven tricky in practice and the short term effect on people might be the same, fascist authoritarianism and communist authoritarianism seem quite different when viewed as long term processes.

3. Anti-democratic. Fascism attacked any organization of private interest, such as unions, as threats to the political order under which the person's whole being was to be subsumed (culture raised to the political level). Communist movements have at times been un-democratic as well, but, again, when viewed as a long term process, they are quite different. Fascism sacrifices democracy to perpetuate the political order needed by capitalism; communism creates a political order that can usher in democracy and dissolution the state as an instrument of oppression.

4. Racism and xenophobia. The social anxiety arising from the bourgeois state in crisis lent itself to a definition of the other as a threat to the good political order. You could further that political order by attacking aliens, which helped purify one's own society. Communism can also be sectarian, but in ways that seem in principle to be less destructive.

Communists represent the bourgeoisie as an alien class, but this does not mean the aim is to kill them as people, but only their class, their relation of production. That is, communists aim to expropriate capitalists and convert members of the bourgoisie into wage-earners. While you can't, as Mao once put it, make an omlette without cracking a few eggs, a revolution is very likely to be violent. However, in its course you don't attack on people for what they intrinsically are (their culture or race), but on their social role, which can change withough destroying the person.

Communist movements can also be sectarian in terms of ideology, but I'd pursue a similar argument that while fascism attacks what people intrinsically are, communism attacks only their behavior. The difference is fundamental, for socialism seeks to develop everyone, while fascism excludes or eliminates all but a group that therefore ends being statically pure.

5. Class. Fascism seems historically linked to a crisis of the bourgeoise middle class. Although support might come from some workers as well, the movement seems primarily to arise from a crisis of the middle class. Communism, on the other hand, can also attract members from other classes, such as peasants and middle-class intellectuals, but it is characteristic of the working class, being the only ideology specific to that class. So basically, the movements engage contradictory classes, and so they are socially opposite.

In short, while a narrow focus can find areas in which fascism and communism might share some similarities, a broader and deeper view suggests that they are quite the opposite. It is significant that in historical terms the two movements have been bitter enemies, and this confirms our impression that in terms of principle they are really opposite. differ.

Although the issue of fascism vs. communism might seem at this point in time to be a dead issue, there is some indication that since 1989 it may be reappearing. As a result, there must be a fresh approach if there is to be a useful outcome.

If fascism is defined in empiricist terms, there will always be uncertainty as to whether it remains a concept relevant to contemporary circumstances. To what extent is Bush's Homeland Security proto-fascist? Questions like this can only lead to pointless spitting matches if we try to define fascism simply as a bundle of behaviors, such as the example I have drawn from Alan Bulloch.

A way out of this is to ask whether fascism can be defined in systemic terms. For example, can we define it as a set of strategies designed to cope with capitalist crisis? If so, we can then assess whether the US is sliding toward a fascism, leaving individuals with no viable options to express their private interests. A strike becomes disloyal, un-American. Failing that, the term might perhaps be limited to the WWII era, as a convenient collection of behaviors that arose in that specific historical circumstance.

Socialists and capitalists are not likely to agree over whether to employ an empiricist definition and one that is systemic, for Marxists prefer systemic explanations, while capitalist ideology tends to be empiricist. That is, there's no point in capitalists and workers trying to debate the issue with each other, although I think it is increasingly important that each class itself take the issue more seriously.

The point is not for capitalists and workers to get hung up trying to debate the issue between themselves, but whether we are now witnessing the demise of democracy. Socialists have for so long made an invidious distinction between political democracy (Marx's parliamentary cretanism) and socio-economic democracy that sometimes they underestimate the value of political democracy. The bourgeois state created a poltical commonwealth that at best protected the rights and personal security of its citizens and created a safe arena for their interaction and the manifestation of private interests. Increasingly socialists appreciate the value of these benefits, even if they recognize the bourgeois political commonwealth as very w, as insufficient, and as doomed to failure.

Globalization, U.S. world hegemony, IMF conditionalities, privatization, trade liberalization, the U.S. attack on the U.N., etc. (in short, capitalism), is tending to dissolve bourgeois political commonwealths. Marxists in principle don't simply reject the bourgeois political commonwealth out of hand, but aim to aim to transacend it with something that is better - that not only protects the individual, but at the same time encourages a social development of the individual (which capitalism does not even claim to do).

Rather than get hung up over fascism, we need to decide whether the conditions necessary for a decent life the world over are today under serious threat and if so, devise strategies to preserve and develop these conditions in the future. Whether we use the term fascism to refer to the present trend should not be the center of debate.

Haines Brown