From: Haines Brown <>
Subject: Re: The only difference between Communism and Fascism
Newsgroups: alt.politics.communism
Message-ID: <>
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 revised]

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. The association of communism and fascism seems a relic of Cold War anti-communism and has less relevance today because (unfortunately) there is apparently no longer a generalized abhorrence of fascism and also because the model of communism was then Stalin's Soviet Union. So the question necessarily forces us to employ useful and agreed upon definitions of both fascism and communism. That is not here the case. So first let me reflect a little upon the meaning of the word fascism.

The term fascism in origin referred 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: the Latin word fasces meant 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 was slight and imperial politics did not much impinge on people's lives. Today must go beyond a purely political definition such as a lack of 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 experience of fascism.

Given that the historical origins of the term offer little help, I suggest that there are left probably two approaches to arriving at a definition: a) List features that are common to fascist regimes and on that basis offer an empiricist definition. Or, to avoid the circularity implied here, b) a systemic definition that represents fascism as a phase of prevailing (capitalist) system dynamics.

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 suits 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 characterizations 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 can be 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, communists and fascists seem opposite in this respect.

2. Authoritarian. While both communist movements and bourgeois regimes can be authoritarian, there seems to me 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 in principle 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 well be the same, fascist authoritarianism and communist authoritarianism seem opposite 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 governments or 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 the ultimate dissolution the state as an instrument of oppression. Failures in practice to achieve this goal should not obscure the fundamental difference by definition.

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 bourgeoisie into wage-earners. While you can't, as Mao once put it, make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, a revolution is very likely to be violent. However, in its course you don't attack people for what they intrinsically are (their culture or race), but for their social role, which can change without 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 pure and therefore parochial, static.

5. Class. Fascism seems historically linked to a crisis of the bourgeoisie. Although it might enjoy some support from workers as well, the movement primarily arises from a crisis of the middle class and in fact depended primarily on the support of capitalists in Germany and the U.S. Hitler never had the support of most of the working class (he was not elected chancellor). Communism might also appeal to various classes, such as peasants and middle-class intellectuals, but it is characteristically working class, being the only ideology specific to that class.

Basically, therefore, socialism is working class and fascism is bourgeois. So the movements primarily engage contradictory classes and so are opposite in social terms.

In short, while a narrow focus can find areas in which fascism and communism might have a few 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 principle they are really quite different.

Although the issue of fascism vs. communism might seem irrelevant today, there is some indication that since 1989 capitalism is moving again in that directory as its contradictions deepen. If so, we need a fresh look at it if we hope to escape repeating the tragedies of the past.

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 collection of typical behaviors, such as the example I have drawn from Alan Bulloch.

An alternative is to ask whether fascism can be adequately defined in systemic terms. For example, can we define it as a set of strategies designed to cope with capitalist crisis? We could then assess whether the U.S. is sliding toward a fascism, leaving individuals with no viable options to express their private interests. For example, a strike becomes disloyal, un-American. Otherwise, the term fascism is perhaps best limited to the World War II era, as a behavior peculiar to that specific historical circumstance.

Socialists and capitalists are not likely to agree over whether to employ an empiricist definition or one that is systemic and dynamic. Marxists prefer the latter, while capitalist ideology tends to be empiricist. That is, there's no point in capitalists trying to debate workers over the issue, although I think it is increasingly important that each class study it more seriously in its own terms.

The point is whether we are now witnessing the demise of democracy, which is as undesirable for capitalists as it would be for workers. Socialists have for so long made an invidious distinction between political democracy (Marx's parliamentary cretanism) and socio-economic (real) democracy that sometimes they underestimate the value of the former. The bourgeois state created a political 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 their private interests. Increasingly socialists appreciate the value of these political benefits, even if they also recognize the bourgeois political commonwealth to be shallow and destined to fail.

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 its own bourgeois political commonwealths. Marxists should not reject in principle these political commonwealths out of hand, but aim rather to transcend them with something that is better—that not only protects the individual, ensures social reproduction, but also encourages a social development of the individual (which capitalism does not even claim to do).

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