“Strong words were used of him. ‘Fascist beast.’—‘Reactionary cannibal.’— ‘Bourgeois escapist.’”
Evelyn Waugh, Scott-King’s Modern Europe (1947)
If you are not on “the right side of History,” or if you perhaps deny there is any such thing as “History,” these strong words will sooner or later be used of you. This is because the fanatics who will use these strong words believe that History is bearing us, like a mighty Mississippi, to the workers’ paradise that the early communists saw through a glass darkly, and that we would even now be seeing face to face, if it were it not for fascist beasts like you.
Make no mistake, these are strong words that can hurt you more than sticks and stones and broken bones. But if you are not in fact a communist, it is futile to protest that they do not apply to you.
What you must understand is that fascist is a term of art in Marxist theory, and that it describes your relation to the Marxist program of world revolution, and not your relation to the policies of certain infamous political parties that flourished, very briefly, nearly a century ago. In Marxist theory, fascist is simply the name for the enemies of communism, and also for the pathetic dupes who follow these enemies. This is because Marxist theory divides humanity into three classes: communists, fascists, and those who have yet to decide which side they are on. This is nicely illustrated in this diagram from a communist pamphlet that was written to explain the Marxist theory of fascism in 1933.
In Marxist theory, bourgeois capitalism must perish in a “crisis” that it cannot solve with bourgeois institutions like free markets, parliamentary government, and the nation state. The historical purpose of this crisis is to initiate a world revolution that will sweep these and other outdated institutions into the dustbin of history, and that will replace them with modern, by which is meant communist, institutions. Archaic relics like private property, the church, and the family will also go into the dustbin in this revolution of global housecleaning. It is by this world revolution that History will solve the crisis and bear humanity, like a mighty Mississippi, to the worker’s paradise of tomorrow.
To explain why this glorious consummation has yet to happen, Marxist theory states that reactionary elements of the doomed bourgeoise have forestalled the Revolution, and their own liquidation, by turning a multitude of proletarian and petty-bourgeois dupes against History and the communist tomorrow. In the 1920s, Marxist theory began using the word fascist as the name for this reaction of bourgeois holdouts and their dupes. Marxist theory was in particular need of a name because it needed to explain why the Great Imperialist War of 1914-1918, and the Great Capitalist Depression of 1929-1939, had not ignited the world revolution and burned all bourgeois institutions to the ground.
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As I said above, Marxist theory divides humanity in the crisis into three classes: those who have chosen for communism, those who have chosen for fascism, and those who have not yet made up their minds. In the 1930s the last class was principally composed of the petit bourgeoisie, the peasants, and the lumpenproletariat. These were the un-radicalized masses from which the fascists drew their deluded recruits, and the portion of these masses whom the communists could not themselves delude and recruit, the communists sought to inoculate and manipulate with the doctrine of anti-fascism.
The word antifascist first appeared in the 1920s as the name for opponents of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and it thereafter served as a euphemism for communist, and as a means by which communists could inveigle the support, or at least forbearance, of liberals. A liberal was in Marxist theory anyone who “clung” to the old bourgeois institutions, anyone who had not yet decided to move forward into tomorrow as a communist or fascist.
In many instances the name “anti-fascist” served simply as a euphemism for communist. We find communists hiding behind the false whiskers of anti-fascism in 1926, when the U.S. Congress held hearings on the deportation of alien criminals. The law at that time required deportation of any alien sentenced to more than a year’s imprisonment for “moral turpitude,” and “anti-fascist” Italians, being no strangers to moral turpitude, objected that deportation to Mussolini’s Italy amounted to a sentence of “certain death.”* We may suppose they hoped that Americans would feel somewhat greater sympathy for a morally degenerate “anti-fascist” than a morally degenerate communist.
Four years later, in 1930, the word antifascist appeared in Websters unabridged dictionary with other “new words.”
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Anti-fascism became the official doctrine of the Communist party at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. This called for an “anti-fascist people’s front” that would (temporarily) ally communists, liberals, and the peasant parties, in an anti-fascist bloc. The Soviets foresaw their need for assistance in the event of a war with the Fascist powers, and communists everywhere feared the fascists as their natural rivals in recruitment of the undecided masses.
(It must be remembered that communism was by this time nearly a century old, that it had arguably outlived the circumstances of its origins in the early industrial revolution of coal and steam, and that fascism was, in contrast, a shiny new ideology adapted to the age of radios, cinema and the airplane.)
Like the term Judeo-Christian, the anti-fascist people’s front therefore represented the sudden coupling of strange bedfellows who had been, until they so hastily joined each other between the sheets, bitter adversaries.
As a Communist Party organ explained in 1936:
“The success of the entire struggle of the proletariat is closely connected with the establishment of a fighting alliance between the proletariat . . . and the toiling peasantry and the basic mass of the urban petty bourgeoisie . . . . In its agitation, fascism, desirous of winning these masses to its own side, tries to set the toiling masses of the cities and the countryside against the revolutionary proletariat, intimidating the petty bourgeoisie with the bugaboo of the ‘Red danger.’ We must turn the spearpoint in the opposite direction and show the toiling peasants, artisans and toiling intellectuals whence the real danger threatens . . .”**
What this means is that the communists saw fascism as their only real rival for tomorrow. The peasants and their political parties were clearly doomed by the iron laws of economic progress, and likewise the bourgeoise and all their folderol of liberal institutions. But this did not mean that these moribund powers could not be put to work making the world safe for communism. And that was the purpose of the anti-fascist people’s front.
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The United States was of course welcome in the anti-fascist people’s front, and it was doubly welcome to spend its blood and treasure in the great war to make the world safe for communism; but no communist saw the United States as a fundamentally anti-fascist country. Although very rich and powerful, America was ideologically backwards, wedded to the bourgeois political and economic institutions of the nineteenth century, and a redoubt of the doomed bourgeoise, free markets and parliamentary government.
Sooner or later the United States would therefore have to decide for communism or fascism, and Marxist theory said that the patriotic Americans we now call right-liberals were already well down the road to fascism. Here is from the 1933 communist pamphlet I quoted above.
“It is a peculiarity of the development of American fascism that at the present stage it appears principally in the guise of an opposition to fascism, which it accuses of being an ‘un-American’ tendency . . . . American fascism tries to portray itself as the custodian of the constitution and ‘American democracy.’ It does not yet represent a directly menacing force. But if it succeeds in penetrating to the broad masses who have become disillusioned with the old bourgeois parties, it may become a serious menace in the very near future.”
This patriotic right-liberalism is what the International Communist Party later denounced as “American exceptionalism,” by which they meant the nonsensical doctrine that the United States could be anti-fascist and anti-communist at the same time. We see here the grounds for declaring America a fascist country as soon as it had served its purpose of pouring blood and treasure into the anti-fascist people’s front and making the world safe for communism.
To prepare the United States for its eventual conversion to communism, the communists proposed formation of a left-liberal American labor party—a party of the working class, or the “little guy. The booklet I have been quoting calls it a “mass party of toilers” and says it should “be set up in opposition to the parties of the trusts and the banks, and likewise to growing fascism.” This American labor party would “be neither socialist or communist,” but it would prepare America for communism by placing class conflict at the center of American politics. And above all else,
“It must be an anti-fascist party.”
In Marxist theory a right-liberal is a proto-fascist and a left liberal is a proto-communist, and in the case of right-liberals there may be nothing proto about it. This is why men who lost limbs at Normandy and Iwo Jima could later be denounced as fascist beasts. The epithet described their relation to the Marxist program of world revolution and not their relation to the policies of certain infamous political parties that flourished, very briefly, nearly a century ago.
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In Marxist theory, anyone who is not a communist is, or may very easily become, a fascist. A fascist is, after all, nothing more than a decided anti-communist or counterrevolutionary. If you are not a communist or a proto-communist, you must be a fascist or a proto-fascist. It makes no difference what you think about the policies of certain infamous political parties. Like Scott-King, you will be in any and every case denounced as a fascist beast, a reactionary cannibal, and a bourgeois escapist.
The term anti-fascist (antifa) meanwhile remains a set of false whiskers for communists, and a means to hoodwink well-meaning left-liberals into joining the revolutionary movement, as junior partners, to make the world safe for communism.
*) Deportation of Alien Criminals, Gunmen, Narcotic Dealers, Defectives, etc, (Washington: G.P.O., 1926).
**) Strategy and Tactics of the Proletarian Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1936).