May 6, 2007

Two Ways of Looking at Fascism

This essay is a work in progress. It is an attempt to synthesize two different theoretical approaches that have significantly influenced my thinking about fascism.

Excerpt from Introduction:

...Unlike most leftist discussions, this essay offers a concept of fascism that speaks to its double-edged reality -- bolstering oppression and tyranny but also tapping into real popular grievances and overturning old conventions and forms of rule. To do this, I bring together two distinct but complementary approaches. First, I draw on a minority current within Marxist thought that emphasizes fascism's contradictory relationship with the capitalist class. As a movement or a regime, fascism attacks the left and defends class exploitation but also pursues an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. Since the 1920s, several independent Marxists have analyzed fascism along these lines, notably August Thalheimer, Tim Mason, Mihaly Vajda, Don Hamerquist, and J. Sakai.

These writers are strong in analyzing fascism's class politics -- its relationship with capital and other class forces, its roots in capitalist crisis, and its impact on the socioeconomic order. They are weaker in discussing fascist ideology, which is important for positioning fascism within the political right and for understanding why people -- sometimes millions of people -- are attracted to fascist movements. To address these issues, I draw on the work of Roger Griffin, a non-leftist scholar who has done pathbreaking work on fascist ideology over the past two decades. Griffin treats fascism as a form of revolutionary nationalism that attacks both the left and liberal capitalist values, an approach that resonates strongly with some of the most promising leftist discussions of fascism. Griffin's focus on ideology neglects fascism's structural dimensions but offers a helpful complement to a class-centered analysis.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I don't know if you're aware of David Neiwert, but you might be interested to read some of his work. He's a Seattle journalist specializing in right-wing extremism in America, and has written quite a lot on the subject of fascism on his blog, Orcinus.

Neiwert calls the authoritarian phenomenon in America "pseudo fascism", and has written a series of articles on the subject called "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" (which is also available as a PDF here). Part 2, The Architecture of Fascism is particularly relevant to the the traditional definitions of fascism you explore in your article.

Two scholars of fascism that Neiwert keeps reflecting upon are Robert Paxton and Roger Griffin, so the following two google searches of his site might be of interest to you as well: 1, 2

Finally, Neiwert has an older, but equally interesting series that covers some similar ground called Rush, Newspeak and Fascism (also available as a PDF here)

Frank Partisan said...

I disagree with your definition of fascism.

Fascism involves the total annihilation of the revolutionary and progressive movement. Under fascism a blog like this would be underground. We still have bourgeiose democracy.

If Bush is fascist, are liberal Democrats are savior?

At my blog my team member Marie Trigona from Argentina, is an anarchist. I hope you'll visit.


Matthew N Lyons said...

Anonymous, thanks for the tip about David Neiwert's work. I've read a little of his stuff but should take another look. From what I remember, he seemed to draw much more on Paxton's approach than Griffin's.

Renegade Eye, I'm not sure who or what you are disagreeing with. I agree with you that fascism tries to smash the revolutionary left, and that it's a serious mistake to describe the current U.S. system as fascist (partly because that claim often fosters illusions in the Democratic Party). See my essay "Is the Bush Administration Fascist?"

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how you think the work of Alfred Sohn-Rethel figures into your framework. His writings were influential within STO when it began assessing the nature of fascism in the late 70's. I'd love to hear your take on his stuff, especially in the context of your "two ways of looking at fascism."