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Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
- Henry Adams



Is it "Fascist" or Not? - Definitions and Realities


Alan Spector


I don't use the term "fascism" to describe all forms of "authoritarianism." But many forms of "authoritarianism" might actually be more similar underneath than might otherwise be apparent. Particularly if they are tied to a fundamental structural crisis of advanced capitalism.

Most generalized concepts that we use started out as one example with some characteristics particular to that specific event/process and other characteristics that can be found in similar, although not identical situations/events/processes. Trying to generalize into a concept that can help provide explanatory power across many seemingly different situations requires avoiding what methodologists dryly call: Type One and Type Two errors.

Concerning defining fascism: At one extreme there are those, like a professor I once knew of, who said that the term "fascism" should only be applied to Mussolini's party and regime. Franco of Spain was not a fascist, technically speaking, but rather a clerical arch-conservative. Even the Nazi regime in Germany should not be called "fascist" because it wasn't part of Mussolini's party and regime. At the other extreme might be a young man who is angry that his automobile was towed from an illegal parking place or who is prevented from driving a vehicle while drunk, and who complains that "This is another example of fascism taking over the society." If that is too ludicrous, one might consider some of the objections to government sponsored medical immunizations, or complaints that affirmative action programs or (from a different political perspective) that Gminor13 chords loudly played on a Les Paul electric guitar are inherently "fascist."

Ironically (or dialectically) the two opposite extremes can produce similar outcomes. Calling everything "fascist" can trivialize the reality that for many people, the "fascism" that they are experiencing can be much less intense than the "fascism" that someone else is experiencing. By equating all situations, it opens the door to not taking seriously the effects of intense, full-blown fascism. It might, as others pointed out, cause someone to let "business as usual liberal democracy" off the hook for all its brutality, since it could escape the label of fascism and therefore be made to seem benign. But, the narrow definition can also result in letting the routinely violent "business as usual liberal democracy" off the hook by claiming that the overwhelming danger comes from a so-called "Ultra-Right" that is separate from the centers of power in capitalist society.

One can certainly choose to adopt the first, extremely narrow perspective described above, and maintain consistency. But what we lose is the opportunity to learn from the experience of fascist Italy in order to be able to evaluate processes that may be unfolding now and in the future. One can say that something has "fascist characteristics" (as an adjective), without saying that it is "inherently Fascist." Personally, I find it useful to utilize a the somewhat broader definition of fascism, while acknowledging the danger of trivialization that others have pointed out.

Let me just give a few concrete examples. I do not think it is just an "accident" or a "fashion" that the "pleasurable, joyous destruction of vulnerable people" has become more acceptable, not just to the public, but to the centers of power who are now quite happy to take their profits from these dehumanized productions (with an occasional "cluck-cluck" of disapproval from "cultural conservatives" such as Tipper Gore, William Bennett or Pat Robertson), just as many of the "respectable-mainstream" centers of banking power profit from the cocaine trade which they also sometimes seem to try to suppress. I do not think it is an accident that a culture of "get rich quick" and an embracing of primitive mysticism including fatalism is becoming more respectable.

I don't believe "heavy metal rock music" or dehumanized, sexually degrading television shows are a plot by the "Trilateral Commission" to brainwash the United States population so that they will accept a Hitler. But on the other hand, I don't believe that it is simply and completely coming spontaneously from the desires and ideas of the grassroots population. I believe that they are tied to a fundamental crisis which has many similarities to the kinds of crises that created the foundations and reinforced many of those societies which we call "fascist." So trying to understand how these developments might be indications of a developing fascism, as well as reinforcements of a developing fascism is a worthwhile endeavor. Does fascism have to have a popular culture of public sexual humiliation? No. But does the increasing promotion of that kind of popular culture reinforce trends that can lead towards fascism? Maybe, just as its seeming opposite, extreme Puritanism, can reinforce fascism.

So that's one of the ways, and there are many others, where I find value in using a somewhat broader definition, but trying to use it as a viable concept rather than just as an epithet.

Furthermore, one can also use the term "fascist" in an even broader sense, I suppose, if something in more agrarian societies (which nevertheless are tied to the world economy) or for that matter, something in "liberal bourgeois democratic mainstream society" has aspects that resonate with fascist practices. For example, police state practices in low income black neighborhood, or creating fascism in other countries. In that sense, using the term can help reveal that there is a lot of fascism going on within so-called "liberal bourgeois democratic mainstream society" - which is a point consistent with the points made by many others.

The above article is taken from an internet posting, but has been slightly abridged by the author who can be contacted at



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