Racism, Nazism and fighting fascism

There is a loss of clarity every time the terms 'fascist', 'Nazi', and 'racist' are used interchangeably. Furthermore, these terms risk dissolving into the vague, purely pejorative, term applied to any form of dictatorship, or even to anything that is disliked by the left. In the introduction to the Communist manifesto, Marx derided the use of the word 'communist' as a general term of abuse. These three words seem to be heading the same way. For the sake of understanding history and accurately locating present dangers 'fascist', 'Nazi' and racist' need to be rescued and if possible returned to more exact meanings. Fascism takes its name from the fasces: a bundle of twelve rods, bound around an axe, which was used as a symbol of authority in the Roman empire. The term and the symbol were adopted by Benito Mussolini, and became the banner of the Fascist party, formed in 1921, which was to become all powerful in Italy. The underlying political doctrine is difficult to explain, because it was a mixture of so many different elements and contained much which was irrational or even anti-rational. It relied on the absolute centralisation of power. No one man can administer an entire nation, but Mussolini came as close as he could, taking control of individual government department after department in addition to his official role as prime minister. He was il Duce, the leader, and around him was the Fascist Grand Council. Stretching beyond that, all under his direct authority, was a sprawling party mechanism which reached into every aspect of Italian life. It was corrupt, inefficient ... but murderous. Interestingly, though, it was initially regarded with tolerance by the other European imperial powers and their bourgeois intellectuals. Their view has condensed over time into the now notorious claim that Mussolini "made the trains run on time"�: a task he accomplished through a programme of physical terror and shootings. Nevertheless, he was regarded as preferable to the chaos and paralysis of the existing liberal democracy in Italy. Central to fascism was the destruction of the independent labour movement. Unions were crushed, and reformed into professional organisations within the state controlled 'corporative system'. In the process, they became the opposite of what they had been: a means of maintaining state power over workers, rather than asserting the power of workers against existing society. National chauvinism The nationalism and anti-working class ideology of the fascists stood in stark contrast to Mussolini's background. The young Benito was an outspoken revolutionary socialist, and referred to himself as an 'anti-patriot'. He was the editor of several socialist journals, and a leading figure in the Italian Socialist Party. World War I marked his transition into a full blown national chauvinist and soon a determined counterrevolutionary. Nazism is a particular German form of fascism. The word 'Nazi' is an Orwellian contraction of 'national socialist'. The National Socialist German Worker's Party was one of many similar, tiny groups which sprang up in Germany during the troubled, liberal Weimar republic established after German imperialism's defeat in World War I. Adolf Hitler was a young corporal and highly decorated for an NCO. His early political thinking seems to have been ardently nationalist, and vaguely anti-communist, but extremely confused. In Mein Kampf (my struggle) he claims that initially he despised the anti-semitism of much of the German nationalist press, being opposed to the division of Germans by religion. Later, he was to embrace a hatred of the jews with a passion to which history bears tragic testament. National socialism is yet harder to describe than Mussolini's fascism. At its heart was an apparent fixation with the 'volk', a word rendered in English as 'people' but without the curious intensity of the original. Hitler wrote that while the liberal was concerned with the individual, and the communist with humanity, the national socialist fought for the rights of the volk. A bizarre Nazi pseudo-science categorised the world into a hierarchy of races: the 'aryans' at the pinnacle, the slavs, blacks, gypsies and jews at the bottom: but little of this or any other Nazi doctrine was supported by any hard evidence. The Nazis aimed to build an ideology and identity to which they could enslave minds, which had sufficient dark, psychological appeal. To this end, they created a syncretism which included everything from the music of Wagner to revived Odinism. As the name of the movement suggests, the economic programme of the Nazis was initially superficially leftist. The hatred of the jews was intensified by their association with German capital: a propaganda ploy which was lent a veneer of plausibility by the prosperity of some jewish families in the German middle and ruling classes when so many suffered grinding poverty. Gregor Strasser, at one time Hitler's rival for the leadership of the Nazi party, considered himself a revolutionary socialist. He bitterly opposed Hitler's attempts to win the backing of German capital for the party, and was finally killed by the Gestapo in 1934. Suppression As the Italian fascists had done, the Nazis ruthlessly suppressed the communist and independent labour movements. Capital under the Hitler Reich operated in a weirdly controlled way, but continued to exercise essentially the same form of economic exploitation of the working class as it had done under the republic. While the bourgeoisie had to cope with Hitler's randomly draconian decrees, which for instance at one point simply banned the laying off of workers, any independent working class organisation to oppose capital was crushed. There can be no question that Nazi ideology was racist in the purest sense, but Mussolini's fascists in Italy only slowly adopted their anti-semitism, and then under the greatest pressure from Hitler himself. Neither is every form of racism equivalent to Nazism. British colonialism excused slavery and conquest on the basis of a vague racism. The US slavocracy systematised a pseudo-science of race. Till recently Australia regulated inward migration according to racist categories and criteria. The close association of Italian fascism and German Nazism lies mainly in World War II. Mussolini committed Italy to support Germany, forming the 'axis'. Moreover, there can be no question that Hitler admired Mussolini during his early career, even visiting him before finally achieving power. It is also clear that the men recognised some common purpose in their regimes. However, it is worth noting that other fascists in Europe, notably Franco in Spain who both Italy and Germany had helped into power, never joined the axis. All these regimes had separate, and sometimes conflicting, nationalist programmes. The real connection lies in the similarities surrounding both the Italian fascist and the German Nazi ascent to power. The Russian 1917 revolution inspired the workers' movement throughout Europe. In Spain, Germany, and Italy, unstable parliamentary democracies were facing huge pressure from both sides: both reactionary and communist. There was also hyper inflation and mass unemployment. A revolutionary situation presented itself, and the attempt to establish stable capitalist states on the British model floundered. Fearing for its survival, the ruling class turned to ultra-reactionary movements. Using unofficial fighting formations - recruited from the petty bourgeoisie, lumpen proletariat and the socially dislocated - such a movement could violently crush its opponents on the streets. So fascism is counterrevolution of a particular sort. Counterrevolution which comes to power through a combination of mobilising mass discontent and physical force. Once in power fascism rids itself of its plebeian fighting formations, integrates them into the state machine and operates as a bureaucratic dictatorship along the lines of bonapartism. Fascism, whatever its particular national name or path of evolution, is therefore the antithesis of the revolutionary movement: a very direct opposite, almost a reflection, and ultimately an alternative future to communism if the working class is defeated. It is not accidental that Mussolini was previously a socialist, or that the Nazis initially invoked the name of socialism. Their movements thrive on conditions which pose the socialist revolution point blank. Modern In modern Europe, these conditions do not yet exist. The ruling classes will not risk the arbitrariness, volatility and gross inefficiency of such regimes unless their only other option is extinction. Hence the BNP - formerly a motley sect of Hitler worshipers and racist thugs - is busily reinventing itself under Nick Griffin. Like its counterparts on the European mainland stiff arm salutes, random violence and skinheads have given way to suits, cultural politics and the search for electoral popularity. Some of their leadership doubtless see themselves as dictatorial leaders in waiting, but their activists are still chiefly badly educated and economically insecure individuals looking for a sense of belonging in the myths of British commonality. No wonder then that the BNP is opportunist even in its racism. At one time, it offered guarded support to Arab nationalists on the grounds that they were enemies of Israel and thus were seen as allies in the anti-semitic cause. Now they run an overtly 'anti-islam' campaign to capitalise on the current tensions. They also appointed a half-Turkish 'ethnic liaison' officer to win support from some other groups, such as the hindus, for their opposition to islamic Arabs. Both Mussolini's fascism and Hitler's national socialism arose from the failure of revolution. Their primary aim, dressed in whatever sado-masochistic inspired uniforms and salutes, was the crushing of the working class. The racism of the Nazis, though inexpressibly vile, was neither their raison d'etre nor the cause of their seizure of power. No anti-racist movement will defeat them should they rise into a national force: only the revolutionary working class. In the meantime, we must protect our fellow workers of all races from lies, intimidation and attack, but not waste our time feeding BNP delusions of importance. Manny Neierra