Michael Warby: Fascism and the Left

Michael Warby’s essay on ‘Fascism and the Left’ (Quadrant, May 2008, Volume LII, Number 5) addresses a long-standing pre-occupation of political ‘conservatives’: how to respond to the accusation ‘Fascist!’. This has found one of its most recent expressions in the form of a book by Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday, 2008).

At first glance, Liberal Fascism sounds like an extended remix of a Tory undergraduate response to the biting remarks of a Leninist cadre: “I know you are, but what am I?”. In a scathing review for The Nation (Conservative Cannibalism, February 21, 2008), Eric Alterman writes that “It’s a rare book, indeed, that can be fairly judged by its cover, but I really do think that a smiley face with a Hitler mustache tells you all you will ever need to know about Liberal Fascism“.

Naturally, the book became a No.1 bestseller.

To his er, credit, Warby’s review tries very hard to take Goldberg’s thesis seriously. “But, a small voice asks, is it true? Is fascism really a “left-wing” movement? Are modern US liberals “nice” fascists, as Goldberg alleges? No, no and no.”

And ah, no.

Actually, the proposition that ‘Fascism’ is a ‘leftist’ ideology is hardly novel. Thus while Alterman notes that “I see from my own ten seconds of Googling that cult leader Lyndon LaRouche beat Goldberg to this argument by five years with an essay titled “How Liberalism Created Fascism,” published by his presidential committee”, 70 years ago the council communist Otto Rühle argued that ‘The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the Struggle Against Bolshevism’:

Russia must be placed first among the new totalitarian states. It was the first to adopt the new state principle. It went furthest in its application. It was the first to establish a constitutional dictatorship, together with the political and administrative terror system which goes with it. Adopting all the features of the total state, it thus became the model for those other countries which were forced to do away with the democratic state system and to change to dictatorial rule. Russia was the example for fascism.

It’s also worth keeping in mind Bakunin’s words of warning, written in 1866 (and expanded upon in subsequent writings on the intellectual class), regarding the potential impact of the Marxian conception of revolution. Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Robert Borofsky (Intellectuals and the Responsibilities of Public Life, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Robert Borofsky, Public Anthropology, May 27, 2001):

RB: Ivan Illich has talked about “disabling professions” – or really disabling professionals – who systematically disempower others through their claims to expertise. To what degree do you perceive elite experts, and more broadly academics, being a “new class” of apparatchiks who function to reinforce rather than challenge the status quo in America?

NC: That intellectuals, including academics, would become a “new class” of technocrats, claiming the name of science while cooperating with the powerful, was predicted by Bakunin in the early days of the formation of the modern intelligentsia in the 19th century. His expectations were generally confirmed, including his prediction that some would seek to gain state power on the backs of popular revolution, then constructing a “Red bureaucracy” that would be one of the worst tyrannies in history, while others would recognize that power lies elsewhere and would serve as its apologists, becoming mystifiers, “disablers,” and managers while demanding the right to function in “technocratic isolation,” in World Bank lingo.

I would, however, question the implication that there is some novelty in this beyond modalities, which naturally change as institutions change and develop. Isaiah Berlin described the intellectuals of Bakunin’s “Red bureaucracy” as a “secular priesthood,” not unlike the religious priesthood that performed similar functions in earlier times – functions described acidly by Pascal in his bitter rendition of the practices of the Jesuit intellectuals he despised, including their demonstration of “the utility of interpretation,” a device of manufacturing consent based on reinterpretation of sacred texts to serve wealth, power, and privilege. Berlin’s observation is accurate enough, and applies at home as well, and even more harshly for the reasons already mentioned: the apparatchiks and commissars could at least plead fear in extenuation.

In any case, Warby’s principal aim, aside from responding to Goldberg’s argument and to more closely examine the relationship between ‘right’ and ‘left’, is to safeguard the virtue of what he calls ‘Anglo-American conservatism’, and to ensure that the “liberal-conservative alliance” remains a sticky relationship. This makes a great deal of sense considering the role of Quadrant as a forum for the articulation of this ideology in the Australian context (although the alliance risks being permanently ruptured within the parliamentary wing by the eradication of its minority ‘liberal’ faction).

Part of the glue of the liberal-conservative alliance is an overlapping belief that there are real limits to what one can expect politics to do and that it is dangerous to go beyond those limits—on the grounds that the state is potentially dangerous; that political mechanisms are of limited effectiveness; that salvation is entirely a religious matter, not a political one. To accuse people whose politics is grounded in a sense of the limitations of politics as being “fascist” is to show either that you do not understand fascism, or that you do not understand liberal-conservatives, or that you do not care whether there is any truth to your rhetoric.

On this basis, one can view the Thatcher (1979–1990) and Reagan (1981–1989) governments as ‘conservative’, not ‘fascist’, even if they embraced ‘change’ in the name of ‘freedom’: “Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were proponents of change, but proponents who wished to decrease, rather than increase, reliance on political mechanisms in support of a strong commitment to freedom. Merely advocating change does not place you on the Left.”

This is correct, insofar as the changes being proposed and carried out do not concern institutions considered as being fundamental to contemporary capitalist society (‘Western Civilization’). The references to ‘political mechanisms’ and ‘freedom’ can of course be read, in practice, as constituting the dismantling of the welfare state and the “political mechanisms” via which the general population are theoretically able to hold corporate power, and capital generally, to some form of public account. In short, the death of ‘social democracy’.

In Warby’s view, Goldberg has in fact written two books, one silly, one sensible: “The sensible and useful book shows how much fascism (including Nazism) had Left roots and how much more overlap modern progressivism (such as contemporary US liberalism) has with fascism than fascism has with Anglo-American conservatism… The silly and distracting book is the one trying to show US liberalism as largely of the same broad political movement as the various fascisms and therefore a form of fascism and the heir of fascism.”

What’s Left, What’s Right

THE MATTER TURNS on what fascism is and what makes something “of the Left”. Goldberg’s answer is based on fascism as a manifestation of the broad (and Left) movement of politics as a secular religion seeking unity by remaking society. As part of this, Goldberg has ultimately a simple categorisation of politics. Fascism is collectivist (true), the Left is collectivist (true), therefore fascism is of the Left… Goldberg wraps this in a larger argument about politics-as-secular-salvation involving deification of the state being inherently leftist, and a characteristic of fascism, hence fascism is leftist…

How do we define the Left? Being Left involves a commitment to change—that is, a rejection of the past: the more complete the rejection, the more Left you are. It involves a commitment that this change be delivered politically: the more encompassing the use of political mechanisms (and the political mechanisms one is willing to use) the more Left you are. It also involves a commitment to equality: the more complete the commitment to equality, the more Left you are. So a revolutionary socialist engages in a near total rejection of the past, is willing to use any political mechanism, if judged to be effective, to politicise all aspects of society, and is committed to as complete equality as is practicable…

So, can we envisage a collectivism that is not Left? Easily. One that is not based on rejection of the past and does not have equality as its prime public value. That would be fascism, then. So is fascism clearly “right-wing”?

If “Right” is the political opposite of “Left” then to be Right is to have no particular commitment to change—that is, not reject the past: the less you reject the past, the more Right you are. It involves some level of scepticism, or even hostility to political mechanisms: the more sceptical, the more Right you are. It involves rejecting the primacy of equality: the more you reject the primacy of equality, the more Right you are.

So an extreme right-winger wants as little change as possible, is highly sceptical about political mechanisms and is committed to something other than the primacy of equality. The last being the problem with talking about “the Right” since a range of values can be held to be not trumped by equality—such as liberty, authority, order, religion—and in almost any arrangement (such as including serious commitment to equality)…

To be continued…

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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6 Responses to Michael Warby: Fascism and the Left

  1. Lorenzo says:

    Jonah Goldberg replied to me (twice) and I have replied to his reply here:

    I alerted him to it, but no response so far.

  2. @ndy says:

    Thanks for the link.

  3. THR says:

    I think there’s been a concerted effort in recent years to convince punters of the truth of a highly revisionist thesis (i.e. fascism generally, and Nazism specifically, were/are ‘leftist’). A whole range of spurious arguments are trotted out to defend this thesis, most of them too stupid or dishonest to be worth mentioning. Goldberg’s book appears to be the nadir of this campaign.

    The other points you raise, regarding the totalitarian tendencies of Marxist revolution are interesting, but I don’t believe that the Bolsheviks/USSR could, at any time, have genuinely been considered fascist, although certain periods of Stalinism had obvious parallels with fascism. Even if we grant that the USSR was fascist, it certainly never arose from liberalism, since Russia has never been particularly democratic. This is one of the key distinctions between communist and fascist regimes, IMO – the former tended to come to power by revolution, in pre-industrial countries, and by overthrowing brutal, autocratic regimes. Fascist regimes came to power in the decaying democracies of industrial Europe.

    Whether a ‘Marxian conception of revolution’ is inherently undemocratic/authoritarian seems contentious, to me. The idea of Soviets is essentially democratic, even if the Bolsheviks decided that, in the end, they wouldn’t give ‘all power’ to them.

  4. @ndy says:

    I think you’re right about there being a campaign to identify fascism with leftism. Much of the evidence offered for this is fairly superficial. Nevertheless, insofar as totalitarian regimes of one sort or another appear to have been the product of a range of ostensibly emancipatory political projects, there is a case to be answered.

    On Marxism and totalitarianism:

    It’s obviously possible to produce a variety of readings of Marx, and of the Marxist tradition. My own sympathies lie with the more ‘libertarian’ interpretations, such as they are, and such as they are made possible by his work (and that of his epigones). For example, Karl Korsch was referred to as ‘A Marxist Friend of Anarchism’; various thinkers associated with Western Marxism have produced useful insights; recent decades have witnessed a re-invigoration of the concept of political autonomy, and a re-appraisal of the relationship between (generally-derided) micro-political processes and the macro- or more properly ‘political’ political.

    ‘Ten Theses on Marxism Today’ by Karl Korsch, originally published in Telos, Winter 1975/6, and ‘Karl Korsch: A Marxist Friend of Anarchism’, originally published in Red & Black, No.5, 1973. On Karl Korsch, see Douglas Kellner, editor, Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory, University of Texas Press, Austin & London, 1974 [PDF]).

    Moar later…

  5. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah.

    So: ‘Marxist revolution’. Something relevant I transcribed earlier in another thread:

    On March 5, 1852, Karl Marx wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer, who published in New York Die Revolution, a periodical of uncertain frequency, because of financial difficulties, like most of the socialist journals of the time. It was for Weydemeyer’s journal that Marx was finishing, in those rainy days at the end of the London winter, his articles on the Eighteenth Brumaire, which were to appear in an issue of Die Revolution under the title slightly altered by Weydemeyer — Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon, instead of Bonaparte — published at the Deutsche Vereins-Buchhandlung von Schmidt und Helmich, at 191 William Street.

    So, on that March day in 1852, Karl Marx was writing to Weydemeyer. Two days before, he had received five pounds sent him by Frederick Engels, from Manchester. The Marx family must have eaten more or less their fill that week, after paying off their most pressing debts to the grocer and doctor. Now Karl Marx glanced out of the window of his flat. He looked absent-mindedly over at the narrow doorway of the building across the street. He saw nothing of particular interest. Indeed, there wasn’t anything of particular interest at that time: the film company had not yet moved in. He went down to sit at his desk. In his almost indecipherable writing, he wrote the date at the top right-hand corner of the sheet of paper. Under the date, he added his address, 28 Dean street, Soho, London.

    It was in this letter to Joseph Weydemeyer that Marx explained his own contribution to the theory of classes and of the class struggle. After admitting that bourgeois historians had already described the historical development of this class struggle, and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of classes, Marx went on to explain what was new in his contribution: was ich neu tat. ‘What I did that was new was to prove: 1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.’

    This is an extremely well-known passage, one that has been interpreted this way and that, which generations of learned commentators have dissected, which brilliant polemicists have thrown in one another’s faces for over a century. And yet one can still come back to it. It still provides matter for reflection. One can still find something new in it: etwas Neues.

    What, then, is the contribution that Marx declares he has made in this theory, at the concrete level of history and of the class struggles that make history? It is to have shown (or demonstrated: Marx uses the verb nachweisen, which may be interpreted in both senses; but in both senses it is used wrongly by Marx, who never showed or demonstrated what he advanced, as we shall see) a certain number of points.

    Let us leave to one side the first, that concerning the historicity of the very existence of classes. This question belongs to a philosophy of history with which I am not concerned for the moment. The idea that mankind, in order to pass from a classless society, to that of primitive Communism, to another society of the same kind, but in a developed form, swimming in the butter of abundance, is destined to go through a long historical purgatory of ruthless, indecisive class struggles — always producing, moreover, real effects different from those that Marxist theoreticians, beginning in this case with Marx himself, had foreseen — such an idea leaves me completely cold. It no longer excites anybody, the idea that there was once, and that therefore there will be again, in the depths of history, ideal idyllic societies, communities without states. I am well aware that to set this idea, expressed concisely enough in Marx’s first point, to one side is somewhat arbitrary. I am well aware that the sub-Hegelian philosophy of history that underlies the idea contained in Marx’s first point also underlies the other two points. But one may, nevertheless, for purely methodological reasons, exclude this first point from our present analysis, temporarily bracket it out.

    Whatever one may think, therefore, of the question of the historicity, of the relativity of classes, it is easy to see that the next two points listed by Marx do not belong to historical science — if science it be — but to prediction. Or even to prophetic teaching. That the class struggle should necessarily lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat is no more than a hypothesis, perhaps a pious wish. But neither the hypothesis nor the pious wish has been verified or fulfilled anywhere by real history. The dictatorship of the proletariat, in the Marxist sense, has never existed anywhere. A century after Marx’s letter to Weydemeyer, it still hasn’t come about.

    At this point, of course, I can hear the indignant cries from the distinguished Marxists at the back of the hall. (There are only two or three fools in the whole world who haven’t realized that when one writes, one always puts oneself on public display, whether one likes it or not. And if one is putting oneself on public display, one can imagine the hall in which it takes place.)

    The Marxists all squawk at once.

    ‘What about the Paris Commune?’ someone yells out. I was waiting for that one. In a tone suggesting that nothing more is to be said on that matter, someone quotes Frederick Engels: ‘Well, gentlemen, do you want to know what a dictatorship is like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Well, gentlemen, look at the Paris Commune, but look at it carefully. You will see some very fascinating, very instructive things, but you will never see the dictatorship of the proletariat. Forget Engels and the high-flown words with which, twenty years after the events, he ends his introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, forget Engels’s literary fabulations, come back to the harsh truths of history, and you will not find the dictatorship of the proletariat. Read the writings of the period, beginning, of course, with the contemporary accounts of the sessions of the Commune itself, and you will see that the attempted coup of the Paris Communards, at once grandiose and pitiful, heroic and petty, seeped in a just vision of society and shot through with the most confused ideologies, has got nothing to do with the dictatorship of proletariat.

    But I am not allowed to continue my demonstration (Nachweisung, Marx would say: yet I have the advantage over him of speaking with my back to history, of trying to explain it; I have no need to fantasize, and can therefore demonstrate, or show, what history has demonstrated). I am interrupted: voices rise up on all sides.

    Very well, I shall continue at another time, perhaps in another place. But above the din of Marxist voices, I shall say just a few words, even if I have to raise my voice, on Marx’s third point, namely, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a mere transition — a state that would be already an antistate — toward a classless society, toward the suppression of all classes.

    Here, too, we are confronted with a mere postulate: a petitio principii. Real history has demonstrated — nachgewiesen — quite the contrary. It has shown the continual, implacable reinforcement of the state, the brutal exacerbation of the struggle between the classes, which not only have not been suppressed, but, on the contrary, have crystallized still further in their polarization. Beside the veritable civil war unleashed against the peasantry in the USSR in the early 1930’s, the class struggles in the West are gala dinners. Compared with the stratification of social privileges in the USSR — functional privileges, certainly, bound up with the status and not, or not necessarily, with the individual — real social inequality, that is to say, relative to the national product and to its distribution, is in the West nothing but a fairy tale.

    In brief, what Marx claims is new in his contribution to the theory of classes and of the struggle between them has nothing theoretical about it, nothing that throws light on reality and enables one to act on it. It is no more than prediction, wishful thinking, an expression that must have been used quite often at 28 Dean Street.

    And it is here, on this precise point of the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat as an inevitable transition towards classless society, that the lethal madness of Bolshevism took root and nourished the terror. It was in accordance with these few points dryly listed by Marx one day in 1852 — listed, moreover, as if they were self-evident — that all the Great Helmsmen have begun to think — and, worse still, to dream at night — as if inside the heads of the proletarians. It was in the name of this historic mission of the proletariat that they have been crushed, deported, dispersed, through labor — free or forced, but always corrective — millions of proletarians.

    An idea underlies these points — these theoretical novelties — which Marx pedantically enumerates: the idea of the existence of a universal class that will be the dissolution of all classes; a class that cannot be emancipated without emancipati[ng] itself from all other classes of society and without, consequently, emancipating them all. One might have recognized the trembling voice of the young Marx announcing, in 1843, in an essay that he wrote, not on Dean Street, but on the Rue Vaneau in Paris, ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction’; the epiphany of the proletariat. But this universal class does not exist. The lesson of the hundred years that separate us from Marx is, if nothing else, that the modern proletariat is not this class. To continue to maintain this theoretical fiction has enormous practical consequences, for it paves the way for the parties of the proletariat, the leaders of the proletariat, the corrective labor camps of the proletariat: that is to say, it paves the way for those who, in the silence of the gagged proletariat, speak in its name, in the name of its supposed universal mission, and speak loud and clear (to say the least!).

    So the first task of the new revolutionary party that would not speak in the name of the proletariat, but would regard itself only as a temporary structure, constantly disintegrating and being reconstructed, as a focus of receptivity and awareness which would give organic weight, material strength, to the voice of the proletariat — its first task would be that of re-establishing the theoretical truth, with all the consequences that this involves, about the nonexistence of a universal class.

    But this blind spot in Marx’s theory, through which it is linked to the aberrational realities of the twentieth century, is also its blinding spot: the focal point at which the entire grandiose illusion of the revolution shines. Without this false notion of a universal class, Marxism would not have become the material force that it has been, that it still partly is, profoundly transforming the world, if only to make it even more intolerable. Without this blinding, we would not have become Marxists. We would not have become Marxists simply to demonstrate the mechanisms of the production of surplus value, or to reveal the fetishisms of mercantile society, an area in which Marxism is irreplaceable. We would have become teachers. It was the deep-seated madness of Marxism, conceived as a theory for universal revolutionary practice, that gave meaning to our lives. To mine, in any case. As a result, there is no longer any meaning in my life. I live without meaning.

    But this is no doubt normal enough. In any case, isn’t it dialectical?


    Thesis — antithesis — paralysis.

    “I don’t believe that the Bolsheviks/USSR could, at any time, have genuinely been considered fascist, although certain periods of Stalinism had obvious parallels with fascism.”

    Properly speaking, no. Describing Bolshevism as fascism at that time was not really possible, as Fascism did not emerge until several years after the Russian revolution of 1917, and in another country (Italy).

    This is also, obviously, a question of definition: What is/was (f/F)ascism? What is/was Bolshevism?

    As cited, Otto Rühle, an anti-Bolshevik communist, argues that Bolshevism provided the blueprint for fascism. In other words, the totalitarian impulse — if you like — may be found not only in Uncle Joe, but in Vlad the Impaler as well. In this sense, Stalin and ‘Stalinism’ was the logical and perhaps inevitable outgrowth of Lenin and ‘Leninism’. This debate, which is also a debate about what was the nature of the USSR, is usefully summarised in a series of articles in Aufheben:

    I (#6, 1997)

      What was the USSR?
      Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value under State Capitalism Part 1:
      Trotsky and State Capitalism
      The Russian Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the USSR as a ‘workers’ state’, has dominated political thinking for more than three generations. In the past, it seemed enough for communist revolutionaries to define their radical separation with much of the ‘left’ by denouncing the Soviet Union as state capitalist. This is no longer sufficient, if it ever was. Many Trotskyists, for example, now feel vindicated by the ‘restoration of capitalism’ in Russia. To transform society we not only have to understand what it is, we also have to understand how past attempts to transform it failed. In this and future issues we shall explore the inadequacies of the theory of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state and the various versions of the theory that the USSR was a form of state capitalism.

      Trotsky’s Theory of the Soviet Union as a Degenerated Workers’ State
      In this section, we examine Trotsky’s theory of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state, which, at least in Britain, has served as the standard critical analysis of the nature of the Soviet Union since the 1930s. We sketch the background to Trotsky’s account of the USSR in the struggles within and beyond the Bolshevik party.

      The Theory of the USSR as a Form of State Capitalism within Trotskyism
      The theory of the USSR as state capitalist is perhaps most associated with Tony Cliff. While radically revising the Trotskyist orthodoxy with regard to Russia, Cliff sought to remain faithful to Trotsky’s broader theoretical conceptions. However, Cliff’s theory has often been used by orthodox Trotskyists as a straw man with which to refute all state capitalist theories and sustain the orthodox conception of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state.

    II (#7, 1998)

      What was the USSR?
      Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value under State Capitalism Part II:
      Russia as a Non-mode of Production
      Having disposed of the theory of the USSR as a ‘degenerated workers’ state’, Ticktin’s theory presents itself as the most persuasive alternative to the understanding of the USSR as capitalist. Its strength is its attention to the empirical reality of the USSR and its consideration of the specific forms of class struggle it was subject to. However, while we acknowledge that the USSR must be understood as a malfunctioning system, we argue that, because Ticktin doesn’t relate his categories of ‘political economy’ to the class struggle, he fails to grasp the capitalist nature of the USSR.

    III (#8, 1999)

      What was the USSR?
      Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value under State Capitalism Part III:
      Left Communisn and the Russian Revolution
      In the previous articles we examined various Trotskyist and neo-Trotskyist positions on the nature of the USSR. We now turn to the theories of the less well known but more interesting Communist Left, who were among the first revolutionary Marxists to distance themselves from the Russian model by deeming it state capitalist or simply capitalist. The Russian Left Communists’ critique remained at the level of an immediate response to how capitalist measures were affecting the class, whereas in both the German/Dutch and Italian Lefts, we see real attempts to ground revolutionary theory in Marx’s categories in a way distinct from Second International orthodoxy.

    IV (#9, 2000)

      What was the USSR?
      Towards a Theory of the Deformation of Value under State Capitalism Part IV:
      In the final part of our series, we present a value-analysis to show how the USSR was, as the Trotskyists argue, a transitional form; but, against the Trotskyists and following Bordiga, our analysis shows that it was in transition to capitalism. The forced transition to capitalism in the USSR meant that the circuit of productive capital subordinated the circuits of money and commodity capital. Capital therefore did not find its most adequate expression in the expansion of value through the purely quantitative and universal form of money but rather in the expansion of value through the qualitative and particular forms of use-values. The dislocation between the capitalist nature of production and its appearance as a society based on commodity-exchange entailed the deformation of value and the defective content of use-values. This dislocation both provided the basis for the persistence of the distinctly non-capitalist features of the USSR and led to the ultimate decline and disintegration of the USSR.

    “Even if we grant that the USSR was fascist, it certainly never arose from liberalism, since Russia has never been particularly democratic. This is one of the key distinctions between communist and fascist regimes, IMO – the former tended to come to power by revolution, in pre-industrial countries, and by overthrowing brutal, autocratic regimes. Fascist regimes came to power in the decaying democracies of industrial Europe.”

    Hmmm. Maybe. I’d have to think some more about that. That is, is the road to power in fact a key distinction between ‘communism’, on the one hand, and ‘fascism’, on the other? Secondly, assuming that this is correct, what does it mean? That is, how important is the apparently distinct nature of the paths to (state) power pursued by these movements/ideologies to their eventual functioning (upon its attainment)?

    I’m also uncertain about the implied relationship between fascism, liberalism and democracy in Russia; the importance of recognising that communism and fascism were mass movements; similarly, that the two ideologies competed with one another and with ‘liberal democratic’ regimes for support (especially in Italy and Germany); the implications for Marxist theory of the triumph of Marxism in agrarian societies and its failure in industrialised societies; the manner in which both ideologies may be read as bourgeois doctrines which secure a particular form of class rule…

    And so on and so forth.

    “Whether a ‘Marxian conception of revolution’ is inherently undemocratic/authoritarian seems contentious, to me. The idea of Soviets is essentially democratic, even if the Bolsheviks decided that, in the end, they wouldn’t give ‘all power’ to them.”

    Again: definition. If one were to accept the conception articulated by Marx in his 1852 letter, I would argue ‘yes’: this ‘Marxian conception of revolution’ is undemocratic/authoritarian. Further, the idea of Soviets may be democratic, but it is certainly not ‘Marxist’. Finally, the Bolsheviks destroyed the soviets precisely because they posed a danger to Bolshevik rule; state power in Russia was built on the blood of the workers and peasants.

  6. THR says:

    Thanks for your response, @ndy.

    As cited, Otto Rühle, an anti-Bolshevik communist, argues that Bolshevism provided the blueprint for fascism. In other words, the totalitarian impulse — if you like — may be found not only in Uncle Joe, but in Vlad the Impaler as well. In this sense, Stalin and ‘Stalinism’ was the logical and perhaps inevitable outgrowth of Lenin and ‘Leninism’.

    You’re right, the definitions of these terms are important. Bolshevism is/was a unique phenonemon for me. As for fascism, I’d say that Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy were the only absolutely definite fascist regimes.

    Obviously, clear elements of authoritarian rule emerged under Lenin, though in a different context to that of Stalin. A lot hinges here, I think, on whether this Stalinist development is ‘inevitable’, as your author claims. It totalitarianism is a necessary development of Lenin (or Marx), then clearly, you’ve got an entire body of thought that is largely worthless today. On the other hand, if we view this development as contingent, then it is conceivable that Soviet Russia could have been other than what it was. I concede that I lean toward this latter option.

    Hmmm. Maybe. I’d have to think some more about that. That is, is the road to power in fact a key distinction between ‘communism’, on the one hand, and ‘fascism’, on the other? Secondly, assuming that this is correct, what does it mean? That is, how important is the apparently distinct nature of the paths to (state) power pursued by these movements/ideologies to their eventual functioning (upon its attainment)?

    I think we’d both agree that the ‘means of coming to power’ are important. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t have many different species of leftism. I think this distinction is important as you end up with very different historical contexts. Possibly, these different contexts become less important over time. It’s difficult to pursue this point further without looking at specific historical examples, so I’ll put it aside for now.

    Now, I don’t think Bolshevism sowed the seeds of fascism. Fascism drew upon the techniques and practices of the far-left (attempts at mass mobilisation, parallel institutions, propaganda, appeals to the workers, etc) but many of these were not unique to Bolshevism.

    Going back to the broad political categorisations, I distinguish between conservatism, liberalism, radicalism and fascism, if that helps clarify my comments above.

    FWIW, I share your concerns about ‘statism’, and on a number of grounds. It is a huge task, however, to think through to non-statist solutions to many practical problems at this particular historical juncture. Take hospitals, for instance. We may both agree that hospitals shouldn’t be left totally to the market, and that hospitals in the hands of the state are inevitably coercive, among other things. But how do you harness the massive resources required for a hospital without state apparatus? Yes, there may be several conceivable ways in theory, but finding the means that make a difference here and now is a different story.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. But I think it’s a ramble worth having.

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