The facile and indiscriminate use of the term fascism has led to a widespread misunderstanding and misuse of its meaning. Asked to define fascism, most people would respond in terms such as dictatorship, anti-Semitism, mass hysteria, efficient propaganda machine, mesmerizing oratory of a psychopathic leader, and the like.Such a pervasive misconception of the meaning of the term fascism is not altogether fortuitous. It is largely because of a longstanding utilitarian misrepresentation of the term. Fascism is deliberately obfuscated in order to sanitize capitalism. Ideologues, theorists and opinion-makers of capitalism have systematically shifted the systemic sins of fascism from market/capitalist failures to individual or personal failures.
Thus, the origins, the rise and the ravages of the classic European fascism are blamed largely on Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, not the socio-economic circumstances that gave rise to those instrumentally “useful” characters. An obvious flaw of this interpretation of fascism is that it cannot explain recent manifestations of fascism: since the archetype European fascism is attributed to Hitler and Mussolini, their demise ought to have logically meant the end of fascism. Yet, manifestations of fascism has been a recurring phenomenon characteristic of periods of capitalist crisis, as evinced by today’s expressions of fascistic tendencies in most of the core capitalist countries.
These ominous developments are testament to the fact that the germs of fascism are intrinsic to capitalism, as periodic economic crises are intrinsic to capitalism. As such, it is bound to periodically resurface as long as capitalism continues to be the dominant mode of socio-economic production.
Just as the original European fascism was blamed on Hitler and Mussolini, so is today’s display of fascistic propensities blamed on characters such as Donald Trump (in the U.S.), Marine Le Pen (in France), Norbert Hofer (in Austria), Alexander Gauland (in Germany), and so on. The real culprit, however, has been market failure and economic insecurity, both now and then.
In addition to the intended absolution of capitalism from the sins of fascism, its utilitarian misrepresentation has the political advantage of conveniently demonizing any “unfriendly” politician or “rogue” state leader as fascist. As Jean Bricmont recently put it on this site: “New Hitlers spring up in the Western imagination like mushrooms in an autumn woods”: Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Assad, Milosevic, LePen, Putin, and Ahmadinejad have all been subjected to such characterizations. Indeed, a number of “unfavorable” nationalist leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi were first branded as fascist before they were overthrown and murdered.
Misrepresentation of fascism is intended to absolve capitalism from its responsibility in two major ways. First, it blames the executive agent of fascism (for example, Hitler) for the rise and the crimes of fascism. Second, the executive agent, in turn, shifts the blame from the system, or the socio-economic structure, to scapegoats such as migrants, ethnic, racial, or religious minorities.
Fascism cannot be defined capriciously. It cannot be reduced to the crimes of individual leaders of Nazi Germany, or the pathological problems of Hitler’s mind, or the “unfriendly” nationalist leaders who disobey the imperialist agenda of war and militarism. While obfuscationist judgments of this sort may succeed in the uniform of Adolf Hitler the horrific acts that the capitalist system can occasionally perform, such reductionist judgments would not be very useful for the purposes of averting social conditions that may lead to the recurrence of fascism.
Fascism is a specific historical category that evolves out of particular socio-economic circumstances. It grows out of conditions of severe economic distress and deep social discontent. As such circumstances tend to give rise to protest demonstrations and radical demands from labor and other grassroots on the Left, they also prompt counterbalancing social forces on the Right. In other words, fascism is essentially a counter-revolutionary strategy to preempt revolutionary developments.