The Hope of the Hopeless
Contemporary Lessons from Marxist Struggles Against Hitler and Mussolini
Fascist movements are on the rise. But does that mean that Donald Trump’s America, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary or Narendra Modi’s India are fascist? Many on the left think so and discovered antifascist action as their preferred rallying point. It remains often unclear, though, is which alternatives to a discredited neoliberalism and the rise of a new right the left has to offer. Historically, fascism represented the organized counterrevolution against the communist challenge seemingly spreading from Russia to Germany and Italy. No such challenge exists today. Often made references to the 1930s depression and the 2008/9 world economic crisis by no means suffice to qualify all of today’s new right as fascist.
Besides, purely economic explanations of fascism didn’t help to build effective anti-fascist movements in the 1930s either. A fuller understanding of these movements, as socialists of different persuasions learned the hard way, required a closer look at the social mass basis of fascism as well as an understanding of the psychological reasons that made fascism attractive for so many of the discontented back in the day.
Marxist theories focusing on the economic conditions, social basis, and psychological motives that produced the fascist rule of Mussolini and Hitler can serve as useful starting points to understand today’s crisis of neoliberal capitalism and its political articulations. Beginning an analysis of today’s conditions with these old theories allows us to see parallels but also significant differences. And they remind us that one thing present then, socialist and communist mass movements, is missing today. Leftists often recite Max Horkheimer’s dictum that “whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.” This dictum should be amended to: Whoever mobilizes against fascism and talks about capitalism should also present a viable socialist alternative. In the absence of such an alternative, neoliberal discontent will be articulated in right-wing terms but capitalists have little reason to take refuge, as they did in 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany, to fascist rule to retain their crisis-ridden power.
Presentation by Ingo Schmidt – teaches Labour Studies at Athabasca University and is one of the organizers of the annual World Peace Forum teach-ins in Vancouver.