- Communism: aggressively ideological, anti-propertarian internationalist socialism.
- Fascism: a non-ideological, nationalist/racist program for achieving hegemonic domination and power built upon a populist base whipped up by fantasies of a cult of victimhood.
One of the first things that ought to stand out in the above is that communism and fascism are nearly, if not simply, opposites of one another. Let us dig a little deeper on the issues of ideology and (inter)nationalism.
1.a. Communism is intensely – arguably, cripplingly – committed to an ideological structure. This commitment has, in the past, rendered communism a a rolling catastrophe whenever it has achieved real political power. This is because past visions – such as Stalinism or Maoism – have demanded that facts fit ideology rather than adjust ideology to adapt to facts. This demand has expressed itself in the form of brutally repressive police states that brook no deviation from the State’s cant, and led to “economic plans” that have left millions dead of starvation.
Nevertheless, communism is springing from a legitimate criticism of the dominant forms of order in the world. Laborers and the working classes have, as a matter of indisputable fact, been savagely and universally oppressed by those in power. So there is a genuine ideal of a better world at work here, however horrifyingly it has ultimately translated itself into real world action. Perhaps that is a key to actually working with and for communism, by keeping it as a minor party in a parliamentarian system with no real hope at power. It would then function as a gadfly, and could serve as a check on the pretensions and pomposity of others.
2.a. Fascism is simply born evil at the start. As Robert O. Paxton has pointed out, Fascism has no ideology, no underlying philosophy. It is exclusively a program for seizing unfettered power. This is why it inevitably aligns itself with capital and against labor, because capital is where the power is held (which labor and communism are trying to take back to themselves.)i
1.b. Communism is thoroughly internationalist in character; the heroes of its story are the workers of the world. As such, it is philosophically opposed to all forms of parochial closures that set aside some groups as “outsiders,” as “them.” In other words, racism, sexism, and the like are nominally opposed in all of their forms. Again, how this gets expressed in actual practice is typically short of the ideal.
2.b. Fascism is nationalist and racist to its core. This is necessarily the case, since its populist base is energized and ginned up with vicious lies about how they are being threatened and oppressed by some group of outsiders: blacks, Jews, Muslims, migrant workers, and so on. This cult of victimhood is one of the keys to Fascism’s hold on power, as it unites its core group of mass supporters in a fantasy of dangerous outsiders while keeping them blind to the fact that their liberties are being trampled in their populist stampede to hand over all power to a political cabal that is pulling the Fascist strings.
Again, the two show themselves to be very much opposite one another. Still, it is hard to escape the sense that communism is an embodiment of the old adage that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” On the other hand, as Aleksandar Hemon has said, “Fascism is not an idea to be debated, it’s a set of actions to fight.” So part of the task for communism is figuring out the kinds of guardrails needed to prevent the slide into cult-of-presonality totalitarianism that has been the stand out feature of its 20th C. manifestations of significant political power, while there is no program that is capable of redeeming Fascism as anything beyond an abomination.
Among the problems that have tripped up communism in the past is the need to rely on command, rather than market, economics. In the ‘50’s people like Leo Strauss argued that this was an insuperable hurdle, because economies are too complex to be managed by external commands. However, it is not clear that this is still true. For example, most large corporations operate internally on a command-style economics, even as they nominally respond to external market forces. (And we should note that much of that “response” is itself directed at manipulating the market so that it adjusts to the corporation, rather than the other way around.) This is made possible by the use of computer models that can indeed “legislate” economic matters without reference to the magical interactions of some god-like market. At least up to the point where some incompetent pilot slams a huge container ship into the side of the Suez canal and shuts down global commerce for several weeks. But pure market forces won’t prevent such disasters either.
In contrast, Fascism – while not strictly opposed to market economics – automatically gravitates to monopolistic control of those markets. This is because Fascism is dedicated to hegemonic power, devoid of any principles or philosophy, and that is the kind of thing that monopolies bring with them.
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Good article, Gary.
Gary Herstein said:
Thanks. I’ve been struggling for a while (without much success) to come up with a compact characterization of communism. (Since I’ve been working off of Paxton’s discussions, doing the same for Fascism was relatively straight forward.) So this was a useful exercise for me.