Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Mission Creep: Exorcising the “Antifascism” of Alexander Reid Ross

By Rhyd Wildermuth, Gods and Radicals Press

Many leftists I know, of both anarchist and Marxist traditions, have been reeling with the recent revelations about a major figure in American antifascism and his current choice of work.

That person is Alexander Reid Ross, whom journalists Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton revealed is currently working alongside many former “deep state” figures (including former heads of CIA and DHS departments) for a think tank funded by notorious right-wing billionaire Charles Koch’s foundation.

I suspect most reading this probably don’t know much about Ross or his work, though many have likely encountered his many essays, interviews, reports, and perhaps even his book through social media without noting his name. Others, however, especially leftist writers, publishers, and antifascist organizers, have had more intimate—and kindly put, unpleasant—experiences with Ross and his influence.

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  1. This is a great article for the most part, but the author still has has an overly simplistic view of what fascism is/was. All three of the perspectives he mentions have problems (liberal, Marxist, and Reid-Ross’ conspiratorial/contagion view). Just like Marxist revolutions always took place in largely feudal/pre-industrial states, fascist or fascist-like regimes tend to emerge in early-stage industrial societies, typically nations that have either experienced ruin due to war or economic collapse, or national humiliation at the hands of external powers. That was true of fascist movements in the interwar period as well as revolutionary nationalist regimes in the postwar/Cold War period. Fascism is anti-capitalist but for totally different reasons than Marxism. Fascism considers capitalism to be degenerate and elevating commercial values over what they considered to be higher spiritual, tribal, or aesthetic values. Capitalists may align themselves with fascists against Marxists, but it’s merely an alliance of convenience. Fascists are generally less likely to fully liquidate or expropriate the entire capitalist class than Marxists, and fascists regard capitalists as useful idiots from whom they can extract resources. Of all the intellectual historians of fascism, I tend to think Stan Payne and maybe Paul Gottfried have the most accurate view: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_G._Payne

    • Thanks for that. Fascism is an overly squishy terms these days, and I’ve had a lot of trouble pinning it down.

      • Some more.

        Given that “antifascism” has become the new McCarthyism, it’s increasingly important to point out the facts about what historic fascism actually was, the context in which it emerged, its differences with other kinds of right-wing authoritarianism as well as left-wing authoritarianism, the economic and material conditions associated with fascism, the differences between fascism generally and German national socialism, etc. By abusing the term “fascism,” people make themselves look like fools on one hand, and miss other important factors or potential dangers in the process.

        The Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on fascism is actually quite good and provides a pretty comprehensive overview of historic fascism, its ideas, and practices, as well as disagreements scholars concerning how fascism should be interpreted or precisely defined. https://www.britannica.com/topic/fascism

        A major problem is that many people define any kind of right-wing authoritarianism, revolutionary nationalism, or even conservatism as “fascism.” That’s a bit of a reach. Also, regimes, movements, ideologies, etc. can resemble fascism to varying degrees. The article breaks down the categories into “fascism,” “parafascism,” and “fascistization,” which are fairly helpful characterizations of different tendencies. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/02656914030332004

        • Right. The difference between fascists and communists amounts to nationalism vs. internationalism, and the role of capitalists in a revolutionary regime. Should the capitalists be expropriated entirely (the communist position) or merely incorporated into and subordinated to a nationalist-collectivist state along with government, labor, education, etc. (the fascist position). Nazi Germany is a somewhat unique phenomenon because it was more extreme in ideology than “conventional” fascism. It was more like the Maoism or Pol Potism of fascism. Nazism also emerged under somewhat different circumstances. Most fascist or fascist-like regimes were in an early stage of industrial development and seeking to throw off the dominance of the more advanced capitalist powers. That was true of Mussolini, Peron, Castro (who strikes me as a national socialist who simply preferred using Marxist economic policies to keep American capital off the island), Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Assad, Qadaffi, and Khomeini. The “fascistization” model applies to many of these states, even the ones that did not formally identify as fascist. Salazar and Franco had parafascist elements but were closer to traditional right-wing authoritarians in many ways. However, Nazism emerged from a former major power that had been totally destroyed by severe economic depression and devastating military losses. What happened to Germany is what typically happens to regimes that experience total destruction. Extreme cultists tend to come to power in the aftermath (like the Taliban in post-Soviet Afghanistan or Khmer Rouge in post-Vietnam War Cambodia).

          • Given this, and that Communism came first, maybe Facism was an attempt keep the revolutionary furvor of Communism, but in a more traditionalist way, making it more appealing to a larger base of people. A reactionary form of Communism.

            • This piece by David Ramsay Steel on the origins of fascism is also interesting: http://www.la-articles.org.uk/fascism.htm

              I think your perspective is at least partially correct in that fascism emerged in the post-WW1 era when hopes for working-class revolution had seen setbacks, in large part because the working classes of different countries supported their respective nations during the war. One solution to this perceived problem was offered by thinkers like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School who perceived the need for a cultural revolution that would either accompany or precede the proletarian revolution. However, the fascists developed the idea that the nation was the basis of the anti-bourgeois revolution. Mussolini switched from revolutionary left to revolutionary right. I also think you’re right the view of the nation as revolutionary was rooted in the patriotism of common people during WW1. Mussolini conceived of Italy as a proletarian nation in revolt against the more advanced Western European capitalist powers like England. The “Conservative Revolution” in Germany (basically, the non-Nazi revolutionary German right-wing) had similar views of the folkish, organic nation being in revolt against the decadent, bourgeois, capitalist regime of Weimar. The Nazis were an explicitly racist and much more extreme version of this idea. The CR’s German nationalism was more “spiritual,” cultural, traditional, etc while the Nazis’ version was more rooted in biological determinism, eugenics, and with a much greater emphasis on anti-Semitism and “Aryan” purity (which had not been a part of the CR).

              • The main thrust of the Steel peice seems to echo your thoughts:

                “Many syndicalists lost faith in the revolutionary potential of the working class. Seeking an alternative revolutionary recipe, the most “advanced” of these syndicalists began to ally themselves with the nationalists and to favor war. Mussolini’s early reaction to this trend was the disgust we might expect from any self-respecting leftist. (45) But given their premises, the syndicalists’ conclusions were persuasive.”

                In that, moving toward the nation state as a the revolutionary unit, rather then the proletariat as a whole.

                I cannot not help but wonder what an even less centralized version would be, down to the city state, or bio-region. Which at a least would keep it in check somewhat, and could possibility make it work even within anarchist framework, assuming they didn’t get all warmongery.

  2. Very illuminating!

    I was taught the “horse-shoe theory” in political science, but also, as that Britannia article lays out, that Fascism often saw itself as an intermediary between western Liberalism and Communism. There is also a stream (mostly on the modern right) that describes it as a merging of sorts between corporate and government powers.

    It seems keep falling prey to the rhetoric over reality trap.

    I am now getting the sense that the major difference between Fascism and Communism would be 1) religion/tradition, and 2) hierarchy. But these too seem to end up as just lip service.

    Communism obviously ends up with hierarchies, and Fascism ends up trying to create a “new man”. Both have syndicalist tendencies, nationalism, racism, shun individualism, and use state powers to shape social society (maybe their ideas here is the diffrence?).

    In practice, Fascism seems to allow corporations to exist, and Communism does not as much, but that does seem enough to explain why they hated each other so much!

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