Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 27, 2017

The Political Economy of Fascism

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism — louisproyect @ 12:33 pm

Considered Keynesianism as a “useful introduction to fascist economics.”


For all of the millions of words written about the fascist danger posed by Donald Trump, there are very few devoted to an actual analysis of fascist economics both as ideology and state policy. Instead there is a fixation on marchers in Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil” or other Nazi era memes. Before considering whether people like Donald Trump or Steve Mnuchin seek to impose a fascist dictatorship on the USA, it might be useful to take a look at some of the demands found in the Manifesto of the Fascist party founded by Benito Mussolini in 1919 that was co-written by labor syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the author of the 1909 Futurist Manifesto that had a powerful impact on Russian art in the 1920s.

+ The quick enactment of a law of the state that sanctions an eight-hour workday for all workers

+ A minimum wage

+ The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions

+ To show the same confidence in the labor unions (that prove to be technically and morally worthy) as is given to industry executives or public servants

+ A strong progressive tax on capital (envisaging a “partial expropriation” of concentrated wealth)

+ The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor

Unlike Donald Trump, whose populism was mostly campaign bluster and a rightwing version of the hokum Barack Obama used in 2007 to get votes, Mussolini’s dictatorship could hardly be confused with the neoliberalism that has been hegemonic since the early 1970s under Republicans and Democrats alike.

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Comments (13)


  1. Let’s hope your piece helps rid us of the loose use of the word Fascism.

    I’m doing my part in the small southern Italian city where I’ve beached my canoe. When American friends visit I walk them over the manhole covers and sewer lids that are marked with the fasces, the bundle of rods with a projecting axe blade that the 1922-1943 regime adopted as its emblem. Then I tell them how an aqueduct from the mountains finally brought water to the parched region in a huge project finished in 1939. The thirsty locals were monarchists. There was no industry so there were no organized workers to resist Fascism. Could it be bad? The Vatican was busy promoting the Corporate State.

    Public works were promised and jobs abroad in the colonies. In a young nation that had never been effectively unified, a dose of nationalism seemed harmless enough. The finishing touch of my walk is a look the the Questura, a 1930’s, smooth art-deco building where the national police have their municipal headquarters. Around the top in huge black letters is painted “Tutto nello stato, Niente al di fuori dello stato, Nulla contra lo stato (Everything in the nation, nothing outside it, nothing against it.)

    It’s a leftover slogan of Mussolini’s that has never been removed and maybe even touched up over the years. I tell my friends this doesn’t mean the town or the police are full of Fascists though there may be a few. What it shows it that Fascism was a complex thing, little to do, apart from its vileness, with white supremacist dunderheads in the USA. If my guest is a Chicagoan like myself I tell him to leave the column to Italo Balbo on the lakefront alone. There’s some Antifa agitation to scrap it. Balbo was a Fascist general and aviator who landed there in 1933. Let it stand like the sewer lids I thread on daily, lessons of history.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — October 27, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

  2. This is a really terrific article;cogent,easy to read (and germane to boot )! I would highly recommend this piece of work to anyone.

    Comment by Ben Trovata — October 27, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

  3. I second that.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 27, 2017 @ 9:05 pm

  4. I completely agree with Lous, Reza, et al about the dangerous inappropriateness of awn-tee-FAW.

    But what the aw-FAWs seem to fear and see under every bed is really any form of police state and/or murderous, thug-ridden right-wing dictatorship. Such a thing might be possible and yet not share the bogus social consciousness and co-opted socialist trappings of Italian Fascism or Nazism or even the Primo Rivera strain of falangism. Those strategies of historic fascism are not necessary when labor is as weak and easily maniipulated as at present. The ruling classes can get their way these days without bogus or illusive concessions to the workers–but the force that impelled historic fascism is very strong at present, and is not actually fascisitc less because it has any reluctance to be fascist than because it does not have to be.

    Police-state/military dictatorship in a present-day form thus would probablynot be really fascistic in the strict historical sense, except perhaps in superficial use of symbolism and the espousal of racial and sexual violence, but it would still make or seem to make sense–if the threat of this thing in government were really the most pressing political reality–to make opposition to it the main thrust of left-wing politics, and physically fighting back against it arguably the way to resist. If this monolithic danger were really as imminent as the as-FAWs think it is, whether or not you call it “fascism” (or whether it calls itself that) would not be so important.

    The case against awfawism–and I think Louis makes this case in his writing on the subject–has to be made on the basis that a) we are actually not on the verge of a military dictatorship, though bourgeois democracy is certainly rotten and fragile in the U.S. and worldwide at present; b) that the various self-proclaimed Nazi groups of thugs and murderers are not at the center of right-wing and antidemocratic politics at the present time; and c) that the most effective form of resistance to the danger we actually do face from the right is massive peaceful resistance and organization against the systematic murder of people of African descent and similar crimes committed by the police on a daily basis, and political organization behalf of socialism defined as the transition of ownership of the means of production to the people. The cynically calculated self-destructiveness of awn tee FAW exhibitionism, adventurism, and melodrama as demonstrated at the Trump inaugural does enormous damage to the left and actually serves to bring about the very repression the awfaws claimi to be fighting.

    By yielding leadership to the Black Blocs, who have no coherent politics except what comes and goes every day impulsively in the adventure-seeking heads of individual anarchists, we are frittering away the mass basis for an effective long-term resistance to the really existing antidemocratic forces. These are very strong and important, but not in the way or in the form that the aw-FAWS insist is the only thing we should care about. Their error results in catastrophically ineffectual and shortsighted strategy and tactics.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 27, 2017 @ 9:49 pm

  5. Imagine someone who was busy all day and only got to read one and a half articles and this was the full one I went with. Stewing over this without enough free time to focus on other topics created this wall of text. Sorry.

    Well, at least the article says that Trump and historical Fascist movements aren’t aligned 100%. Other than that, it seems like the analysis ignores many things in order to score some cheap points at a target like Antifa.

    It seems like the main problem is the underlying definition of what is fascism exactly. If it is simply the absolute rule of (a section of) the bourgeoisie over the state and society to prevent a crisis or revolution from taking place, then there is a problem with such a definition. Fascism is also the movement that demands a counter-revolution which is then used by (a section of) the bourgeoisie against organized labor and its political representatives. It was an assumption of many on the left that fascism sprung from the desires of the bourgeoisie alone, but a fascist movement can exist separately of it, although it won’t get too far without its support.

    This distinction is important as it does point to a critical similarity between historical Fascist movements and Trumpism. While the bourgeoisie largely hates him and those he has somewhat mobilized (ignoring the possibility of large tax breaks that he will incompetently fail at given his record), that movement of the white petty bourgeoisie and new middle class that has been documented by SocialistWorker, CounterPunch, Jacobin and others still exists and can cause damage independent of the bourgeoisie. It can’t seize the state wholesale, but it has worked its way into sections of the US state like the police and border control as it is what some have called a “white supremacist bourgeois democracy” that allows some place within it for actual fascists. Such a form of state organization does make it harder for a crisis or revolution to threaten the state enough for the bourgeoisie to call on the fascists, but economic crises, war, and environmental collapse could still push even the United States over the edge at some point.

    By ignoring the class nature of the movement that inspires both historical Fascist movements and Trumpism, you also run into problems when talking about the organization of the state under fascism. The petty bourgeois/middle class movement, or the base of fascism, sees itself as the hard workers that hold the nation together. When the economy goes to crap, they see those above them (Jewish bankers/“the Establishment”) and below them (Jewish communists/Mexicans-Muslims) as squeezing them while profiting off their hard work through taxes for welfare and financial tools ripping them off. This class will then side with sections of the bourgeoisie who are seen as actually making things (like the industrialists in Germany or Trump and his buildings) against those above and below. This is not only to destroy their enemies, but also because the petty bourgeoisie wishes to become part of the bourgeoisie, albeit the version that they have created in their heads of a class that advances all of society.

    The demand for a strong state so that business can go on is the demand of the petty bourgeoisie or the middle class in the middle of a crisis situation. That is what ties together the historical Fascist movements which cut social spending and engaged in massive privatization campaigns as in Nazi Germany to fascist movements of the 21st century where one does see a toxic blend of ethno-nationalism and anarcho-capitalism/right-wing libertarianism in which white people will supposedly just get together and forge something resembling a feudal monarchy through absolute private property rights. That their rhetoric emphasizes business as usual in the 21st century as opposed to a strong state as in the 20s and 30s is something to be understood within the context of capitalism evolving from “bastard Keynesianism” to neoliberalism.

    Now, I know you don’t care for Antifa, like, at all. This article seems to be designed to say to Antifa that fascism isn’t coming because the bourgeoisie don’t want it right now. The problem comes when class analysis seems to be thrown out the window in favor of an argument that a lot of right-wing trolls like to make about how fascism and socialism/social democracy/Keynesianism are the same because of their manifestos demanding stuff like a shorter work day and worker input in the production process. Antifa will probably chastise you for making the term even more slippery and loose before they consider switching to your side of the argument.

    Comment by SomeoneSomewhere — October 27, 2017 @ 10:07 pm

  6. This comment has the distinction of ignoring practically everything I actually wrote. Congratulations.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 27, 2017 @ 10:17 pm

  7. Hey man, why are you being so hard on yourself? I mean, your being so sarcastic towards “This comment”, which is your comment. If that’s your process or whatever, I won’t judge, but just know there are people you can talk/write to about that. (I’m a sucker for low hanging fruit.)

    To be semi-serious now, if you are referring to a different article, could you provide a link and/or name. If you are referring to this article, perhaps you could take a minute and write it out.

    Comment by SomeoneSomewhere — October 27, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

  8. I find myself in agreement with Louis a lot of times including his take on Antifa, but not with his recent articles on Trump and fascism. According to his latest piece, since Mussolini, Nazis and other fascists actually had some demands and economic policies that were in the interests of working people, Trump cannot be qualified as fascist because his policies are all neoliberal. He also has been saying that fascism is a response to working class militancy and gains, and since we have had none of that, this is not going to happen here. Try this argument with Bannon and his bodies, telling them that “historically speaking” this not your time, go home! Or he is implying that since the time is not ripe for fascism, these people are not fascists. He thinks Golden Dawn is the only fascist party in Europe. If we follow this line of argument Mussolini and Hitler became fascist only when the socioeconomic crisis called for a fascist alternative. We shouldn’t be looking for templates from historical events to explain current events, but even so, the explanation given for the need for the rise of fascism as a response to crush the gains and militancy of the working class is at the very least disputed as Nicos Poulantzas points out in Fascism and Dictatorship that “the working class had already been thoroughly defeated by the time fascism came into power.”

    As to the differences between the economic policies of Trump and Mussolini and others to disqualify Trump as a fascist, the Wikipedia article that Louis refers to also tells us that when Mussolini came to power in a coalition government, he appointed a classical liberal economist, Alberto De Stefani, as Italy’s Minister of Finance, who advanced economic liberalism, along with minor privatization. Before his dismissal in 1925, Stefani “simplified the tax code, cut taxes, curbed spending, liberalized trade restrictions and abolished rent controls”, very similar to Trump’s agenda. Wasn’t Mussolini a fascist that time?

    If Fascists and Nazis responded to the Great Repression of 1929 with a “New Deal” just like how the liberal FDR handled it in the U.S., the conclusion should be that those were the necessary measures to save capitalism irrespective of its form of government. Nobody would argue that Trump or anybody else would do anything remotely like that under the current economic conditions. If fascism is understood as a form of government that ultimately serves the interests of the capitalist class, why Trump’s neoliberal policies are a disqualifier as long as his base continues to perceive him as being against crony capitalism and unlike Hillary Clinton who was considered by some people on left and right as the only neoliberal candidate? Louis writes “What we are confronted by now is not the threat of fascism but the long march of neoliberalism.”

    I have my own issues with certain positions of the Monthly Review, but I think they are right on their assessment of Trump. The argument is that these people are neo fascists and to fight them you also have to fight what has given it life, neoliberalism. Some Democrats feel giddy right now as Bannon is replacing moderate republicans with new brand of far-right racist Republicans, hoping the electors would reject them in the general election. They felt the same way when Trump won the primaries. The danger with dismissing fascism and neoliberalism (in the case of most democrats) is that in the long run you may end up with a majority fascist congress, and a fascist movement with far more devastating consequences that what we have witnessed in just the last few months.

    Comment by Ramin — October 28, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

  9. “He thinks Golden Dawn is the only fascist party in Europe.”

    I don’t think that at all. I consider the National Front in England, the pre-Marine Le Pen National Front, Jobbik, the AfD and others fully formed fascist parties. However, there is little indication that any fraction of the bourgeoisie is about to support them in the way that the Krupps supported Hitler.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 28, 2017 @ 10:15 pm

  10. There are lots of reasons why Ronald Rump doesn’t qualify as a fascist. Obviously, his being a rapist, a racist, a grifter, a liar, and a money-launderer doesn’t make the man a fascist–merely a pig and a criminal, made worse by what appears to be an advancing case of dementia and the total absence of anything that would normally be considered character.

    I don’t think that this thing possesses sufficient coherence of aim to operate successfully as a dictator. It isn’t entirely clear how long he can continue to operate at all–we probably have more to fear from his successor if and when he fails than we do from him.

    Nevertheless, long after the defeat of Euopean fascism, Augusto Pinochet, for example, operated a murderous police state on a neoliberal basis, so it isn’t impossible for that to happen. In fact, in the western hemisphere, that is far from improbable.; We have to remember that neoliberalism is a fiction and a tissue of lies that does not represent social and economic reality and exists for the purpose of blinding people to the reality of their daily lives. Like religion, it can and does serve as camouflage for the worst sort of mass-murdering authoritarianism.

    If we are really on the verge of such a collapse of the very tenuous fabric of the bourgeois democratic state, will it make much difference whether we call it fascist or not as long as we know what we mean when we use the word?

    One of the biggest problems with antifa is that it is precisely the wrong way to go about defending the left from this danger–that, in succumbing to the thrill of hysteria generated by the spectacle of swastikas and brown shirts by torchlight, it recruits masses of people who care about nothing else and whose only real politics lies in opposing the Evil du jour by staging a series of John Wayne fistfights that take place mostly in the heads of the participants, usually under circumstances that give the police carte blanche to arrest anyone in the vicinity.

    I believe the left does have a long-term need for physical self-defense, but antifa isn’t the way. Where were the lookouts in Charlottesville who could have warned the counter-demonstrators of the murderer’s approach in his car?

    Concretely, in any case, bourgeois democracy in the U.S. has some way to go before it’s swamped by some Pinochet. That, indeed, becomes a real danger only if the left actually takes power or plausibly looks like doing so–something that is hardly in prospect at present.

    And this raises what IMHO is the most important point–where is the new socialism that could seriously threaten to do in the US something like what Allende tried to do in Chile? Only if and when that becomes clearer, IMHO, can we begin to ask how we could avoid Allende’s fate.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 30, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

  11. It’s also worth pointing out that one of the key notions of neoliberalism, privatisation, was pioneered under the Nazis as reprivatisierung. Corey Robin has an interesting article on this in jacobn whih is cited on Marxmail. It may be that some Nazis took the “socialist” bit seriously, but it seems that for Hitler and co. this was mostly a gambit. (See https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/04/capitalism-and-nazism/)

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 30, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

  12. The discussion about whether Trump is a fascist or not is not so much about what goes on in the mind of the person Donald Trump or what he says but rather on the neofascist ideology that he, Bannon and Breitbart represent. Their ideology and plans were somewhat presented to the public and supported by Trump’s base.

    My argument is that the ideology and program of a person or a party should determine what they represent and not whether they are being supported by the ruling class at any point in time. Trump came to power even though Hillary Clinton received the full financial and political support of the most sections of the ruling class. It is more likely that when the choice is between a neofascist and a “socialist” type candidate, say in the next economic crisis, they go with the former when neofascism has a much broader base than now. It may then be a little bit too late to call it what it has always been or to fight it. And when it is fully in charge it doesn’t need to be as dictatorial as what we understand of fascism. In fact, the New York Times may still publish. I don’t think Bannon cares so much about that. If that is the criteria, I agree we should call it something else!

    Comment by Ramin — October 30, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

  13. Regarding my privatisation comment above, further reading, esp. a bit of research on Hjalmar Schacht, the architect of the public works programs and managed trade policy under HItler, convinces me that the context of reprivatisierung cannot be considered neoliberal in the sense of the neoliberalism that continues to rule in the USA, “populist” Trump notwithstanding. There are more connections than one mightthink at first blush–capitalism being the beneficiary in both cases–but with some qualifications of detail, Louis is right to draw the distinction he does.

    Trump is faking the “populism,” and the public works, health care, etc., IMHO, are no likelier to appear than Trump is to pay his subcontractors and suppliers if he can defraud them. I am sorry if I’ve muddied the waters.

    It’s important to recognize the mendacity of all conservatisms, all of which, in my book, are fake news, and which–no matter how they get there–ultimaetly converge on the violent defense of social inequality, but, that said, it is important to make historical distinctions that allow us to recognize the enemy we are actually facing at any given time and thus to respond appropriately.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 30, 2017 @ 9:31 pm

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