Class 1: Understanding theories of fascism
What is fascism, compared to the regular use of coercive force by a “democratic” capitalist and colonial state? Make a point form definition using the ideas from the authors and agree or disagree.
Based on his experiences of relations between urban Black communities and police, Jackson characterizes US society as necessarily fascist. How is he correct and how is he not?
What are the political differences between the resolution on fascism from 1923 and the STO’s theses on fascism from 1982? How do these analyses (from groups with similar politics) differ according to the circumstances of the time? Which social conditions are they evaluating? How might we adapt these analyses to our moment in 2020?
The supplementary reading from Gramsci is not overtly about fascism, but offers a methodology for developing an analysis of fascism in general. Gramsci says that in times of a “crisis of authority,” where large or important sections of society no longer feel represented by the dominant order, “occasional structures” may develop in order to give concessions to these groups to win them back to loyalty, or to repress the revolt. He says these structures (which we should read as including government policies and dominating ideological movements) do not change the fundamental relationships underlying the social order – even when they appear to contradict the dominant order they serve to safeguard that order in the long term. Is it helpful to think of fascism as such an “occasional structure,” or does it modify social relations more radically?
- Sojourner Truth Organization, “Theses on fascism,” Urgent Tasks No. 13, Spring 1982.
- Clara Zetkin, “Resolution on Fascism” from the third plenum of the executive committee of the Communist International, 1923, and “Report” and “Resolution on Fascism” from the international conference against fascism and war in Frankfurt Germany, March 1923. From Clara Zetkin, Fascism: What it is and how to fight it, Haymarket Books, 2017.
- Antonio Gramsci, “Democracy and Fascism ” from Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings, 1921-26, pg. 267-272.
- George Jackson, “Dear Fay, April 1970,” From Jackson, Soledad Brother, pg. 17-28.
- Supplementary reading: Antonio Gramsci, “Relations between structure and superstructure,” from Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Vol 2, pg. 177-187.
Class 2: Middle class moral panic, liberal disorder, and the rising fascist tide
Guerin argues that the “middle class” is the recruiting ground for fascism. Let’s define “middle class.” In contemporary political discourse, middle class refers to the sprawling group in imperialist countries that is neither super rich nor super poor. Guerin thinks of middle class as referring not to income but to the social position and role of a group within the capitalist mode of production. Consider how this position of managers, administrators, and small business owners and distributors has grown since this book was published in the 1990s – what does that mean for demographic power of the social group mobilizing under Trump and the “alt-right” today?
What is a “moral panic”? What are the political and economic conditions that give rise to such a phenomenon? Why is “morality” the way that capitalist crisis finds voice in public?
- Daniel Guerin, “The middle classes considered as fascism’s mass base,” from Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, pg. 53-85.
- Stuart Hall, “The Social History of a ‘Moral Panic’,” From Hall et al, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, pg. 7-31.
Class 3: When are nationalism and racism not a death cult?
Hill and Cesaire, discuss (in different ways), the problem of identifying fascism and separating it out from the horrors of everyday capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. What makes fascism different from these regular structural horrors? What do you think of today’s expressions of hate and acts of violence against oppressed people? Is it fascism? Capitalism with fascist tendencies? Something else?
Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism raises questions about the centrality of colonial accumulation to capitalism and anti-colonial struggle (and the protaganism of Indigenous and colonized peoples) to anti-capitalist possibility. It also raises questions about the quantitative moment when we consider that the fascist current in bourgeois democracy has moved from the margins (where it brutalizes peoples excluded from liberalism) to the centre of a dominating order. If fascism is always part of capitalism, through its languages of colonialism and imperialism, then does fascism ever rise? Or does it only suddenly become visible to whites and settler colonizers?
- Aime Cesaire, “Discourse on Colonialism,” in Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism, pg. 29-78.
- AUDIO PODCAST: Gord Hill, “Colonialism, Democracy, Fascism: A conversation with Gord Hill,” It’s Going Down, September 23, 2018.
Class 4: Misogyny, colonialism, fascism: Hating women and doing the violent work of the settler state
Audra Simpson’s description of the violence of the settler capitalist state against Indigenous women offers a powerful description of the everyday gender politics of colonialism. Particularly important in the discussion of fascism is her observation that the state does not need to commit violence against Indigenous women through paid agents like police, because its citizens will do it. How are patriarchal gender power, colonialism, the state, and the mob implicated together in this violence?
- Audra Simpson, “The State is a Man: Theresa Spence, Loretta Saunders and the Gendered Cost of Settler Sovereignty in Canada.” Text in the package or linked here; audio file of a talk based on this article here.
- Matthew Lyons, “Alt-right: More misogynistic than many neonazis,” Three Way Fight, December 3, 2016.
Class 5: The insurgency of “civil society”: A survey of contemporary fascism, ISIS and Bolsonaro
So far, our classes have asked about the class and social composition of fascist movements in Canada, the US, and Europe. Regardless of their growing importance, these movements have remained marginal. But they must be understood alongside powerful fascist movements in other parts of the world. This class examines fascist movements of the early 21st century that have been openly insurrectionary, like ISIS, or which have taken power – at least in terms of legal office, like Bolsonaro in Brazil.
If fascism is an insurgency of the (middle class) civil society, then what is ISIS? What does the ISIS insurgency represent politically, in terms of the self determination of nations in the Middle East and North Africa, and in terms of social and class composition within these long embattled nations – where “the state” has long been failing or altogether ceased to exist. Is US imperialism the only present alternative to ISIS fascism?
Acary and Watson argue that Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil is a fascist move to power. And certainly Bolsonaro’s victory is an undoing of the (minor) gains won by working people and peasants, and the (also minor) protections from colonial devastation experienced by Indigenous peoples under the social democratic People’s Party and Lula. But, considering the argument from argument (and MIR) about the social role and political character of Pinochet in the bloody anti-socialist coup in 1970s Chile, does that make Bolsonaro fascist? Can leaders like Bolsonaro (and Trump) be fascists without it meaning Brazil has become fascist? The question is whether fascism can follow an electoral road to power alone.
- Dylan Riley, “Rethinking Civil Society and Fascism,” Chapter 6 in Riley, The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe, New York: Verso Press, 2019.
- Noel Ignatin, “Fascism: Some common misconceptions,” Urgent Tasks, No. 4, Summer 1978.
- Valerio Arcary, “Is Bolsonaro a fascist?” Escuerda Online / Published in English on Socialist Worker, October 24, 2018.
- Fiona Watson (Survival Int’l), “Bolsonaro’s election is catastrophic news for Brazil’s Indigenous tribes,” The Guardian, October 21, 2018.
- Gayath Naisse, “The Islamic State and the Counter-Revolution,” International Socialism, July 6, 2015.
- Stephen Sheehi, “ISIS as a fascist movement,” Mondoweiss, November 18, 2015.
Class 6 … and how to fight it: Two questions of strategy in the struggle against fascism
Clara Zetkin was a leading theorist of the Communist movement’s international struggle against fascism in the 1920s. Her perspective was that fascism was an international movement and global threat to workers and socialist gains, and that all alliances possible should be built – without compromising the political and organizational independence of anti-capitalist revolutionary groups. Her strategy was the “united front,” which was adopted by communists. The “united front” period was replaced by the “third period,” which was characterized by communist groups denouncing social democrats and mainstream labour leaders as “social fascists,” or, “objectively” no different than fascists, and decrying unity with them.
The second question addresses the most common contemporary anti-fascist strategy – “no platforming”. These readings critique “no-platforming” as a strategy that arms the state with new powers to restrict the speaking and mobilizing rights of our movements. Does this mean that we should not organize against the public speech of Nazis? Or can we – as some suggest – counter organize against Nazis without calling for police, courts, and politicians to look out for our communities’ best interests against the most extreme manifestations of what the bourgeois-colonial state itself is?
Question 1: “Social fascists” or “united front”?
- Paul Saba, “Fighting Fascism and the Ku Klux Klan: Lessons from the New Communist Movement,” Viewpoint Magazine, October 10, 2017.
Primary source materials on “united front”
- Clara Zetkin, “Resolution on Fascism,” June 23, 1923 at the plenum of the third congress of the Communist International
- Antonio Gramsci, “A Study of the Italian Situation: United Front Tactics” August 2, 1926 (pg. 400-407).
Question 2: “Free speech” or “no platform”?
- Mark Bray, “So much for the tolerant left: no-platform and free speech,” From Bray, The Antifa Handbook.
- Unity and Struggle, “Tigertown beats Nazis down: Reflections on Auburn and mass anti-fascism,” Unity and Struggle, May 10, 2017.