Fascism, although relatively easy to recognize, is hard to define precisely as the term has had different specific associations in its historical course and context. Haphazard use of the term could thus rob it of its essence.
Fascism has been researched extensively in the social sciences. Despite difficulty in reaching a universal definition, salient features of fascism have been fairly well identified, but with the listed features and emphasis on each subject to class and ideological bias. Several features of fascism, taken individually, could apply to non-fascist states and political organizations, while truly fascist outfits could be lacking in some.
Fascism as commonly understood is a product of European capitalism in crisis, which emerged after the First World War (WW1) and dominated much of Europe until the end of the Second World War (WW2). Dimitrov accurately describes fascism as “an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of the financial capital” (Georgi Dimitrov, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism” Main Report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, 2nd August 1935. Accessed as https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm). He further explains:
“(Fascism) is not a power standing above class, nor government of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy, fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations.
“This, the true character of fascism, must be particularly stressed because in a number of countries, under cover of social demagogy, fascism has managed to gain the following of the mass of the petty bourgeoisie that has been dislocated by the crisis, and even of certain sections of the most backward strata of the proletariat. These would never have supported fascism if they had understood its real character and its true nature”.
Thus awareness of the class interests that fascism represents, namely those of finance capital or imperialism itself, is important so that the class nature of fascism is not confused with the petty bourgeoisie or a most backward stratum of the proletariat that fascism uses to seize power.
Dimitrov also points out that “the development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country”. Thus, fascism, when politically weak, could tactically resort to parliamentary democracy and be soft towards bourgeois- and social-democratic parties, but not communists. Where the ruling bourgeoisie fear an outbreak of revolution, they enable fascism to achieve unrestricted political monopoly and, as necessary, resort to a reign of terror against all rival parties and groups. When necessary, fascism can combine open terrorist dictatorship with a sham of parliamentarism. Dimitrov further emphasized that the accession to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution of one state form of bourgeois class domination by another, namely bourgeois democracy by explicitly terrorist dictatorship.
The insight offered by Dimitrov is still relevant. The task for Marxist Leninists is to address the various manifestations of fascism in imperialist countries, where a fascist bid for power in ways similar to that between WW1 and WW2 is unfeasible, and to confront fascism in the context of Third World ‘democracies’.
A large body of writings by Marxist and other progressive analysts exists on the re-emergence of fascism in Europe and the Americas. Hence, this article will deal with that aspect briefly and discuss fascism in the Third World in more detail, with particular emphasis on South Asia where fascist tendencies are on the rise.
Characterization of Fascism
It will be useful to look at what have been identified as common features of fascism and consider the implications of treating them as necessary and sufficient criteria to decide whether an organization is fascist.
Lawrence Britt in his “Fascism Anyone?” in the Free Inquiry Magazine 22 (2), 15 July 2003 (see http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27/076.html) listed 14 defining features common to the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. The findings are paraphrased below:
1. Powerful and continuing nationalism. (Constant use of “patriotic” mottos, slogans, symbols, songs and other paraphernalia, including flags, by the fascist state.)
2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights. (People are persuaded through the use of fear that human rights can be ignored in certain cases out of “need”.)
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. (People are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat ranging from social minorities to liberals, leftists and terrorists.)
4. Supremacy of the military. (The military is glorified and receives disproportionately large government funding at the expense of the domestic agenda.)
5. Rampant sexism. (Traditional gender roles are made more rigid.)
6. Controlled mass media. (Mass media may be directly or indirectly controlled by the state through regulation or supportive personnel.)
7. Obsession with national security. (This is achieved through fear induced in the masses by the government.)
8. Intertwining of religion and government. (Fascist regimes tend to use the most common religion of the country as a means to manipulate public opinion.)
9. Protection of corporate power. (The big bourgeoisie often decide government leaders to ensure mutually beneficial relationship between the power elite and big business.).
10. Suppression of labour power. (As the working class is the only real threat to a fascist regime, trade unions are either eliminated or severely suppressed.)
11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts. (Fascist regimes promote and tolerate overt hostility to higher education and academia.)
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. (The police have almost limitless power to enforce law.)
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. (This is inevitable since fascist regimes comprise groups of friends and associates who abuse governmental power and authority to avoid accountability.)
14. Fraudulent elections. (Elections, if held, are a complete sham. They are often manipulated by smear campaigns against opposition candidates, assassinations and abuse of electoral procedure.)
Britt‘s exercise could in part have been a satire on US democracy, as the American state seems to qualify on each count to different degrees. Recent comments by Chomsky in an interview for the Wire, January 31, 2016. (https://chomsky.info/01312016/) declaring that “the US is one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world” is relevant in this context.
The Trotskyite website, Marxists Internet Archive Encyclopedia (https://www.marxists.org/glossary/) lists the following as key characteristics of fascism.
1. Right wing: Fascists are fervently against: Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, Communism, Environmentalism; etc. — in essence, they are against the progressive left in total, including moderate lefts (social democrats, etc). Fascism is an extreme right wing ideology, though it can be opportunistic.
2. Nationalism: Fascism places a very strong emphasis on patriotism and nationalism. Criticism of the nation’s main ideals, especially war, is lambasted as unpatriotic at best and treason at worst. State propaganda consistently broadcasts threats of attack, while justifying pre-emptive war. Fascism invariably seeks to instil in its people the warrior mentality: to always be vigilant, wary of strangers and suspicious of foreigners.
3. Hierarchy: Fascist society is ruled by a righteous leader, supported by an elite secret vanguard of capitalists. Hierarchy is prevalent throughout all aspects of society ― every street, every workplace, every school, will have its local Hitler, part police-informer, part bureaucrat ― and society is prepared for war at all times. The absolute power of the social hierarchy prevails over everything, and thus a totalitarian society is formed. Representative government is acceptable only if it can be controlled and regulated, direct democracy (e.g. Communism) is the greatest of all crimes. Any who oppose the social hierarchy of fascism will be imprisoned or executed.
4. Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.
5. Religious: Fascism contains a strong amount of reactionary religious beliefs, harking back to times when religion was strict, potent, and pure. Nearly all Fascist societies are Christian, and are supported by Catholic and Protestant churches.
6. Capitalist: Fascism does not require revolution to exist in capitalist society: fascists can be elected into office (though their disdain for elections usually means manipulation of the electoral system). They view parliamentary and congressional systems of government to be inefficient and weak, and will do their best to minimize its power over their policy agenda. Fascism exhibits the worst kind of capitalism where corporate power is absolute, and all vestiges of workers’ rights are destroyed.
7. War: Fascism is capitalism at the stage of impotent imperialism. War can create markets that would not otherwise exist by wrecking massive devastation on a society, which then requires reconstruction! Fascism can thus “liberate” the survivors, provide huge loans to that society so fascist corporations can begin the process of rebuilding.
8. Voluntarist ideology: Fascism adopts a certain kind of “voluntarism”; they believe that an act of will, if sufficiently powerful, can make something true. Thus all sorts of ideas about racial inferiority, historical destiny, even physical science, are supported by means of violence, in the belief that they can be made true. It is this sense that Fascism is subjectivist.
9. Anti-modern: Fascism loathes all kinds of modernism, especially creativity in the arts, whether acting as a mirror for life (where it does not conform to the Fascist ideal), or expressing deviant or innovative points of view. Fascism invariably burns books and victimises artists, and artists which do not promote the fascists ideals are seen as “decadent.” Fascism is hostile to broad learning and interest in other cultures, since such pursuits threaten the dominance of fascist myths. The peddling of conspiracy theories is usually substituted for the objective study of history.
There are significant differences between the above two sets of characteristics since the left-of-centre, but rather empirical, approach of the former stresses bourgeois democratic values while the latter’s emphasis is on capitalism, war, voluntarism and anti-modernism.
The latter too is subjective in places and tends to generalize contextual aspects. For example, the comment on religion that “Nearly all Fascist societies are Christian, and are supported by Catholic and Protestant churches” misses Japanese fascism with no Christian backing and the fascistic content of religious fundamentalism, be it Christian, Islamic Hindu, or Buddhist. The fascist dictatorship in Indonesia leaned more on religion than nationalism to target communists.
The Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) at its Congress of 2002 (http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/wim/cong/fascismdef.html) adopted a definition of fascism based on the writings of Dimitrov (George Dimitrov, Against Fascism and War, New York: International Publishers, 1986) and Palme-Dutt (R Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution, New York: International Publishers, 1934), which characterized fascism as the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital and an extreme measure taken by the bourgeoisie to forestall proletarian revolution. The MIM also exposed the hypocritical nature of fascism and pointed to shared features of bourgeois democracy and fascism as class dictatorship of finance or comprador capital and the collaboration between them.
Fascism and Anti-Colonial Movements
While the MIM’s characterization of fascism as above sums up the essence of fascism as it was in the first half of the 20th Century, fascism in the colonies and neo-colonies was not in the same class as fascism in industrialized European countries. Whether they qualified or not as fascist, several anti-colonial movements, in the run up to and during WW2 were attracted to fascism, a matter often overlooked in the context of a national freedom struggle. Resentment of colonial domination made several Arab nationalists, especially the more reactionary sections, to side with the Nazis during WW2. Right wing Arabs (as well as Zionists) were known for their affinity for the Nazis. Such attraction persisted even after the war so that there were parties adopting the Nazi ideology in whole or part in the Middle East, including Iran, as late as the 1950s. Fascination with European fascism faded out after anti-monarchist Arab nationalists seized power in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
India’s anti-colonial militant leader, Subash Chandra Bose (Nethaji), after his effective expulsion from the Indian National Congress by the pro-Gandhi faction and maltreatment by the colonial regime, allied with both German and Japanese fascists. Although that did not mean that he was a fascist, his collaboration certainly weakened the international anti-fascist effort during WW2. Likewise, the brief alliance between Japanese fascists and Burma’s liberation leader and fighter Aung San did not make him a fascist. The wisdom of choosing a fascist power as the lesser evil is, however, questionable and collaboration with fascism meant that working class interests were not among the priorities of these leaders.
Attraction of nationalists in the colonies to fascism will be further commented on in the context of fascist tendencies in Asia and Africa.
Post WW2 Fascism in the West
Much has changed since WW2. Fascism though thoroughly defeated in war was not eradicated in Europe and the Americas. Several of the neo-Nazi organizations which sprouted in Europe since WW2 are still alive. Nevertheless, European fascism and its derivatives in Europe and the Americas today cannot muster sufficient electoral support to secure state power as fascism did in post-WW1 Europe. But they are nevertheless a serious reactionary force.
There is a tendency among left and liberal intellectuals in Europe and North America to explain modern day fascism in terms of European fascism and post-WW2 fascist movements with ideological affinity to European fascism. As a result, they fail to recognize the different faces of fascist ideology seeking to dominate a society or a state.
Rise of Neo-Fascist Politics
Neo-fascists have asserted themselves sufficiently to secure a share in government in several countries. In West Germany, the Deutsche Rechtspartei (German Right Party) was formed in Lower Saxony in 1946. It was the forerunner to the explicitly neo-Nazi Deutsche Reichspartei (German Empire Party) formed in 1950 and dissolved in 1964, leading to the founding of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) in 1964. The NPD never secured enough votes at the national level to cross the 5% minimum threshold for representation in the German national parliament (the Bundestag). But it crossed the 5% threshold several times to be represented in state parliaments. The NPD merged with the smaller neo-fascist German People’s Union (DVU) in 2011. After German reunification in 1990, neo-Nazi groups in Germany have gained prominence, with new members attracted to them owing to economic dislocation and social unrest so that violence directed at immigrants and foreigners is on the rise.
In Italy, support for the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), founded in 1946, rose in the early 1990’s following the exposure of pervasive corruption in the governing parties. After the 1994 elections, it became a partner in the conservative government, and dissolved itself in 1995 to become the far right National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale/MSI) headed by former MSI leader Gianfranco Fini. The National Alliance has since nominally rejected fascist ideology and anti-Semitism and participated in centre-right governing coalitions.
Rick Kuhn writing on the threat of fascism in Austria (Monthly Review 52 (2) June 2000 pp. 21-35) notes that, less than six years after the fascist Alleanza Nazionale/MSI became a junior partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s 1994 coalition government in Italy, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) ― a fascist outfit politely referred to as ‘right-wing populist’ ― won the elections in 1999 to secure half of the posts and the Deputy Chancellorship in its coalition with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), sworn in on 4th February 2000. The coalition caused widespread outrage both in Austria and the rest of Europe. Pressure from the EU strained relations in the coalition and led to its eventual break-up in 2002. Support for the FPÖ drastically declined soon after, only to recover since, particularly in the face of the refugee crisis that gripped Europe in 2015.
While the prospect of a fascist takeover of the state in any country in post-WW2 Europe and the Americas is weak, a fascist party got close to capturing state power in France. Western media hesitate to dub the Front National (FN) of France fascist and there is wish to add ‘respectability’ to it by calling it ‘far right’ or ‘anti-immigrant right’. Cosmetic changes ― like shelving its earlier ‘Holocaust denial’ ― by the new leadership that are applauded by the French political and media establishments cannot rid the FN of its neo-fascist essence. It remains a populist party steeped in nationalism and racism. Based on FN’s recent performance in local elections, it seems to have the strongest prospect among European neo-fascist parties to be elected to power.
The ultra-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) rose steadily to gather 29% of the national vote in 2015 to be the party with most votes in 16 of the 26 cantons in Switzerland. The SVP, said to adhere to national conservatism, opposes membership of the EU and of NATO, with which the country has a partnership. Its economic policy is neoliberal and its nationalism comprises hostility to Islam and immigration.
Among Nordic countries, neo-fascism is weakest in Iceland but on the rise elsewhere. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats are Sweden’s fastest-growing political force. The right-wing populist Progress Party has since 2013 been a junior partner in government with the Conservatives in Norway, which is also home for Scandinavian neo-Nazi activities (http://www.tnp.no/norway/panorama/4554-scandinavian-neo-nazis-make-norway-headquarter). The anti-immigration, Euro-sceptic Danish People’s Party ― successor to the Progress Party ― came second in the June 2015 general election after promising bigger increases in public spending than its rivals and restoration of border controls. In Finland, the right-wing populist Finns Party, which secured 19.1% of the popular vote, is now a partner in the ruling coalition.
Interestingly, the resurgence of fascism has been weak in Spain, ruled by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975. It should be noted here that the US forged an alliance with Franco in 1953, despite his fascist dictatorship and support for the Nazi Germany during WW2. Portugal too, ruled from 1932 to 1968 by Antonio Salazar, yet another far right dictator with fascistic leanings, does not have strong neo-fascist groups, despite streaks of racism inherited from the colonial era, which ended with the defeat of Portuguese colonialism in Africa and the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship by revolution in 1974.
In Greece, the fascist 4th of August Party, facilitated and welcomed the US-backed 1967 right-wing military coup, launched under pretext of combating communist subversion. Military rule persisted until 1974, with the approval of the West, which let Greece to remain in the NATO. Greek neo-fascism re-emerged in 1980 in the form of the brutally racist and ultra-right Golden Dawn, with Nazi affinities. Its electoral performance peaked in 2012 with 7% of the national vote but has stagnated since.
British neo-fascists were for long a weak political force despite the inherent racism of British society. The British National Party (BNP), the most successful British neo-fascist party up to the first decade of the 21st Century, collapsed in 2010 shortly after its major electoral breakthrough in local elections in 2008-9. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), as racist and anti-left as the BNP, gained from the fall of the BNP. It used a campaign highlighting Britain’s leaving the EU to overtake the Liberals and then Labour to become the second most popular party in the UK in 2014 and the leading party at elections to European Parliament in 2014.
Fascism re-emerged in Russia and some European member states of the former Soviet Union, notably Ukraine, where the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party entered government in 2014 with the blessings of the US. Among former Socialist allies of the USSR, Hungary, Bulgaria and Czech Republic have significantly strong fascist parties. Some republics of the former Yugoslavia too have political groups with strong fascist traits.
Character of European Neo-Fascism
Neo-fascism is a post–World War II phenomenon with strong fascist characteristics, and retains the reactionary, racist, chauvinist and anti-left essence of pre-WW2 fascism. Alongside the weakening of the European left, ultra-nationalism and racism became salient features of European neo-fascism which plays on racial prejudices and, as necessary, resorts to populist politics.
It should be noted that neo-fascism in Europe draws on racist values that have taken root in several European countries following a long history of colonial control over what is now the Third World. In West Europe, racism found strong expression in anti-immigrant policies based mostly on colour, but not universally. For example, in Britain, targeting of West Indians gave way to attacks on South Asians. French neo-fascists targeted Algerians and not Black Africans during the Algerian war, and in Germany neo-fascist attacks are aimed at Turkish nationals including Kurds. Anti-Jewish attacks by European neo-Nazis in the first few post-WW2 decades have almost faded out, while the Roma (gypsies) remain a target in much of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe where they are the target of the emergent far right since the fall of socialist regimes in 1989.
What is important about European neo-fascism is that most neo-fascist groups are not residues of the Nazis, and anti-Semitism (really anti-Jewish politics) is virtually irrelevant to neo-fascism. Neo-fascists, despite their nationalistic anti-EU posturing and even criticism of NATO, are part and parcel of imperialism and destined to hinder proletarian revolution. Neo-fascism takes advantage of the political vacuum created by the failure of the European left and uses populist slogans to stir racism among the lower middle and working classes who bear the brunt of the economic crises.
There is tendency among the Western media to apply the label neo-fascist to anti-Semitic organizations and holocaust deniers but exempt anti-immigrant, ultra-right nationalists who are not anti-Jewish. Although ethnic and racial animosity is more prominent than fascist ideology in the politics of the ultra-nationalist and far right parties of Europe, the identity politics upheld by them has much in common with fascism.
Aversion for fascism is still strong in post-WW2 Europe so that prospects are still weak for an explicitly fascist or fascist-dominated regime in the near future. Also, the propensity for violence among neo-fascists troubles bourgeois democratic regimes. However, the succession of electoral gains by neo-fascists has forced many European governments to adopt, voluntarily or otherwise, neo-fascist racist positions on immigration and rights of immigrants, as evident in their attitude towards the recent influx of refugees caused by civil wars induced by imperialism.
Western political analysts and the media do not attach the neo-fascist label to European ultra-right political parties which espouse versions of fascism but participate in constitutional politics. But this approach ignores the fact the Nazis used electoral methods to capture power.
Neo-Fascism in the Americas
Several small neo-Nazi groups exist in the US, but the biggest source of fascism is the state, which is fully under the control of monopoly capital and implements a fascist agenda within and outside the US in the name of democracy, freedom and most importantly defending the American way of life. The rise of potentially fascist right-wing Christian fundamentalism in the US is no accident; and Barry Goldwater, who unsuccessfully contested the Presidential Election in 1964, and Donald Trump, the aspiring Republican candidate for 2016, are not racist freaks but represent the reactionary white supremacist ideology pervading American society.
The US, pretending to defend democracy and freedom, imposed reactionary fascist dictatorships on much of Latin America in the 1960’s and 70’s. Fascism in Latin America thus qualitatively differed from that in Europe, where fascists used populist politics to capture power. There have, however, been instances, as in Chile in 1974, where manufactured dissent among sections of society served as pretext to impose a dictatorial regime through a military coup. Chile endured the notoriously oppressive and murderous fascist regime of General Pinochet from 1974 to 1990. Despite political defeat, fascism still has its footprints in Chilean politics.
What is thus significant about neo-fascism in Latin America is that, unlike its European counterpart, it was not home grown. In South America there were once echoes of European fascism, especially that of Spain, and Nazi ideology thrived among German settlers in Argentina between WW1 and WW2, but weakened since WW2. With the people having experienced brutal US-backed fascistic regimes and the impact of globalization, popular resistance to right wing regimes is generally strong in Latin America, although the threat of right wing coup is not far away.
Latin America has been home to oppression of indigenous people who are also victims of racism and discrimination. However, democratic and anti-US imperialist struggles enabled the indigenous people to have a say in the affairs of the state in several countries, especially Bolivia. But full restoration of the rights of the indigenous people has far to go.
Lessons of imperialist-induced regime-changes in Latin America cannot be forgotten as the US has not given up its desperate efforts to remove any regime with a semblance of social justice or anti-imperialism and replace it with an oppressive right-wing dictatorship.
WW2 and Fascism in Asia and Africa
In pre-WW2 Asia, fascism held power only in Japan, and Japanese fascism, unlike European fascism, had no mass political base. A fascist regime was imposed on the people by a militarist takeover with approval from the monarchy, amid external and internal conditions akin to those in Germany and Italy before fascists seized power.
Access to the emperor and hence power to veto the weak parliament (the Diet) assured the armed forces influence in affairs of the state. Widespread belief that the political parties were corrupt and that the Diet could not solve Japan’s economic problems and the global capitalist crisis leading to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to a loss of public faith in parliamentary democracy. Ultra nationalist groups that emerged in parallel to the rising assertiveness of the armed forces did not, however, comprise populist fascist movements. The military fascist takeover in 1932, nevertheless, had mass support amid waning faith in parliamentary democracy and Japan’s rivalry with an increasingly hostile West, chiefly the US. The consequent upsurge in patriotism favoured Imperial Japan’s aggression in China, and the eventual invasion of north-eastern China in 1931. The return of Japanese militarism in recent decades relates to the residual fascism of the ruling class, which still obstructs apologizing to China and Korea for the mass crimes committed during WW2.
Affinity for fascist Japan and Nazi Germany among leading political movements in colonial Asia and North Africa during WW2 was mostly due to misguided anti-imperialism and elitist narrow nationalism, which faded out after the defeat of Germany and Japan in WW2. But that does not rule out the existence of nascent fascists who would later develop into religious fundamentalists with ideas in common with fascism.
Post-WW2 Fascism and Neo-Fascism in Asia and Africa
The most important post-WW2 fascist event in Asia brought General Suharto to power in Indonesia by a US-backed military coup in 1965. The Communist Party of Indonesia, the strongest communist party outside socialist countries, which also had a strategic relationship with President Sukarno, posed a threat to imperialist interests in South East Asia. General Suharto invoked religion to incite anti-communist violence by the Muslims majority, by raising the spectre of a takeover by atheists. Between October 1965 and early 1966, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 communists and sympathizers were killed by the army, aided by anti-communist militias and guided by US intelligence. Ethnic Chinese too were targeted but not killed in large numbers. While resentment of ethnic Chinese, especially owners of small businesses, was endemic to Indonesia, systematic violence against them, including anti-Chinese riots, followed the fascist coup of 1965 which also led to discriminatory legislation against ethnic Chinese. The global economic crisis of 1997 contributed to the anti-government riots of 1998 which brought down Suharto; but the riots also involved some of the worst violent attacks on ethnic Chinese.
Annexation of West Papua in 1969 and East Timor in 1976, with the blessings of the US, were important landmarks of the fascist regime. Besides, the Indonesian state pursued cruel repression in the regions of East Timor (1975-99) and Aceh (1976-2005). Even after liberation, East Timor was further punished by violence sponsored by the Indonesian state. The liberation struggle in Aceh subsided in the aftermath of the tsunami of 2014 December which wreaked havoc in the province.
The overthrow of Suharto has not fully freed Indonesia of its legacy of 32 years of fascist rule. Anti-communist prejudice runs deep in society. Religious sectarianism promoted by the fascist regime has since led to the growth of a few but influential hard-line Sunni fundamentalist groups which target Shiite, Ahmadiya and Christian religious minorities.
Another serious fascistic development occurred in the Philippines amid growing inability of the ruling big comprador and landlord classes to rule the country under bourgeois democratic norms and the prospect of a strong revolutionary movement following the re-establishment of the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) in 1968. As anticipated by the CPP in 1969, President Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and extended his rule beyond the constitutional two-term limit in 1973 using as pretext threats of Communist and Moro nationalist insurgencies. It took much public anger and mass protests to be rid of Marcos in 1986. He, like several far-right dictators of the Third World, enjoyed US support during his fascist dictatorial rule and US protection even after removal from power. The fall of Marcos has yet to restore true democracy to the Philippines whose repressive state is subservient to US imperialism, hesitant to negotiate with the National Democratic Front of which the CPP is a key member, and adopts a deceptive approach to the Moro national question.
The only neo-fascist political forces in Africa with European fascist characteristics were in South Africa where Nazism had an early audience. As an independent White-dominated country, South Africa shared many characteristics with Europe which led to apartheid, an institutionalised form of racism, and was thus fertile ground for the development of groups inspired by European fascism. Pro-Nazis were organized in 1932 as South African Gentile National Socialist Movement, also known as Greyshirts. Its support base thinned after the defeat of Germany in WW2. German Nazism also inspired the Ossewabrandwag, founded in 1939. While the Greyshirts emphasised the Aryan race rhetoric and organized among the various white immigrant communities, the Ossewabrandwag was exclusively Afrikaner. Other smaller fascist outfits too emerged.
The Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, Vereniging van Oranjewerkers, Herstigte Nasionale Party and the Boeremag are among far right white-supremacist groups restricted to Afrikaners which emerged in the post-WW2 era. The Afrikaner Volksfront, a coalition formed in May 1993 as an umbrella group for white-supremacist organizations unsuccessfully sought to disrupt transfer of power to the native majority by disrupting the elections scheduled for 1994.
White racism still exists in South Africa, but is less explicit, since Black leaders of the ruling ANC have assured that imperialist domination and privileges of the White capitalists will remain as long as they are in power.
Modern Fascism in Asia
Modern fascism in Asia developed along two routes: one involving the transformation of ethno-religious chauvinism into neo-fascism; the other an outgrowth of religious fundamentalism induced or encouraged by imperialism.
Modern religious intolerance in South and South East Asia goes back to the era of anti-colonial resistance when ethno-religious nationalism, while resentful of colonial domination, had issues with religious minorities, based on rivalry in business and the professions, and at times favoured positions under the colonial rulers, or plain bigotry.
In Sri Lanka, Sinhala Buddhism initially targeted Christians, then the Muslims, Hill Country Tamils and Tamils in that order. Now the Muslims are the main target. While militant organizations such as the Bodhu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya etc. are readily identified as fascists by political analysts and a section of the media, there is, however, reluctance to describe as fascist the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) ― or its forerunner, the Sihala Urumaya ― whose ideology finds violent expression in BBS, SR and rival outfits which the JHU now disowns.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) has a record of anti-Indian violence since WW1: anti-Indian sentiment peaked during the Great Depression, with riots in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1930 killing over 200 Hindus and Muslims. In 1942 half a million Indians fled Burma following Japanese occupation; and persecution under General Ne Win who came to power by a military coup in 1962 forced the emigration of 300,000 Indians by 1964. Burmese Chinese too were victims of state-sponsored violence and discrimination from 1967 through the 1970’s, which led to large scale emigration of the community. Burma also has a long record of national oppression and armed struggles in response by the minority nationalities.
Buddhist fundamentalist pogroms targeting Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine ― formerly the State of Arakan, an independent kingdom annexed by Burma in 1784 ― is a new phenomenon to emerge since the political transition of 2011. The killing of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims and the displacement of over 140,000 in 2012 shocked the world. While persecution of Rohingya Muslims continues at home and in refugee camps abroad, the Arakan National Party ― an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist party formed in 2014 by the merger of the neo-Nazi Rakhine Nationalities Development Party with the Arakan League for Democracy ― won 22 of the 35 contested seats to the Rakhine State Parliament in 2015, with several hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims denied the right to vote.
The Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), founded in 2013 and led by the clergyman Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa, is successor to the 969 Movement led by the notorious fundamentalist priest Ashin Wirathu, a key player in the anti-Muslim violence in 2012-2013. It has the goal of creating an exclusively Buddhist state in Myanmar and demonstrated its strong influence on political thought and ideology in Myanmar by persuading Parliament to write into law in August 2015, well ahead of the elections in November, four bills drafted by Ma Ba Tha (the Religious Conversion Bill, the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill, the Population Control Healthcare Bill and the Monogamy Bill) which effectively legalize discrimination against women and Muslims.
The rise of militant Buddhism in Burma and that in Sri Lanka, despite differences in detail, have much in common. What is particularly significant is that the Ma Ba Tha and the JHU developed as independent religious fundamentalist entities playing on the sensitivity of the Buddhists. However, unlike the JHU, which suffered several splits, Ma Ba Tha, for now, dominates Buddhist extremism in Myanmar.
The ultra-nationalistic and anti-socialist Hindu fundamentalism in India had its origins in sections of the Indian national movement which identified India closely with Hinduism. Hindu identity was initially asserted as response to colonial rule and Christian domination but later became an expression of Hindu-Muslim rivalry. Right-wing Hindu nationalists soon adopted the concept of a Hindu India. This tendency combined with communal friction aggravated by colonial rule enabled the emergence of potentially fascist outfits alongside the anti-colonial struggle, with Hindu extremism viewing Muslims as the main enemy.
The term Sangh Parivar refers to the Hindu nationalist movement including the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and other nominally independent organizations with a diversity of opinion on a range of issues and style of work ranging from social work through active politics to outright thuggery. Despite all differences there is concurrence on the idea of a Hindu Indian state and the concept of Hindutva (Hinduness).
The RSS, the oldest and strongest Hindutva organization, was founded in 1925 ‘to provide character training through Hindu discipline and to unite the Hindu community’. Despite claims to being an apolitical body, it has acted as the social arm of right wing Hindu nationalist parties. Its control over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ― and its predecessor the Bharatiya Jan Sangh ― is well documented. Significantly, the present and the previous BJP prime ministers were apprenticed in the RSS stable of Sang Parivar. The RSS had direct links with European fascists and ideologically there is much in common between European fascism and Hindutva. (For a fuller account of fascist links dating back to the 1930’s see “Soldiers of the Swastika” by AG Noorani in Frontline, 23 January 2015.)
Another important public face of Hindu fascism is the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization based on the ideology of Hindutva, founded in 1964. It has been notorious for its role, alongside the BJP and Shiv Sena, in tearing down in December 1992 the Babri Masjid (claimed with scant historical evidence to be the birth place of the Hindu god Ram) and the consequent communal violence. Bajrang Dal, founded in 1984 as the militant youth arm of the VHP, has been a key player in anti-Christian violence and countless attacks on Muslims across India, including the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was implicated.
The Shiv Sena, a Marathi sectarian front founded in 1966, thrived on a hate campaign against South Indian ‘immigrants’ in Bombay to protect ‘Marathi sons of the soil’. Following the weakening of its founding cause, the Sena joined the Hindutva bandwagon in the 1970’s. Since 1989, it has been an electoral partner the BJP for the Indian parliament as well as the Maharashtra State Assembly. Dispute over power caused the parties to fall out in 2014 during elections to the State Assembly. The alliance has since resumed, but with visible signs of disharmony. Muslim protests against the state about the demolition of the Babri Masjid were followed by the well planned Bombay Riots of December 1992 led by the Sena, with the police as accomplice, targeting Muslims.
There have been several instances of Islamist acts of terror and militant attacks on public places. Much of the violence by Muslim individuals and groups has been in response to violence by Hindutva organizations and the State, especially in Kashmir. The fact is that India has no Islamist fundamentalist organization that targets other religious communities.
Thus there is a need to distinguish between Muslim militancy in South Asia, including terrorism with and without Pakistani state backing, which arose as response to issues between India and Pakistan, especially over the Kashmir question, and Islamist fundamentalist and terrorist outfits which emerged in the 1980’s under President Zia-ul-Haq, a close ally of US imperialism. They were intended to overthrow the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan at the behest of the US, but they proliferated and went out of control of the Pakistani state.
Fascism and Political Islam
Modern political Islam which stared in the 1970’s in response to economic stagnation in several Muslim, mostly Arab, countries had an anti-imperialist (as well as anti-Marxist) content. Later, the US encouraged Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism, as part of its scheme for global domination, with the help of reactionary Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia which was the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Qaida and now the Islamic State (variously known as ISIL, ISIS, Daesh etc.) whose reach is spreading outside Syria and Iraq, where it was expected to overthrow non-Sunni Muslim regimes. Other Arab sources of militant money include Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
While al-Qaida and other externally induced Islamist militant outfits as well as the Saudi-backed Wahabi and salafi organizations act to destabilize secular Arab states and African countries with large Muslim populations, they do not qualify as fascist organizations, as they are not nationalistic and do not represent the interests of capitalism in the countries where they exist. Their fascist potential cannot, however be denied.
The politically loaded term “Islamofascism” serves to discredit Arab mass political parties such as Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizbullah by grouping them with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida to justify institutionalized harassment of European Muslims, especially immigrants.
The Islamic State, however, differs in objectives from other Islamist organizations, whatever the expectations were of its patrons in the Arabian Peninsula. As noted in a comment in Mondoweiss by Stephen Sheehi (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/11/isis-fascist-movement/) that Islamic State “may share some pedigree with the most pernicious of Wahabi, salafi social and political practices, which originated in a reaction against Arab and Ottoman generated modernity in the 19th and 20th century”. He proceeds to explain that salafi and Wahabi movements are not fascist as they are more concerned with juridical and theological issues of Sunni Islam whereas Islamic State, besides its “un-Islamic” conduct, indulges in fascist political, social, and militaristic practices. He also points out that state building by Islamic State is “clearly based on corporatist, capitalist mechanisms, where the ‘state’ and its war machine monopolize revenue through the oil infrastructure, extorted taxes, and tariffs. This corporatism is enforced by a security apparatus and ‘Islamic’ courts that administer a severe penal (not legal) system in order to coerce compliance”.
The observation on al-Qaeda by Jeff Mankoff in History News Network (http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/29239#sthash.OH3zK6il.dpuf) that al-Qaeda is a “small, conspiratorial organization whose influence flows more from its ability to inspire small numbers of fanatical followers with its mastery of modern communication technology than from its ability to become a mass movement or a force in electoral politics” is worth noting.
What matters is the direction which an Islamist militant organization would take once it captures power. Islamic states have been severely repressive and thus have, to different degrees, streaks of fascist repression. The danger in dubbing all repressive states as fascist is that one can lose sight of the real fascist threat. It should, however, be noted that Christian fundamentalism has greater fascist potential and global reach than Islamist fundamentalism, especially since the former is an imperialist ally while the latter is just a tool which has occasionally spun out of control.
Dealing with Fascism
The global left ― revolutionary as well as parliamentary ― debates if the government of Turkey is fascist. Eric Draitser’s comment in New Eastern Review (http://journal-neo.org/2015/09/21/has-turkey-become-a-fascist-state/) is close to reality: “…a close analysis of Turkey in the ‘Age of Erdogan’ does reveal a country that has given over to violence as a political tool, repression and censorship as standard government practice, and sponsorship of terrorism as foreign policy. If it hasn’t already earned its fascist moniker, it may well be on its way”.
Thus there are a many state and political organizations with fascist tendencies which are insufficient to identify the organizations as fascist based the on characteristics of European fascism between WW1 and WW2. Also, the methods used by modern fascism to seize power differ from the populist methods of what may be called ‘Classical European Fascism’. European neo-fascism has implanted clones within bourgeois democratic parties so that centre-right and even “centre-left” parties, especially in Europe, readily adopt key aspects of the fascist agenda, in relation to immigrants, the working class and the left.
Since WW2, fascism found fertile ground in parts of the Third World, where nationalism, once a progressive force fighting colonial oppression, deteriorated into chauvinism and narrow nationalism ― at times drawing on religion as part of national identity. Such identity-based politics, not only bereft of anti-imperialism but also seeking imperialist patronage readily, acquires fascist characteristics or even turns fascist when survival demands repression. Imperialism often turns a blind eye to such developments. Thus anti-imperialist struggles can inevitably become anti-fascist struggles.
Fascist regimes have been imposed through military coup in South America with the connivance of US imperialism, in contexts where conditions had not matured for fascism to come to power using populist methods. Right wing nationalists after capture of power can transform government into a fascist regime as in Turkey and Singapore, which continue to be seen as ‘democratic’ by Western imperialism and its media.
There is also a dangerous tendency to identify militant ultranationalist and fundamentalist parties as neo-fascist, while exempting their electoral political counterparts. We should remember that ideologically the Arakan National Party is no less fascist than the Ma Ba Tha or the 969 Movement; the JHU is no less fascist than the BBS or the Sinhala Ravaya; and the BJP is no less fascist than the RSS or the Bajrang Dhal.
Populist fascism is dangerous and needs to be dealt with firmly by the left and democratic forces. Unlike pre-WW2 fascism, modern day fascism has put into effect its fascist agenda not only as the party in power but also as a partner in coalition government and as a powerful pressure group, both within and outside parliament.
To rely on identification of a political organization as fascist for political counteraction is folly. Identification is important, but action is needed not only against outfits identified as fascist, neo-fascist or proto-fascist but also against organizations with fascist leanings such as ultra nationalism, anti-left rhetoric and pro-imperialist attitudes. One need not wait to respond until fascist violence strikes.
Imperialism is intent on sustaining the swerve to political Right; and global capitalism and bourgeois democratic politics are accommodative towards ultra-nationalism, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim racism. Anti-fascists in the Third World should thus be alert to active as well as passive imperialist support for fascist tendencies, especially in the context of mass struggles for social justice.
The left has to be proactive in acting to prevent fascism of any kind form hijacking the anger of the alienated working class and other oppressed sections of the people.