James Gregor on Fascism in Our Time (Excerpt)

“For at least half a century, we had been told that fascism was reactionary and congenitally anticommunist.

Marxist-Leninists were revolutionary and intrinsically antifascist. We had been told that fascism was of the ‘extreme right’ and Marxism-Leninism was of the left. Now we are told that ‘resurfacing communist leaders…’ have been gravitating towards fascism, and ‘quite often exhibit a degree of ultranationalist prejudice we would never have expected from such past paragons of communist internationalism.

Communists, in effect, have become increasingly like the fascists on the ‘radical right’ – or perhaps they had always been of the ‘radical right.’ In any event, it would seem that we are no longer certain of anything.

If all that is not confusing enough, other academics insists that ‘fascism,’ as all ‘right-wing extremist groups,’ include ‘antitax,’ ‘fundamentalist religious’ and ‘anticommunist’ organizations. Thus, ‘fascism’ can be either anticommunist, or a form of Stalinism, a host for religious fanaticism, or a vehicle for tax protestors. It can be an expression of ‘clerical conservatism’ or Islamic fundamentalism. It can associate itself with the ‘views of Ronald Reagan’ in the West, or with former communists of the defunct Soviet Union in the East. More than that, politicians can explicitly renounce ‘all forms of racism and totalitarianism’ and publicly commit themselves to ‘freedom, justice and democracy,’ and still be numbered among contemporary ‘neofascists.’

All of which can only test our tolerance of paradox. For more than fifty years, we have been told by Western analysts that right-wing ‘fascism’ has always been ‘xenophobic’ and ‘ultranationalist,’ while leftist Marxism-Leninism has always been ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘internationalist.’ But then again, we are now regularly counselled that ‘perhaps we have tended to misjudge the communist elites of yesterday and failed to notice their latent nationalism all along.’ And so, it would seem that the political left, as Marxism-Leninism, may have always been nationalistic and ultranationalistic. It may never have been of the left at all. It may have always been of the right. It may have always been an anticipation of the ‘thought of Ronald Reagan.’

[…]

Perhaps the most uninspired effort to understand ‘fascism’ has been that which attempts to identify it as ‘right-wing.’ After the end of the Second World War, there has been a systematic effort to associate ‘fascist’ and ‘neofascist’ political phenomena with the ‘radical or extreme right’ as though all were logically and demonstrably related.

If right-wing extremists include anyone who objects to unrestricted immigration, is ‘overly conservative,’ uses ‘hate speech,’ is ‘intolerant’ of other people’s religious beliefs, holds ‘stereotypical’ views concerning those of other races, gender, age, degree of handicap, and/or sexual life-style, he or she may be identified, under one or another definition, as ‘radical right-wing,’ but hardly ‘fascist.’

[…]

…We are informed that the ‘radical right’ in the United States includes ‘racists,’ anticommunists, antistatist libertarians, tax-protestors, survivalists, and those who object to the unqualified right to abortion. The ‘radical right’ includes opponents of the welfare state. It includes Christians who see salvation only through Christ. It includes those who advocate a defence of wilderness property rights against federal environmental regulation, or who advocate the devolution of federal power to the states. The radical right thus includes celebrities like G. Gordon Liddy and Rush Limbaugh as well as prominent members of the post-1992 Republican opposition in congress. We are expected to accept the notion that they are all, in some intelligible sense, fascists.

The ‘radical right’ in Europe, on the other hand, seems to include all those who are ‘racists,’ nationalists, statists, antilibertarians, and the most avid supporters of ‘left-wing’ Stalinism and communism’s form of the welfare state. In Romania, the ‘radical right’ identifies itself with the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu as well as with the pre-war fascist Iron Guard. It is a breed of ‘radical right-wingers’ who can be either Christian fundamentalists, atheists or agnostics, fascists or anti-fascists, communists or anticommunists.

It is not clear what all this means. It is not clear whether the ‘radical right’ is ‘fascist’ in its entirety or whether ‘fascists’ constitute a subset of the more inclusive class. We are told that the ‘radical right’ in Eastern Europe apparently includes the ‘Stalino-fascists,’ while the ‘radical right’ in Central Europe ‘rejects both communism and liberalism.’ And yet, members of the ‘extreme right’ have ‘much in common with some of the unrepentant communists…’ And while we are told that we should not be surprised by all that, it is arresting to be told that Rush Limbaugh and unrepentant communists share so much in common.

If Stalinists and libertarians, unrepentant communists and survivalists, as well as Christian fundamentalists and atheists are all fascists, it would seem we have lost all direction. If ‘radical right’ is to be understood as an inclusive class coextensive with ‘fascism,’ we are faced with more than a few problems.

James Gregor, Phoenix: Fascism in Our Time (London: Transaction Publishers, 1999), 5-8.

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