Blog post

Is Fascism making a comeback?

Responses from Chiara Bottici, Neil Faulkner, Rose Sydney Parfitt, Tim Jacoby, Charlie Post, Yannis Stavrakakis, William I. Robinson, Laurence Davis, Elena Loizidou, Cenk Saraçoğlu, Eva Nanopoulos, Chip Berlet, Stephen Hopgood, and Jessica Northey. 

Cihan Aksan, Jon Bailes 5 December 2017

Supporters of the far right march on Polish Independence Day, Warsaw, November 2017. via Pixabay.

This article was first published by State of Nature, as part of the monthly "One Question" series, which solicits responses to a single query from a variety of thinkers. This month's question — "Is fascism making a comeback?" — received responses from Chiara Bottici, Neil Faulkner, Rose Sydney Parfitt, Tim Jacoby, Charlie Post, Yannis Stavrakakis, William I. Robinson, Laurence Davis, Elena Loizidou, Cenk Saraçoğlu, Eva Nanopoulos, Chip Berlet, Stephen Hopgood, and Jessica Northey.

Chiara Bottici

Associate Professor in Philosophy at New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College (New York). Her recent books include Imaginal Politics: Images beyond Imagination and The Imaginary (Columbia University Press, 2014), Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, and Identity(Cambridge University Press, 2013), co-authored with Benoit Challand, and the co-edited collections, The Anarchist Turn (Pluto 2013, with Simon Critchley and Jacob Blumenfeld), and Feminism, Capitalism and Critique (Palgrave 2017, with Banu Bargu).

In fact, fascism has never gone away. If by fascism, we mean the historical regime that created the name and embraced the ideology explicitly, then we have to conclude that the concept is only applicable to the political regime that reigned in Italy between 1922 and 1943. This, however, amounts to little more than a tautology: "the Italian fascist regime" = "the Italian fascist regime." History clearly never repeats itself, so any attempt to apply the category of fascism outside of that context would be doomed to fail. That may be a necessary cautionary remark for historians, but how about social and political theorists? Can fascism be a heuristic tool to think about and compare different forms of power?

If by fascism we mean a political model that was only epitomized and made visible by the Italian kingdom during 1922-43, then we arrive at a very different conclusion. Consider for a moment the features that characterize that form of power: hyper-nationalism, racism, machismo, the cult of the leader, the political myth of decline-rebirth in the new political regime, the more or less explicit endorsement of violence against political enemies, and the cult of the state. We can then certainly see how that form of power, after its formal fall in 1943, continued to exist in different forms and shapes not simply in Europe, but also elsewhere. We can see how fascist parties continued to survive, how fascist discourses proliferated and how different post-war regimes emerging world-wide exhibited fascist traits without formally embracing fascism.

Coming close to our times, we can see how Trumpism, as an ideology, embodies a neoliberal form of fascism that presents its own peculiar features, such as the respect of the formal features of representative democracy, the combination of free-market ideology and populist rhetoric, and the paradox of a critique of the state accompanied by the massive recourse to its institutions. But it also exhibits features, such as the extreme form of nationalism, the systematic racism, the macho-populism, and an implicit legitimation of violence, which are typical of fascism. In sum, we should consider fascism as a tendency of modern power and its logic of state sovereignty, a tendency that, like a Karstic river, flows underneath formal institutions but may always erupt in its most destructive form whenever there is an opening for it.

Neil Faulkner

Historian, archaeologist, and political thinker. Author of numerous books, including A Radical History of the World (Pluto, forthcoming), Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump, and the Rise of the Far Right (Public Reading Rooms, 2017), and A People’s History of the Russian Revolution (Pluto, 2017).

Is fascism making a comeback? Perhaps. But history is not predetermined. It presents us with a succession of choices.

What does seem true is that the film of the 1930s is re-running in slow motion. We face a world capitalist crisis that is probably more intractable than that of the 1930s, with economic stagnation, growing social decay, a breakdown of the international order, increasing arms expenditure and war, and imminent climate catastrophe.

The political and business elite has no solutions to any of the major problems confronting humanity and the planet. Parliamentary democracies have been hollowed out by corporate power. Authoritarian nationalist regimes are in control elsewhere. Fascist organisations are gaining in electoral support.

Labour movements – the unions and the mass socialist parties – have been weakened by 35 years of neoliberalism. Most working people, battered by the crisis, lack effective mechanisms for fighting back collectively. Social life is characterised by atomisation, alienation, and anomie. This is the seedbed for nationalism, racism, fascism, and war.

The Right has no solutions and nothing to offer. The essence of its politics, therefore, is to turn working people against each other, making scapegoats of women, the poor, the disabled, ethnic-minority people, Muslims, LGBT people, migrants, refugees, and so on. It takes different forms in different places. Trump in the US. Brexit in Britain. Le Pen in France. The AfD in Germany. But the essential message is the same. And this has the potential to harden into all-out fascism — the violence and repression of armed thugs out to smash the unions, the Left, and the minorities.

But fascism could have been stopped in the 1920s and 1930s, and it could be stopped today. It all depends on what we do. The challenge is extreme: we need nothing less than a radical programme of economic and social change to reverse a generation of financialisation, privatisation, austerity, and the grinding down of working people.

To stop the fascists, we have to show the great mass of ordinary working people that an alternative is possible: that if we unite and organise and fight back, we can challenge the grotesque greed of the super-rich rentier class that is currently leaching the wealth of society to the top, and remodel society on the basis of equality, democracy, peace, and sustainability.

Tim Jacoby

Professor at the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. Author of Understanding Conflict and Violence: Theoretical and Interdisciplinary Approaches (Routledge, 2008), and Social Power and the Turkish State (Routledge, 2004), and co-author of four other books.

Fascism is not making a comeback because it never left. Contrary to the thinking of some nominalist historians, it didn’t begin in the 1920s and end in 1945. It is not an artefact, but alive, well and continuing to thrive.

The United States’ Directive JCS 1779 of 1947 facilitated the reinstatement of over 90 per cent of those German officials previously purged under de-Nazification measures — including Hauptsturmführer Klaus Barbie (before he fled to Argentina in 1951). In Italy, concerns over the strength of the indigenous communist party led the CIA to allocate more than $10 million to a Christian Democrat Party riddled with unreconstructed fascists. Having worked with former Nazi operatives to defeat a communist insurgency in Greece in 1949, the United States extended Marshall Plan aid to Salazar’s Portugal and normalised relations with the Franco regime, which reportedly viewed the resultant 1953 Pact of Madrid as proof that it had been right all along.

Germany’s Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, which received between 500,000 and 750,000 votes in the general elections of 2005-13, is a direct successor to the Deutsche Reichspartei (founded by General der Flieger Alexander Andrae in 1946). In Spain, the Democracia Nacional, emerged from the Círculo Español de Amigos de Europa which included the former commander of the Walloon SchutzstaffelStandartenführer Léon Degrelle, for whom Franco provided asylum and obstructed Belgian extradition attempts thenceforth. Degrelle’s close associate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who attracted five million votes in the 2002 French elections, formed the Front National in 1972.

In the United States, the second Klan had achieved an estimated membership of around 4 million people during the 1920s (making it one of the largest civil society organisations in world history). This did not disappear after the military defeat of European fascism. It forged links with groups such as the American Nazi Party (founded in 1959) and the United Kingdom’s National Socialist Movement led by a former member of the British Union of Fascists, Colin Jordan, and the future leader of the British National Party, John Tyndall (who appointed Nick Griffin to the party in 1995). The key figure behind this trans-Atlantic collaboration was Harold Covington — whose influence Dylan Roof cited as a motive for the 2015 Charleston shooting.

Rose Sydney Parfitt

Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School and an Australian Research Council (DECRA) Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School, where she leads a research project entitled "International Law and the Legacies of Fascist Internationalism." Her book on modular history and international legal subjectivity is coming out in 2018 with Cambridge University Press.

There is, I think, no question that fascism is making a comeback. Clearly, the language, symbols and logic of fascism are being deployed today more overtly than at any time since the early 1940s. That is not to say, however, that fascism ever went away, or — in the context of our once-European, now-global legal order — that the kernel of fascism has not been with us from the beginning.

This suggestion, that fascism may be lodged somewhere in the DNA of the normative system we now take for granted, might seem odd coming from a legal scholar. After all, law, with its emphasis on equal rights and non-aggression, was violated systematically by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and their allies, and is usually understood as the most important weapon we have against far-right resurgence. We should remember, however, that inter-war fascism did not spring out of nowhere. On the contrary, fascism took almost 500 years of European colonialism, with its brutal expansionism and Social Darwinist logic (at the time, entirely "legal"), and turned it in on itself.

In the process of its transformation from a European to a near-universal system via decolonisation, "development," and the collapse of Communism, the law by which most states are regulated today is supposed to have abandoned these discriminatory and expansionist tendencies. Yet its core premises remain the same. Law’s primary subjects (states and individuals) may now be more numerous, but they are still recognised as free only in a negative sense ("free from" not "free to"), and equal only in a formal (legal not material) sense. Likewise, law’s non-state, non-human objects continue to be regarded as "natural resources," secured in unlimited supply by technology’s capacity to usher capital into ever-more obscure corners of the "market."

Yet the supply of "resources" is not, in fact, unlimited — as nineteenth-century imperialists and twentieth-century fascists insisted. As they also recognised — and celebrated — this means that the state cannot function as an egalitarian framework within which prosperous individual futures can be pursued in mutual harmony — or, at least, not unless some external "living space" can be found wherein to harvest meat, fish, oil, gas, water, dysprosium, avocados and other "essential" commodities. The state, in other words, is not a "level playing-field" but a collective vehicle — a battering-ram — available for appropriation by those who are already winning the endless war of accumulation in which only the fittest (wealthiest, most powerful) have a right to survive. In short, fascism, seemingly the antithesis of the rule of law, may in practice be its apotheosis.

Let me, then, respond to the question posed with another question. In the context of a global legal order which views famine, poverty, exploitation and planetary destruction as consistent with universal "freedom" and "equality," will fascism ever go away?

Charlie Post

Long time socialist and activist in the City University of New York faculty union. Author of The American Road to Capitalism (Haymarket, 2012) and numerous articles on labour, politics, and social struggles in the US.

My answer is ambiguous. On the one hand, the social and political conditions for the re-emergence of fascism as a movement are ripening across the advanced capitalist world. The global slump that began with the 2008 recession has decimated the living standards of the working and middle classes — both self-employed and professionals and managers. The near collapse of the political and economic organizations of the labour movement, and the active collaboration of social-democratic parties in implementing neo-liberalism and austerity, have crippled the emergence of a progressive, solidaristic, and militant response "from below" to the crisis. Angry at both the large transnational corporations and seeing no alternative from labour, broad segments of the middle classes are drawn to racist and xenophobic politics that target both the "globalists" and "undeserving" immigrants and other racialized minorities. These politics fuel the electoral success of right-wing populist parties, which encourage fascist street fighters to target organized workers, immigrants, and others.

On the other hand, the social and political conditions for a fascist seizure of power are not on the agenda in any advanced capitalist country. Capitalists have handed power over to the enraged middle classes organized in fascist parties only when the labour movement threatened radical change, but failed to follow through. For better or worse, it has been over forty years since the labour movement anywhere in the global North has posed a threat to the rule of capital. Today capitalists have little desire to hand power over to right-populist electoral formations, and have no need for fascist gangs.

While the prospect of a fascist seizure of power is not on the agenda, the labour movement and the Left need to mobilize whenever fascist groups emerge — to crush them while they are still weak.

Yannis Stavrakakis

Professor of Political Discourse Analysis at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Author of Lacan and the Political (Routledge, 1999) and The Lacanian Left (SUNY Press, 2007), and co-editor of Discourse Theory and Political Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000). Since 2014 he has been director of the POPULISMUS Observatory:

Fascism is arguably making a comeback. There are places in the world where fascist or neo-nazi forces have managed to enter parliaments and install themselves as a more or less legitimate political option. Notice the case of Golden Dawn in crisis-ridden Greece! However, this does not necessarily mean that liberal democracy is currently facing a terminal danger due to this comeback, as in the 1930s. In particular, we should be aware of three crucial issues:

  • The issue of conceptual clarity is paramount. Today, almost everything we dislike is summarily denounced as "fascism" — hence the conceptual confusion between fascism, populism, authoritarianism, etc. Notice the way the Donald Trump phenomenon is treated.
  • Even more troubling than fascism seems to be a particular way of dealing with it by more moderate political forces, by adopting its main messages and tropes, the so-called "Mainstreaming" or "Normalisation" of fascism. These ideas can become quite appealing to many of us, thus posing once more the issue of "Authoritarian personality," of an "Inner fascism" potentially present in all of us — hence the importance of a psycho-socialapproach to study this phenomenon.
  • Finally, it should not escape our attention that the main reason for the comeback of fascism and its increasing contemporary psycho-social appeal may lie elsewhere: in the reign of neoliberalism and the miserable failure of social democracy to offer any real hope to segments of the population facing incresing inequality and a downward spiral of social and economic mobility.

William I. Robinson

Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Next year Haymarket books will publish his new manuscript: Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism.

Fascism, whether in its classical twentieth century form or possible variants of twenty-first century neo-fascism, is a particular response to capitalist crisis. Global capitalism entered into a deep structural crisis with the Great Recession of 2008, the worst since the 1930s. Trumpism in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, the increasing influence of neo-fascist and authoritarian parties and movements throughout Europe and around the world (such as in Israel, Turkey, the Philippines, India, and elsewhere) represent a far-right response to the crisis of global capitalism.

Twenty-first century fascist projects seek to organize a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class, such as white workers in the Global North and middle layers in the Global South, that are experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility in the face of capitalist globalization. Fascism hinges on the psychosocial mechanism of displacing mass fear and anxiety at a time of acute capitalist crisis towards scapegoated communities, such as immigrant workers, Muslims, and refugees in the United States and Europe. Far-right forces do this through a discursive repertoire of xenophobia, mystifying ideologies that involve race/culture supremacy, an idealized and mythical past, millennialism, and a militaristic and masculinist culture that normalizes, even glamorizes war, social violence and domination.

In the United States, emboldened by Trump’s imperial bravado, his populist and nationalist rhetoric, and his openly racist discourse, predicated in part on whipping up anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic sentiment, fascist groups in civil society have begun to cross-pollinate to a degree not seen in decades, as they have gained a toehold in the Trump White House, in state and local governments around the country, and of course in the Republican Party.

But fascism is not inevitable. We stand at a crossroads and whether or not we slide into fascism depends on how the mass struggles and political battles unfold in the coming months and years.

Elena Loizidou

Reader in Law and Political Theory at the University of London, Birkbeck College, School of Law. Author of Judith Butler: Ethics, Law, Politics (Routledge-Glasshouse, 2007), and editor of Disobedience: Concept and Practice (Routledge, 2013), along with numerous articles and chapters on feminism, anarchism and the law.

We find ultra-nationalist and fascist parties in the representative assemblies of countries such as Greece (Golden Dawn), Cyprus (National Popular Front), Hungary (Jobbic) and India (Bharatiya Janata Party). In the US, the Alt-Right Movement and its white supremacist ideology has found expression in the views of President Donald Trump. On the 12 of November 2017, around 60,000 Ultra-Nationalists marched in Poland on the country’s independence day, chanting "white Europe of brotherly nations." We may conclude therefore that fascism or a contemporary version of fascism is gaining traction globally.

Still, whilst fascist parties and movements are on the rise we are yet to witness a widespread emergence of neo-fascist political regimes. We have not in other words seen the suspension of every democratic framework and the abolition of individual rights. Umberto Eco identified thirteen characteristics in authoritarian fascist regimes, amongst them the loss of individual rights, nationalism, the banning of critique, gaining traction through the exploitation of difference, and a call for traditional values. Of course, some of these characteristics have taken root in neo-fascist groups and ultra-nationalist parties, and even more disturbingly we notice that a growing number of people are becoming attracted to these types of thinking. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that as long as people and political systems can counter such groups/parties, either by bringing them before the law or through debates that expose the irrationalism of their positions, then I think this interest in fascism may be just a passing trend.

We can counter the rise of fascism or totalising and undemocratic ideas within our societies. How? I agree here with Foucault that to do so we need to be vigilant of the fascist within us that makes us desire power and its promises. We need therefore to be constantly questioning our very desires, either for political formations or figures that are lovers of power. In our contemporary western democratic societies, I would add the only way of sustaining a critical attitude requires us to find time and space to think alone and together. The biggest detractor of that is capitalism. If we are to stop the rise of fascism we need to retrieve the time that it is eaten up by capitalism and its various hands, managerialism, efficiency, profit, and so on.

Laurence Davis

Lecturer in Government and Politics at University College Cork, Ireland, co-editor of Anarchism and Utopianism (Manchester University Press, 2014) and The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Lexington Books, 2005). Editor of the Manchester University Press Contemporary Anarchist Studies book series.

Seventy-two years after the end of World War II, the spectre of fascism is again haunting the globe. The important questions we should be asking are why, and what can be done about it.

The evidence of history suggests that fascism thrives in periods of severe capitalist crisis by redirecting fear and anxiety about socioeconomic dislocation onto easily scapegoated "outsider" groups, who must be brutally repressed in order to reaffirm society’s "natural" hierarchies and enable national rebirth. Just as Mussolini and Hitler capitalised on the economic and political crises of their time, so too contemporary fascists are endeavouring to tap into a deep and racialised popular anger that has emerged out of the crumbling ruins of neoliberalism and market globalisation.

Many commentators of a liberal democratic persuasion have dismissed such warnings as scare-mongering, and insisted that the most appropriate response to "populist politics" is a renewed commitment to market globalisation with a "human face." I maintain, to the contrary, that the only effective antidote to emerging forces of fear and hate is not less popular democracy but more.

Whereas contemporary fascists are giving voice to the ugly authoritarian and reactionary face of popular opposition to the political and economic establishment, an egalitarian and inclusive left popular radicalism can and must expose the real roots of festering social problems by speaking plainly and directly to ordinary people’s needs, without pandering to their worst prejudices and fears. In practical terms, this will require grassroots democratic organising of the sort exemplified by political forces currently leading the struggle against fascism and working to construct viable community-based post-capitalist alternatives, such as in Rojava and Greece.

At the level of ideas, it hinges on a reconnection with radical democratic revolutionary roots. Historically, the revolutionary ideas and social movements that are the very antithesis of fascism, and the only sure defence against it, have tended to emerge out of, and given ideological coherence to, popular democratic social forms. However, in our time once revolutionary ideologies and movements like socialism and anarchism have grown increasingly detached from their radical democratic roots, leaving a political vacuum that right-wing populists and demagogues have been quick to fill.

Walter Benjamin’s observation that every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution speaks poignantly to our current condition. It may be interpreted not only as a warning, but as a grimly realistic utopian hope that we still have a fleeting historical opportunity to act before it is too late.

Eva Nanopoulos

Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University, co-editor of The Crisis behind the Crisis: The Euro-Crisis as a Systemic Crisis of the EU (Cambridge University Press) and author of The Juridification of Individual Sanctions and the Politics of EU Law (Hart Publishing), both forthcoming.

It is important both not to overestimate and underestimate the extent to which fascism is making a "comeback." There are reasons not to overestimate the "comeback." Even in countries where fascist parties were legally banned, fascist movements did not disappear from the political scene and although their popularity was in relative decline over the second half of the 20th century, the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s also coincided with the consolidation of major neo-fascist groups, such as the Front National in France or the Freedom Party in Austria.

There are equally reasons not to underestimate the "comeback." The war on terror, the global economic crisis, increased austerity, or military interventions have all created breeding conditions for a resurgence and consolidation of fascism. Socially, racist ideas have been, if not altogether legitimised, at the very least banalised, contributing to the "dehumanisation" of the migrant "other." Politically, not only has the far right made real gains, in places like Poland, it has already begun a more profound overhauling of liberal democratic institutions. Legally, resistance and unrest has been met with increased repression and authoritarianism, as the recent normalisation of the state of emergency in France shows. "Walls" or "policing" have moreover saturated public spaces with symbols of division and suspicion.

The question is further complicated by shifting incarnations of "fascism." Even parties like Golden Dawn, whose paramilitary violence, expansionist aspirations of a "Greater Greece" or open embrace of Nazi symbols map quite neatly onto 20th century fascism, continue to reject the label, and some of their economic policies borrow dangerously from the Left’s anti-austerity agenda. Elsewhere, the far right is undergoing a more explicit process of "modernisation."  In that context, an analysis of the likelihood of a fascist take-over should seek to understand the specific forms of contemporary fascism in the wider context of their relationship to neoliberalism and the neoliberal crisis.

Cenk Saraçoğlu

Associate Professor of Sociology at Ankara University, Turkey. Author of Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion (I. B. Tauris, 2011) and numerous scholarly articles and chapters on politics and society of Turkey.

Let me first put the question in its historical context. To what extent could the recent rise of reactionary right-populism be designated as harbinger of fascism?

A fascist turn cannot be reduced to counter-revolutionary subversiveness, but it is a necessary and distinctive feature in fascism. By counter-revolutionary subversiveness I mean fascism’s tendency to mobilize and energize its support base through combining its chauvinistic and anti-socialist agenda with the promise/discourse of subverting the long-standing political/institutional and ideological arrangements of the bourgeois political establishment.

The crude anti-establishment discourse of such emblematic examples of right-populism as Trump, Le Pen, and Nigel Farage has not yet been combined with such a radicalism. They rather tend to organize their chauvinistic political discourse around bringing back the so-called "strong" and sovereign nation-state in an era of the crisis of neoliberal cosmopolitanism. They also do not build their political position on the emergent need to radically transform the existing balances of power in international relations.

The same does not necessarily hold true for the instances of populism in relatively "peripheral" countries such as Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines. In these countries, counter-revolutionary subversive discourses and practices of the political powers are more obvious. However, there are some insuperable structural impediments for these political forces to fully "actualize" and prolong such subversiveness particularly in the international arena due to their economic and political dependence on so-called "great powers." If they had the chance to practise some elements of this "radicalism" in their domestic politics this owes to and is a symptom of the yet unending precarious state and crisis of international order.

These assertions do not mean to say that these movements are not dangerous enough. Indeed, they are the most striking epitomes and also catalysts of capitalism’s reactionary predispositions in the contemporary world and this does not exclude the possibility of them embodying a full-fledged fascist character when the crisis of capitalism deepens further and the course of social struggles reach a new stage.

Stephen Hopgood

Professor of International Relations and Pro-Director (International) at SOAS, University of London. Author of The Endtimes of Human Rights (Cornell University Press, 2013), and Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International (Cornell University Press, 2006).

As an undergraduate in the late 1980s I recall one of my peers in political theory being told that his proposed dissertation title, "Fascism: A Closed Option?," was misconceived because one could no longer write about fascism as a serious political alternative in Europe. Would anyone say that now? We can see an increasing number of regimes embracing some aspect of the fascist playbook: the rhetoric, the techniques of division, the elimination of dissent, the glorification of aggressive and violent solutions to complex social issues. No one yet says they’re a fascist, the closest we have come being Viktor Orban’s "illiberal democracy." But from Trump, Xi Jinping, Putin, Duterte, Sisi, Erdogan — to name a few in power — to Le Pen and Wilders and ISIS, to name those who aspire to it, the language of blood and belonging, of purity, of crushing dissent, of sacrifice for the collective good, is visible once more. The macho politics of national or religious power and destiny have returned.

Why now? In some cases, fascistic government has never gone away even if it was legitimated in other terms — China, Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be examples. The shift is in the West where the seemingly invincible liberal social contract is foundering on the rocks of inequality, precarious employment, eroding white privilege, religious intolerance and demographic change. This has been fertile ground for those who would set "us" versus "them," who look for scapegoats amongst minorities and educated elites, who seek an end to political correctness and more open expression of feelings of distrust, dislike, and disgust.

Having said this, we must remember two things.

Fascism is a continuum. At the everyday level, social fascism has never gone away for those who are different, alternative, outside the tyrannous norm. That such intolerance would become a mainstay of national culture would mark a major shift, yes. But we are always somewhere on the line between difference and enforced conformity, between social disapproval and state-led policy to eliminate diversity. This we can find on the Left, too — fascism is historically but not intrinsically a feature of the right. President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on blood as the basis of borders in China, alongside repression of individual freedoms other than the freedom to consume, is as fascist as any other form of rule currently on display.

And second, fascism comes on by stealth. It doesn’t have to be jackboots and uniforms and purges, but the silencing of dissent, the taming of judges, the legitimation of intolerance and of the bullying of those who will not, or cannot, fit a narrow stereotype of what constitutes a proper citizen.

The liberal social contract relies on forms of structural violence and embedded inequality. It needs a healthy dose of revivified social democracy. But the alternatives will sunder any hopes for freedom and lead us, inexorably, into war.

Jessica Northey

Research Associate at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, and International Coordinator for the Green Party of England and Wales.

With the US President tweeting Islamophobic material, Marine Le Pen gaining a third of all votes in a racist election campaign, and Polish extreme nationalists marching through Warsaw, we are right to be deeply concerned about a potential comeback of fascism. Far-right parties have gained ground in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece and Hungary. In the UK, the slogan "Britain First" was shouted by the radicalized murderer of MP Jo Cox, in reference to the far-right organisation (whose videos were recently retweeted by Trump). Far-right movements have been mobilising, gathering support, and in some cases weapons, over the last decade.

Fascism is based on authoritarianism, and visions of a totalitarian, hyper-nationalist, all-encompassing state. In 2017, weakened states, self-serving bureaucrats and the failures of leadership by centre ground politicians, have disillusioned and damaged so many. The sense of betrayal and abandonment is clear and the far right’s fantasy of a fascist state feeds on it.

The threat of Islamist radicalization is also used by the far right — and by mainstream media — on a daily basis. For right-wing extremists, this plays into a toxic narrative of racial hatred. The focus on Islamist extremism, avoids discussion of the potentially far greater problem of violent right-wing extremism in the UK and beyond, with radical organisations such as Combat 18 or the Ku Klux Klan.

Tackling fascism will be the main challenge for all progressive, inclusive civil society movements and politicians across Europe. To succeed they will need to unite, to call out fascism, to listen to those left behind, and to build solidarity and an inclusive vision for the future.

Chip Berlet

Chip Berlet is an investigative journalist and independent scholar who coauthored (with Matthew N. Lyons) Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (Guilford 2000); and the revised entry on “Neo-Nazism” in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

Fascism is making a comeback in many countries, primarily through its precursor form of right-wing populism. Not all right-wing populist movements develop into full-blown fascism; and most fascist movements fail to grab and hold onto state power. Yet the rhetoric of right-wing populism is itself dangerous because it identifies scapegoats who are blamed for causing the decline of the nation, and the humiliation of the "real" people who are the "legitimate" and "proper" citizens.

Roger Griffin defines fascism as:

a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the “people” into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence (1991 xi).

Matthew N. Lyons and I wrote a book in 2000 about right-wing populism in the United States. Our analysis flowed from the work of many scholars, especially Canovan (1980), Fritzsche (1990), Griffin (1991, 1993), Betz (1994), and Kazin (1995). Since then scholars and activist researchers have expanded earlier analyses linking populist rhetoric to apocalyptic aggression, violence, and fascism.

Neofascism remains woefully undertheorized. Too many influential public intellectuals rely on language blaming "extremists" and "hate groups" instead of focusing on structural inequalities in a nation based on race, gender, and class. For current useful analysis see Cas Mudde, Ian Haney López, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser.

Full citations and more resources at


1. "The strategic adversary is fascism … the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us." (Michel Foucault, "Preface" to Anti-Oedipus, 1977, p. xiii)

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Fascism and Dictatorship
The resurgence of the far right across Europe and the emergence of the “alt-right” in the US have put the question of fascism urgently back on the agenda. For those trying to understand these forms...
The Crisis of the Dictatorships
The Crisis of the Dictatorships is Nicos Poulantzas's fourth book. It is a compact study, at once topical and theoretical, of the historical end of the reactionary and authoritarian regimes that ha...
Europe's Fault Lines
It is clear that the right is on the rise, but after Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the spike in popularity of extreme-right parties across Europe, the question on everyone’s minds is: ho...
Just as Donald Trump’s victorious campaign for the US presidency shocked liberal Americans, the seemingly sudden national prominence of white supremacists, xenophobes, militia leaders, and mysterio...
The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe
Drawing on a Gramscian theoretical perspective and developing a systematic comparative approach, The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe challenges the received Tocquevillian consensus on author...
Bloody Nasty People
The past decade saw the rise of the British National Party, the country’s most successful ever far-right political movement, and the emergence of the anti-Islamic English Defence League. Taking aim...
The Rise of Hindu Authoritarianism
With the Hindu nationalist BJP now replacing the Congress as the only national political force, the communalization of the Indian polity has qualitatively advanced since the earlier edition of this...
Telling Lies About Hitler
In April 2000 a High Court judge branded the writer David Irving a racist, an antisemite, a Holocaust denier, and a falsifier of history. The key expert witness against Irving was the Cambridge his...
The Rise of Islamic State
Born of the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars, the Islamic State astonished the world in 2014 by creating a powerful new force in the Middle East. By combining religious fanaticism and military prowess...
Irregular Army
Since the launch of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars—now the longest wars in American history—the US military has struggled to recruit troops. It has responded, as Matt Kennard’s explosive investigati...
Violent Borders
Forty thousand people died trying to cross international borders in the past decade, with the high-profile deaths along the shores of Europe only accounting for half of the grisly total.Reece Jones...
In this definitive historical investigation, Italian author and philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that from the outset liberalism, as a philosophical position and ideology, has been bound up wi...

Filed under: fascism, history, political-theory, populism