As the popular culture would have it, Fascism is all about brutality and Marxism is all about economics. This popular impression is wrong in multiple ways. First, Fascism is definitely about economics and was not particularly brutal (hold on, bear with me, see below). Second, Marxism is an economic system that relies in all cases on brutality.
I can imagine a reader’s reaction now. ‘How can Weasel say Fascism wasn’t brutal? Hitler! Holocaust!’ To start out, Hitler was not a Fascist. He was a Nazi, and while there are similarities in the two political-economic systems, there were significant differences as well. If you want to tell me Nazis were brutal, I can only agree wholeheartedly.
Fascism grew out of the idea of the Corporate State, and thus is a child of Syndicalism, an early form of socialism that was popular around the time that Marx lived. Hey, here’s an interesting thought, there are forms of socialism that are not Marxism. In the Corporate State, corporations refer to organizations made up of company management, unionized workers, and government representatives. These are not business corporations as we think of them today. Government gets its fingers into every company (OK, maybe that’s like what we have today), and also takes away the independence of workers’ unions, making them in effect arms of the state, along with their employers. Private ownership is allowed, but the owners lose more and more control over their own businesses. Since owners can’t control what they own, Fascism is not in any sense a free market economic system, and it is utterly stupid for anyone to suggest that it is.
Since Fascism has forms of socialism in its family tree, am I suggesting that Fascism is a form of socialism? More than suggesting it, I will proclaim it. Fascism is a form of socialism. Fascist leader Mussolini stated that clearly, many times. It is a political-economic system that was employed under that name in Italy, Spain, and other countries in the 1930s-1940s. Since then, Fascists have learned not to call their system Fascism.
What about Nazism? It is often assumed that Nazis were the same thing as Fascists, but this is not exactly true. The Nazis were members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP). They called themselves socialists because they were socialists, and Hitler many times wrote that he was in favor of socialism, at least his version of it. Hitler’s ideology was suspicious of free markets and international trade, preferring national self-sufficiency or ‘autarky’. Hitler’s government took control of various industries, directing production long before the beginning of the Second World War. They kicked owners out and put Nazi goons in charge. Like Fascism, National Socialism did not in any sense support a free market in ideology nor in practice. Anyone who suggests otherwise has ideological blinders on, or is ignorant of how Hitler’s Germany worked.
How could Hitler be a socialist if he was a Christian? Short answer, Hitler was not a believer, just a Christian by ancestry. Historian John Keegan wrote that Hitler thought Christianity made Germans too soft and too friendly toward Jews, and considered trying to convert Germans to Islam. The Nazis wanted to hijack Christmas and bring in state-worship, Aryan race mythology, and pre-Christian paganism into the Christian holiday.
British vlogger ‘TIK’ is a military historian who goes over the Fascist-Nazi difference here. I think he pushes some definitions a bit harder than I would, and I would split hairs with him on some things, but in general he is right. TIK has another video about the Nazi economy that is helpful to understand how it has been portrayed by leftists and how it actually worked.
Now about Marxism, which in the popular notion is just about economics and not a system of brutal oppression. Marxist socialists were always brutal, and always will be brutal. The Soviet Union murdered tens of millions and enslaved hundreds of millions. Communist Chinese murdered tens of millions and continue to enslave ethnic minorities to this day. Cambodian communists killed nearly a third of the people of Cambodia. Communist East Germany was an oppressive regime that employed hundreds of thousands of informants ratting everyone out to the government. North Korea is willing to let its people starve as long as control is retained by the Communist Party. More recently, soldiers from communist Venezuela burned relief supplies to prevent them reaching the starving Venezuelan people. All of these countries followed the Marxist version of socialism.
Somewhere along the way, my imaginary Marxist reader will say ‘But but but real socialism has never been tried!’ Well, every time we come close to real socialism, there is suffering. Often, that includes mass murder on a scale rarely seen in all of human history outside of socialist nations.
Marxists don’t like to talk about the brutality of Marxist governments. Pretending they weren’t brutal won’t make the horror go away, but maybe erasing the history, 1984-style, will prevent the spread of knowledge.
Now some Marxist may read this and by now he would be screaming, ‘Hitler had nothing to do with Marx!’ Maybe that’s true, but both were socialists. (Also, both were antisemites, but in different ways. I digress.) There were many forms of socialism, and they existed before Marx. I have already mentioned Syndicalism and the Corporate State. Bakunin and Proudhon were contemporaries of Marx with different ideas about socialism. Nor did Marx invent Communism. The term communism predates Marx, which is why he said “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism”. It wasn’t a word he made up, or it wouldn’t have haunted Europe while he was still writing about it.
In fact, Socialism as a theory goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Plato discussed a totalitarian socialist society in The Republic and Aristophenes mocked it in Assemblywomen (Ecclesiazusæ).
My theoretical Marxist reader continues: ‘But but but but Nazis are right wing! Socialists are left wing! How can you say they are similar when they are on opposite sides of the spectrum? And you call yourself a Ph.D.?’ I say get a grip, dude. My Ph.D. is in electrical engineering. I read history and philosophy for fun. Anyway, from my studies and life experience, I know that surface appearances can be deceiving. Let’s look at that right-left political axis. Stated differently, let’s pretend a one-dimensional left-right spectrum can capture all the important variables of politics and provide a useful model. If Nazis are on one side and Marxist socialists are on the other, then the spectrum that (supposedly) encompasses all of politics runs all the way from one kind of socialist workers’ party, clear across to the opposite extreme of another kind of socialist workers’ party. Where does one go to avoid being a socialist, or even to describe where non-socialists exist on the spectrum? Simply stated, such a model is garbage. The left-right spectrum started out in the French assembly in the late 1700s, where the right was the monarchists. Are monarchists a force in politics anywhere today? Capitalists (free-marketers, more or less) would not have been ‘the right’ in France back in those days. Anyway, the simplistic left-right model as applied (misapplied) today suffers from a problem. The left in the US is easily identified and includes Marxists, critical race theorists, social justice warriors, Antifa, Democratic Socialists, the organized leadership of Black Live Matter, etc. However, the bogeymen on ‘the right’, fascists and Nazis, are actually on the left as noted above. The two leaders of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally were an Obama voter/Occupy supporter and an ‘alt-right’ guy who doesn’t agree with conservatives (‘the right’?) on anything. Does anyone even know what the right is, who real right wingers are? Are they libertarians? Are they limited-government conservatives? What policies are right wing, and why are they right wing? If we cannot answer that question, we can never agree on what the right is and who is part of it.
EDIT 1/1/2022: bonus meme