By Greg Godels
October 30, 2020
Since the end of the Cold War– almost thirty years ago– the neo-Cold Warriors have ruled the ideological battlefield, reconstructing, twisting, and distorting twentieth-century history. This has had an especially deleterious effect upon the non-Communist left, especially in the US and Europe. History that was once vigorously contested, has become the property of liberal historians bent on retelling events solely through the lens of bourgeois values and triumphant revisionism. To unfortunately great effect, far too much of today’s left has readily accepted this deceptive, often totally false picture.
Therefore, it is refreshing, even exciting, to read two recent, related articles by philosopher Gabriel Rockhill appearing in Counterpunch. Both Liberalism and Fascism: Partners in Crime (reposted on the sister site, Marxism-Leninism Today) and The U.S. Did Not Defeat Fascism in WWII, It Discretely Internationalized It, dismantle much of the edifice constructed by capitalist apologists, both left and right. The two articles appear sandwiched between two other related Rockhill articles posted a few days apart, in Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report.
Rockhill’s contribution is important because it undercuts the many myths that fuel popular (mis-)understanding of fascism, a charged epithet that has been slung back and forth in the US electoral wars. In addition, he refutes the many influential canards about real-existing-socialism and the Communist parties that have become barriers to constructing a real-existing-socialism in the US, a socialism beyond polite reformism and utopian schemes.
On the question of fascism, Rockhill exposes two big lies:
- Lie #1 “…liberalism defeated fascism in World War II…”
- Lie #2 “Fascism is the complete opposite of liberalism and liberalism is the essence of anti-fascism.” Any serious, honest student of history recognizes that the brunt of the war against European fascism was borne by the Soviet Union and the Communist-led resistance movements in the occupied countries, with their allies significantly joining the fight only after the Soviets alone were growing closer to defeating Nazism and liberating Europe in 1944.
Rockhill restores the historical record with the following facts:
- Truth #1 “…what fascism and liberalism share is their undying devotion to the capitalist world order…”
- Truth #2 Liberalism has waged a “long psychological campaign under the deceptive banner of ‘totalitarianism’” to equate fascism with Communism.
- Truth #3 “Nazi racial police state and colonial rampage… were modeled on the United States.”
- Truth #4 “…Western European fascism emerged within parliamentary democracies…” and not by overthrowing institutions. While it is important to affirm that Italian fascism and Nazism came through the front door, fascism has also been imposed violently (Franco, Pinochet). Moreover, European fascism also attempted to impose its will outside of parliament (March on Rome, Beer Hall putsch).
- Truth #5 “The capitalist state turned itself over [to the fascists and Nazis] without a fight.”
- Truth #6 The Social Democrats ”refused to form an eleventh-hour coalition with the communists against Nazism.”
- Truth #7 Communist Party leader Ernst Thaelmann “had argued that a vote for the conservative Field Marshal von Hindenburg amounted to a vote for Hitler and for war.” Contrary to wide-spread fantasies, both right and left, neither Communist reluctance to coalesce, nor treachery opened the door to Hitler (or to Mussolini). German Communists offered united action on many fronts and in different Länders. They were never able to overcome Social Democratic refusals, except from appeals to those below the leadership. The presidential choice between Thaelmann and von Hindenburg was the last opportunity to forestall Hitler, who von Hindenburg appointed Chancellor despite the NSDAP losing electoral support.
- Truth #8 “Capitalist states refused to form an antifascist coalition with the USSR.” I recount this sordid record of refusing to join the Soviet Union against fascism in some detail here.
- Truth #9 “Indeed, it was the fear of being left to confront Hitler alone which eventually drove Stalin… into the Stalin[sic]-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.” No diplomatic event has been so willfully misunderstood as has the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. To see a last-ditch survival maneuver as a betrayal of principle or of the working class is a mark of political opportunism or left-wing immaturity. The pact’s purpose was sensible and defensible.
- Truth #10 It was not only the bourgeoisie and the large landowners who decisively backed Italian and German fascism, but also “the major corporations and banks whose headquarters were in Western bourgeois democracies…” like Ford, GM, Standard Oil of NJ, DuPont, etc.
- Truth #11 “…if liberalism allowed for the growth of European fascism, it is capitalism that drove this growth.” Lost in superficial, impressionistic accounts of fascism is the truth that fascism functions and is implemented when capitalism is under existential threat. In every instance, the threat to capitalism or the perceived threat to capitalism has generated the material support for fascism. When sufficient numbers of the ruling class are convinced that bourgeois democracy cannot contain the threat to capitalism, they unleash fascism.
- Truth #12 “It was above all the Red Army that defeated fascism in World War II, and it is communism– not liberalism– that constitutes the last bulwark against fascism… one cannot be truly antifascist without being anti-capitalist.” To be fair, many antifascists who were not anti-capitalist died fighting fascism. But there is no effectively antifascist ideology that is not anti-capitalist. Any such ideology supportive of capitalism fails to understand the roots of fascism and its function.
- Truth #13 “In the reactionary political culture of the U.S., which has attempted to redefine the left as liberal, it is of the utmost importance to recognize that the primary opposition that has structured, and continues to organize, the modern world is the one between capitalism… and socialism.” This is, perhaps, Rockhill’s most important point, one that has been lost on many of those who have read and recommended Rockhill’s thoughtful essays. The lingering legacy of anti-Communist fundamentalism in the US blinds many to this truth, leaving US leftists bound to liberalism of one kind or another at the core of their “radical” visions.
From the sixties New Left to the Occupy advocates and the “democratic” socialists of today, radicals defer the socialism question, with the hope that liberal values will automatically generate a substitute socialism-of-the-heart.
Rockhill’s essays well retell the post-war collaboration of fascists and Nazis with the US intelligence services, the secret police that are today portrayed as warriors for democracy by the corporate media. The use of war criminals in the anti-Communist crusades, the corruption of many, if not most, of the Cold War intelligentsia by CIA funding, and the preparation of a vast, secret anti-Communist network– right-wing “militias,” to use today’s language– among US allies are exposed effectively and accurately by Rockhill. While these vile actions are documented by many academics, they must be retold again and again to counter liberal opinion-makers who conveniently ignore them.
Many of us familiar with the treachery of leading liberals in the McCarthy era draw a special glee from Rockhill’s scorching, incendiary attack on the hypocrisy of liberals and their collaboration with the forces of reaction. The sad state of US politics– two-party perfidy, complacent, self-serving labor leadership, blindness to the criminality of US foreign policy– flows directly from the cowardice or complicity of Cold War liberals.
Yet it is also important to remember that many popular front liberals fought, resisted, and were repressed by McCarthyism, defied Cold War conformity, and paid with their careers. Many others were cowed into submission. It was, in black-listed writer, Dalton Trumbo’s words: the time of the toad. Of course, today, toadyism is again fashionable with the liberal petty-bourgeoisie.
We must remember that fascism is an historical phenomenon, bound by time, place, and circumstance. Just as many mistakenly saw the rise of Mussolini and Hitler as merely another instance of a nineteenth-century European conservative reaction (as did PCdI’s Bordiga and Gramsci in the early years of Italian fascism) and not a unique movement, some today simplistically see European and US right-wing populist reaction as an instance of twentieth-century fascism. Focusing on similarities often obscures critical differences. If nineteenth-century reaction was a response to the rise and threat of liberalism, twentieth-century reaction (fascism) was a response to the rise of the workers’ movement and the threat of Communism. The existential threat to capitalism explains its social and political extremism.
Today’s reactionary movements are responding to the impotency of social democracy and the demise of revolutionary socialism (Communism). Right-wing, demagogic populism rushes to fill the void. Trump, Orban, Johnson, Salvini, and others are opportunistically attempting to occupy the political space abdicated by liberal, social democratic, or Eurocommunist parties and trade on a deepening mass dissatisfaction with the liberal order. They hitch their dubious populism to traditional right-wing programs.
It is useful to distinguish between liberal ideology and individual liberals, liberal movements, and their parties. Sometimes when Rockhill relates liberalism to fascism he is not always clear on which he means. Liberal ideology may well be spent. It does not have the energy or relevance that it had in driving reform in the nineteenth century. But it is not “partners in crime” with fascism. It is a distinctly different ideology from fascism.
Liberals and their parties have assisted, even collaborated with fascism, especially in legitimizing it politically within a parliamentary setting. As Rockhill acknowledges, it is because they both share a commitment to preserving capitalism. Hence, they collaborate especially when capitalism is perceived as under siege by the revolutionary left.
As much as we may enjoy Rockhill impaling the increasingly smug and self-righteous liberal ideologues, we must acknowledge that most of the political left and center identify with liberalism in the US two-party system. But they do so because they believe they see few alternatives. That support is, therefore, thin.
We must battle the ideology, but win over the followers. Rockhill’s essays are a helpful tool in that effort.