Thursday, September 15, 2005


The spurious concept of ‘Islamofascism’ is a weapon clumsily wielded by those on the pro-war ‘left’ as justification for their stance. I therefore feel I would like to subject the idea to at least a mild critique. I am sure such critiques have been articulated more ably than I could hope to do so, but then again, much of what I say and think is articulated more ably by a myriad of people, so I may as well spew this forth too.

I suppose the question arises as to what such a subject has to do with law and disorder. Well the answer is, at first sight, not that much. However, I personally am very interested in the application of Marxist legal theory towards fascism, hence this may well serve some use as preparing the groundwork for such an analysis.

There are two things that I do no purport to do here, firstly, I will not give a rigorous, in-depth discourse on fascism, as such an analysis is probably beyond me. Secondly, I will not subject the concept of Islamofascism to a comprehensive critique, I will merely point out its inherent incoherence. Now the question remains: ‘If you’re not going to do either of those things what are you going to do?’

Strangely enough I believe a simple ‘discourse on method’ and a cursory analysis of fascism is enough to dismiss the frankly scatterbrained notion of Islamofascism, and secondly I will briefly look at why the terms is so wrong and why the pro-war ‘left’ wishes to deploy such a term

The notion of Islamofascism can be quickly dismissed by methodological considerations. For the term to have any meaning at all it must be demonstrated that the states or movements to which this concept is applied are in some way ‘fascist’. Let’s take a look at a dictionary definition of fascism (and this will prove woefully inadequate) as our first step in this analysis a quick google search turns up several responses, we’ll take one (one I’m sure the pro war ‘left’ would love) and subject it to critique:

A system of government that promotes extreme nationalism, repression, anticommunism, and is ruled by a dictator.
From an analytical standpoint this definition is worse than useless. It does identify some features of fascist regimes to be sure, but it does not say what makes these regimes ‘fascist’. The ‘concept’ of fascism cannot be the above, as let’s face it, there have been plenty of governments like this prior to the existence of the term ‘fascism’ that were never labelled in such a way.

The problem is actually very similar to that of identifying the law. Here we have a concept ‘fascism’ which is clearly differentiated from any ordinary ‘authoritarian’ state. This means it must have a specific fascist character, that differentiates it from that which came before it. If we want to find this character google actually terms up a much better (although seemingly vacuous) definition of fascism:

a term used particularly to describe the nationalistic and totalitarian regimes of Benito Mussolini (Italy, 1922–45), Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1933–45) and Francisco Franco (Spain, 1939–75).

If we ignore for the moment that incoherent term ‘totalitarian’ we have the beginnings of a correct definition of fascism. If fascism is different from authoritarianism in some way (and it must be different since it has such a vituperative force behind it) we need to see how it acquires a differentia specifica from other forms of social organisation.

The only way to do this is to follow the method Pashukanis does in his General Theory, namely look at the history of fascism. Because we can only see what something is if we know its history, only it history does social organisation acquire a fascist character. Thus, in order to give any meaning to the term fascism we have to look at that which is particular to Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy etc., that which differentiates fascism as a politico-economic moment is the organisation of the capitalist state, on this basis we can extend such a ‘definition’ to other states, and see if they ‘live up’ to our ‘yardstick’.

Now, I really don’t want to go deep into the conception of fascism, because I don’t currently have the inclination. But we know that fascist regimes occurred at a particular juncture in history, with specific material conditions. They then evolved into a particular form of organisation with a particular balance of class forces. Put perhaps too briefly fascism emerges from the crisis of capitalism, namely the 1930s. The fascist movement was, at first, composed primarily of petit bourgeois and déclassé elements. These were the people (aside from the working class) who suffered most in the crisis of capitalism, but who would suffer under the normal operation of capitalism too.

At the same time as this we see the growth of workers movements, particularly here in Italy and Germany. Socialist or Communist parties are militant, as are trade unions and other working class organisations. At this point capitalism does seem threatened. It is here that the monopoly bourgeoisie and finance capital step in to support the fascist movement openly. The fascists are used as the shock troops of this class, and on their assumption of power there is a fusion of the state with monopoly capital. Dimitrov (and I hate the MIA for putting him in a Reference Archive), who no doubt is despised by readers of this blog, defined fascism as:

‘The open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and most imperialist elements of finance capital’

It should be added that there is also a co-option of labour in favour of capitalism, and state ‘supervision’ of the various monopoly capitalists. These are the defining features of fascism. What this definition does a good job of showing is that fascism is a phenomenon which only occurs in countries with a monopoly bourgeoisie, i.e. ‘imperialists’. This is where the term ‘Islamofascism’ runs into problems. Even according to the pro war ‘left’ the Islamofascists are only ‘fascists’ on the basis of their anti-semitism, chauvinism, and reactionaryness (which I am aware is not a word). But the problem is that historically there have been plenty of people like that, none of whom were called fascists.

Fascism is not an emotive term, it is not a description one’s views on groups of people. rather it designates a particular form of social organisation, that was itself the product of a particular conjunctural moment in the history of capitalism.

Some will argue such a definition is ridiculous, and that I am reifying the concept of fascism. And perhaps I am. But, as I noted in my post about reification and the law it is necessary to mark out certain social constellations with terms if these terms are to have any meaning. If fascism, as a term, is associated with racists, dictators etc. it loses any claim of historical specificity and becomes merely a buzz-word, an insult. This is the great problem of the actual left, in labelling opponents as fascists, we change the term from a description of a particular set of social relations into an insult, denoting someone’s apparent mindset. Yet this denudes the claim of any meaning, if all authoritarians are fascist then fascist simply means authoritarian, in which case stop using the word fascist, because it has a particular historical resonance (both emotive and material) one which is clearly aimed at being exploited.

Now onto why the word is used. Well, as I’ve said, fascism, quite literally, has a history. And for the left such a history is important. At no other time was the left as unified as when it was fighting fascism, everyone from left-social democrats, to hardcore CP members joined in the fight, as is evidence by the Spanish Civil War. But here’s the kicker, fascism is the only state that the left has consistently supported wars against (let’s discount the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact for now, I’m getting to the point), it is the one cause that, if actualised, the left will support military action against.

The fact of the matter is I’m sure its tiring sitting at the right hand side of capital, probably lonely too. The cries of ‘fascism’ are clearly a clawing attempt to maintain ‘left’ status no matter the pseudo-glory of ‘fighting against the grain’. Because the pro war ‘left’ finds itself in an odd crowd, a crowd it really wouldn’t usually be in, and it doesn’t feel comfortable. So of course it throws out the most emotional buzzword it can ‘but our opponents are fascists, can’t you see that, well, I guess we’re the real left, you’re all just objectively pro-fascist…’

For more indepth, reading on the subject I present you with a series of links, none of which is by Trotsky (though I think he was ok on fascism as it goes, and I did enjoy Callinicos' essay on Marxism and the Holocaust)

The Nazis and Monopoly Capital: now I'm sure y'all wouldn't like Revolutionary Democracy, should you read it (as I doubt there are any Hoxha-ites out there) but I did find this very interesting

A Question of Politics, Economics of Both - who doesn't love the Frankfurt School? But this is a nice overview, I'd also suggest you check out some stuff by Neumann and Kirchheimer, who are really good on this.

And of course, Blackshirts and Reds

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