Skip to main content

The Immanence of Monolithic Capitalism

Recently the students in one of the classes I teach had to watch Justice at Nuremberg and use it, in their essay assignments, as a method of discussing legal theory.  Since the course curriculum did not present this movie in a proper historical context, using it mainly as a way to explain competing schools of the philosophy of law, my students, at least according to most of their papers, treated it like an objective historical document about fascism and America as "anti-fascist."  After reading fifty papers discussing this film, I was again struck with the realization that current North American and European ideology about World War 2 prevents a concrete understanding of fascism.  Movies like Justice at Nuremberg, and other films that treat the US army as some sort of moral and liberating force, support those false and banal definitions of fascism that prevent people from being able to recognize contemporary fascist dangers.  Fascism is vaguely defined as "totalitarianism" (a very ahistorical concept designed to conflate it with communism), can only and always be anti-semitic (thus ignoring that it can take other racist or maybe even not obviously racist forms), or is understood as abstractly "evil" (transforming anyone who fought against the Axis in World War 2, whatever their reasons, as abstractly "good").

But fascism is simply a monolithic expression of imperial-capitalism where a conservative section of the bourgeois class mobilizes the masses against their own interests, often cohering around a rabid patriotism.  In a racist society, scape-goating racialized populations is the most common way to achieve patriotic cohesion and clearly connects to the anti-liberal ideology of that sector of the ruling class that is attempting to monopolize its entire class.

Fascism emerges, according to many historical materialist theorists, in periods of capitalist crisis as a ruling class strategy to preserve capitalism.  Since another ruling class strategy is welfare reforms, fascism appears in the conflict between the liberal and conservative elements of the bourgeoisie: it is a contradiction between capitalists.  Both the liberal-welfare and conservative-fascist positions, we should note, recognize that capitalism can only be "saved" by state intervention––both possess, unlike free-market libertarianism, a somewhat realistic understanding of market relations because both understand that without a capitalist-orientated state or states there can be no capitalism.  The general point, however, is that capitalism and democracy are not synonymous: when capitalism takes on a fascist form, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, that once permitted different parties representing different ruling class positions to compete in parliamentary elections, becomes monolithic.

The simplistic ideology that equates democracy with capitalism promulgates false definitions of fascism, obscuring the concept's actual meaning.  A narrative of World War 2 is told in the capitalist world, for example, that is designed to conflate democracy and capitalism while simultaneously attempting to make people believe that fascism, abstractly understood as "evil", has nothing to do with capitalist "democracy."  The fact that American society openly flirted with fascism, contributed to fascist regimes, and only fought in WW2 (and we must note that the US never did any of the real fighting) because of colonial/imperial interests is rarely interrogated.  We also ignore the fact that Winston Churchill greatly admired Mussolini and hoped fascist Italy would enter the war on the side of the Allies.  Nor is it popular to talk of how Jewish refugees from Germany, seeking refuge in the US and Canada, were denied sanctuary and sent back to face genocide.  Or how American bombers were ordered not to bomb the railroad lines to Auschwitz despite the German Underground's pleas.  In every country claimed by the capitalist nations who "fought against fascism" post-WW2, fascist elite were placed back in power and anti-fascist guerrillas were executed or imprisoned.

In North America, however, we are taught to understand fascism as divorced from capitalism: we are "democratic" and since fascism is "not democratic" we imagine that this was the reason for the capitalist nations' involvement in the war.  The problem with this type of thinking is that it allows the fascist movements of today to use empty anti-fascist jingo.  The fact that the Nazis called themselves "National Socialists" is misunderstood: a name designed to confuse workers and replace anti-capitalism with rabid patriotism is still confusing.

In every capitalist country fascism is immanent.  We see its most obvious examples in neo-nazi groups, and maybe sometimes in the Tea Parties and Christian-right patriot/populist groups, but do we recognize its characteristics in bourgeois democracy itself?  Fascism is different in form from capitalist "democracy" but it is the same in essence.  During WW2 the victims of imperialism did not see the United States or Britain as morally superior to Germany.  As Cesaire and Fanon have pointed out, the Nazi Holocaust was nothing unique for the billions of nameless victims genocided by European colonial-capitalism.  Some anti-imperialist groups even suggested that it would be best if the fascists and other imperialists killed each other off.  After all, why would a colonized Kenyan believe that going off to kill for the country that kept him prisoner was liberating?  But the imperial countries drafted their colonized populations in far larger numbers than they drafted from their "master races": more racialized people fought and died in the US Army, for example, than white settlers (America's war machine was a less obvious method of genocide than Nazi camps), and the French Free Army recruited heavily in Algeria, using colonized bodies as cannon fodder for the liberation of France.

Understanding that fascism is a product of crisis capitalism, an alignment of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that emerges during "the highest stage of capitalism", should also lead us to realize that capitalism (and thus imperialism and settler-colonialism) is the primary problem.  To be anti-fascist is to be anti-capitalist and, regardless of the stories told in movies such as Justice at Nuremberg, the supposed "anti-fascism" of the capitalist nations during World War 2 was nothing more than a ruling class contradiction––what Cesaire and Fanon called a war amongst brothers.


  1. excellent article! the point about colonized population used for fighting the imperialist war is true and same thing happened in Colonized India, Indians boycotted the war but Gandhi and other elites had misguided people into joining the war.

  2. Good point about India. In general colonized populations were used by the capitalist nations of the Allies as cannon fodder. There's this great film by a French-Algerian called "Indigenes" [or Days of Glory] that is about the Free French Army's use of africans/arabs in WW2. (It was quite controversial when it was released in France a couple years back.) Obviously Britain's use of its colonized populations was just as inhuman.


Post a Comment