On defining fascism


“There is a need to analyse all ideologies critically, and this is especially true of fascism, a political tradition which from its inception set out to kill millions. Indeed, how can a historian, in all conscience, approach the study of fascism with neutrality? What is the meaning of objectivity when writing about a political system that plunged the world into a war in which at least forty million people died? How can the historian provide a neutral account of a system of politics which turned continental Europe into one gigantic prison camp?”

“One cannot be balanced when writing about fascism, there is nothing positive to be said of it.”

I wanted to share again the above passage from Fascism: Theory and Practice, which I’ve seen lots of readers quote over the years (not least, Mark Bray – in his book Antifa).

You can only ever define anything by reference to characteristics which are external to it. A stoat is (in Dr Johnson’s words) a small-stinking animal; a metre is (less controversially) one 10-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator. Socialism is not simply the shared political consciousness of every working class person in history (even if, 20 years after Marx’s death that was what it briefly looked like it might become). Rather it is a specific set of ideas – a differentiated tradition, motivated by a shared conception of equality – sitting a distinct place on the political spectrum and with a recognisable history and trajectory.

You won’t, and can’t, understand fascism by simply collecting together the most memorable bits of Hitler or of Mussolini’s speeches. Or by telling yourself that “fascism = nationalism plus socialism”.

Above all, you have to connect together what the fascists said, and what the fascists did – and show what the common project was that joined them.

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