I don’t think Nemo is defending fascism or anything like that. But I do agree, as someone else pointed out, that whether China is fascist or not seems to be an issue of how vehemently one wants people to react against it. It’s all about labeling these days and fascism simply makes people react a bit more strongly than some other similar label, hence why the term fascism is used so much.
I’m not. Defining fascism is not defending it.
And I think it’s funny that saying the current regime in China is a communist dictatorship is somehow seen as a defense of that regime. I remember a time when being a communist dictatorship was the worst thing a regime could be.
Same mechanism as Godwin Classic…
BUT NOW!! with the added benefit of getting a pass when labeling regimes / people as “fascist” that you wouldn’t get when calling someone a Hitler (with AH you have to make the case and that’s a tall order whereas ‘fascism’ is practically whatever you want it to be).
I don’t think the current Chinese regime is Fascist. For me, two necessary characteristics of fascism are:
- that it be strongly anti-Left (mostly anti-Communist but also other left strains like Anarchism). China, for all that it has embraced capitalism, is not anti-Communist.
- that it in some way involves a cult of personality. China hasn’t had that since Mao. Xi would no doubt like one, but all the current stabbings at it are amateur hour, IMO.
I think China is China. The current system of government probably has much more in common with the Qing dynasty at its height than it does with any Western political philosophy.
I think that an important issue here, also, is who the “undesirables” are, and what sort of things define the boundaries between those who are in and those who are out of favor.
Because every authoritarian regime, no matter how brutal, needs at least some popular support to survive. You can probably hang around for a while if the only people you keep happy are the military (is this the case in North Korea, perhaps?), but almost every dictator and every authoritarian regime that maintains its power does so by keeping at least some portions of the population happy. Stalin had the vydvizhentsy, the newly-promoted working class who were placed in administrative and bureaucratic positions, and who understood that their new economic and political power was directly attributable to, and hence connected with, Stalin and his success. The same is true for most other unfree societies.
I think that this is important in a place like China, because for all of its authoritarianism, and all of its censorship and control, and all of its brutality against some particular disfavored groups and individuals, there are still tens (possibly hundreds) of millions of Chinese whose standards of living have risen dramatically in the past few decades, and who see the authoritarianism as a price they’re willing to pay–or, at least, not rise up against–as long as it produces a particular type of prosperity.
@mhendo: Very well said overall. As to this snip …
… I might add one small thought:
… at least, not rise up against–as long as it produces a particular type of prosperity.
There are lots and lots of older Chinese who grew up as mud hut peasants and are now urban middle class as measured on a world-wide scale. They’re happy with your formulation; overjoyed in fact.
But there are also lots and lots of younger Chinese (and more all the time) who grew up as urban middle class as measured on a world-wide scale. They’re only going to be happy with my formulation. Like humans everywhere, they take for granted what’s been given to them by their surroundings.
China’s political and economic system from Deng through Hu was sufficient to raise them to the level of a Mexico or a Thailand on a per capita basis* despite not being a petro-state. But can Xi and his successors use that same system to bring them to European, Japanese, or US levels of prosperity? That is the big question of the next 50 years for their citizens.
We can debate whether China’s fascist; what is less of a debate in my mind is that the Chinese government represents a group of political and economic elites who see no limit to their potential power. That will inevitably put them up against other world leaders who have similar interests. I think this is a conflict that China’s leaders have been preparing for since the late 1970s and early 80s, in the sense that they could predict that the United States and Japan would inevitably become jealous and suspicious of their increased power and that they’d need to be prepared.
Because for a long long time, Fascism and communism were considered to be polar opposites. Redefining the term fascism to include both fascism and communism serves no useful purpose and only misleads.
Which is generally the purpose of these types of semantic games. You take some term which is generally understood to mean X and redefine the term to also include Y, with the hope that people will now assume that Y is X if they’re not following along closely enough.
I don’t think this serves any legitimate purpose at all.
[Another example would be referring to illegal immigrant housing as “concentration camps”. Despite whatever the origina of the term is, the public has for decades associated the term with Nazi-type concentration camps, and the use of the term was intended as a way to associate the policy with Nazism.]
But that’s clearly not true. Thankfully, nobody HERE still admires Hitler or Mussolini, but if you think “nobody” does, you haven’t been paying attention.
There are certainly important historical differences between fascism and communism. Historically, fascism was a movement of the middle class in developed countries, while communism (at least where it succeeded in taking power) was a movement of workers and peasants in underdeveloped countries. Fascism supported the existing social and economic hierarchies, while communism aimed at dismantling them and instituting radically new forms of social relationships.
Although communism was responsible for many horrific human rights abuses, it was quite successful in rapidly improving the health, education, and material standard of living of ordinary people, and transforming backward peasant countries into modern industrial economies. So they are not the same; communism has many positive achievements to point to, while fascism has none.
However, the end points are remarkably similar. Once communism has achieved its goals of modernization and industrialization, you end up with a modern economy governed by a dictatorship which governs in the interests of a privileged elite…which sounds a lot like fascism. As the argument that the dictatorship is actually working in the interests of the people becomes harder to take seriously, we see the appeals to nationalism replace appeals to international class solidarity in the regime’s self-justifying propaganda.
If by “HERE” you mean this message board, I wouldn’t be so sure.
I think it’s probably better understood that the reason the word fascism got “stuck” especially in the English world relates specifically to the politics around World War II. Part of the reason it is so hard to define and discussions like this frequently bog down, is because the promotion and use of the term was driven largely by political expediency of the time, not by any high level political science analysis of the situations of the day.
Very specifically, the word fascism comes from Italy and ultimately the Latin word “fasces.” Mussolini’s political organization was called the Fascio d’Azione Rivoluzionaria or “The Fasces of Revolutionary Action.” Descriptors of this movement in English language press used the term “fascists” to refer to Mussolini’s guys and “fascism” to refer to their ideology. This was back in 1915, in the years that followed, Mussolini took power in Italy, Franco ultimately emerged as the dictator of Spain, the Nazis rose in Germany, and similar groups were surging in membership across Europe with varying levels of success.
There are a lot of words in the English language to describe the sorts of governments these people implemented: tyranny, absolutism, despotism etc. These words are broadly understood to be condemnatory in English. As WWII got heated up and we ended up allied with the USSR, it simply became a little politically dicey to broadly speak about illiberal states in a way that could encompass the USSR, so fascism was a very useful term. It was a way of saying “the bad guy absolutists we’re fighting against.” Because of that, it can be difficult to nail it down much beyond that, since the only consistent usage of the term contemporaneously was to exclude Communist governments.
A more logical term that would exclude communists but encapsulate what these governments were would be the phrase “Authoritarian Nationalists” this largely covers all of the so-called fascist governments of the first half of the 20th century. It also excludes Communism of the time, one of the core reasons the “fascist” parties generally were fighting street battles with communists is they did have a core ideological disagreement–fascists were invariably nationalists who glorified their ethnic nation and believed in raising it up above others. The first half of the 20th century, Communists believed the real division was between the proletariats and the bourgeoisie, and that the proletariats of Germany were linked by interest with the proletariats of Poland and Ukraine etc. That sort of internationalist, pan-worker stuff undermined a lot of the things authoritarian nationalists wanted to see.
I think it becomes easier in the second half of the 20th century to outright call most communist regimes fascist because communist internationalism significantly decreased as a thing anyone took seriously and instead each country that adopted a communist style of government tended to adopt a more nationalist footing. The only places that still kind of denied this were places directly under the boot of the Soviets–either as part of SSRs in the USSR, or in the Warsaw Pact countries. It was obviously to Russia’s benefit to keep promoting the propaganda in those countries that they were all part of a worker’s brotherhood. The Chinese, Vietnamese, etc followed this much less so, DPRK, Yugoslavia and Albania even less.
An excellent summary, thanks!
One nitpick, though: Usage of “Fascism” instead of “Nazism” was first adopted by the USSR as the preferred pejorative during the Spanish Civil War. Not because the Italians had adopted dictatorship first, with its codification “ Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” but because Stalin was still pussyfooting it with the Germans at that point, and Fascism made a safer term. cite: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy D. Snyder
Yes, the ideologies of fascism and communism were opposites. But it’s long been noted that Stalinist Russia shared more commonalities with fascism than it did differences. His government was very much far right–i.e. authoritarian and for his own benefit. He used the rhetoric of communism to achieve an oppressive dictatorship.
I would argue that the semantic game is the opposite. It is insisting that the term fascism be tied to its historical origin, and anything that doesn’t fit perfectly doesn’t count. It makes it where fascism becomes a “no true Scotsman” situation where you can always argue that someone is not fascist, even while they do the very things that made fascism bad.
I have zero problem saying that Stalinist Russia was fascist under the hood. While it was ostensibly about forcing socialism onto people, the actual result was not socialist at all. The workers very clearly did not have the means or the power. The elite still were in control.
As for what you call “immigrant housing”–which the rest of us usually refer to “children in cages”: I agree there was an intentional attempt it with rhetorically Nazism. But that’s because the people calling it such (including me) genuinely believe that it was part of an overall fascistic trend. When I first heard them called that, it clicked in a way that it hadn’t before. The way illegal immigrants and refugees are vilified to the point of absurdity (e.g. people in Iowa being afraid of “the caravan” coming for them), it became clear to me that the goal was to vilify and dehumanize refugees and illegal immigrants to justify harming them.
As long as what is being describes is evil in a way that fascism was historically evil, I have no problem whatever calling it fascism or using the language of Nazism. For some reason, “authoritarianism” isn’t treated as as evil as it is, nor is “nationalism.” But fascism, which encompasses both of those plus racism, is treated as it should be.
The whole point of the fourteen points of fascism is to say that all of those traits are bad, and that, if we see a government going that way, it doesn’t matter what they claim their ideology is. What they are really pushing for is, for all practical purposes, equivalently evil to fascism.
Quibbling over exactly what to call it misses the point.
Thank you all for your input. It’s been interesting and educational.
I have not desire to read arguments about ‘Trump is fascist’, so I’m finished here. Thank you again.