Finally have a free evening with no work obligations early in the morning. Woohoo! So there’s time now to delve into a topic that’s been bugging me for years and has been revived recently due to conversations with an online buddy who likes to talk about “left vs. right” politics. I take the stance that this isn’t altogether a useful way to frame the issue, at least not anymore, not since “Left” and “Right” have become so watered down in meaning and casually bandied about to where the terms ring hollow.
I understand that people tend to get attached to their favorite terms and mental frameworks, BUT if it winds up causing more confusion than it’s worth and doesn’t aid us in communicating effectively on these matters, then what’s the real benefit?
So, to kick off what will likely require a few posts to address this topic, I’ll begin by posting up portions of a blog entry that was originally submitted on my old blog back in mid-2008:
I said in a previous post that fascism and communism (as they’ve been put into practice) are basically twins sharing more in common than not. Nevermind their varying ideological/philosophical justifications and underpinnings, fascism and communism/”socialism” (as these labels have been applied, leaving aside theoretical framework initially paid lip service to) have resulted in similar fates for their societies: single political party dominance and excessive, invasive control and manipulation of the citizenry.
When I refer to them as on “opposing sides” of the economic model spectrum, it might actually be better expressed as a full circle than a straight line, with (real?) democratic systems falling between these totalitarian extremes.
Or perhaps it would be best expressed as a “U-shaped” model where “fascism” and “communism” are represented as belonging on one side of the spectrum, opposing all democratic systems of governance. We know that communist and fascist governments (as labeled and practiced) have conveniently joined forces with one another in attempts to stamp out dissidence, as well as to expand their scope of influence out in the world, so this model makes the most sense to me [or at least it did by 2008]. Aside from their differing theoretical framework and economic arrangements, history shows that their activities and authoritarian tactics become virtually indistinguishable (e.g., compare WWII-era Germany with Italy and Russia).
So what do they consist of and in what ways do they differ? More importantly, in what ways are they similar? And what exactly do we mean by “democratic systems”? We’ll try to clarify our terms as we go.
First, both communism and fascism are types of authoritarian rule, where the interests and freedoms of the individual are subordinated to those of the state, and quite frequently a powerful leader.
Let me stop there for a reminder that authoritarian styles of governance are not always unwanted or undemocratic. Sometimes, it is argued, a touch of authoritarianism is needed or even desirable. But where do we draw the line, ensuring authority does not become too oppressive?
Quoting from a WikiAnswers page that no longer exists:
Secondly, in many cases both fascist and communist rule are bolstered by a highly powerful military apparatus, as a way to stifle opposition. Thirdly, both types of government are statist, in that the central government has some degree of control over the economic means of production (as opposed to, say a free market, or laissez-faire economy as in the US), and also oftentimes social policy.
Misleading text — the U.S. is most certainly not a true laissez-faire economy anymore and hasn’t been for a long, long time.
However, there are also notable differences.
Fascism tends to be driven by nationalistic or ethnic divisions. For example, Hitler’s NAZI party used populist appeals to ethnic divisions in Germany—especially hatred towards Jews—as a way to gain popular support.
Secondly, fascism has strong corporatist elements, where the government has significant control over private enterprise, but does not entirely co-opt it (as in, say, communism). The NAZIs, for example, considered themselves a “Third Way” between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism, in that rather than completely nationalizing industry and taking over the means of production, the government had a very powerful influence.
According to a post on Strike the Root (from 2005):
[…] The difference between fascism and communism is that in communism, the state owns everything outright; in fascism, a thin veneer of private ownership is maintained while the state exercises absolute control over industry. So the biggest difference between communism and fascism, which are both state socialistic governments, is that communism is complete state ownership, while fascism is complete state control. In economic and political effect, both are remarkably similar, and both oppose true free markets. Both communism and fascism value collectivism over individualism, and see the state as the ultimate expression of good, with the individual only existing to serve the state. Both communism and fascism have given rise to totalitarian police states, where the freedoms of individuals were sacrificed for the good of the state. In both communism and fascism, the state is everything, the individual is nothing. It is interesting to note that though both communism and fascism claim to be ideological enemies and complete opposites, for someone who values individual freedom and free markets, there is really no difference.
Now, let’s turn our attention for a moment to systems labeled as “democratic.” Strike the Root goes on to say:
In Milton Friedman Unraveled, Murray Rothbard shows that there can be quite a difference between those who claim to support free markets and what they actually support. The section on Friedman’s Chicagoite Egalitarianism is especially illuminating, and contains the following insights: “The idea is that there are two sharply separated and independent worlds of economics. On the one hand, there is the ‘micro’ sphere, the world of individual prices determined by the forces of supply and demand. Here, the Chicagoans concede, the economy is best left to the unhampered play of the free market. But, they assert, there is also a separate and distinct sphere of ‘macro’ economics, of economic aggregates of government budget and monetary policy, where there is no possibility or even desirability of a free market . . . . In common with their Keynesian colleagues, the Friedmanites wish to give to the central government absolute control over these macro areas, in order to manipulate the economy for social ends, while maintaining that the micro world can still remain free. In short, Friedmanites as well as Keynesians concede the vital macro sphere to statism as the supposedly necessary framework for the micro-freedom of the free market.” This is currently how democratic “free market” nation-states operate, and is very close or identical to the economic model of fascist state control. In truth, democratic socialist nation-states have mostly shunned state ownership of industries (communism), and have increasingly turned to privatization of state assets, while maintaining and increasing strict control of industries through legislation (fascism).
The relationship between the state and corporations that support the state is often termed “state capitalism.” Though there are other terms, like corporatism, that are also used, state capitalism fully denotes the illegal use of the state to fund capitalism. In state capitalism, the power of the state is used to create favorable legislation that rewards the politically well connected with legal plunder by eliminating or reducing competition and requiring that certain products be purchased or funded. State capitalism is the antithesis to free market capitalism. As Murray Rothbard denotes in A Future of Peace and Capitalism, “The difference between free-market capitalism and state capitalism is precisely the difference between, on the one hand, peaceful, voluntary exchange, and on the other, violent expropriation.” Mr. Rothbard shows that claims that capitalism is always the result of free market activity are not necessarily true, and any claims that any capitalistic activity is the result of free market policies needs to be judged solely on objective criteria of the free market itself.
It is clear that what we typically think of as “democratic societies” are actually sliding toward fascism/corporatism, even my own country — the U.S.A. (to be discussed in a future post).
Few can agree on a definition of “communism,” plus what Karl Marx envisioned was never (and likely can never be) put into practice. We know what came to be known as “communism” were brutal, authoritarian regimes and most certainly not classless societies.
“Fascism” is equally confusing when we hear German Nazism and Mussolini’s Italian regime as well as Soviet Stalinism conflated under the same term. We can agree though that all of these regimes proved to be brutal and authoritarian. In other words, what all of these forms of governance have in common, regardless of their attached labels, is that they’re extremely oppressive toward people. They stifled dissent. They reduced or eliminated civil liberties as it suited the leaders’ interests. Their governments, in one way or another, exerted tremendous influence, if not outright control, over the economic sector, or vice versa. Examples provided by history demonstrate all can be considered Big Government models, and each used military might to reach its objectives, both domestically (think paramilitary or secret police forces) and against foreign entities/nations.
The real differences appear to be the means in which the end is reached, but once the end is realized those appear to be little more than nuances since the outcome is virtually identical. If not exactly identical, they’re perceived as being as much by freedom-loving individuals since all possible ends involve brutal, authoritarian forms of government and result in mass oppression. What’s the real difference in that? The government oppresses you directly or conspires with Big Business to do so.
Trivialities, if you ask me.
I would argue that all that has ever been put into practice turn out to be essentially fascist systems and that communism and socialism, as originally ideally envisioned, never truly came to be. Misleading labels have been applied to confuse and manipulate publics. Fascism occurs when major corporations and governments essentially merge; in this analysis it matters little which one dominates the other when the outcome is lousy either way.
Perhaps confusion would be lessened if we simply called oppressive forms of government what they truly are: totalitarian forms of government.
Wikipedia described Totalitarianism this way (at least it did back in 2008, though the page has since been updated):
Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a concept used to describe political systems where a state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life. The term is usually applied to Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany or communist states, such as Stalinist Russia, Democratic Kampuchea, Vietnam, Mao-ere China, Cuba and North Korea. Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain themselves in political power by means of an official all-embracing ideology and propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that controls the state, personality cults, central state-controlled economy, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.
That wikipedia page has since changed a bit, but I’m not interested in delving into more from there when better sources could shed more light on the topic.
Just wanted to post all of the above on here as an opener to this conversation and to use this piece as a segue into the topic of “Rightists” and “Leftists” in the U.S. I hope this upcoming week allows more time to devote to this inquiry and that I can make a case for why the “Left vs. Right” framework obscures a deeper reality which is that most “Leftists” AND so-called “Rightists” both wind up supporting fascist and/or totalitarian schemes regardless of what they may claim as their political ideals.