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Full Marx How should we respond to people who equate communism and fascism?

There is a renewed effort to lump those that started the Holocaust in with those that ended it based on simplistic ideas of 'totalitarianism' — this ignores fundamental differences in intent and outcome, explains the MARX MEMORIAL LIBRARY

ANTI-COMMUNIST propaganda takes many forms. A recent trope, associated with the Prague declaration promoted by European right-wing forces, claims that abuses of human rights by communist governments were as bad as those of the fascists. Fascism is almost universally condemned; so if people can be persuaded that communists committed similar atrocities, they will shun communism too.

To challenge this distortion it’s not enough just to point out that communists have always been the most active opponents of fascism, that fascists have targeted communists as the first group to be eliminated, that it was the efforts and sacrifices of the Red Army and the Soviet peoples that did most to defeat the Nazi armies and liberate eastern Europe.

This is necessary — but not sufficient. The propagandists can reply that communism and fascism are rival “totalitarian” systems so of course they are each other’s main enemy.

Fascism and communism each can mean two different things; the nature and characteristics of a state and the beliefs and policies of political parties which have that state as an objective. There have been a number of fascist states in the past — and some indeed exist today. But no communist state has ever existed — only socialist states at various levels of development, led by communist parties.

Fascist and communist parties indeed had one feature in common — their leading role in trying to transform the state, seeking to guide the whole population’s thought and action in definite directions. These were similarities of form, but their content — the class content — and their objectives were very different.

Fascist states and parties were the instruments of the dominant sections of the capitalist ruling classes in imposing and aggressively pursuing violent repression of the citizenry and destroying democratic and progressive organisations, particularly those of the working class.

In 1935 Georgi Dimitrov told the 7th Congress of the Communist International that fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.

Communist states and parties, on the other hand, whatever their shortcomings, were the instruments of the working class and its allies in attempting to build a new and fairer form of society, free from capitalist exploitation.

In carrying out this task in a still largely and extremely hostile capitalist world, communist governments, especially the Soviet Union during Stalin’s leadership, trampled on socialist legality, executing or sending to labour camps many people on false charges of subversion.

These were crimes committed in the name of communism, a stain on the communist record which has been acknowledged by Marxists and communists over many years. But even so they were very different from the crimes of fascism — in two ways.

First, in scale. The many who died or suffered without cause in the lands building socialism are dwarfed by the tens of millions who were victims of the Nazis and other fascist regimes particularly during the second world war mainly in Europe and Asia.

And those regimes were imperialist and were intent on continuation of imperialism and colonialism of powerful capitalist states. Millions were to suffer exploitation, oppression, famines, slavery and death, adding to the suffering, death and impoverishment of millions during previous centuries of capitalist colonial conquest and imperial rule.

Second, in intention. Fascism openly espoused the destruction of socialism and the enslavement and genocide of groups of people based on racial ideology as a road to world domination. The crimes of the Stalin era were committed by communists striving to build a new society in the face of capitalist encirclement and threats. They were the work of leaders imbued with a siege mentality arising from capitalist invasion, sabotage and civil war.

Among the charges against communism laid by the right-wing adherents to the Prague declaration is that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were equally responsible for the outbreak of the second world war. They maintain that the non-aggression pact of 1939 encouraged the Nazis to attack the West.

This is a travesty of history. War was built into fascist strategies for world domination, into the very essence of the fascist outlook. In Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler wrote “In eternal warfare mankind has become great — in eternal peace mankind would be ruined.” Mussolini and the Japanese imperialists made similar pronouncements.

In contrast, communism has always sought world peace. In 1918 at Brest Litovsk the Bolsheviks made territorial concessions to secure peace with Germany. In the 1930s, in the face of growing threats from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, the USSR advocated collective security agreements with the democratic capitalist states.

It was only after Chamberlain’s pact with the Nazis at Munich in 1938 that the Soviet Union made a non-aggression pact with Germany, securing a little time to prepare for the Nazi attack it knew to be inevitable.

Unlike the long list of fascist aggressions against independent states and of more recent incursions by US imperialism, the Soviet Union only twice invaded other lands — Poland and Finland in 1939. In both cases the motive was to secure lines of defence against invasion and the actions were ended as soon as this aim was achieved.

Later Soviet military interventions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan were — rightly or wrongly — intended to prevent imperialism from establishing bases from which to attack socialism and not — like so many US and British actions — to bring about regime change.

Communism and fascism are not only different things; they are different kinds of things. Communism is a distinct economic and social system, the antithesis of capitalism. It is guided by Marxism, a rational philosophy arising from the study of human history.

Fascism is not a distinct system; it is a way of running the existing capitalist system. Instead of a consistent ideology, it seeks to influence the masses with a ragbag of notions, including national mysticism and pseudo-scientific racism.

The most telling contrast between fascism and communism is in the outcomes of their rule. Far from restoring national dignity and pride, fascism led the German, Italian and Japanese peoples to the utter destruction of their economies and societies.

By contrast within the Soviet Union the development of socialism, led by the Communist Party, modernised the ramshackle tsarist empire, educated its backward largely peasant population, laid the basis for a land of equality and fellowship.

After defeating the Nazis it rebuilt a shattered country and resumed a rate of economic growth that was higher than that of the West. All this was accomplished without foreign aid or private capital.

The Soviet Union eventually succumbed to a counter-revolution rooted in the Communist Party’s own weaknesses and errors and in relentless pressure from encircling capitalist imperialism. But it had shown that it was possible for the working class and its allies to seize state power and construct a new type of society.

Now communists in Cuba, China and Vietnam are engaging, in their own distinctive ways, in the same historic task. Their parties too have made mistakes. But their focus is, ultimately, on the wellbeing of the people as a whole, including their engagement and participation in building a society free from the distortions of capitalism — all are a vivid demonstration of the fact that communism and fascism are totally different.

Details of Marx Memorial Library events together with copies of previous Full Marx answers in this series (this is number 79) can be found on the Library’s website:


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