Racism and Fascism today (1978)

The following article is from a member of the locally based Black Jake / Newcastle Anarchist Group and was published in Freedom. Volume 39, Number 20. 14th October. 1978. Obviously dated but still of interest. We have rescued and re-published here for elements of local posterity.

The Freedom introduction; A recent exchange of views in FREEDOM on whether the British state shows fascist tendencies (not the same as calling it fascist, which would be grossly simplistic), has stimulated further discussion on modern corporate/techno bureaucratic society and its relation to fascism. This analysis by MS is, we feel, an important contribution to the subject, going on to suggest how anarchists can constructively help in the formation of a street culture resistance.

What with Lewisham and Ladywood, race killings in Southall and the East End, bomb attacks on left wing premises and black premises all over the country, black self-defence, Brick Lane, the rise of the Anti Nazi League – it is clear that the struggle against the National Front and far right is going to be with us for a long time. Consequently, we have to work out exactly what racism and fascism are, since these terms are linked to the NF so frequently. We have to understand whose interests they serve, and thus how to combat them.
The argument advanced here is that the racism and fascism of the NF must be distinguished from the racism and quasi-fascism of the State that ‘classical’ fascism performs certain historical tasks which are today performed by other ideologies, making the NF strictly irrelevant as a fascist party; that the NF is very significant and dangerous as a street-level racist party; and that a new opposition is developing, which may act as the bulwark against both the racist right and the State in the years to come.

David Edgar (l) has provided us with a useful analysis of the NF‘s racism, as propounded in their ‘theoretical’ journals. He demonstrates that they are in the classic Nazi anti-Semitic mold, and that their anti-immigration demands mask an underlying conspiracy theory, in which an international cabal of Jews, bankers and Bolsheviks is deliberately weakening the ‘British race’ by encouraging immigration and miscegenation. Blacks are not seen as active malevolent agents themselves, but as the unwitting tools and dupes of far cleverer, occult forces.

It is impossible to say how widely spread this conspiracy theory is in NF circles. Surely the racist thugs who rampage down Brick Lane, or who lie in wait at night for lone blacks, are motivated by something more basic – guts color prejudice. The NF’s central racist demands, opposition to immigration and advocacy of repatriation, reveals the fundamental consciousness which underlies all the theories and qualifications: NF supporters see themselves primarily as being White Britons, with primary loyalties to other White Britons. From this point of view, immigration is a tremendous threat, whether or not it is perceived as a Jewish conspiracy, for immigration undermines the economic, cultural and national integrity of the White British Race.

Election results in the past couple of years have shown that this racism is capable of evoking a response among sections of the working class and lower middle class. It has populist roots, as we would expect in a country with a long and gloriously bloody imperialist history behind it, full of jingoist and racist myths. But the point is this history is behind us, and the racism which feeds upon it is consequently backward-looking, retrogressive, a literally reactionary phenomenon. The NF’s racism is thus different in kind from the racism of the State, which is modern, forward looking and pragmatic.

Modern corporate capitalism does not require vulgar racist myths of the sort which justified the imperialist adventures of 19th century capitalism. What it does require is an easily manipulable workforce, unable or unwilling to take initiatives on its own behalf, ready to respond to the needs of capital as and when they arise. The State’s changing policies on immigration have consistently sought to mold black immigrant populations into such a pliable tool. Immigration was of course actively encouraged in the 1950’s, so as to fill low-paid, low paid but vital jobs. What was not intended was the creation of large, increasingly dissatisfied and increasingly militant black populations in Britain, prepared to fight back when hit by economic collapse and rising unemployment. Government policy has sought consistently to replace the settler-immigrant with the migrant worker, therefore (2), by imposing ever stricter limitations on residence. Different classes of British citizen have been created, with different rights.

Migrant workers are ideally suited to the requirements of corporate capital. They provide labour, but need not themselves be provided with the usual level of facilities; they tend to feel chronically insecure, being separated from their families and communities (3), and are unlikely to be militant, as they are only in the host country on sufferance; they can be summoned and dispatched as required, and when they are unemployed the burden of their upkeep falls elsewhere. Some of the most conspicuously wealthy countries in the world have won their riches largely from the misery and toil of migrant workers: South Africa and West Germany are obvious examples. Britain apparently seeks to join that club by the implementation of laws which are clearly racist, differentiating as they do between white and black citizens. But this racism arises not from any crude color prejudice, but from the higher needs of capital. Meanwhile, the State seeks to ‘integrate’ those blacks already here, to defuse any possibility of autonomous organisation or militancy.

The recent Tory shift towards repatriation is therefore a sign of the degree to which the Tory leadership is wedded to a totally outmoded view of capitalism. Every step taken by the Tories towards the NF is a step towards political obsolescence and irrelevance. For all its own failings, Labour is the only party which understands’ how modern capitalism works. (4).

The term ”fascist” is bandied about to such a degree that we are in danger of losing sight of its actual meaning. There is broad agreement on the left as to what fascism actually is: it is usually depicted as a mass movement of despairing and bitter people, petty bourgeois and even working class, which finds allies in big business, and seeks above all to smash the left. In the historic struggle between capital and labour, fascism is seen as a means whereby capital can, in times of crisis, use against the left the left’s own weapon of mass mobilisation.

The contradiction within fascism is that it is a mass movement which aims to remove power from the hands of the masses; it is a movement of people-seeking and celebrating their own powerlessness. A true understanding of the phenomenon must clearly look beyond social and economic class analysis, and delve into the psychology of the matter. Reich’s work here becomes crucial, demonstrating the ways in which certain social structures and institutions generate a psychology admirably suited to respond to fascism. (5).

However, this contradiction still remains. If fascism is a mass movement of people seeking their own powerlessness, then who does wield power when fascism wins political success? Which interests does fascism represent when in power, as distinct to the interests it mobilises when in opposition?

Guerin‘s classic work (6) demonstrates the social roots of fascism among the lower middle classes, and the ways in which it won sympathy and support from certain sections of big business (especially heavy industry). Many socialists have concluded from this that fascism was essentially the tool of big business, that fascism is effectively the ‘last resort‘ of capitalism, to be used in times of crisis when all else fails. They point to the fact that the first thing the Nazis did when they took power was to smash the German trade unions, setting up a ‘National Labour Front‘ which embraced both employers and workers, which defined employers as ‘leaders’ and workers as ‘followers’ within enterprises, and which gave employers total power within their enterprises, subject only to State intervention. This last point needs‘ consideration: “subject only to State intervention”. To understand fascism properly, we must look more closely at the relationships between the fascist State and the capitalists.

In both Italy and Germany the fascists came to power with the backing of big business, and for a while they may have appeared to be the pawns of big business. This soon ceased to be the case in both countries. In Italy, State control of the economy was first extended obliquely through subsidies, and then directly. The Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) was established in 1933, as the major instrument of State intervention. Restrictions on the formation of new companies were applied. By 1939, the IRI controlled 80 per cent of Italian shipbuilding, more than 50 per cent of iron and steel, and 29 per cent of the electrical industry. (7).

In Germany, the State took control of financial and credit institutions. Conditions for the very biggest enterprises were made especially comfortable; cartels were encouraged, and existing private companies were even declared to be cartels and given monopoly status. Clearly sections of big business profited from all this – but at a price. From 1936, with the introduction of the Four Year Plans, the needs of industry were increasingly subordinated to the plans of the State for autarchy and militarisation. The major iron and steel companies were made to invest in the unprofitable Hermann Goring Works, which sought to reprocess local low-grade iron ore. As the economy became increasingly dependent on rearmament, it was increasingly common for government and Wehrmacht nominees to appear on the boards of companies, and of the ‘Industrial Groups’ into which companies were organised. The largest enterprises even appointed representatives of the Labour Front and Gestapo. It is quite clear that German economic life came increasingly to be dominated not by considerations of profit, but rather by considerations of ‘national interest‘, as defined by the fascist State. (8).

Changes were also occurring within the capitalist enterprises The 1937 corporation law effectively deprived shareholders of any say in the running of companies, leaving them only with the power to criticise management and reduce their own dividends! Undistributed profits rose rapidly, and the managerial strata became increasingly autonomous, and closely-linked with their opposite numbers within the State bureaucracies. The same was to be seen in Italy: the only social class to expand between 1921 and 1936 was the middle class salariat.

In class terms, these developments clearly imply a decrease in the power and significance of ‘capitalists’ in the classic sense – people who personally own and therefore control the means of production. Meanwhile there was an increase in the power and significance of those people occupying central positions within the new bureaucratic corporations, and within the new State bureaucracies; and an increase in the numbers of people working in the peripheral positions within these bureaucracies. Power was coming to rely less on ownership and personal wealth than on technical and bureaucratic expertise. A new ruling class was emerging, with a new power base. We may call it the techno-bureaucratic ruling class.

Fascism was not solely responsible for the emergence of this new class, or for the transformations within capitalism with which it was associated. The decline of ‘classical’ entrepreneurial capitalism has been going on since the late 19th century, throughout the industrialised world, and we have seen the steady rise of a corporate form of capitalism dominated by this techno-bureaucratic ruling class. But although fascism was not responsible for these developments, it did accelerate and justify them in certain historical conditions. Fascism can thus be seen as one of a range of ideologies or strategies, which serve to consolidate the underlying trend towards corporate capitalism and a techno-bureaucratic ruling class, Bureaucratic state capitalism (as in the Eastern bloc) is another such strategy; welfare capitalism or social democracy (as in the Western bloc) is yet another.

In discussing fascism we must therefore distinguish between its character as an opposition movement of desperate petty bourgeois and working class origins; and its character as a movement in power, when it serves to facilitate the transformation from classical to corporate capitalism, and the rise of the techno-bureaucratic ruling class.


The NF is technically a fascist party. Its policies are very close to those of the German Nazi party, emphasising autarchy,
strict control of finance capital (and also of the multinationals), the encouragement of ‘productive’ capital as opposed to ‘parasitic’ finance capital, the welding of the State, industry and labour into a single machine serving the ‘national interest’; a foreign policy built around common racial and cultural bonds; and of course the expulsion of minority racial groups.

The NF is a Nazi party then, as the Anti Nazi League has made abundantly clear. We must now ask, Is this actually significant? Do the NF‘s policies, such as national self-sufficiency, or an orientation towards the white Commonwealth, or ’repatriation‘ of blacks, really represent a viable or attractive option for corporate capitalism? The fascists came to power in Italy and Germany because sections of big business supported them: are there today powerful sections within the ruling class, which is predominantly a pragmatic, techno-bureaucratic ruling class, which are attracted by the visions of Tyndall and Webster‘, I think not.

Fascism of this classic type is a fossil, a throwback, In modern conditions, fascism would be a severe embarrassment. How can jingoist, racist slogans serve the interests of a form of capitalism which is increasingly international, through
multinationals and groupings like the EEC and Comecon? Within individual nations, the techno-bureaucratic class is now established in power, and does not require a fascist midwife. The historical tasks performed by fascism in the 1920’s and 1930’s have been performed, and are being performed, by other ideologies and strategies. Fascism sought to weld State, industry and labour into a single machine – but if social democracy can also achieve this end, by negotiation rather than coercion, then where is the need for fascism? The ascendancy of the techno-bureaucracy is established and is continually strengthened, as dynamic young bureaucrats emerge from college to enter the service of State, industry or unions, all imbued with the same concepts of what is “reasonable” and “in the national interest. ”

To suggest that the modern State is actually fascist would be absurd – it would be an abuse-of the word, an abuse of the sort from which we must escape. The British social-democratic State (or welfare capitalist State,. or mixed economy State, whichever you prefer), is not fascist; but we can see that historically, social-democracy acts as a functional equivalent of fascism, serving the same class interests and facilitating the same underlying trends. And just in case we are accused of being objective advocates of third-stage Stalinism, let us reiterate that Stalinist state capitalism is another functional equivalent of fascism.

If this analysis is valid, then the NF is not a potential governing party, and to this extent its admittedly fascist ideology is not particularly important. This is not to say that the NF is itself insignificant, however; it is highly significant, and dangerous, as a grassroots racist-rightist agitational party, providing an organisational focus and even a veneer of respectability for such tendencies in society. We may be looking forward to many years of violent political conflict in Britain, between racists on the one hand, and blacks and white socialists on the other. A pattern is being set: night-time attacks, knifing s, letter bombs, fire bombs. Sniping s and shootings have not yet started, but it may not be long before they do.

Against this possibility the threatened communities must organise. Blacks are already doing this in some areas, arguing
that self defence is no offence. But we have seen that, although blacks are the obvious targets for attack, they are not the only ones; left bookshops, offices and homes are also under threat, And beyond these, there are yet wider circles of people who would be threatened by a strong racist-rightist presence on the streets: ‘dissident lifestylers’, feminists, gays, punks, eccentrics and layabouts of all sorts.

This becomes clear if we look at the people who have in fact been mobilised and energised by ANL carnivals (as opposed to the people who ought in theory to have been mobilised). The people who came out were not the massed organised working ” class, but a conglomeration of left activists, blacks, freaks, dissident lifestylers, school kids, and so on. What we apparently have here is a community of anti-racists, united only by their rejection of mainstream values and styles – both the old mainstream of the NF, jingoist and racist, and the new mainstream of the techno-bureaucracy, pragmatic and well-groomed. This community doesn’t wield massive economic power, it isn’t organised around a common platform, but it is obvious that these marginalia, these frequently lumpen elements, are central to any anti -racist or anti-rightist struggle.

A strong, street-fighting NF would threaten all these groups, most of whom are as visually identifiable as blacks. It’s obvious that these groups are conscious of the threat and are developing a hostility to the right. They too may soon learn that self defence is no offence, and that an injury to one anti racist is an injury to all.

Long term strategies against the NF and other racist-rightist organisations therefore depend on building a sense of community and solidarity among these groups, so that attacks will always be met by immediate and massive mobilisations, and if necessary by counter attacks. This is not a matter of organising people into formal bodies, and certainly not a matter of recruiting people into parties. We need to build a street culture of resistance, a hydra-headed community of solidarity. This will be far stronger and more resilient than any particular party or faction, though these may play a role within the wider movement.

All this is not to deny that the conventional organised working class has a role – of course it is crucial to any anti racist
strategy that large numbers of working people be involved. As Sparks argues in his pamphlet (9), class struggle is an excellent antidote to the NF, because workers in struggle as workers will simply not be interested in racist ideas: they may at other times sympathise with such ideas, but will find them of no relevance in situations of class confrontation. All this is quite true, and points to the need for class militancy as a response to the crisis and to the racism which it breeds. But Sparks doesn’t consider the possibility that other groups, which stand outside conventional class categories, may be just as central to the anti -racist struggle as the organised working class.

What is more, the development of an active resistance to the racists and rightists of the NF lays the foundation of a much wider and longer resistance to the State itself, and to the developing totalitarianism of corporate capitalism. A conscious community of militant dissidents, and an organised working class with growing experience of class militancy and solidarity, would pose tremendous threats to the techno bureaucracy and to the pragmatic alliance of State, industry and unions. It would be then that the real struggle would begin, and then that we would have to start learning lessons from Ireland. The struggle against the NF may turn out to be only a dress rehearsal.

Immediately, what can our contribution, as anarchists, be? I believe we are well placed to make a significant contribution, if we take an honest look at ourselves. As a movement, we are quite well rooted in those marginal communities referred to above – dissident lifestylers, freaks, ‘layabouts’. We can therefore help in the construction of that street culture of resistance which provides a crucial element in the long term defence against racism and rightism. It won’t be an easy job, certainly far less satisfying and clear cut than simply recruiting members to ‘the party‘. We won’t be ringleaders or organisers, so much as active agents within a process which is hopefully going to be happening anyway, and which maybe is happening now.

Secondly, we ought to keep in contact with the rest of the left, however obnoxious that may be at times. The mass anti racist movement which we want to see is going to be bigger than the organised left, but the organised left is still going to play an important role within it, (note the influence of the Socialist Workers‘ Party within the ANL). A lot of the time,
organisations like the SWP are going to be using the movement to gain more recruits and power for themselves – we should certainly expose this opportunistic and harmful attitude where it appears.

But we ought also to be working alongside other socialists where it is possible and constructive and a lot of the time it is possible and constructive. There are a lot of good, committed revolutionaries within or close to the organisations of the left, alongside the hacks and megalomaniacs. If we can’t bring ourselves to work with them, then we really are an insignificance, the flotsam of history.

In June 1922, bare months before the triumph of fascism in
Italy, Malatesta wrote as follows: “Alone we cannot subdue fascism, even less destroy existing institutions. So either we must unite with those who, though not anarchists, share short term, common objectives with us, or allow that the fascists, with the connivance of the government, should be free to terrorise the country, or that the monarchy should go on ruling undisturbed. But in ‘revolutionary alliances‘ one is always ‘betrayed’. Possibly one is. But we prefer to run the risk of being betrayed by others, than betray ourselves to the point of extinction through inaction” (10).
I believe that this warning speaks to our condition.

The anarchist movement can play a useful role in the struggle against the racists. We can point out the broad-based nature of the possible anti-racist alliance, provide a libertarian counter -weight to the more-manic Leninists, and put new perspective on the whole issue. We seem to be undergoing a minor revival at present, so let’s put it to good use.

MS. August 1978.

(1) David Edgar, Racism fascism and the politics of the National Front. Race & Class Pamphlet no. 4.
(2) A. Sivanandan, Race, class and the State: the black experience in Britain, Race & Class Pamphlet no. 1.
(3) See John Berger & Jean Mohr, The seventh man, Penguin, 1975.

(4) See A. Sivanandan, From immigration control to ‘induced repatriation‘, Race & Class Pamphlet no. 5.

(5) Wilhelm Reich, The mass psychology of fascism. Penguin, 1975.

(6) Daniel Guerin, Fascism and big business, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973.
(7) Luciano Lanza, in FREEDOM, vol. 37, nos. ‘21 & 22..
(8) Very useful on the socio-economic structure of Nazi Germany is Richard Grunberger, A social history of the Third Reich, Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 1971.

(9) Colin Sparks, Fascism & the National Front, SW P pamphlet, 1978.
(10) Vernon Richards, Malatesta; life and ideas, Freedom Press. 1965.

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