Fascism As Reform: Notes And Summary From "Blood In My Eye"

  • George Jackson
  • August 1971
  • [Edited excerpts from the sections titled "Fascism: Its Most Advanced Form Is Here In Amerika", "Classes At War: Mobiliz­ation And Contramobilization", and "On Withdrawal".]
  • [Librarian's synthesis is included at the end.]

George Jackson's Conception Of Fascism

The nature of fascism, its characteristics and properties have been in dispute ever since it was first identified as a distinct phenomenon growing out of Italy's state-supported and developed industries in 1922. Whole libraries have been written around the subject. There have been a hundred "party lines" on just exactly what fascism is. But both Marxists and non-Marxists agree on at least two of its general factors: its capitalist orientation and its anti-labor, anti-class nature. We will never have a complete definition of fascism, because it is in constant motion, showing a new face to fit any particular set of problems that arise to threaten the predominance of the traditionalist, capitalist ruling class. But if one were forced for the sake of clarity to define it in a word simple enough for all to understand, that word would be "reform." We can make our definition more precise by adding the word "economic." "Economic reform" comes very close to a working definition of fascist motive forces. Such a definition may serve to clarify things even though it leaves a great deal unexplained.

In denying its ideological importance I am not suggesting that all of its advocates (of the especially early period) were opportunist or deranged individuals reacting to a personal threat to their own situation within the society. A great many of the early fascist intellectuals were responding to a very real social situation. As intelligentsia, keepers of the particular nation's system of values, art forms and political thought, they felt it was their responsibility to attempt to resolve a growing social problem. My insistence upon the nonimportance of ideology indeed rests squarely upon this point: that most of the fascist intellectuals were reacting to the uprootedness and social disintegration of the particular moment, and with each change in the face of this state of affairs they were in large part forced to repudiate most of their former ideology.

Another reason why the importance of ideology in fascism must be denied is the fact that it exists in more than one form. In fact, historically it has proved to have three different faces. One "out of power" that tends almost to be revolutionary and subversive, anticapitalist and antisocialist. One "in power but not secure" — this is the sensational aspect of fascism that we see on screen and read of in pulp novels, when the ruling class, through its instrumental regime, is able to suppress the vanguard party of the people's and workers' movement. The third face of fascism exists when it is "in power and securely so." During this phase some dissent may even be allowed. The finished product, the actual fascist arrangement, is diametrically opposed to its original ideology.

I think our failure to clearly isolate and define it may have something to do with our insistence on a full definition — in other words, looking for exactly identical symptoms from nation to nation. We have been consistently misled by fascism's nationalistic trappings. We have failed to understand its basically international character. In fact, it has followed international socialism all around the globe. One of the most definite characteristics of fascism is its international quality. At its core, fascism is capitalistic and capitalism is international. Beneath its nationalist ideological trappings, fascism is always ultimately an international movement.

The most precise definitions of fascism involve the concept of "scientific capitalism," or "controlled capitalism." At its core, fascism is an economic rearrangement. It is international capitalism's response to the challenge of international scientific socialism. It developed from nation to nation out of differing levels of traditionalist capitalism's dilapidation. The common feature of all instances of fascism is the opposition of a weak socialist revolution. When the fascist arrangement begins to emerge in any of the independent nation-states, it does so by default! It is simply an arrangement of an established capitalist economy, an attempt to renew, perpetuate and legitimize the economy's rulers by circumflexing and weighing down, diffusing a revolutionary consciousness pushing from below. Fascism must be seen as an episodically logical stage in the socio-economic development of capitalism in a state of crisis. Fascism is always a response to a threat to the establishment.

The ultimate aim of fascism is the complete destruction of all revolutionary consciousness. It has programmed into its very nature a massive, complex and automatic defense mechanism for all our old methods for raising the consciousness of a people. After the fascists have succeeded in crushing the vanguard elements and the threat they pose is removed, the ruling class goes on about the business of making profits as usual. The significance of the "new fascist arrangement" lies in the fact that this business-as-usual is accompanied by concessions to the degenerate segment of the working class, with the aim of creating a buffer zone between the ruling class and the still potentially revolutionary segments of the lower classes.

Any anti-establishment actions taken by the strictly political arm of a forming fascist arrangement are simply attempts to centralize or upstage the capitalist industrial sector. It is significant to note that no fascist regime "in power" has advocated the abolition of any form of private ownership. The fascist regime and private ownership work hand in hand. The shock troops of fascism on the mass political level are drawn from members of the lower-middle class who feel the upward thrust of the lower classes more acutely. These classes feel that any dislocation of the present economy resulting from the upward thrust of the masses would affect their status first. They are joined by that sector of the working class which is backward enough to be affected by nationalistic trappings.

The psycho-social dimensions of fascism become quite complex, but they can be simplified by thinking of them as part of a collective bargaining process carried on between all the elites of the particular state with the regime acting as arbitrator. The regime's interests are subject to those of the ruling class. Labor is a partner in this arrangement: The very first step in establishing the "whole interest of the state," the combine, the corporate state, is to dismantle the working-class movement and replace it either with a state-controlled organ or no organization at all. At the head of any labor organization in the fascist state, there is an elite which is tied to the interests of the regime — and consequently tied also to the economic status quo. The heart of the fascist economy is an attempt at control through centralization: monopoly capital control, price fixing, wage freezes, and carefully balanced foreign trade. With each development in the fascist arrangement, the marriage between the political elite and economic elite becomes more apparent. The integration of the various sectors of the total economic elite becomes more pronounced.

In Italy the fascist party cadre spread throughout the nation organizing people left aimless by the failure of the positive mobilization of the socialist vanguard parties: people who had dropped out, defected; people who became uprooted and unemployed either by the war or the deflated economy. This organizing must be considered contra-positive mobilization in that its intent was to inflate the capitalist economy and deflate the worker's and people's influence and control over the economy. With easy credit, inflationary financing, and increased government sponsorship of public works projects, fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan succeeded in reconstructing capitalist productive institutions and traditional property relations. Class consciousness in Germany was better developed than in any other European nation before and after the fascist takeover, so consciousness "alone" is obviously not the factor that determines which way a disintegrating society will develop — fascist or socialist. Where fascism emerges and develops, the anti-capitalist forces were weaker than the traditionalist forces. It is the result of a revolutionary thrust that was weak and miscarried — a consciousness that was com­promised.

The corporative state allows for no genuinely free political opposition. They only allow meaningless gatherings where they can plant more spies than participants. They feel secure in their ability to mold the opinion of a people interested only in wages. Elections and political parties have no significance when all serious contenders for public office are fascist and the electorate is thoroughly misled about the true nature of the candidates. One cannot say all the people who vote are unaware, just as one cannot say the twelve hundred professors who backed Mussolini were all frightened. Those who are aware and still do nothing constructive are among the most pathetic victims of the totalitarian process.

I've had learned men tell me that controlled capitalism, monopoly capital, fascism, corporativism, or whatever your vernacular, is a form of "welfare-state-ism." This is precisely what we were intended to believe: that the political takeover by monopoly capital was actually an advance in the welfare of the common people. The true welfare state would be the final and highest stage of social development, where the world and the state are one, where the material and psychological needs of the masses have been met and political regimes have ceased to exist. It involves the complete alteration of the structure of property relations and the institutional substructures that support them. It leads from hierarchy to mass society.

Case Study: The United States

The United States was not existing in a vacuum when fascism first swept the Western world on the heels of two great depressions. My reading of history indicates that the U.S. was in greater economic, social, and political crisis after the 1929 stock market crash than any other Western country excepting possibly Germany. The same trends, the same experiments, the same internal battles were fought by the same forces for the direction of the nation's economy. The extreme economic crisis of the early thirties brought working-class revolutionary consciousness to its very peak. All serious commentary on this period reflects a profound lack of confidence in the workability of capitalism. This avalanche of criticism came from sectors of the middle- and right-oriented thinkers as well as the left-just as it did in Italy, Germany, Rumania and the other fascist storm centers. But of course the middle and rightist intellectuals were thinking in terms of a new direction for capitalist growth, not in its abolishment — a "New Deal," much like those of Nazi, Fascist, and Falangist Europe. No serious or honest student could miss the likeness. F.D.R. was a fascist. His stated, documented congratulatory messages to Musso­lini were not simply diplomatic gestures.

There was positive mobilization of workers and the lower class, and a highly developed class consciousness. There was indeed a very deep economic crisis with attendant strikes, unionizing, lockouts, break-ins, call-outs of the National Guard. The lower class was threatening to unite under the pressure of economic disintegration. Revolution was in the air. Socialist vanguard parties were leading it. There was terrorism from the right from groups such as Guardians of the Republic, the Black Legion, Peg-leg White-type storm troopers and hired assassins who carried out the beginnings of a contra-positive suppressive mobilization. Under the threat of revolution, the ruling class, true to Marxian theory, became all the more co-optive and dangerous. F.D.R. was born and bred in this ruling class of families. His role was to form the first fascist regime, to merge the economic, political and labor elites. Governing elites/corporative state/fascism — his role was to limit competition, replace it with the dream of cooperation; to put laissez faire to rest, and initiate the acceptance of government intervention into economic affairs.

A great many of the early trends of Amerikan history prepared the way for the ultimate success of fascism in its highest form. From the very beginning of Amerika's existence as an independent nation-state there were localized labor organizations that attempted to further the interests of their class by influencing the social, political and economic life of the new nation. It wasn't until the second half of the 19th century that labor took on a national character and began to make its presence felt in the economic life of the nation. Even then, it was resisted by the violence of employers and government working together. Marx's definition of history as a broken, twisted, sordid spectrum of class struggles is substantiated by Amerikan labor history. The earliest significant struggles between labor and capital began in the 1790s on the East Coast in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore where mutual-aid craft societies attempted to gain higher wages and shorter working hours. Resistance from employers and their backers in government to these mild organizational efforts forced the establishment of the first trade unions, the Philadelphia Printers Union, the New York Typographical Union of 1794, Journeymen Cabinet and Chair Makers of 1796. The first wage strike was organized by the Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (shoemakers) of Philadelphia. It lasted ten or eleven weeks in 1799 and was broken by right-wing terrorist activity.

The laying to rest of laissez faire, the shackling of Adam Smith's "invisible hand," really began during the Civil War in the U.S. The petit-bourgeois dream of countless contending private proprietorships somehow managing a mellifluous blending of private and state interests — when long-range plans could still be made by wage workers to be proprietors one day — became a nightmare with the advent of the mass manufacturing process. At the opening of the Civil War, the U.S. was ranked fourth among the world's industrial states behind the English empire, the German states and France. By 1870 the U.S. industrial manufacturing plant had doubled the value of its products. The number of factory workers drawn out of other sectors of the economy caused the industrial work force to nearly double during this same period. Improvements in the arts of agricultural production drew some workers from the countryside and sent others westward toward the closing frontier. The craftsman lost his privileged economic position with the appearance of newly invented mass production machinery. This new machinery and the factory setup in general made individual workers more expendable and made it possible to reduce their share of the profits. By the mid-1890s the U.S. was producing one-third of the world's manufactured goods, and was on its way to becoming first among the world's industrial states.

The expansion of U.S. industry out of the demands of the Civil War involved a complex concentration of several violent and predictable capital mandates. The old traditional sector of the landed aristocracy was broken; machine tools, transport, and communications boomed (the basis of the industrial state and, of course, an industrial elite, when raw materials — coal, iron and other ores — are not lacking); the price or value of labor shrank; and the "drive" toward monopoly accumulation was firmly established. This period of capital accumulation, invention of new machinery, its use in expanding factory setups, the "closed economy" created by Republican government legislation, and the direction of certain amounts of capital through government contract were in part the beginnings of a new chapter in the authoritarian process of Western history. Industrial centralization, I mean the refined tactics of monopolized capitalism, may have been developed right here in the U.S.!

This is the logical place to question some of the old left's historical assumptions about the last hundred years of life. Analysts of the old left are completely confused by the differences between bourgeois democracy and monopoly capital and their manifestations on the Amerikan scene. They seem to feel that both can coexist in the same society. Actually one simply grows out of the other. Monopoly capital is the central objective of corporative fascism. Prior to the Civil War and the emergence of the trends toward monopoly capital, Amerika was dominated by bourgeois democratic economics and political rule. The economy was based upon the diverse ownership of many thousands of factory units and a political arrangement to reflect that fact.

However, with the emergence and expansion of monopoly capital after the economic impetus of the Civil War, bourgeois democracy naturally began to fade. Bourgeois democracy, the political rule of the bourgeoisie, simply cannot exist after the emergence of monopoly capital. Monopoly capital has its own political expression. It develops as bourgeois democratic political rule declines. The roots of corporativism-fascism were laid with the expansion of monopoly capital into the giant cartels, corporations and interlocking trusts. The owners of the largest share of a nation's GNP will always control the political life and government of the state. Monopoly capital is corporativism (fascism!).

I don't think anything that ever happened in Italy, Spain, Germany or any of the other capitalist states can match the centralizing process that the U.S. went through in the last hundred years. Even the so-called public utilities (A.T. & T., the Santa Fe, the Pennsylvania RR, Western Electric, Western Union) are owned by financial institutions that, on examination, always turn out to be controlled by a few families who are descendants of the industrial expansionists of 1865-95. The ruling class in the U.S. is composed of one million men and their families — the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans, Mellons, Du Pants, Hunts and Gettys, Fords and their minions and dependents. They use the ivy League universities and elite law schools as private schools for their offspring and as training grounds for their corporate hirelings. They rule with iron precision through the military, the C.l.A., the F.B.I., private foundations and financial institutions. Their control of all the media of education and communication comprises an extremely effective system of thought control.

In the U.S., World War II was the principal cause of the total breakdown of the working-class movement and its revolutionary consciousness, which had been built up by the crisis years of the thirties and all that went before them. Lesser attempts at suppression had been made prior to the war through the typical reformist policies of modern fascist regimes. The economy had been closed, banks regulated, deficit spending had been practiced on projects like TVA and CCC. There have been depressions and socio-economic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential. The struggles of the thirties, forties and fifties completed the totalitarianization of the country and perfected the system of total mass social deception. The arms race that eventually culminated in the fascist military-industrial-complex-based economy broke the closed economic ideal.

All the ingredients for a fascist state were already present: racism, the morbid traditional fear of blacks, Indians, Mexicans; the desire to inflict pain on them when they began to compete in industrial sectors. The resentment and the seedbed of fear is patterned into every modern capitalist society. It grows out of a sense of insecurity and insignificance that is inculcated into the workers by the conditions of life and work under capitalism. This sense of vulnerability is the breeding ground of racism. At the same time, the ruling class actively promotes racism against the blacks of the lower classes. This programmed racism has always served to distract the huge numbers of people who subsist at just a slightly higher level than those in a more debased condition (in the 1870s the strikes frequently ended in anti-Chinese or anti-black lynchings). It conforms to dual requirements of the authoritarian personality (conformity accompanied by compulsive sadism). Racism has served always in the U.S. as a pressure release for the psychopathic destructiveness evinced by a people made fearful and insecure by a way of life they never understood and resented from the day of their birth.

The necessary shock troops and tools for creating the false contra-positive psycho-social basis of a fascist-type pseudo-society were in short supply in this country prior to and during the process of the fascist takeover. There was little of this consciousness among the middle classes, so the first terror came from the specially formed and hired goons of the Du Ponts and Rockefellers, the Black Legion, the Guardians of the Republic, the F.B.I. They destroyed the already disintegrating vanguard, leaving the degenerate elements of the working class as the only available mass. Class relations were slowly altered as a result of this action by the co-opted labor sectors. Government agents were sent to infiltrate scattered labor movements. The disguise was complete. The satisfaction of labor's short-term economic interests was made possible by the giant consumers' market and the military complex. Ties were formed between rulers and labor leaders. The elites of the proletarian movement were compromised. A ruling class and its governing elites were centralized and were carefully co-optive. A fascist arrangement! Death and prison for all who object — fascism in its final and secure state. It has happened here.

The Rand Corporation does 80 percent of its work for the military-industrial-intelligence complex; 750 or more colleges offer police science courses; 247 additional colleges offer associate degrees in law enforcement; 44 offer bachelor degrees. The National Guard numbers 390,000. The C.I.A.D. (Counter Intelligence Analysis Detachment) — the 113th military intelligence group — is designed for the surveillance of private citizens. The police state isn't coming — it's here, glaring and threatening. Fascism has established itself in a most disguised and efficient manner in this country. It feels so secure that the leaders allow us the luxury of faint protest. Take protest too far, however, and they will show their other face. Doors will be kicked down in the night and machine-gun fire and buckshot will become the medium of exchange.

It requires only the proper set of eco-sociological circumstantial pressures to turn blacks around and reawaken their revolutionary consciousness. We're hungry.

Librarian's Synthesis

George Jackson explains fascism as an ordinary development in the class struggle — a capitalist reform — caused by extraordinary circumstances in the society which it arises. Every capitalist reform is a response to a serious social problem that threatens the ruling class, and the severity of that reform is a reflection of the severity of the social and economic crises that created it. When the crisis is severe enough to begin generating a revolutionary situation — marked by a considerable increase in the political activity of the masses leading to revolutionary organization — the capitalist order responds with counter-revolutionary repression, reform, and other means necessary to save itself.

Fascism was a name for these types of measures employed in certain historical contexts. It has been imitated in whole or in part by future governments and political movements which left us in a century of confusion as to what can or can not be described as fascistic. In practice it accomplishes the acceleration of the concentration of monopoly capital while defeating its ideological adversaries. The problem is that this is precisely what all capitalist reform accomplishes, as it is the standard logic of capitalism transitioning into imperialism.

Furthering this conception, maybe what truly gives fascism its qualitative distinction from reform in our minds — if it is still useful to make a distinction at all — is that it crosses a threshold of perceived violence or brutality. After all it is ineffective in practice to explain to people that "all reforms are fascist" since reforms are associated with improvements in living conditions (however, so is fascism, which is why it is still supported by certain sections of the masses that believe would benefit from it). It is far more educative to explain that "all fascism is a type of reform," to explain how the system works and the role that fascism has played within it: as an equal and opposing force, as counter-revolutionary violence.

German revolutionary and socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg carried the slogan "socialism or barbarism." She was killed in 1919 by the paramilitary Freikorps on an order by the German chancellor (and future president) Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany: a self-described democratic socialist party that is still a major German party today. Members of the Freikorps would later become integrated into the Nazi Party. In concluding our study of Jackson's writings we suggest that Luxemburg's slogan be updated to "socialism or fascism" as an accurate reflection of both historical experience and an expected juncture in the development of class struggle around the world.