What does “fighting fascists” even mean?

Following many instances of violence, rioting and intimidation in recent months, I’ve seen it said by some of the participants, usually members of so-called Antifa, or BLM, or affiliated groups, the conduct is justified under the auspices that they were engaged in the righteous act of “fighting fascists.” They had no choice. But, as that one guy in Princess Bride once said, you keep saying that word, but I don’t think you understand what that word means . . . .

What is Fascism?

Benito Mussolini created the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, the precursor to the fascist party, on March 23, 1919 in Milan, Italy. It was basically violent authoritarianism, but with a new name. Basically, using squads of violent militant supporters, they beat and killed their fellow Italians until they complied with their political agenda.

The word “fascism” comes from the Italian word, “fascio,” which means “bundle” – i.e., bundles of people. In ancient Rome, the “fasces” was a bundle of wood with an ax head, which was carried by leaders.  We’re often told by the modern leftist movements, involving BLM and Antifa, that you’re either with us, or against you. In other words, you cannot be neutral. This isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s a classic component of both fascist and communist political movements and regimes. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on first fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and a professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, explained in a Time Magazine article last year:

“On March 23, 1919, the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento — a group that grew out of a number of earlier movements that had also used the image of the fascio in their names — met for the first time in Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan. At this rally, Mussolini said that membership in the new group “commits all fascists to sabotaging the candidacies of the neutralists of all parties by any means necessary.”

“Mussolini thought that democracy was a failed system. He thought that liberty of expression and liberty of parties was a sham, and that fascism would organize people under state power,” Ben-Ghiat says. “Their idea was you would be freer because you wouldn’t have any class consciousness. You’re just supposed to worship the nation. It’s nation over class.”

What to Know About the Origins of Fascism’s Brutal Ideology, Time Magazine, by Olivia B. Waxman, March 22, 2019

Violence was seen as beneficial to society. Those who did not conform to the ideas, or join the group, were seen as disruptive, and therefore subject to violence.

Who was Mussolini before being the first fascist dictator?

Mussolini was a journalist. He founded the Milan-based newspaper, Il Popola d’Italia, after he left the ranks of the Italian Socialist Party, where he advocated militarism and irredentism (a movement to reunify parts of what was supposed to be “Italy”similar to what Hitler was attempting to do in reunifying the Nazi perception of the true “Germany”). He created an offshoot of socialism, and was very much a socialist, as far as policy goes. The word “socialist” was displayed on the newspaper’s masthead until 1918. See Philip Morgan (2003), Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945, New York: NY: Routledge, p. 27.

So were the fascists also socialists? 

Viewed in the context of World War I, Mussolini was a socialist, but disagreed with the Socialist Party on issues of foreign policy – namely, whether to go to war. He left the party when he went to fight in World War I. Accordingly, the fascists declared the socialists to be the enemy over their anti-war policies. Other than the foreign policy issue of whether to fight a war, their domestic policies were substantially the same. This formed the prototype for Hitler’s vision of the Third Reich:

“In the past, there was this idea that Mussolini copied Hitler, but it was actually the other way around for a very long time,” she adds. “Mussolini was in power 11 years before Hitler. He had things all worked out by the time Hitler came to power. Hitler was [initially seen as] a total loser. No one wanted to buy Mein Kampf. No one was interested in him. Then the Great Depression came, and he boomed. [Fascism] is a very important part of Nazism. It began with Hitler wanting to adapt what Mussolini had created. Hitler was such a fan of Mussolini; he was writing him, trying to get an autographed picture, trying to meet him.”

What to Know About the Origins of Fascism’s Brutal Ideology, Time Magazine, by Olivia B. Waxman, March 22, 2019

Therefore, fascists were socialists who wanted to go to war. Nazis modeled themselves on the fascists. Consequently, Nazis were socialists – hence their name, The National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Only in English, did we refer to them as just “Nazis.” They were a militaristic, pro-war, socialist party, in Germany.

Were the fascists also communists?

Looking back at the creation of fascism, the Russian Revolution had just occurred, and Mussolini feared the spread of communism would threaten his rise to power. Like the socialists, the communist party didn’t so much differ with him all that much on domestic policies, but they weren’t Mussolini.

“The main way the fascists got to power was by killing off and intimidating what was the largest and most popular party, the Socialist Party,” Ben-Ghiat explains. “Squadrists — terrorists who would descend upon towns in trucks, uniformed in black shirts — had knives and they killed thousands of people in the years 1919 to 1922. The killing went on after Mussolini became prime minister.”

What to Know About the Origins of Fascism’s Brutal Ideology, Time Magazine, by Olivia B. Waxman, March 22, 2019

Authoritarian regimes maintain power by force and suppression of opposing ideas and enemies – even if similar. Both communism and fascism glorify an autocratic, centralized and all-powerful government, suppressing individualism. The individual is meaningless in both forms of government. Whereas communism the government owns all means of production and land, fascism allows nominal private ownership – subject to the all-powerful ability of the central government to restrict or destroy such ownership, or course. This looks a lot like the current state of affairs in communist China, where nominal ownership is allowed – if the state allows it because the owner is useful to the state.

Both communism and fascism abolish the concept of religion. The central government – the party, or the State – are the new religion. Again, the large distinction is that “communism” is an international movement, designed to spread beyond borders, like a virus seeking power within each of its new hosts. For obvious reasons, such a movement was the enemy to Benito Mussolini. Italy was not open to the infection of communism, because Benito Mussolini was the sole dictator in Italy – not the Marxists in the Soviet Union.

At the core, fascism and communism both were political viruses designed to spread and take over new territory. Communism sought to spread everywhere. Italian fascism sought to reclaim what Mussolini believed to be his inheritance from the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance. Nazism would likewise seek the restoration of traditional lands – “breathing space”  – which in turn brought race and ethnicity as a central policy issue. Communism, on the other hand, sought to overwhelm everyone, everywhere, equally destructive to all races and classes of people. Thus, Italian fascists, who didn’t threaten Nazi fascists, and vice versa, were natural allies because they each claimed separate territories. For the same reason, they both opposed the spread of communism. Because such a spread would challenge their primary purposes of maintaining authoritarian dictatorships over their specific geographical area of traditional and cultural importance.

Again, they weren’t all that opposed to each other when it comes to domestic policy goals. Mussolini had originally praised the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and publicly referred to himself in 1919 as the “Lenin of Italy.” See Peter Neville, Mussolini, Oxon, England, UK; New York: NY, Routledge, 2004, p. 36; Denis Mack Smith, Modern Italy: A Political History, University of Michigan Press, 1997, first publish in 1959, p. 284.

Blackshirts

The Blackshirts were the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party, and known as the Squadrismo. They were based upon the Arditi, which was an elite group of Italy’s World War I troops, whose loyalty Mussolini had sought, and obtained. The Blackshirts was largely comprised of affluent intellectuals, rather than peasants, or laborers. They were black uniforms, and used violence and intimidation against Mussolini’s political opponents – growing more violent over time, as Mussolini’s power increased.

Hitler later copied Mussolini, creating his own version of blackshirts – the Brownshirts, who became the Nazi storm troopers.

During the high tide of “squadrismo,” members of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento movement, who would form the official Fascist party by 1922, mobilized tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Italian men who carried out thousands of acts of brutal violence within their own communities and neighboring cities, towns, villages, and hamlets…. Fascist attacks against Socialists, according to Benito Mussolini, were like assaults “on an Austrian trench.” He declared, “This is heroism…This is the violence of which I approve and which I exalt. This is the violence of Fascism.”

This Is the Violence of Which I Approve”, Slate, by Michael R. Ebner, Jan. 30, 2017.

Like the literal “fascists,” many modern leftist groups, such as BLM and Antifa, have ironically themselves adopted fascist tactics (which in reality are equally attributable to communists). They haven’t reached the level of the Blackshirts, as of yet, but the Blackshirts didn’t build their new Rome in a day. As Mussolini rose in power and strength, so too rose the level of their violence and intimidation:

Fascists interrupted meetings, beat elected officials, and made impossible the work of local government. Socialists in particular were intimidated, threatened, and even beaten until they resigned. The consequences for the Socialist Party, which was entirely unprepared to counter organized, paramilitary violence, were disastrous….

Throughout northern and central Italy, Fascists replicated this feat. Having conquered major provincial centers, Fascists spread out into small towns and hamlets. Major cities provided launching points for attacking other cities. Having consolidated power in these places, the squads then moved into more peripheral areas…. The peasant leagues, cooperatives, labor halls, and social clubs—the entire infrastructure of the Socialist “state”—were intensely parochial institutions, organized around popular, charismatic political and labor leaders.8

Fascist squads thus practiced highly personal, localized strategies of violence and intimidation, attacking the most prominent and influential “subversives” within a given province, town, or comune. Fascists sometimes beat these men, occasionally with homicidal intent, but perhaps more commonly intimidated them until they were forced to leave town, thereby decapitating their organizations. The Fascists spent their weekends chasing prominent peasant leaders across the countryside.

“This Is the Violence of Which I Approve”, Slate, by Michael R. Ebner, Jan. 30, 2017. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/01/how-italian-fascists-succeeded-in-taking-over-italy.html Excerpted from Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy by Michael R. Ebner. Published by Cambridge University Press.

The Blackshirt playbook was really not a whole lot different than “terrorism” as it became to be defined in the post-millineum – albeit, without the religion. It was all about instilling fear, or rather terror, in the minds of the enemy. Not just the enemy either, but in the minds of their innocent family members at home:

Thus, life for labor leaders became terror-filled, especially because Fascists did not limit their attacks to the public sphere. Nowhere was safe. Late at night, 10, 30, or even 100 Blackshirts, as these squad members became known, sometimes traveling from neighboring towns, might surround a home, inviting a Socialist, anarchist, or Communist outside to talk. If they refused, the Fascists would enter forcibly or threaten to harm the entire family by lighting the house on fire.9

In small towns, where everyone knew everyone, Fascists inflicted ritual humiliation on their enemies, a powerful strategy of terror understood by all. Blackshirts forced their opponents to drink castor oil and other purgatives, and then sent them home, wrenching with pain and covered in their own feces. In some cases, squads forced their enemies to defecate on politically symbolic objects: pages of a speech, a manifesto, a red flag, and so on. After administering a castor oil treatment, Fascists sometimes drove prominent anti-Fascist leaders around in lorries in order to reduce them in the eyes of their own supporters.10 They also accosted their opponents in public, stripped them naked, beat them, and handcuffed them to posts in piazzas and along major roadways.11

Although individual working-class leaders might have been willing to live under the constant threat of physical attacks, most were unwilling to subject their families to such danger. Deprived of leadership, meeting places, offices, records, and sympathetic Socialist town councils, the landless peasantry became subject to the landowners’ conventional tactics of strike breaking and intimidation. Having broken the leagues, the Fascists then forced the laborers into “politically neutral” (Fascist) syndicates. Vulnerable peasants had little choice but to join….

The squadrists’ most explicit goal—destroying “Bolshevism”—was rapidly achieved, yet the violence continued unabated. Only by perpetuating this “revolutionary” situation could the Fascist movement undermine the liberal state and continue its push for political power. Additionally, at the local level, violence and criminality persisted more or less independent of any immediate larger political goals. The power of the Ras and the bonds of squadrist camaraderie depended on Fascists sustaining a state of lawlessness and initiating new attacks.12 Illegal activities increased feelings of belonging and emotional interdependence among squadrists, making it more difficult for individual Blackshirts to pull out of the squads or refrain from violent acts. Any retreat, any return to normalcy, would have required dealing with potentially serious legal and psychological consequences.13 Violence thus became cyclical and self-sustaining. Squads perpetuated the environment of terror by constantly identifying new victims. Not surprisingly, due to its intimate nature, Fascist violence was shaped by local conditions: petty feuds, personal rivalries, and other motives beyond mere class warfare.

“This Is the Violence of Which I Approve”, Slate, by Michael R. Ebner, Jan. 30, 2017. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/01/how-italian-fascists-succeeded-in-taking-over-italy.html Excerpted from Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy by Michael R. Ebner. Published by Cambridge University Press.

Scenes of burning and stomping on flags, national, cultural and historic symbols…. It’s all a performance, shrewdly designed to have an effect on the minds of the people who would otherwise be neutral. Remember, you’re either with us, or against us:

Having “conquered” and “pacified” Socialist communities, Fascists next asserted domination over the political and symbolic use of public space. The Fascists tore down red flags, busts of Marx, and Socialist slogans, replacing them with the Italian flag, busts of the king, and the fasces. Marches, parades, and political ceremonies reinforced the perception that the Fascists now dominated public spaces only recently occupied by Socialists. This “performance” of Fascist dominance intimidated real and potential enemies, while also fostering cohesion and solidarity among the Blackshirts. It also served to reassure the provincial bourgeoisie that their dominant social position had been restored. Conservative and even moderate liberal provincial newspapers expressed support for the Blackshirts, praising their “patriotism” and respect for “law and order.”

The new Fascist “state within a state” was very different from the preceding two years of Socialist hegemony. Through illegal violence, rather than elections, Fascists controlled government administration and destroyed the offices, newspapers, and cultural and social organizations of the Socialists, trade unions, and peasant leagues. Cyclical violence directed against local leaders prevented Socialists from reorganizing. Mass demonstrations, supported by the police and property-owning classes, were patriotic, reaffirming the primacy of the nation over internationalism. Politically, economically, and socially, traditional elites had reasserted their dominance over the laboring classes….

Fascists also raided the homes of nationally prominent politicians—including the former prime minister, Francesco Nitti—throwing their books and furniture out the window and lighting the pile on fire. Meanwhile, in the provinces, Fascists seized control of local administrations that had resisted up until then. By the end of 1922, Fascists or pro-Fascists controlled virtually every communal administration in Italy. Finally, the freedom of the press was severely curtailed. In the days following Oct. 28, 1922, Fascists prevented most major dailies from publishing news of events.

On Oct. 29, 1922, the Italian king appointed Mussolini prime minister. Mussolini presided over a mixed cabinet consisting of Fascists, Nationalists (who were absorbed by the Fascists in 1923), Liberals, and Popolari. Many political elites assumed that a Mussolini government would bring an end to two years of violent disorder, but it did not. By taking the portfolio of minister of the Interior for himself, he controlled the Italian police. Political violence in the years after the March on Rome continued to serve the same purposes as before: it suppressed opposition, replaced Socialist and non-Fascist administrations, and extended Fascist control over the rest of Italy. Mussolini occasionally decried the illegal activities of the squads, but they operated as the motor that drove his government along the road to dictatorship.

“This Is the Violence of Which I Approve”, Slate, by Michael R. Ebner, Jan. 30, 2017. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/01/how-italian-fascists-succeeded-in-taking-over-italy.html Excerpted from Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy by Michael R. Ebner. Published by Cambridge University Press.

So-called “Antifa

In 1932, Antifaschistische Aktion (a.k.a., Antifa) was formed in the Weimar Republic by members of the Communist Party of Germany. The modern-day “Antifa” has appropriated their name and a modified version of their logo. They’re not the only ones. The Maoist Communist Party in China did the same, along with other later Marxist authoritarian regimes and groups. It’s been a common tactic utilized by communists ever since the 1930s. While 1932 Germany did indeed have a problem with actual fascists in the government, in true communist fashion, the epithet “fascist” didn’t necessarily refer only to a Nazi. Rather, it was used to describe capitalist society in generally and virtually any anti-Soviet or anti-Stalinist activity or opinion. The term anti-fascist became ubiquitous in Soviet and communist party usage, where it became synonymous with the party line. See Pike, David (1982). “German Writers in Soviet Exile, 1933–1945”. The American Historical Review. 88 (1): 8–9. doi:10.1086/ahr/88.1.133-a. ISSN 1937-5239.

Thus, when the “Antifa” rioters, or the BLM “peaceful protestors” are engaging in what appears to be violence and/or intimidation, similar to what the Blackshirts used to do, they justify their actions utilizing a theory that the ends justifies the means, because they’re “fighting fascists.” The big difference between 2020 United States and 1932 Europe, is that they literally are not fighting fascists. There are many things. But they literally are not fighting fascists. Fascists are not Republicans, nor Maga-hat-wearing Trump supporters. No historical component of the United States had anything to do with fascists, except being the actual one’s to finally destroy the literal fascists – Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. And also the Soviet Union, which is basically the same thing, as far as domestic policy goes. Fascists do not promote, protect and preserve religion. Fascists do not believe in the natural rights of man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Antifa is literally fighting against non-fascists. Whether they’re neutral, or Maga-hat-wearers, or whether they’re so-called right-wing militia types, they’re literally not fascists. If they were, they’d probably be the best of friends, because in theory, they only disagree on foreign policy issues. And even Trump, the head fascist of 2020, is vocally anti-war compared to his Republican Neocon predecessors.

So what’s the end-goal? Where is this all going? What does Antifa/BLM/communism want? Just as history tells us what fascism is, and what communism is, by what their actions have been in the past, and how they were created and maintained their power, history also teaches where they will take us, if given the opportunity.

Spanish Civil War

The culmination of the real fascists in 1930s Europe, competing with the real communists of 1930s Europe, as well as communists led by the Soviet Union, resulted in a civil war of epic proportions in Spain, which illustrated the real end-game of so-called anti-fascist groups. This is where the want to go, assuming they are sufficiently supplied and supported. It lasted from 1936 to 1939. An unknown number of people, from 500,000 to one million, would die in the war, ending in an even-more brutal dictatorship which would rule Spain well into the 1970s.

Leading up to the Spanish Civil War, there was an eerily familiar environment of violence and polarization. According to Stanley Payne, by July 1936, the situation in Spain had deteriorated massively. Spanish commentators spoke of chaos and preparation for revolution, foreign diplomats prepared for the possibility of revolution, and an interest in fascism developed among the threatened. Payne states that, by July 1936:

“The frequent overt violations of the law, assaults on property, and political violence in Spain were without precedent for a modern European country not undergoing total revolution. These included massive, sometimes violent and destructive strike waves, large-scale illegal seizures of farmland in the south, a wave of arson and destruction of property, arbitrary closure of Catholic schools, seizure of churches and Catholic property in some areas, widespread censorship, thousands of arbitrary arrests, virtual impunity for criminal action by members of Popular Front parties, manipulation and politicisation of justice, arbitrary dissolution of rightist organisations, coercive elections in Cuenca and Granada that excluded all opposition, subversion of the security forces, and a substantial growth in political violence, resulting in more than three hundred deaths.”

Payne & Palacios 2014, p. 117.

Society was severely polarized, with constant confrontations between the left and the right (i.e., the communists and fascists, so more accurately left vs. other left):

Laia Balcells observes that polarization in Spain just before the coup was so intense that physical confrontations between leftists and rightists were a routine occurrence in most localities; six days before the coup occurred, there was a riot between the two in the province of Teruel. Balcells notes that Spanish society was so divided along Left-Right lines that the monk Hilari Raguer stated that in his parish, instead of playing “cops and robbers”, children would sometimes play “leftists and rightists.” 

Balcells, Laia. Rivalry and revenge. Cambridge University Press, 2017. pp. 58–59.

The government was allowing one side to commit acts of violence and to destroy property, and to get away with it, while the other side would be prosecuted. In addition, there was a purposeful class warfare and social justice propaganda, bringing tensions to a boiling point:

Within the first month of the Popular Front’s government, nearly a quarter of the provincial governors had been removed due to their failure to prevent or control strikes, illegal land occupation, political violence and arson. The Popular Front government was more likely to persecute (i.e., prosecute) rightists for violence than leftists who committed similar acts

Workers increasingly demanded less work and more pay. “Social crimes” – refusing to pay for goods and rent – became increasingly common by workers, particularly in Madrid. In some cases this was done in the company of armed militants. Conservatives, the middle classes, businessmen and landowners became convinced that revolution had already begun

Seidman, Michael (2011). The Victorious Counter-revolution: The Nationalist Effort in the Spanish Civil War. University of Wisconsin Press.

Tragically, the Spanish Civil War was characterized by the inability for historians to even determine the number of people who died in the process. Both sides utilized what were essentially death squads, killing both civilians and combatants. Maybe the one thing that everyone can agree on, is that Spain was destroyed in the process, and never really recovered.

We’ve already had one Civil War, and there can be no doubt, if you look at the history of communist “anti-fascists,” that’s where they want to take us.

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