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Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice

In the 1930s fascist parties came to power across Europe. Millions were killed in the Second World War and the Holocaust. Yet, sixty years on, fascism is on the rise once more in all major European states and far right parties are again winning converts.

To explain this disturbing trend, this book surveys the history of modern fascism in Europe, from its prewar origins up to the present day. It examines the Marxist response to fascism in the age of Hitler and Mussolini and the writings of political thinkers such as Trotsky and Gramsci, as well as more recent European theorists such as Miliband, Mason and Poulantzas.

Fascism: Theory and Practice was published by Pluto Press, London, 1999. ISBN 0745314708. £12.99.

Pre-publication: Florian Kirner (Linksruck)

'A compact, clear guide to the main theories of fascism, and also a guide to action. Read the book, know the enemy, and fight for a world free from fascism and war.'

Pre-publication: David Baker

'Never dull and always stimulating, this is a highly committed book by a radical new voice in the field.'

Review: Yasser Shams Khan in Radical Notes

Review: Chris Brooke in Voice of the Turtle

Review: Socialist Standard 

Comments: Philip M. Coupland, '"Left-Wing Fascism" in Theory and Practice: The Case of the British Union of Fascists', Twentieth Century British History 13/1 (2002)

Review: Richard C. Thurlow, Labour History Review 65/2, summer 2000, pp. 287-8.

For those interested in Marxist theories of fascism, Dave Renton provides a clear, well written critical interpretation which ought to be broadly welcomed by all but the most sectarian. It should also find favour with radical anti-fascists in justifying their activist denunciation and operations against organisations deemed fascist in contemporary society. Indeed, those sceptical of the merits of these traditions, will also find some of his comments interesting and thought-provoking, particularly with relation to interpretations of the Holocaust, the nature of the Italian fascist and German nazi state, and his criticism of the historiography, particularly the 'new consensus' school.

There are, however, various problems with both the method and conclusions of the author. His hostility to, and inability to take seriously, fascist ideology is a serious flaw. As a committed political activist he sees his training as a weapon to destroy fascism, not to understand it or pursue historical objectivity. While it is quite legitimate to emphasise the conditions under which fascism arose - and he usefully highlights the nature of the fascist state through the use of lan Kershaw's model- the principal reason why fascism is considered central to the history of the twentieth century, is that Hitler came close to establishing a 'new order' in an empire which, in the early 1940s, stretched from the Atlantic seaboard of France to the Urals, and from the North Cape to the Mediterranean.

Although there is no neat blueprint for the nature of this scheme the logic was quite clear; it was driven by a fascist social Darwinian ideology, a somewhat inconsistent hybrid which ignored the contradictions between a radical German nationalism and imperialism, and a horrific chiliastic racial vision which rewarded Nordic 'Aryans' and attempted to 'eradicate' so-called asocial minorities, to destroy organised labour and 'inferior breeds' such as Slavs, and in particular Jews. The defeat of this ghastly project by the 'united nations' of the 'Grand Alliance' led to the division of Europe for the next fifty years once the allies had fallen out. The point was this scheme represented a mad, bad and incoherent mix of various strands of nazi fascist ideology not the logic of capitalist development or a materialist interpretation of history. Whilst historians remain divided over the nature of fascism, the 'new consensus school has shown the necessity of taking the bizarre ideas of fascists seriously, both with relation to then- potential for destruction and their ghoulish dystopian nightmares.

Review: Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Extremism and Democracy 2/1 (2001)

With the breakdown of communism one would have assumed that the trust in Marxism/socialism as the only alternative to fascism would have been less pronounced in the scholarly debate among those who regard themselves as belonging to the ‘left’. However, Renton contends that “The clearest most effective antidote to racism is the politics of class” (p.110) and that “working class unity” is the most effective tool with which to fight fascism today. In his introduction he asserts that the purpose of his book is to offer a “radically different and critical theory of fascism” (p. 3). In the concluding chapter he also offers means of how to stop fascism, drawing upon former Marxist theory which he holds still valid today, as he sees no difference between neo-fascism today and ‘classic’ fascism.

The contention that (neo-)fascism can only be defeated by crushing the capitalist system was at the heart of the ‘anti-fascism’ coming from the East for years and functioned as a cover-up for the most cruel repressions before, during and after the Second World War. A strange omission in Renton’s book is critique of the tactical blunder of the Comintern theory of 1929 to split the ‘class movement’ top-down by depicting and opposing the social democrats as ‘social fascists’, and thus opening the way for Hitler to destroy the labour (class-) movement: “There were voices arguing for left-wing unity against fascism, unfortunately, the impact of their theories on the practice of the significant battalions of the German left was minimal” (p.36-37). Renton is particularly interested in the theory of Leon Trotsky, yet his murder by the Soviet regime stands in very strange contrast to Renton’s praise of how Marxist class-movements can liberate us from fascism.

Juan Linz once said that the most efficient way to fight fascism was to prohibit/destroy nationalism. With Renton’s (Marxist) recommendation to destroy capitalism, we have two proposals which taken together will bring a revolution to politics, but also pre-empty it with content: a (neo)-fascist free world without nationalism and capitalism. And this is exactly what Stalin did! I do not think this approach to a theory of understanding fascism is the one to follow in the years to come.

Having said this, I do recommend this as a very clear and argumentative book – not uncommon among ‘leftists’ writers. They often cleverly de-mask political realities and bring out the essentials of political practice. And they have a strong moral point of view, much coming from the experience of the fascists’ merciless treatment of communists and leaders from working class organizations. This is also Renton’s main point, who in general argues that we have to understand the difference between analysing fascism as a dependent or as an independent variable (a point of view which I have exemplified in Fascism outside Europe). He attacks what he calls the “liberal theories which dominate the academic studies of fascism”. What they do (wrong) is focus on the pronounced ideology of fascism thus trying to understand fascism in the way the fascists themselves wanted to be seen. Ideology cannot be understood separated from political practice, Renton holds, and it is a gross misunderstanding to ‘read out’ political practice by studying programs and written proclamations etc.. When you study fascism as an independent variable i.e. what they did (the ‘effect of fascism’) you get the right understanding of what fascism was about, and then you can also transcend the problem of analyzing fascism from the fascists’ own premises.

This is an interesting point of view, and Renton then goes on to try to analyze fascism as an independent variable by looking at its ugly deeds, most notably the Holocaust, commenting on ‘Holocaust denial’ as a theme within (neo-)fascism today. The problem with independent-variable analysis is that very many different political regimes did very much the same as fascism in terms of cruelty and repression, if not to the extent of the industrial killings of the Jews. Therefore one has to single out the ‘particular’ effects of fascism which differ from effects of other regimes. That theory has still not been formulated.

On the dependent variable analysis much is still missing and Renton’s conclusion on the destruction of fascism is not the best, even if capitalism in the inter-war period certainly contributed to the rapid rise of fascism both in and outside Europe. The problem with this analysis of fascism so far is the effort to use the heralded ‘generic approach’ which is a “prison of ideas” (his description of the approach by the aforementioned ‘liberal theorists’) when trying to look at the ‘roots of fascism’ from the Italian case. A theory of fascism has to be based on a general ‘cause’ from where the Italian case can be tested. Therefore, I think we have to look for the blend/combination of independent variables which emerged in Europe and elsewhere, and which made fascism possible. Capitalism surely is part of the story, but as we know, the most efficient capitalist countries were the ones where ‘classical’ fascism had the least impact. We thus have to look into the dependent-variable theory with a more sophisticated approach than the simple one-variable relationship.

In conclusion, the Renton book is fresh and useful reading, even if I disagree on several points. I also have a strong sympathy with his recommendations for fighting (neo-) fascism today.

Review: Martin Smith, Socialist Review, July/August 1999.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s brought with it the slaughter of the Second World War and the barbarism of the Holocaust. As we enter the new millennium, fascist parties are once again on the rise.

In France, despite the split in Le Pen's National Front, the Nazis still remain a serious electoral force. Jörg Haider's Austrian Nazi party won about a quarter of the vote in last month's European elections. And recently in Britain we have seen the sickening sight of Nazis resorting to planting nail bombs in London.

There have been a large number of academic books on the subject of fascism published recently. Most give no explanation of how the fascists can be defeated. Dave Renton's new book not only gives a theoretical understanding of fascism, he also discusses how it can be challenged today.

Renton looks back at the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany during the 1930s in order to give a better understanding of the origins of fascism. His work is grounded in the Marxist tradition. As well as examining the brilliant writings of Trotsky, he also looks at the contribution that Marxists such as August Thalheimer, Ignazio Silone and Antonio Gramsci have made to the debate. The chapters that deal with their contributions are some of the most interesting in the book, and many of the ideas will not be familiar to readers.

Renton's book smashes the arguments of a number of right wing historians. They claim that because the Nazis were defeated in 1945 it is possible to carry out a 'more objective' study of fascism. Renton demolishes the idea that there is a 'revolutionary' strand of Nazi ideology.

The book also gives a concise and accessible account of the rise of Nazi parties across Europe today. Unlike many accounts of the rise of the fascists, Renton also shows how mass movements have played and continue to play a massive part in opposing the Nazis.

There are, however, some criticisms of the book. One is the unfortunate title of the book. I also found that some of the research is inaccurate, which makes it frustrating to read at points. For instance, Renton claims that the French National Front annual conference in Strasbourg in 1997 was almost closed down by an anti-Nazi counter-demonstration. Unfortunately this is just not true. The demonstration marched nowhere near the conference. Likewise, Renton claims that civil servants struck when the Nazi British National Party candidate Derek Beackon won a council seat in Tower Hamlets, east London in 1993. It was in fact local government officers.

I have to be honest and say I found the book disappointing in parts. Nevertheless, this is a useful survey of the writings and struggle against fascism.

Matt Perry,  'Hitler and New Contributions to the Debate on Fascism', Immigrants and Minorities 19/1, March 2000, pp. 79-90.

Dave Renton's Fascism: Theory and Practice adds a second recent Marxist account of fascism. From a wider focus, he draws similar conclusions to Gluckstein. Dave Renton challenges the ideological thesis of fascism of Griffin, Eatwell, and Stemhell through the medium of an attempt to elaborate a 'dialectical' Marxist view of fascism. The ideological thesis posits that fascism should be understood in terms of its ideas, rhetoric, and language. As such fascism, according to Stemhell, is 'neither left nor right' and incorporates a strong revolutionary component." There has been surprisingly little criticism of this fashion in fascism studies. According to Renton, the ideological thesis of fascism imprisons historians in the language, rhetoric and ideas of the fascists themselves. The inherent danger is that present-day fascists such as Fini and Le Pen, coy about their own fascist sympathies, are simply taken at their word. Given the current vogue for either post-modernism or nominalistic 'ideal types', this question goes to the very heart of contemporary social science methodology.

The idealism of the Griffin school results in an inability to distinguish the representation from the reality of fascism. Thus the relationships between fascism and capitalism, the social basis of the regimes and movements, the fortunes of various social classes and minorities under fascism are neglected. Renton sums up the striking similarities of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy which would suggest the need to go beyond the representational: '... power was seized by politicians that promised to bring an end to the evils of capitalism, but who claimed state power in the basis of an alliance with the capitalist class.' He goes on to quote approvingly Kershaw's list of characteristics common to these two historical experiences of fascism cited in The Nazi Dictatorship. Renton's originality lies not only in its criticism of the ideological school but also in his fashioning of the bewildering host of Marxist writers on fascism into a coherent synthesis. He begins this with an insightful discussion of Marx's notions of bourgeois socialism found in The Communist Manifesto and of Bonapartism in The 18th Brumaire. Some of the hallmarks of fascism were present in Bonaparte III's movement and its seizure of power: it was counter-revolutionary and was based on the workers' defeat of June 1848, it took power in conditions of a ruling class in crisis and it provided a political elite from outside the ranks of the ruling class. The significance of this theory of Bonapartism becomes apparent in subsequent discussion of key Marxist thinkers such as Thalheimer, Gramsci and Trotsky.

The following chapters investigate the unfolding Marxist response to fascism through the interplay of events and theory. The early years of the Communist International allowed a rich debate of Mussolini's movement and his imitators, but by the late 1920s an orthodoxy fitting Stalin's own interests replaced genuine discussion. After that point isolated voices outside the Comintern - Trotsky, Thalheimer, Silone, Neumann, Reich - provide the best theoretical contributions to the Marxist study of fascism. Inside Stalin's International an ultra-left underestimation of the fascist threat (1928-34) was replaced by an anti-fascist popular front (1935-39) that extended to 'progressive capitalists'. Neither of these lines elaborated an effective anti-fascist strategy or the dialectical Marxist position of the early and mid-1920s.

After the war, whilst the communist parties remained wedded to the Dimitrov position adopted in 1935 (see Agnew and MacDermott for the best account of this), the rise of Western academic Marxism generated new research and interest in fascism. Renton analyses this body of work, which includes the Frankfurt School, Althusserian structuralists, Trotskyists and he scrutinises individual Marxists (Ralph Miliband, Tim Mason, and Nicos Poulantzas). Finally, Renton examines the Marxist scholarship on the Holocaust and provides a useful critique of the Goldhagen debate. Fascism: Theory and Practice is an extremely useful account but there are some oversights. Renton omits Alfred Sohn-Rethel, David Abraham, Luisa Passerini (and Mason's work on the working class and women) from his discussion and it would also have been useful to clarify the relationship of Kershaw and Peukert to Marxism both of whom have uncomfortably straddled Marx and Weber .

Review: Larry O'Hara, Lobster, Winter 1999.

This book has been touted in some areas as a radical, new contribution to the study of fascism; and it is certainly well-packaged and cheap. To start with the good points which, although few, are important: if you want to know who the current academic theorists on modern fascism are - Griffin (not Nick, Roger), Payne, Sternhell, Eatwell - then Renton provides a passable summary of their views. He does the same for an oft-neglected group, Marxist theorists of fascism, going beyond the obvious to include the likes of Karl Korsch (though not Otto Ruhle). Renton is also right to warn that, contrary to the view of many historians, fascism is not just a phenomenon of the past but is still (potentially) a threat today. Furthermore, if it needs restating - and in some academic circles it does - he recites statistical chapter and verse on how the Italian Fascists and German Nazis served capitalist interests (Chapter 3). Inasmuch as some claim fascism was socialist, he is right to emphasise that it was not (p.26); and that contrary to ingenious claims by some academics, fascists have characteristically found their allies on the Right not Left (p.27).

He is also correct to stress that fascism is not just a set of ideas but has also to be looked at in practice. Renton has also noticed, and rightly draws attention to, the disturbing metamorphosis of the formerly radical Left journal Telos to the radical Right, embracing a concern with European ethnic identity.

Thus far, you might think the book is useful; and up to a point it certainly is. In these de-politicised times some truths need restating, and the list above includes some of them. However, anybody reading this book for new insights into either the theory of fascism, or its practice, will be badly disappointed. Not that Renton doesn't try to say something new (or at least give that impression). This is his definition: 'fascism should not be understood primarily as as ideology, but as a specific form of reactionary mass movement' (emphasis in original, p.3). All very well and good, but what is the nature of this 'specific form'? Merely that it has a 'defining ambition to crush the organised working class and to eradicate the reforms won by decades of peaceful struggle'. (p.101) This, I would remind him, could equally well characterise both Thatcherism and the New Labour project. 'Reaction' in Renton's shaky hands is merely shorthand for people whose views he and the SWP leadership (before whom he genuflects) don't like.

In case you think I'm a bit harsh on his definition, consider this gem, from somebody who, according to the back cover, has 'made a key contribution to a wide-ranging and heated debate'. It is Renton's counsel that 'it is pointless to waste time in choosing in precise detail which ideas anti-fascist and which are not' (p.101). But it is not pointless at all: it is of vital importance to understand in order to oppose real fascist mutations; and to avoid condemning and/or opposing non-fascists by misapplication of the term.

Renton gets into trouble because he does not understand even the most basic relationship between ideology and practice. He is so consumed by the need to declare his opposition to fascism at every turn that he paints a false picture, claiming historians who take fascists' ideas seriously have a positive view of them (pp.2 and 24).While this may be true for some - AJ. Gregor and S. Cullen, for example - this sweeping attack on academics is totally unjustified. Indeed, his misrepresentation (without evidence) of Martin Durham as someone who 'portrays fascism as a feminist movement' (p.2) is probably libelous.

While he puts himself forward as a Marxist, the genuine path-breaking contribution of Tim Mason to the Marxist analysis of fascism is something Renton shows little sign of understanding, let alone using. Rather than answer the serious questions Mason posed for co-Marxists (and others) about the Holocaust, the motivations of Nazis, the instability of the Nazi regime, and the suicidal autonomy of the state apparatus from1938 on, all Renton has to say is that Mason's assertion of the 'primacy of politics... comes close to delinking the connection between capital and fascism (p.93). No, Mr. Renton, he does not. Rather he raises important theoretical and political questions about what the practice of the Nazi state does for/to vulgar Marxist categorisations.

Renton makes the ludicrous claim that 'if there is one area in which Marxists have developed genuinely new theories after 1933, it is in the study of the Holocaust' (p.91). Would that were so! While Norman Finkelstein's critique of the Daniel Goldhagen thesis that all Germans were responsible for the Holocaust is well summarised, and as far as it goes accurate, this misses the central point that, contrary to Renton's representation, the Holocaust was not a 'rational state policy' (p.97) even if it was deliberate. It does not easily fit into a Marxist perspective, something which Marxists of the calibre of Deutscher - and Mason - had the humility to accept and be troubled by. Renton's presentation of Trotsky as the ultimate theorist on fascism is a fatuous hypothesis: he was merely less wrong than the Stalinists, but as equally uncomprehending of the basic ideological motivations of fascism as most other Marxists.

It is sad that a self-proclaimed Marxist like Renton should, contra Manx, so resolutely refuse to allow empirical evidence to influence his theories, except as insubstantial and contradictory adornments. Take, for instance, his references to the British National Front. By the mid-198Os according to Renton, 'the organisation was in a state of utter collapse' (p.7). Might I suggest Renton actually examines the articles I wrote for Lobster on the NF in the 1983-86 period and actually attempt to refute them - maybe even with just a sliver of evidence? As is usual with someone who has little knowledge of the Far Right (but worrying in someone who affects such a knowledge), Renton shows no understanding that between the election of British National Party Councillor Derek Beackon in late1993 and his loss of the seat in mid-1994, the British National Party vote actually increased.

Beyond these shores, when it comes to contemporary fascism, he is equally ignorant, showing not that slightest grasp of the predominant organisational form the Far Right takes in the US (p.11); and he is just as remiss in the case of contemporary Germany. On p.8 he draws attention to the DVU (German People's Union) gaining 13% of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt in May 1998, while telling us on p.114 that the Republikaner were stopped by mass protests . . . in 1992. In which case, on this evidence, one fascist group merely replaced another - hardly compelling proof of anti-fascist success.

In 150 pages Renton has not one word to say about the disturbing influence some fascist groups have in Eastern Europe. Is this because he is afraid of finding out that maybe not all fascism, or even all fascism, are reducible to classical capitalism?

The task of any serious anti-fascist investigator is to research what actually is, without fear or favour, rather than impose preordained limits on what can be studied and what not.

As to Renton's conclusion, where he purports to outline an anti-fascist strategy devised by the luminaries of the SWP leadership and the massed ranks of the Anti-Nazi League, a genuine and actually-existing organisation, Anti-Fascist Action, has witheringly disposed of his claims in that area (in Fighting Talk issue 22, October1999 pp.10-11).

Two final observations. First, I am sure the editor of Lobster will allow Renton access to these pages to defend himself and his book. However, the publication Searchlight to which Renton is now a frequent contributor, where he and other academics in its orbit happily simulate a free exchange of ideas, does not allow me an equivalent right of reply or intervention. That is because, as he well knows, Searchlight has defined me as a fascist/Combat18 associate/drug smuggler/stalker etc. When he exercises his 'democratic rights' in some future Lobster, he should not lose sight of that. Indeed, I would welcome his comments on this matter and the self-proclaimed closeness of Searchlight to the secret state - a proper topic for a real 'anti-fascist historian'. If Renton doesn't believe in studying British fascists or their ideas, how about the study of self-proclaimed 'anti-fascists'?

Review: Red Action

Review (with Donny Gluckstein, The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class): Toby Abse, Revolutionary History 7/3 (2000), pp. 323-31.

BEFORE addressing myself more specifically to Renton's and Gluckstein's books, it is absolutely essential to stress why any serious Marxist work on the historiography of Nazism and Fascism, whatever its particular emphases or deficiencies, has to be warmly welcomed in the current climate. Whilst some activist comrades may believe that developments within the universities are not a major concern, and that my interest in them merely reflects my own employment in such an institution, I would argue that more general shifts in the intellectual and cultural climate of society as a whole are eventually triggered by what may seem to be parochial arguments amongst professional historians.

The last decade has seen a virtual abandonment of Marxist approaches to the historiography of Fascism and Nazism amongst Anglophone academics. What was a widespread and influential, if not necessarily dominant, school in the late 1960s, the 1970s and, albeit to a lesser in extent, the 1980s, is now generally regarded as beyond the pale, or a relic of a bygone age. This staggering intellectual shift is clearly part of a more general trend within Anglophone historiography bearing on the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, Chartism and other matters, which began in the mid-1980s and thus preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe (even if they accelerated it), and was first described and dissected by Ellen Meiskins Wood in The Retreat From Class (London, 1986), an eloquent, razor-sharp and in retrospect strikingly prophetic polemic against Gareth Stedman Jones and the whole crew of renegades who were just beginning to turn their backs on the Marxist or semi-Marxist positions that they held in their radical youth.

The academic historian who made the largest single contribution to developing and popularising Marxist analyses of Nazism and Fascism in the Anglophone world was Tim Mason, to whom both Gluckstein and Renton make some reference, even if they criticise him for watering down Marxism by insisting on the Primacy of politics in Germany after 1936. Indeed, I am probably not wide of the mark in thinking that Gluckstein's title deliberately echoes that of the posthumous collection of Mason's essays, Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class (Cambridge, 1995). Whilst Mason's suicide in 1990 was in all probability a personal rather than political despair, it nonetheless coincided with German unification and the end of the Cold War, and many bourgeois historians who had once to some degree or another been under his influence seized the chance to proclaim their apostasy, or in tortuous intellectual self-justifications proclaimed the outmoded nature of his approach. Richard Bessel, one of his former research students, deftly exploited the stage offered to him by a conference in memory of Mason's work ("Fascism in Comparative Perspective', held in March 1993 at St. Peter's College, Oxford, where Mason had taught during 1971-84) in order to commit a sort of symbolic patricide, and in effect pour withering scorn on Mason's lifework, through the time-worn academic strategy of damning Mason with faint praise as a worthy pioneer who had made a significant contribution in his time, but had subsequently been overtaken by more sophisticated and nuanced researchers. As the most unreconstructed Marxist at the conference and the most unrepentant contributor to the book that eventually emerged out of it (Richard Bessel (ed). Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Comparisons and Contrasts, Cambridge, 1996), I found it a somewhat bizarre experience to be effectively placed in the position of defending the legacy of a man whom I had only met on a couple of occasions against many of his erstwhile friends, pupils or collaborators, and resisting editorial pressure for conformity with a post-Marxist/postmodernist line of an intensity more usually associated with dogmatic sects than allegedly liberal academics.

Without wanting to labour what may be a self-evident point for many well-informed readers of Revolutionary History, it seems to be reasonable to draw attention for the benefit of the uninitiated to the fact that Gluckstein and Renton have more in common than a shared Marxism and a shared interest in the study of Fascism. Both are members of the Socialist Workers Party, with Gluckstein being the son of its founder (reverting to his original family name). Can we therefore unearth a distinctive SWP position on the historiography of Fascism and Nazism that goes beyond the universal Marxist emphasis on the role of class in history, or the traditional Trotskyist emphasis on the necessity for a united front between revolutionaries and reformists in the workers' movement against the Fascist threat? Both books make some rather obvious propagandist points linking the present and the past, stressing the continuing Fascist threat at moments or capitalist crisis, and emphasising the continued relevance of the united front in a way that either explicitly (in the case of Renton), or implicitly (in the case of Gluckstein), privileges the experience of the Anti-Nazi League. Whilst one could get embroiled in a discussion of whether the ANL was (or is) really a classic united front, as the SWP would maintain, or something which oscillated between one and a Popular Front, this is really tangential in terms of the primary concerns of both writers (Renton has researched the history of the ANL in another context), so here one might conclude, firstly, that such explicit tactical recommendations about the present would be unlikely to be made by non-party Marxist academics of the Mason type, and secondly, that such references, especially in the opening or concluding pages of a long text, are de rigour for any loyal member, and therefore should not be accorded any particular weight when assessing either Gluckstein or Renton as historians.

However, it is arguable that on two historical points - the post-1936 Nazi economy and the Holocaust - Gluckstein and Renton take up broadly similar positions to which not all Marxists would subscribe, and might in some sense be said to be rooted in the politics of the SWP. Whilst their common criticism of Mason for his arguments about 'the primacy of politics' in post-1936 Germany would be shared by many non-SWP Marxists, it is rather significant that instead of arguing that the economies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy formed a particular variant of capitalism, one that was more autarchic and regulated than, say, Britain or France at that time, but was unquestionably capitalist, and one that suited the-German and Italian capitalist classes (or their dominant heavy industrial sectors), their argument is based on a universal tendency towards state capitalism. Gluckstein argues: "It is interesting to note that even after 1936 the features that marked Nazism out were overshadowed by those it shared with other capitalist regimes between the wars. All showed a trend towards state capitalism, even if Stalin's Russia is left out of the picture.' (p l59) Renton, hardly coincidentally, makes a very similar case: 'Clearly, there was some connection, for example, between the nature of the Fascist economy and the fact that in every country in. Europe the 1930s was a period which saw growing intervention by the state in the economy. This insight was the starting point of Ignazio Silone's idea that the growth of Fascism was but part of a broader process by which capitalism was transforming itself into state capitalism.' (p89)

When it comes to the Holocaust, it becomes a little harder to nail down precisely how an excessively rationalist and economistic explanation of the genocide fits into the SWP's politics, and here Renton's account is more nuanced than Gluckstein's, but I nonetheless think that there is a connection.

Cliffs position, which, in recent decades at any rate, has been that of a militantly anti-Zionist — as distinct from merely non-Zionist —Jew, has got his party into various knots on a whole series of issues relating to the Jews and anti-Semitism, and not just on the politics of the Middle East. (Tm not making a sectarian and-SWP tirade, Ernest Mandel's position was similar to the SWP's, and Gerry Healy degenerated into anti-Semitism, whilst Ted Grant and Scan Matgamna consider that Zionism is not necessarily worse than other forms of bourgeois nationalism. It is difficult to construct an orthodox standpoint from Trotsky's writings, as his later anti-Zionism was not accompanied by any dogmatic demand for assimilation.)

Whilst the SWP has been entirely correct to polemicise against the absurd and totally ahistorical contention of Daniel Goldhagen that the Holocaust-was the product of a universal and timeless 'eliminationist anti-Semitism' amongst the Germans, it has often been too ready to adopt Norman Finkelstein's critique in its entirety. To do Renton justice, however, he says that 'there are parts of this explanation which seem questionable', and suggests that Finkelstein 'pays too little attention to acts of anti-Nazi opposition', and he cites Bernard Herzberg's criticism of Finkelstein's insistence 'that there was nothing new about the Holocaust' (pp. 98-9). The fundamental problem with Finkelstein is that whilst he is a well-informed and intelligent writer with a wide historical knowledge, and is capable of demolishing a crass populist propagandist like Goldhagen, as a Jew primarily concerned with the recent history of the Middle East rather than the history of Nazism, his anti-Zionism can become obsessive and slightly unbalanced and tends to bring out what I would see as the worst side of the Jewish figures amongst the SWP leadership, whose fierce anti-Zionism is normally kept in check by their attention to a much wider range of political and historical questions precisely because they have submerged their original Jewish identity in a self-consciously universalist Marxist project, rather than in the professional anti-Zionism of a pro-Palestinian campaigner like Finkelstein.

Although both Renton and Gluckstein are ultimately constrained by an economistic interpretation of the Holocaust rooted in the politics of Cliff himself, there are differences between them. Renton is more willing to engage with the whole range of recent Marxist positions on this issue, as he would on any other in which he had an intellectual interest, for he has much less at stake in a personal sense. It is interesting that Renton is willing to discuss Norman Geras' recent article 'Marxists Before the Holocaust' (New Left Review, no 224, 1997), and to try to reach a synthesis that he believes transcends Geras' alternatives, 'the Holocaust was both comparable to other crimes and singular or unique, both rationally explicable and beyond comprehension, both the product of capitalism and imperialism and due to some other combination of factors' (p94).

Moreover, he also offers us a sympathetic exposition of Arno Mayor's argument that 'the radicalisation of the war against the Jews was correlated with the radicalisation of the war against the Soviet Union', even if the reference to 'Mayor's materialistic arguments' (p93) seems a strange way of describing a thesis centred on the notion of an ideological crusade. In short, whilst very rightly situating the Holocaust within history and a history within which the German economic as well as political ruling class played an appalling ro1e, Renton is only just about able to remain within the intellectual straitjacket of the SWP's line, with its penchant for exclusively 'materialistic' explanations.

Whilst Gluckstein's chapter 'War and the Holocaust' is a lot longer than Renton's 'Marxists and the Holocaust' and deploys a wide range of sources, it significantly omits any reference to either Mayor or Geras - no accident for someone who is remarkable for his broad range of reading in many European languages. Unlike the non-Jewish Renton, Gluckstein instantaneously grasps when he might be skating on very thin ice. Gluckstein probably realises that it is relatively easy to present the Nazis' use of foreign slave labour as functional to the needs of German capital, in terms of keeping down labour costs and creating divisions within the working class in Germany itself, even if counter-arguments do exist and some non-Marxists might be sceptical. Where Gluckstein undoubtedly knows he has a harder job on his hands is in presenting the Holocaust as apart of capitalist economic rationality. Nonetheless, he tries, albeit intermittently, to argue this: 'A second factor pushed in the opposition direction - towards mass extermination. Here racism teamed up with imperialist economic planning in a long-term strategy of the Nazis and big business to construct a Grossraumwirtschaft (macro-economic space).' (p 83) He rightly points out that 'alongside mass extermination there were profits to be had' (p l85), but he knows that the bulk of the Jews in the death camps were not actually employed by Siemens, AEG, Telefunken or IG Farben, however complicit these companies were in the Holocaust.

Again, the fact that 'a drug and chemical conglomerate would profit enormously from any discoveries made on human guinea pigs' (p 186) does not really explain the primary motivation for Dr Mengele's 'monstrous medical experiments' in Auschwitz. Ultimately, there is a certain over-determined desperation about Gluckstein's economism: 'Does the wastage of a valuable human resource sever the links between the Holocaust and the operation of capitalism? The system often wastes labour through unemployment and ill-health. It also wastes resources through, for example, weapons or land left untilled whilst millions starve. It is not "rational" in that general sense.' ( pl86) The complicity of the major German capitalist firms in the Holocaust is beyond question, and the Nazi regime as a whole was clearly very profitable to them - in the short term at any rate - but none of this proves that the motivation for the Holocaust was primarily economic.

A final point on SWP historians and the Holocaust is unavoidable given that Gluckstein believes that 'the deliberate decision to conduct genocide was not made until 1941 at about the time of the invasion of Russia' (p 178). Neither Gluckstein nor Renton appears to be aware of Trotsky's own forecast of the Holocaust 'It is possible to imagine without difficulty what awaits The Jews at the mere outbreak of the future world war. But even without war The next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews.'

In other respects, Gluckstein-s and Renters books are not so directly comparable. The former is very clearly centred on the German case and suffers from the lack of a comparative approach. This is an unexpected deficiency in an author who has previously written on British, Russian or general Western European topics, who would not generally be considered as a German specialist, and who has shown a particular interest in the Italian bienno rosso, which might have 'no him to compare the two classic Fascist regimes. Renton's book, whilst being historical rather than sociological or philosophical in approach, is primarily about theories of Fascism, rather than its history. Of its eight chapters, five discuss Marxist theories of Fascism, and one is a critique of current non-Marxist academic theories of Fascism. Only one chapter, 'Classical Fascism' is devoted to the historical experience of fascism as such, with roughly five pages in Italian Fascism, and the remainder on Nazism.

Renton believes that there have only been two Fascist regimes, the Italian and the German. Franco's regime 'came close' (p 107), but was not actually Fascist because of its military character and its lack of an authentic mass party at least after its victory in the civil war, He makes some reference in a footnote to Peter Preston's contrary opinion, but given his degree of brevity it cannot be said seriously to engage with the historical and theoretical debate here. The various wartime satellite regimes - the Romanian Iron Guard, Hungarian Arrow Cross, Croatian Ustashe - are not discussed.

There is some mention of what is popularly called 'neo-Fascism' a term which Renton rejects as he believes that 'there is no real break in 1945 and that postwar fascist parties represent a continuity with the past' (p 118), but the only detailed references to a non-British movement of this type are to Le Pen's Front National is exposed with concise but detailed examples from speeches by Le Pen and others.

The principle merits of Renton's book lie in its clear and concise exposition of the various Marxist theories of Fascism from 1920 to the present, particularly those previous to 1945, for it has to be said that his discussion of Poulantzas' Fascism and Dictatorship would probably leave most readers baffled who had not read the original, although I am prepared to acknowledge the difficulties faced by anybody trying to summarise that vastly overrated but at one stage very influential text (especially in Southern Europe) with its amalgam of gross historical inaccuracies and theoretical pretentiousness. Renton's division of Marxist theories of Fascism into 'right', "left' and 'dialectical' is helpful and convincing. At the risk of oversimplification, 'right' theories are those that lay too much stress on Fascism's mass base in the petit-bourgeoisie, 'left' theories are those that lay too much stress on its close relationship with big capital, and 'dialectical' ones are those that hold the two factors in some sort of balance, most notably Trotsky's theory. Although Renton predictably believes that Trotsky's theory, whilst requiring further development, is the best one, he provides readers with a fair and balanced assessment of the merits and weaknesses of the theories put forward by Thalheimer, Gramsci, Silone and others, as well as engaging in the perennially necessary polemics against the Stalinised Comintern's theoretical monstrosities, both in the generally acknowledged lunacy of the Third Period, and in the more frequently defended idiocies of the Popular Front (revived by Preston and his school in their work on Spain). Renton's spirited attack on Roger Griffin, Stanley Payne, Roger Eatwell and Zeev Sternhell in the second chapter, 'The Prison of Ideas', is probably the first Marxist onslaught on the whole school of 'Fascist Studies', as distinct from individual practitioners of the genre, and could be regarded as required reading both for older Marxists unaware of the recent developments in bourgeois historiography and social science, and for any left-wing university students seeking an initial avenue for critical engagement with prescribed course texts.

Gluckstein's book, whilst well worth reading because of its informed critique of much recent bourgeois historiography about the late Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, is sadly flawed, and not just for the reasons already outlined. My criticisms are not intended in a sectarian spirit, but are based on the assumption that Gluckstein seriously attempted to engage with Anglo-American and German bourgeois historiography on the subject, in order to win over, or at least influence, readers who are not already convinced Marxists, rather than merely producing a set text for his party members. However, I fear that he has fallen between two stools, producing a book that is too historically sophisticated for most of the SWP's base, and yet too propagandist not only for non-Marxist historians, but also for some non-SWP Marxist historians.

Proceeding from my initial assumption about Gluckstein's intentions, the first chapter, 'Backward or Modern? The Course of German History', is not remotely adequate as a critique of the notion of the Sonderweg, or distinctive German, path of development. Whilst Gluckstein cites enough statistics on German industrial development to win over any branch meeting, a rather more nuanced argument is required to refute or undermine the notion that German politics and society in the Wilhelmine era were dominated by a feudal, agrarian or pre-industrial clique. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, the leading German neo-Weberian proponent of this position from a much more sophisticated level than that current in mainstream Angle-American textbooks on German history (such as those by William Carr and Gordon Craig, both of whom seem to have escaped Gluckstein's attention), makes no appearance in either the text or the footnotes. Even the references to Geoff Eley, an historian who in a broad sense is on Gluckstein's side in believing that Wilhelmine Germany was thoroughly bourgeois rather than semi-feudal, are to shorter pieces, not to his major works, which suggests an abandonment of serious research in favour of short-cuts.

The second chapter. The Origins of Nazism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, 1918 to 1923\ is also rather weak, making the implicit assumption that readers will be familiar with Chris Harman's study of the period. The Lost Revolution. In the case of non-SWP readers, this cannot be presumed, and the very crude broad-brush portrait of the origins of Nazism itself, following on from an inadequate survey of pre-1918 German history, might well be enough to make an uncommitted reader lose patience. The remaining seven chapters are of a much higher quality, and it is deeply regrettable that Gluckstein did not put the same effort into the opening chapters. However, Gluckstein's decision to discuss Hitler's accession to power before looking at either the social composition of the Nazi electorate or the fatal divisions between the Communist and Socialist Parties exacerbates the problem caused by the schematic character of the first two chapters. Whilst Gluckstein's treatment of the final years of Weimar and the way that the ruling class resorted to Hitler after the failure of all its successive Bonapartist options (Bruning, Papen, Schleicher) is intelligent, detailed and convincing, placing it after a crude and unconvincing attempt to characterise early Nazi ideology as 'ruling-class counter-revolutionary thinking', rather than 'ideas developing in the middle class at that time' (p29), on the mechanistic grounds that in the peculiar conjuncture of 1918-19 the petit-bourgeoisie was moving leftwards (a presumption that Gluckstein bases upon electoral behaviour alone), and thus ignoring the ultra-nationalist, populist and anti-Semitic current in the pre-1914 German petit-bourgeoisie, could easily lead the unwary reader to assume that he is developing a 'left' theory of Nazism, rather than the 'dialectical' one rooted in Trotsky's writings that he puts forward most, if not all, of the time. The third chapter provides us with the first example of Gluckstein's engaging in a sustained and detailed debate with bourgeois historians, in this instance HA Turner, with his thesis that the army rather than big business played the crucial role in putting Hitler in power. Gluckstein is sufficiently shrewd to avoid placing undue weight on the work of the American Marxist David Abraham — whose cavalier use of source material has come under attack from moderate leftists like Richard Evans, and not just from ideological foes like Turner — and instead bases his own case upon a wide variety of sources. In the fourth chapter, Gluckstein mounts a similar attack on Falter on the social composition of the Nazi electorate, and on Muhlberger on the social composition of the Nazi party. In each case, his detailed refutations are based upon a detailed examination of the evidence, and Gluckstein shows far more conceptual rigour in defining the working class than his bourgeois adversaries. In the fifth chapter, Gluckstein takes issue with the assertions of Weitz, Geary and others that the German left - even if it had been united, could not have stopped the Nazis, and that the Communist Party's line was the result of the social fragmentation of the working class.

Whilst it is arguable that Gluckstein's refutation of the revisionists on these matters — especially the first, as he makes a stronger case about the clearly Muscovite origins of the Communist Party's zigzags in interpreting the general Third Period line — is not as decisive as those in the third and fourth chapters, it does represent the very first time that a proponent of the traditional Trotskyist position has taken on the new wave of historians whose position, unlike those of Turner and Muhlberger, is not consciously anti-Marxist, but a pessimistic one based on a rather structuralist and determinist class analysis — employed versus unemployed, skilled versus unskilled, old versus young, etc — that is rooted in the Marxist tradition itself.

One suspects that Gluckstein's Scottish location may well have acted as a spur to turn his attention to the relationship between Nazism and the working class, for the Edinburgh-based SWPer once again breaks new ground in terms of the Trotskyist tradition by taking on Glasgow-based Conan Fischer and his school on this issue. Whilst the debate on the SA's social composition, which revolves around unanswerable questions about whether the unemployed sons of petit-bourgeois fathers are working-class or not, is a much trickier one in terms of a defence of the traditional Marxist orthodoxy than those relating to the social composition of the Nazi electorate or the Nazi party itself, Gluckstein's courage in mounting such a challenge should be saluted by us all.

The sixth chapter, '1933-34: A Brown Revolution?', attacks the notion of the Nazi take-over being described as a revolution, and stresses the counter-revolutionary onslaught and the relative immunity of the old elites. Whilst Gluckstein scores some bulls-eyes against Schoenbaum's Hitler's Social Revolution (1966) and the new younger group of historians who have revived his ideas about Nazism and modernisation, those of us who are not convinced that pre-1933 Germany was as pure an example of modern industrial capitalism as presented by Gluckstein are bound to have a few reservations. On this general point, it is noteworthy that when Gluckstein is eager to show that Nazi voters or members did not come from the core industrial working class, peasants and agricultural workers suddenly make an appearance, only to vanish again when he is pro-pounding the notion of Germany as a shining example of an exceptionally advanced and modern capitalism. Since I have already touched on the issues raised by the seventh and eighth chapters (The Third Reich; A Fusion of State and Capital' and "War and the Holocaust'), I will conclude with a few observations about the final chapter, 'Resistance and Opposition'. Gluckstein rightly stresses that the bulk of the resistance and opposition that occurred in Nazi Germany came from the working class, and emphasises that the more frequently mentioned conservative resistant 'had little to do with democracy or social justice, and it waxed and waned according to foreign developments' (p200).

Gluckstein's unwillingness to compare Germany with Italy to some extent disguises the significance of his acknowledgement that 'the regime was not brought down by internal revolt' (p221). Whilst the Nazi regime was far more effective and repressive than its Italian counterpart in a whole variety of ways that Gluckstein discusses, the fact remains that the German working class (and the Socialist and Communist Parties representing it) were much more permeated by nationalist ideology, from at least August 1914 if not before, than its Italian counterpart, and a genuine Marxist understanding of Nazism in particular and Fascism in general will not be served if we do not come to terms with this reality. To demand a more honest recognition of the hold of both nationalism and anti-Semitism on the German workers is not to endorse Goldhagen's crazy thesis, but to suggest that although an analysis of Nazism that ignores or minimises class factors, as presented in recent bourgeois historiography, is mere mystification, economistic class analysis alone is not quite enough when drawing up the balance sheet of this terrible twentieth century.

Also see Toby Abse review of M. Blinkhorn, 'Fascism'. Institute of Historical Research Reviews.

Also, the book sparked a series of articles in Searchlight magazine:

Dave Renton, Searchlight, August 1999

How we understand fascism has important consequences for history, for politics and for daily life.  Crucially it underpins the tactics and strategies of the movement against racism and fascism.  Dave Renton makes the first contribution in this Searchlight discussion.

The past fifteen years have witnessed the emergence of a new academic discipline. Fascism studies is itself a response to developments in the outside world, including the rise of far-right parties in Europe and elsewhere. This literature, as it has been developed through the work of Roger Griffin, Stanley Payne and Zeev Sternhell, among others, describes fascism primarily in terms of its ideas. These writers define fascism through the intellectual development of fascist thinkers, rather than the actual practice of Mussolini's Italy or Hitler's Germany. Focusing on fascist intellectuals rather than fascist movements, the theorists of fascism studies exaggerate the revolutionary content of fascist practice, and make fascism appear to be a much more positive movement than it actually has been.

One important figure is Roger Griffin, Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University. In a recent book, he argued that this emphasis on the positive beliefs of fascism is now the accepted way to understand fascism, the 'new consensus' in the field of 'fascist studies'. The appropriate way to define liberalism would be from the perspective of a liberal, therefore the best way to define fascism must be from the perspective of a fascist. In his words, 'The premise to this approach ... is to take fascist ideology at its face value, and to recognise the central role played in it by the myth of national rebirth to be brought about by finding a "Third Way" between liberalism/capitalism and communism/socialism. One of the advantages of the new consensus is that it brings fascism in line with the way other major political "isms" are approached in the human sciences by defining it as an ideology inferable from the claims made by its own protagonists.' (R. Griffin, International Fascism: Theories, Causes And The New Consensus, p. 238)

Stanley Payne, is an American historian of Spanish fascism. Yet at least one of his books sets out to provide a systematic definition of fascism as a whole. Payne describes fascism as a series of ideas, possessing three main strands, the fascist 'negations', the fascist 'goals', and the fascist 'style'. By negations, he means such standard fascist politics as anti-Communism and anti-Liberalism. As for 'ideology and goals', Payne includes 'the creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state', 'the goal of empire' and 'the specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed.' By the fascist style, he is referring to such traits of the fascist party as its 'positive evaluation and use of... violence', its 'extreme stress on the masculine principle', and the 'exaltation of youth.' (S. Payne, Fascism: Comparison and Definition, p. 7)

The most original contribution has been that of the veteran Israeli scholar Zeev Sternhell. In a number of books and articles, Sternhell has argued that fascism emerged first in France in the 1880s and 1890s. It was born in the minds of intellectuals and artists such as Drumont, Peguy, Barrès and Maurras. This 'fascism' began as a rejection of positivism, 'this new generation of intellectuals rose violently against the rationalist individualism of liberal society.' The intellectuals absorbed and then synthesised socialism and nationalism. Thus they created a new ideology, 'a socialism without the proletariat'. This became fascism, which Sternhell describes as 'a synthesis of organic nationalism and anti-Marxist socialism, a revolutionary ideology based on a simultaneous rejection of liberalism, Marxism and democracy'. (Z. Sternhell, Neither Right Nor Left, p. 27)

The interpretations that these historians offer certainly diverge. However, there are far more significant areas over which the historians agree. For example, all three hold a shared and explicit definition as to what fascism actually has been. First, all three present fascism as a set of ideas. Second, they describe these ideas as a form of extreme nationalism. Third, they portray fascism as a form of socialism, characterised by a synthesis of socialism and nationalism. These three strands, accepted by Sternhell, Griffin and Payne, could be said to constitute the current academic interpretation of fascism. In addition, there is also a closed or implicit consensus in their work. As well as defining fascism in similarly ways, the historians also describe it in similar ways. In other words, the historians do not merely revise prior understandings of what fascism was, they also seek to revise our understanding of how fascism behaved.

The first such point which they share is a sense that fascism is now over. Fascism 'was an historical phenomenon primarily limited to Europe during the era of two world wars'. From this, it follows that it is appropriate to view Fascism with detachment, without favour or criticism. These historians are especially scornful towards the idea of an anti-fascist history. Roger Griffin criticises left-wing theories of fascism on these grounds, 'Generally, for the extreme left, the theoretical analysis pursued in the quiet of the library has largely corroborated the gut reaction to it experienced in the heat of the battle.' The battles, Sternhell and Payne would argue, are over. Now historians can interpret fascism as an historical force.

Linked to this is a specific choice of model. All three historians stress the differences between Italian fascism and German national socialism. In so far as any one regime is seen as being typically 'fascist' it is the Italian regime. Indeed, German fascism was not fascism at all. 'Fascism can in no way be identified with Nazism.' 'Nazism cannot ... be treated as a mere variant of fascism, its emphasis on biological determinism rules out all efforts to deal with it as such.' Hitler's Germany was 'a non-communist National Socialist equivalent' to Stalin's Russia, 'Mussolini's Italy bore little resemblance to either one.' According to Griffin, 'It is a particularly grotesque and tragic example of the operation of "Murphy's law" in the historical process that of the only two forms of fascism that managed, against the odds, to seize state power, one of them was informed by an ideology of unparalleled destructive potential. The Mazzinian squadrista or roman empire myths invoked by Fascist Italy, [or] Mosley's vision of a Greater Britain ... cannot compare with the sheer scale of military aggression and racial persecution implied by the Nazi dream of a Jew-free racial empire.' (R. Griffin, The Nature Of Fascism, p. 329)

This hard distinction between fascist Italy and national socialist Germany enables the historians to stress what they perceive to be the non-destructive character of fascism. In this sense, the historians deliberately choose Italy as their model of 'ideal', fascism, so that it is possible for them to describe fascism with a new historical neutrality. In other words, the historians believe that it is possible to rescue fascist Italy from stigma; while it is not yet possible to de-stigmatise fascist Germany. This point is made by Stanley Payne, 'Forces that promoted a world-historical disaster are hard to view with scientific detachment.' (S. Payne, Fascism: Comparison and Definition, p. vii)

The approach of fascism studies can be rejected on several grounds. For a start, the stress on the defining role of ideology is misleading. To define fascism in terms of its ideas, the historians assert that fascism as a movement was one where fascist principles or ideas led fascist action. But most empirical research would suggest the opposite, that Mussolini and Hitler were highly opportunistic leaders, and that most fascist parties have been characterised more by a constant stress on action than by any desire to stick to key ideas. This point is made by Richard Thurlow, the historian of British fascism, 'Fascism was and is an action-oriented movement, where the function of ideas is to explain behaviour more in terms of instinct than rationality.' (R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, A History, 1918-45, p. x) Indeed, it is a strange kind of history that accepts the definition that historical figures offer to describe themselves, without questioning if they were right. It would make far more sense, given the particular history of fascism, to insist that fascist movements should be studied critically. This point was made by Ernst Nolte, himself ironically one pioneer of the fascism studies interpretation of fascism, 'Is Hitler to be allowed to 'take the floor' again so many years after his death, after the entire world was forced to go to war in order to silence the raging demagogue?'

If it is true that one way to understand fascism is to follow the patterns of thought by which fascism understood itself, then it would also follow that the fascist understanding of the past has a strong validity. This danger is strongest when the historian's method is intellectual biography, it becomes unclear when the fascist is speaking and when the historian. This is a recurring feature of Zeev Sternhell's work. To take one example, Sternhell argues that 'In August 1914, when the old world of the 19th century collapsed, the proof was made that the motor of history is not Class but Nation.' In the context of the original passage, this could be said to be the verdict either of Sternhell or of a particular generation of fascists. On close reading, however, it is hard to see it as anything other than the verdict of Sternhell himself. (Z. Sternhell, La Droite Revolutionnaire 1885-1914, Les Origines Francaises Du Fascisme, p. 401)

Not only is the idealism of fascism studies questionable, but it is also possible that the historians have stressed the wrong elements inside the totality of fascist ideas. For example, Griffin defines fascism as 'a purging, palingenetic form of ultra-nationalist myth.' (R. Griffin, The Nature of Fascism, pp. xii-xiii) There are two problems here. First, it is possible that 'palingenetic' adds nothing to the meaning of 'ultra-nationalism.' Even relatively moderate nationalisms argue for national rebirth. Second, Griffin makes nationalism the key to his definition of fascism. He implies that nationalism is the seed-bed of fascism; and also perhaps that fascism is the ultimate form of nationalism. The problem is that nationalism is not an easy category of explanation. Even the most sophisticated definitions of nationalism have stressed the 'imaginary' nature of nationalist argument. In other words Griffin is merely placing one myth (fascism) within a category of myths (nationalism), without explaining what this adds to our understanding.

The danger of the academic approach to fascism lies in the path it treads from an idealist definition of fascism to a positive description of fascism. The argument that fascism equals Mussolini and not Hitler is an argument for a positive re-evaluation of fascism. And what begins as an academic analysis of fascism is not likely to end just there. In France, arguments that fascism is over have been used to justify the notion that surviving French collaborators should not be treated for their war crimes. In Italy, de Felice's well-known and positive treatment of Mussolini has been one factor contributing towards the new-found respectability of the MSI/AN.

Although this article is critical of fascism studies, there is one point at which I agree with Griffin and Payne. It is important to have a clear definition of fascism. Two recent events both illustrate the need. First, the bombs in Brixton, Bethnal Green and Soho. Anti-racists insisted that these were fascist bombs, the logical result of a particular political tradition. The Metropolitan Police denied this. Assistant Commissioner David Veness, claimed that the bomber 'was acting alone for his own motives.' It took Searchlight and the Daily Mirror to expose this lie. Second, the NATO bombing of Milosevic's Yugoslavia. The supporters of the bombing argued that Serbia was a fascist regime. Robin Cook claimed that NATO was fighting 'the rebirth of fascism in Europe'. Clare Short accused anti-war protesters of appeasing fascism. If Milosevic was a fascist, then the bombing could at least be justified on its own terms, and if not, then there was a huge hole in NATO's argument. In both cases, the definition of fascism mattered, the question of what fascism is became a point of political debate.

My intention in criticising fascism studies is not to say that historians should end their attempt to understand what fascism was, but rather to insist that the only compelling theories of fascism are ones which begin by rejecting the tradition of fascism. For this writer, the best way to generate a critical theory of fascism is by looking at what fascists did as well as what they said. For this reason, I would define fascism as a form of reactionary mass movement. Fascism has been reactionary, in the sense that it has opposed all forms of democratic practice. Fascist parties have intimidated their opponents, threatening or physically attacking them. Fascist regimes have jailed or executed liberals and feminists, socialists, communists and trade unionists. The reactionary practice of fascism culminated in the Holocaust, with the murder of 6 million people simply because they were Jews. Meanwhile, fascism has also been a mass movement, or attempted to be one. Fascist leaders have employed a populist language, promising their supporters all manner of gains, while there never was any intention to deliver on these words.

Whether other historians will accept this definition or not, there is one point on which we should all agree. The only objective definition of fascism is a critical definition of fascism. The current academic approach, which attempts to understand fascism 'from the claims made by its own protagonists', which studies fascism in theory and neglects fascist practice, is a flawed and uncritical approach. It is time that it changed.

Roger Griffin, Searchlight, September 1999

Its opponents need to understand fascism in its own terms or face the perils of ideological blinkers, argues Roger Griffin

A CURIOUS paradox lies at the heart of Searchlight. For several decades it has been monitoring the organisations and activities associated with a force the definition of which remains the subject of intense controversy. St Augustine once observed that he knew what time was until he was asked to define it, and fascism has been a similarly elusive property. Practically all readers of this article, whatever point they occupy in the political spectrum, know instinctively what fascism is and can recognise it when they see it.

However, many would be hard put to say what it means for them in other than impressionistic terms, possibly resorting to an MOT-type check-list of attributes and associations (leader-cult, violence, etc). If they were all to send their definition to the editor (the basis of a future feature?), it would reveal an extraordinary profusion of conflicting approaches. The 'Babel effect', which operates in all areas of human phenomena when efforts are made to pin them down conceptually, has been particularly strong when it comes to fascism.

Of course, there is no need to be a lexicographer, let alone an academic, to stand up for certain ideals or to fight those which seek to destroy them, quite the reverse. But in the case of "fascism" definitions are important. First, they delimit the area under investigation. For some fascism has never existed outside Italy. For others it is axiomatic that most Latin, African and Asian dictatorships, not to mention apartheid South Africa, have been fascist.

Just how elastic a concept it can be was graphically illustrated a few months ago when crowds in Beijing protesting against Nato's "collateral damage" to the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade held up placards bearing swastikas to symbolise the oppressor. No wonder attempts by the Russian parliament to ban fascism have so far run aground on the reef of controversy and semantics, which forms when legislators try to specify precisely what is being made illegal.

Second, every definition of fascism implies a causal explanation. The one .offered by Dave Renton in last month's issue of this periodical is a case in point. "Fascism", he assures us, is a form of reactionary mass movement (surely a simplistic and bathetic conclusion given his scathing eloquence concerning the shortcomings of "liberal" theories). He explains that reactionary means "opposed to all forms of democratic practice". Yet dissenters would point out that this covers a wide range of modern populist movements of the right and the left, from Islamic fundamentalism to Mao's Cultural Revolution, while it does not take into account scores of minute extreme right-wing groupuscules (such as the English Revolutionary Fraction, intellectuals (e.g. Drieu La Rochelle), think-tanks (e.g. GRECE), loners (such as those responsible for the Oklahoma bombing) and "cadre" para-military groups (such as the AWB), all of whom would be widely associated with the term yet have no mass movement behind them. It is also a definition which at first sight implies that the driving force of fascism is the wanton nihilistic one of 'destroying democracy'.

Following this logic, the Holocaust, which Renton cites as the culmination of fascist reactionary practice, can be seen as no more than a vast exercise in destruction motivated by no other goal than the Nazis' visceral hatred of their opponents as embodiments of communism (conveniently forgetting that they also incarnated the evils of international capitalism). The ideological origins of this hatred, the deeper rationales behind the systematic violence and systematic inhumanity it inspired, remains obscure.

Or do they? Is it liberal paranoia to suggest that red lurks under Renton's ideological bed? He takes to task three liberal academics (myself among them) for giving credence to the claims of fascism's ideologues that it had a revolutionary dimension, insisting that this makes the movement appear "much more positive than it actually has been". Our approach is "flawed and uncritical" and it is "time that it changed".

Could the hidden agenda of Renton's vitriolic attack on "liberal" theories of fascism be part of a campaign to put Marxist theories back in the driving seat of fascist studies, which they occupied until the 1960s. This is a point surely not unrelated to the fact that his own monograph, Fascism, has just been published by Pluto Press and is advertised in the very issue of Searchlight in which his article appeared, as offering "the first new theory of fascism ... to come from the left for over 20 years".

Yet encrypted within the term "reactionary" is the traditional Marxist assumption that fascism's ultimate function, if not deliberate purpose, was the defence of feudal and capitalist interests at all costs from the threat posed by socialism (whether Bolshevik or Trotskyite) as the embodiment of "real" revolution.

Only when Marxists finally conceded that they do not have a monopoly over revolutionary movements in modern history may they finally develop an incisive "alternative" account of fascism. There is nothing in what Renton says, however, to suggest that he has wandered far from the orthodox fold.

Unfortunately, Renton's polemical urge to discredit the "liberal" school of fascist studies has led him to make some aberrant judgements.

The "academic discipline" of fascism studies has been around not a mere 15 years, but at least since Ernst Nolte's Three Faces of Fascism, originally published in German in 1963. Though Zeev Sternhell's work does indeed imply that fascism died in 1945, both Stanley Payne and I stress the continuities between interwar and postwar fascism, and the bulk of my publications have concerned its 1990s variants rather than its pre-1945 ones - see, for example, the epilogue of Payne's A History of' Fascism, 1914-1945, my Net Gains and GUD Reactions: Patterns of Prejudice in a Neo-fascist Groupuscule (Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 33, no 2, 1999), or section five of Fascism, which is entirely devoted to contemporary fascism. Certainly, neither of us suggest that "the battles are over". What we would deny is that fascism is simply an epiphenomenon of capitalism and can only be combated effectively by an anti-capitalist movement (preferably led by the Socialist Workers Party's Anti Nazi League).

Moreover, while it is true that Sternhell does not consider Nazism a form of fascism, it is a central assumption of the research into fascism carried out by both Payne and myself that Nazism completely fits our largely compatible models of the term. Now do any of us fall into the trap of seeing Italy as the role model or archetype of all fascisms.

It is a banal point, but one worth stressing yet again, that every variant of a genus in the realm of human phenomena is unique: the fact that Nazism had unique features (e.g. its biological racism, Aryan myth and imperialist vision of a Nazified Europe) which made it extraordinarily destructive does not somehow disqualify it as a permutation of fascism. The claim that we argue that "fascism equals Mussolini and not Hitler" is thus quite unfounded.

The most disturbing allegation contained in Renton's article, however, is that the partial consensus on the definition of fascism which I have detected as emerging in the 1990s (though it is far from being "hegemonic" within the discipline) has some sort of revisionist intent. The stress which he claims we place on its revolutionary dimension, on its ideology, its ultra-nationalism (all true), and the

down-playing of Nazism (untrue) signals to him that "we" are treading a path which leads "from an idealist definition to a positive description of fascism", and hence to its "positive re-evaluation".

The insinuation that by approaching fascism as a political force driven by a revolutionary vision of a new order rather than as a reactionary one devoid of sincerely held Utopian values and goals, "we" are somehow, minimising or vindicating the atrocities committed in the pursuit of its goal is a serious accusation to level at "our" professional integrity. Indeed, in other contexts it could be, construed as libelous.

Certainly genuine revisionists might be tempted deliberately to misconstrue the stress we place on fascism's revolutionary thrust as backing up their mendacious position, just as some have sought to mitigate the horrors of Nazism by seizing on evidence of its "modernity". However, such misappropriations are no more serious travesties of truth than when someone on the left imputes apologetic intentions to academics who have made a sustained attempt to combat fascism by probing into its historical and social dynamics rather than simply lashing out blindly against it armed with vapid generalisations about its roots in capitalist reaction.

Could there be a vestige here of the Marxist fundamentalism which identifies 'liberalism' with 'capitalism' and hence tendentially with 'fascism' and regards all liberal academics as predisposed to 'sleeping with the enemy', no matter how vociferous they are in their condemnation of fascism and racism.

Are there shades here of the same bigotry which once led the German Communist Party of the Weimar Republic to treat Social Democrats as "social fascists" when Hitler's rise was still eluctable, and more recently indicted Nato of being the lackey of American imperialism in carrying out the bombing campaign against Milosevic? "Tout comprendre" does NOT mean "tout pardonner". Given the bloody foam churned up in the wake of so many Utopian Titanics that have set sail this century, whether they were heading left, right or centre, it should surely be possible for terms such as "revolution", "modem", "ideals", and "Utopia" to be stripped of any intrinsic positive or progressive connotations and used as part of the conceptual apparatus with which to understand fascism without inviting charges of revisionism.

To forestall further misunderstandings, let me take the opportunity generously offered by Searchlight to summarise the current state of play in fascist studies as I see it (an important qualifying phrase). As I have argued in International Fascism, Theories, Causes and the New Consensus (1998), a broad agreement has gradually emerged among many non-Marxist academics that for heuristic purposes fascism is most usefully defined "ideal typically" as a revolutionary permutation of populist ultra-nationalism.

My particular version of this emerging school of thought highlights the central role played in its revolutionary assault on the liberal status quo by an obsession with the decadence which allegedly prevails or prevailed within all areas of national life under liberalism and the possibility of regenerating the national community within a new order. This does not preclude fascists from aspiring towards the formation of a new international (though not internationalist) order, as long as the rival revolutionary ideological forces of supra-national socialism can be destroyed.

The structural core which is common to all permutations of fascism, interwar and postwar, identified by this "school of thought" is thus the archetypal myth of rebirth (I have tried - largely unsuccessfully - to introduce into the social sciences the term "palingenesis" for this concept) projected onto the national community within a post-liberal new order. This core of "palingenetic ultra-nationalism", the vision of the nation rising as a phoenix from the ashes of the old order, has admitted in the past, and continues to admit, a bewilderingly wide range of doctrinal rationalisations and policies between movements of different countries and even between different factions within the same movement.

But whether it takes the form of the in-your-face neo-Nazism of White Noise or the metapolitical pan-Europeanist fantasies of sections of the New Right, its common denominator is the bid to cleanse, regenerate, renew, rejuvenate society in a nationalist, ethnic, rather than an internationalist, humanistic spirit. It is this which distinguishes fascism both from restorationist or modernising (and hence genuinely reactionary) conservatism (e.g. contrast Falangism with Franquismo), and from Marxist forms of revolutionary socialism (which have always remained internationalist, at least in theory).

It is this core which is reflected in fascist leadership, propaganda, policies, ritual politics, psychology, and in an ethos generated by fascism which has all too often been associated by its enemies (who include mere "liberals" like myself) with naked power-lust and nihilism.

Once the mind is unfettered by the axiom that fascism is essentially reactionary and lacks a distinctive ideology, patterns of empirical evidence invisible to Marxists leap into view. However "opportunist" Hitler and Mussolini (or for that matter Mosley and Codreanu) were as fascist leaders, they were clearly ideologically motivated and paid enormous attention to ideas with the cast of mind of the revolutionary activist rather than the philosopher.

Moreover, a dialectic pattern of destruction and creation at the heart of fascist state policy becomes apparent. In the Third Reich, for example, the corollary of the state's promotion of "healthy" German art was the burning of degenerate paintings, while the cult of youth and athleticism was one facet of the same eugenic conception of the regenerated national community which led to the euthanasia campaign and physical elimination of alleged social and racial enemies. It becomes equally self-evident that the regime's ritual style of politics was deliberately created to induce a collective subjective sense of rebirth in millions of ordinary people disembedded from a comfortable sense of normality by the social and political convulsions of time, and hence psychologically "available" to a political ideology whose central message was total rebirth in a new era.

In short, the Holocaust 'was not the ultimate product of fascist reaction, but the ultimate consequence of the mythic bid to purge German society of decadence so that it could be reborn, of a revolutionary project to use social engineering to create a state and empire based on a racial concept of history and the primacy of collective myth over "decadent" reason.

As long as fanatics cultivating perverse imaginings of "home" and "the people" continue to demonise various human categories of "Other", Searchlight will be needed to keep track of the organisations, activities and schemes through which they hope to realise their fantasies.

While such a publication cannot hope to destroy the illusions that enable fascists to maintain their "vision of the world", it is encouraging to see it becoming a forum of intelligent debate about the nature of fascism, since without a sophisticated understanding of this it is impossible to develop intelligent strategies for evaluating and combating the threat it poses to democratic society.

As long as Marxists cling on to the naive belief that they exercise a monopoly over revolutionary politic in the modern age both their analyses of fascism and their tactics to counter it will be flawed. I am hardly "scornful towards the idea of an anti-fascist history", as Renton alleges.

Like my more illustrious colleagues, Payne and Sternhell, I have spent a good part of my career in attempts to contribute to such a history. What I am certainly scornful of, however, is the pseudo-academic exploitation of the anti-fascist cause for the purpose of grinding other ideological axes.

Dave Baker, Searchlight, October 1999

Continuing the Searchlight series on Understanding Fascism.

David Baker argues for methodological pluralism in fascism studies

There never has, and never will be, a universally agreed definition of generic fascism, even amongst those who strive to achieve one, but as ever commentator has perceptively remarked, "if every theory is inadequate, some are more inadequate than others". [Pearce, Fascism and Nazism, 1997] There is, of course, some bedrock agreement in fascist studies. For instance, most authorities accept as a powerful animating force fascism's anti-communism and anti-liberal democracy. Most also accept the peculiar attraction fascism to threatened sections of society, in particular members of the petit bourgeoisie and the unemployed. Nevertheless, as the exchange between Roger Griffin and Dave Renton reveals (Searchlight, August and September 1999) a huge area of debate remains.

In any attempt to understand fascism major theoretical problems arise from what is considered necessary and what is contingent within a movement or an ideology in order to define it as authentically fascist. The wearing of military regalia and jackboots, the practice of goose-stepping, stiff-armed salutes and militarised ceremonies, as in Franco's Spain, may not actually betoken a fascist but rather an authoritarian, catholic, military movement. Aspects of fascism can also be found in other ideologies, movements and regimes, for instance extreme nationalism, corporatism, paramilitary organisation, leader cults and mass terror. Partly as a result, Gilbert Allardyce, working within an Anglo-American tradition of empiricist theoretical scepticism and historiography, argues that all efforts at constructing generic models of "fascism" are wasted, since the various movements and regimes subsumed under any generic definition are much too disparate to form any catch-all categorisation. In short, the word fascism should only be used to describe Italian Fascism between the wars ("What Fascism is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept", The American Historical Review, (84) 2, 1991.

To make matters worse, the sound of political axes grinding is seldom far from-the surface in fascist studies. Fascism has always excited hostility, polemic and disagreement, ironically much of it aimed not at the fascists themselves but rather, traded between those attempting to interpret and oppose fascism.

In the 1920s and 1950s deeply politicised attempts understand the phenomenon produced two highly biased theories, the Third International theory of "social-fascism" and the American conservative model, which posited the existence of a thinly-veiled identity between communism and fascism, namely "totalitarian" theory. Both theories were in reality the continuation by other means of larger ideological and political battles fought by ideologues of both left and right have attempted to offload all responsibility for fascism onto their more general ideological opponents.

The occasionally vitriolic debate between Roger Griffin and Dave Renton echoes this. While neither is consumed by such overt political intent, both have produced analyses of fascism which feed off, and then feed into, models which support their more general understandings of the social and political world, giving rise a protective attitude towards each particular model.

The fact that both protagonists are historians is significant, as this is typical of modern fascist studies (notable exceptions include Ernst Nolte and Juan Linz) and most particularly liberal historians. Indeed, the central role played by liberal historians might be taken to back up Renton's point that such a perspective is prone to con signing fascism to the dustbin of history and rejected knowledge, analysing it purely in the past tense.

The Searchlight debate contains elements of exaggeration on both sides. Thus, in spite of Griffin's powerful argument that a "new consensus" has emerged in fascism studies, considerable interpretive heterogeneity within the liberal camp still exists. Some, most notably the American A J Gregor, (Interpretations of Fascism, 1997) still subscribe to versions of a totalitarian model of fascism, while others, such as Gilbert Allardyce, deny fascism represents a coherent genus of political ideology or movement, and existed only in inter-war Italy.

Even within the inner core of liberal consensus theorists (Sternhell, Mosse, Griffin, Payne, Eatwell and Prowe) there remains much to quarrel over. Diethelm Prowe, for instance, has recently adopted a highly sophisticated ideological perspective to define fascism which entirely ignores any role of the myth of "rebirth" ("'Classic Fascism' and the new radical right in Western Europe. Comparisons and Contrasts", Contemporary European History, 3 (3) 1994) Roger Eatwell has also criticised both Payne and Griffin, the latter for the relative banality of some of his defining concepts. (Eatwell, "On Defining the 'fascist Minimum': the centrality of ideology". Journal of Political Ideologies, (1996) 1: (3)) To this list can be added those post-modernist liberals who have strayed into the field of Holocaust studies and faced accusations of hyper-relativism from their opponents, both liberal and Marxist, (see Richard J Evans's excellent discussion of this debate in his In Defence of History, 1997, pp. 224-253) and also those involved in the so-called Goldhagen debate concerning the German masses' collective responsibility for Nazi genocide (see R R Shandley [ed] Unwilling Executioners: The Goldhagen Debate, 1998; and F H Little [ed] Hyping the Holocaust: Scholars Answer Goldhagen, 1997) both of which have uncovered a wide variety of liberal (and for that matter Marxist) reactions to the Holocaust and its place in German history and culture.

Equally, contrary to Renton's implicit Trotskyist claim to represent a "critical" Marxist-activist position, there is still no real agreement amongst Marxist theoreticians as to just what causal role (if any) should be assigned to fascist ideology, as distinct from economic and class-based dynamics as the prime motive force in fascism. At one extreme Tim Mason offered a "primacy of politics" model for Nazi Germany ("the Primacy of Politics: Politics and Economics in National Socialist Germany", in S J Woolf [ed] The Nature of Fascism, 1968), while Nicos Poulantzas (Fascism and Dictatorship, 1974) and Ernesto Laclau {Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, 1977) - both of whose works remain influential in Marxist intellectual circles - offered very different variations on the Althusserian, Leninist and Gramscian Marxist themes on fascism in the 1970s. Equally the psycho-historical works produced by the so-called Frankfurt School of critical theorists (T W Adorno, Max Horkheimer et al) also retain influence over some contemporary Marxist thinking on fascism. Recently Mark Neocleous (Fascism, 1997) has mixed a somewhat orthodox Leninist "capitalism in crisis" model with an almost post-modernist philosophical and cultural analysis, in order to classify fascism from a quasi-leftist perspective - in the process allowing Griffin to claim that this actually places him within the "new (liberal) paradigm". (R Griffin [ed] International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the new Consensus, 1998, p. l9)

There may also be rather less distance between these two opposed positions than this polemical exchange has allowed for. In particular, Ernst Nolte, arguably the father of all the new consensus liberal ideological models, began with a "resistance to transcendence" conception of fascism which, when deconstructed, suggested that fascism needs liberal capitalism to create the economic, political, and ideological space and the cultural crisis necessary to give birth to and sustain its anti-liberal and anti-communist revolutionary actions. This, in turn, parallels the general Marxist analysis of fascism's dependency upon capitalist crisis and an associated frightened liberal complicity in facilitating fascism's access to core state power between the wars.

The strength of Renton's argument lies in the fact that it appears intuitively true that fascism, understood purely on its own intellectual terms, will sell itself short on violence and hatred and long on high-flown ideals and rhetoric, assisting in the collective power to forget its violent and genocidal past (although to go from this to accuse Griffin and his fellow liberal scholars of legitimising fascism is untenable in my view). His suggestion that critical distance is necessary to avoid this pitfall, is another piece of apparent common sense.

The weakness is that Renton's own definition of fascism as a reactionary and anti-democratic force is itself extremely thin (as Griffin mercilessly points out) and contrary to his assertion that the empirical record backs up his position, he actually offers very little empirical evidence either to support his case or to demolish Griffin's, although space considerations could be to blame here. Nevertheless, I remain sceptical of the depth of evidence to support a picture of fascism as a purely reactionary attack on democracy by pro-capitalist forces (even though an almost pathological fear of communism was clearly one important motivating factor, as Nolte long ago pointed out).

Ultimately, Renton's model differs little from Trotsky's original definition, except that at times he comes close to admitting that reactionary "ideology" does play a part in defining fascism in relation to other rightist forces. Significantly, however, in his recent book he also offers a highly restrictive definition of fascism, ruling out many authoritarian and military regimes which the current revolutionary left still considers to be fascist, and for which he will undoubtedly come in for criticism from fellow Marxists. (D Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice, 1999)

Mussolini's rise to prominence was certainly aided by Milanese capitalists and once in power he pursed policies favourable to Fiat and Pirelli. Hitler's rise to 'power was supported by the media tycoon Alfred Hugenberg and industrialists such as Fritz Thyssen and Emil Kirdorf. The drive towards autarky in both countries allowed' leading firms such as I G Farben to flourish and both regimes ruthlessly crushed their powerful labour movements. But while a somewhat cosy and symbiotic relationship between capitalism and fascism undoubtedly existed, only after Hitler became Chancellor did money began to flow into the Nazi party. Industrialists who manufactured for export were less favourable to both regimes and Thyssen fled Germany in 1939 accusing the Nazis of being anti-capitalist. Capitalists had little discernible influence on either country's foreign policy (and especially Nazi genocide) and both countries' capitalist economies were devastated by the fascist-instigated war.

Similarly, claims that mass support for the German and Italian movements and regimes came overwhelmingly from reactionary petit bourgeois elements that feared loss of status and proletarianisation (just beneath the surface in Renton's piece) do not appear supported by the known facts. The composition of Mussolini's Fascist Party in November 1921 shows industrial and agricultural workers comprised 24.3 per cent of the party (21.8 per cent of the population as a whole), with the middle classes at 56.5 per cent of the party (53.5 per cent of society as a whole). In Germany the elections of May 1928 revealed that Catholics and industrial workers were relatively immune to Nazi propaganda and that small towns were more prone to vote Nazi than large cities. Equally the old middle class of shopkeepers, small farmers, craftsmen and civil servants was over-represented, while the working class was under-represented. '

But class analysis cannot adequately explain why Protestants were more likely to vote Nazi than Catholics, the young more than the old, and women more so than men. Nor can it reveal why almost one third of Nazi party members were working class during this period, and the working class was particularly well represented in the SA. In short, fascism is a broader and more complex phenomenon than Renton's view allows. Class identity and interest were clearly factors in the rise of fascism, but so too was the force of nationalism, the charisma of the fascist leaders and even the personality types of those converted to its cause.

The strength of Griffin's case is that he can explain the success of fascism in galvanising the masses and elites of two of Europe's oldest and most sophisticated political cultures between the wars, and also demonstrate how and why it was transmuted into a post-classical-fascist phase after 1945. His model also rescues us from the more deterministic and narrow analysis of an assumed petit bourgeois and big capital alliance class base to fascism (which is at odds with much recently accumulated empirical evidence, in particular see the various works on Nazi Germany and Hitler by lan Kershaw). He also allows inter-war fascism's vital cross-class appeal to be understood. Finally, this approach allows us to draw a reasonably clear working distinction between fascism and other authoritarian and illiberal movements of the right, including Francoism in Spain and Japanese militarism between the wars.

The weakness of Griffin's model lies in the fact that it inevitably downplays the dynamics of the wider and impersonal forces of political economy in creating and sustaining fascism and concentrates on the ultra-nationalistic ideological elements in the fascist equation (some have plausibly argued that Nazism was actually internationalist in its plan to Aryanise the world - Gregor: International Fascism, 1997). Griffin also has difficulty in revealing empirically exactly what mechanisms translated the myth of rebirth and politics of ultra-nationalism into the particular fascist synthesis. Roger Eatwell was surely correct to point out that linking the myth of rebirth to ultranationalism may add little to either concept (Eatwell, R: "On Defining the 'fascist Minimum': the Centrality of Ideology", Journal of Political Ideologies, (1996) 1: (3)).

All liberal consensus theorists remain vulnerable to. Renton's accusations that, in focussing on intellectual and propaganda statements rather than mass movements and economic forces, the rhetoric of fascism is sometimes taken at face value, thereby incorporating into the definition the various rationalisations and mystifications it perpetrated, creating a false image of a transcendental fascism divorced from social reality.

As something of a methodological pluralist I would suggest that any successful attempt at achieving a conceptual framework sufficiently powerful to explain (and oppose) fascism must, of necessity, draw inspiration from the very best of both traditions - Marxist and liberal. While I personally consider that fascism can successfully be defined generically through an ideological model (and I am increasingly attracted by the work of Roger Eatwell in such matters), nevertheless to understand fully its rise to power in inter-war Italy and Germany (and its subsequent transmutations) also requires attention to the impersonal forces of political economy, namely the contemporary forms of crisis in capitalism (and thereby liberal democracy) and the resulting destabilisation of large numbers of hitherto established and successful social and political groups.

While fascism itself may be distinct from capitalism, even to the point of being radically anti-capitalist, it has nevertheless been shaped and molded by the vast impersonal forces created by capitalist relations of production developing on an increasingly global scale this century, and this needs to be taken into account even in ideological models of the phenomenon. Equally, any Marxist theory that simply discounts the ideology of fascism as mere propaganda and myth is in danger of repeating serious methodological mistakes from the past.

Jim Wolfreys, Searchlight, March 2000

Continuing the Searchlight series on Understanding Fascism, Jim Wolfreys examines the case of the extreme right in postwar France

In a recent article in the New Left Review, Slavoj Zizek bemoaned the fact that faced with the sheer horror of the Holocaust academics have treated it as a mysterious enigma, "the heart of darkness of our civilisation", which defies explanation (NLR, November/December 1999). The same, by extension, can be said of a great deal of the academic research devoted to the Nazi regime and, more generally, fascism itself.

A vast number of studies are at pains to stress the unique features of the regimes of the inter-war period, portraying them as freakish aberrations, making rigid distinctions between Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany and characterising them as one-off products of a particular era, or manifestations of some kind of "mass psychosis".

In this context, then, the efforts of those such as Roger Griffin to offer a definition of fascism which stresses the link between Italian and German fascism, with the aim of providing readers with a better understanding of the "fascist syndrome in order to inoculate themselves, and even others, against it" [Roger Griffin (ed.) Fascism (OUP, 1995) p. 11], are to be welcomed.

What I want to take issue with, however, is the notion that fascism can best be understood in terms of its ideology, or, as Griffin argues, in terms of this ideology's "structural mythic core". By means of illustration I will look at how the debate over the nature of fascism has been played out in France. But first, some important general remarks must be made about the role of ideology in the development of inter-war fascism.

In an article for Searchlight last September Griffin quite rightly argued that for millions of disoriented people in the inter-war period the prospect of national rebirth offered by fascist ideology and its "ritual style of politics" was an attractive one. But was ideology the single most important factor in winning them to fascism? Hitler and Mussolini also had to prove that their parties could put their ideas into practice. The construction of a mass movement is an essential aspect of fascism, together with the cultivation of support among industrial elites. Here the principal contradiction, in many ways the defining contradiction, of fascism becomes apparent. Its strength and its weakness is that its power is dependent on the construction of a mass movement, made up of diverse groups often with conflicting aims and interests, but that power is then put at the disposal of a tiny minority at the top of society.

This is the starting point for understanding the phenomenon. Neither doctrine, propaganda nor mobilising myths can therefore be properly understood in isolation because they are all shaped to fit the concrete demands of building a mass base and cultivating elite support. To argue that fascist ideology (or even "ideological intent") somehow transcends other defining features of the phenomenon, such as its structure as a movement or its relationship as a regime to the state, is to fall prey to idealism.

To take the example of fascism's supposed "revolutionary" aims, which surfaced in the debate between Dave Renton and Roger Griffin in these pages last year, it is clear that fascist propaganda in the inter-war period had more than a whiff of revolutionary anti-capitalism. "A few individuals should not have the right to use the national economy against the nation!" Goebbels declared in 1931, adding that "in reality a few monopolies dominate, a few individuals have amassed enormous fortunes. These individuals have unlimited means for taking away from the people its daily bread and robbing it of its labour [cited in Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business (Pathfinder, 1973) p.85]. Once installed as a regime, however, there is no evidence to suggest that fascism acts as a revolutionary force. The concentration and centralisation of Italian industry under Mussolini was mirrored in Hitler's Germany where policies constantly favoured the big industrial concerns.

The obvious contrast between Goebbels's demagogy and what the Nazis actually did once in power only makes sense set against the twin imperatives of building a mass movement (hence the populist appeals to anti-capitalist sentiments) and the constraints imposed on the regime by those who held economic power.

This is not to deny that the Nazis had a degree of autonomy. Indeed, it is this autonomy, in the shape of its armed wing, capacity for mass mobilisations and the extremism of its ideology, that gives fascism its specificity. But this autonomy does not extend to transforming existing property relations. In this sense, as Donny Gluckstein argues in his excellent study of Nazi Germany, it is misleading to talk of fascism as revolutionary because its role is not to overthrow a particular class at the top of society but to shore up existing social relations by snuffing out working class resistance [The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class, Bookmarks, 1999, p. l47].

The fascist regimes of the inter-war period were therefore exceptional in the sense that they intensified the already existing socio-economic features of the time: the tendency towards monopolisation, increasing state intervention in the economy and the drive to war.

But to argue that all policies adopted by Hitler and Mussolini were intended to destroy the causes of decadence or to establish a new order is to impute too great a role to an alleged "ideological intent" and to ignore the relationship between fascism and the social forces and context within which it operates. Gluckstein sums up the relationship between the Nazis and German industry: "Connections existed between capitalism and the NSDAP; but this does not mean the Nazis were either robots programmed by the bosses, or free agents making up their own minds and acting as they pleased" (Gluckstein, p.44). The tension between autonomy and dependence inherent in this relationship is reflected in the interplay in fascist doctrine between the voluntarist or "constructivist" emphasis on creating a "new order" and the conservative emphasis on an alleged 'natural order" which respects the social hierarchy. The debate over the definition of fascism has particular relevance with regard to France and the question of the Front National (FN). For much of the postwar period a consensus emerged around the work of the eminent historian Rene Remond, who held that fascism, which he defined as radical, anti-capitalist and left-leaning, was always a marginal force in French society.

This consensus was powerfully challenged by Zeev Sternhell, who argued that fascism's ideological roots were not German or Italian, but French. For all its path-breaking implications, however, there were serious problems with Sternhell's work, not least his insistence that fascism had a "pure" ideology that could be isolated and analysed. This led him to focus on marginal groups which corresponded to his checklist of what constituted fascism: anti-Semitism, anti-democracy, anti-capitalism) and to argue that fascism was as much part of the left as the right, and therefore to minimise the importance of the major players among the fascist leagues of the inter-war period, notably Jacques Doriot's PPF and Colonel la Roque's Croix de Feu (later PSF).

Paradoxically, then, although valuable in its contribution to understanding aspects of how fascist ideology developed, Sternhell's analysis nevertheless appeared to confirm the misleading picture of French fascism in the inter-war period as a marginal phenomenon. Subsequent studies, notably Robert Soucy's French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933-1939 [Yale University Press, 1995], which situated fascism in a broader social and political context, have convincingly demonstrated that fascism shares more features with conservatism than with the left.

Sternhell's influence nevertheless remains significant. Attempts to analyse the Front National have been tampered by the view that discourse or ideology is the single most important factor in characterising fascist parties. But, as Peter Fysh and I have argued in The Politics of Racism in France [Macmillan, 1998], a critical precondition of the revival of the extreme right in France after the fall of Vichy was precisely the masking of the fascist doctrine at the core of the Front National, and the dissimulation of its core aims and beliefs.

Those who looked at the pronouncements of the organisation's leadership for evidence of the organisation's "nature" had to tread carefully, and those who did so without relating doctrinal and programmatic features of the organisation to other elements, such as the party's origins and structure and the context in which it was operating, more often than not arrived at a mistaken analysis.

So how did French fascism adapt to the postwar period? In a number of books and articles with titles like 'What is fascism?" and "For a new order" various theoreticians of the far right argued that fascism would have to change if it was to revive. The experience of the Second World War and the Holocaust, they claimed, weighed so heavily in public consciousness that any movement which attempted to appropriate the symbols or openly advocate ideas or policies associated with the Nazis would be doomed to failure. Postwar fascism, therefore, would have to advance masked.

Moreover, the postwar boom and the expansion of the state administration had stabilised capitalism. People were wedded to the status quo in a way in which they had not been during the crises of the inter-war period. Fascism would therefore have to seek out a broad base of support in order to win power.

The practical consequences of this, which resulted in the formation of the Front National, related both to ideas and activity. Fascists no longer, or rarely, referred to themselves as such. They dropped references to racial supremacy, overt anti-Semitism and revolutionary nationalism and instead emphasised the defence of national identity. This quest for respectability fitted with the pursuit of an electoral strategy. FN activities were geared to reaching out for as wide an audience as possible and then converting newly won support to the hard core. Postwar fascism therefore retained the basic features of its precursors - an ideology based on anti-egalitarianism, authoritarian elitism and the organicist belief in a hierarchical "natural order", along with a party structure based on the construction of a mass base in pursuit of power by legal and illegal means - but they were concealed behind public pronouncements of respect for democracy and an official organisational structure which appeared to mirror that of conventional right-wing parties.

Central to the organisation's strategy was the attempt to bridge the gap between "soft" support and the organisation's hard core by constructing a network of unofficial or parallel structures with the vocation to develop an extra-parliamentary onslaught on democratic institutions should the situation demand it, and the deliberate use of coded language and deliberate "slips" by the leadership (on the Holocaust as a "detail" of the Second World War, on racial inequalities, etc) in order to rehabilitate various aspects of the fascist "heritage".

The success of this strategy meant that the FN was able to unite the broadest possible spectrum of the extreme right, from former Waffen SS members to Catholic fundamentalists, behind a federative organisational structure and an eclectic doctrine which, with the help of the think tanks of the so-called Nouvelle Droite, repackaged fascist ideology in a "modern" guise. This renewal, when the FN was on the rise, contributed to the veneer of respectability and the semblance of internal unity which the organisation presented to outsiders. In reality both were illusory.

Interestingly Le Pen himself has directly addressed the question of the conflict within fascist parties between traditionalist conservatives and constructivist revolutionaries: "There is a big debate", he argues, "between those who believe in a natural Order, which they see as flowing simply from the nature of things, and those who believe in an Order constructed by men. Men of the right believe in an Order constructed by men who are informed by the experience of Tradition and the past" [cited in Fysh and Wolfreys, p. 124]. His neat compromise between the two poles is typical of the way in which fascist organisations manipulate contradictory ideas in order to accommodate the diversity of their membership.

Which brings me on to my final point. Although we can identify specific features of fascist ideology and organisation we should not lose sight of the fact that as a movement it is based on contradiction. Although it can appear coherent and unified, when put on the defensive its frailties are exposed. This has been graphically demonstrated by recent events in France, which have seen the violent, anti-democratic core of the FN emerge in the face of a sustained series of anti-fascist protests and demonstrations. The effect of this has been to alienate peripheral supporters, turn the party's various factions against each other and split the organisation. A reminder that just as our understanding of fascism must integrate analysis of its doctrine with comprehension of its structure and activity, so our opposition to it must when necessary combine intellectual and practical confrontation.