Contents

Introduction

The category of “Really Existing Socialism” is usually invoked, both by proponents and detractors, in conversations about discrepancies between revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice. The general idea is that revolutionary statesmen — say, Stalin — fell short in some important ways when compared to the lofty ideals of revolutionary theorists — namely, Marx. These operational deficiencies can be understood in terms of the exigencies inherent to putting any abstract scientific idea into material engineering practice, or they can be understood in terms of betrayals and intrigue. At any rate, the gap is widely acknowledged; we’ve all heard the cliché “Communism works on paper, but not in practice.”

Another common tendency in discussions of socialism is to conceptualize it as one of three ideologies that form a 20th century triad: liberalism, socialism, and fascism. In this spatial model, socialism and fascism are “totalitarian extremes” that led to tragedy and ruin, whereas liberalism is the “moderate center” that prevailed due to a commitment to non-ideological pragmatism and healthy intellectual pluralism.

There’s plenty we might question or challenge about these premises — some would insist that communism is the revolutionary movement in its actuality and not some abstract ideal, some would reject the triadic model (as I will, in this very essay) — but what happens if we grant them, provisionally? The category of “Really Existing Fascism” arises as a matter of symmetry, and it raises some interesting questions.

Did fascism have a compelling ideal, as unobjectionable to most people as egalitarian utopia is “on paper”? Who was the fascist equivalent to Karl Marx? Someone just discovering fascism might think of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini as its foremost intellectuals. Someone who had done more reading on the topic might point to Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, or the self-described Italian “ultra-fascist” Julius Evola. I don’t think any of them exactly fits the bill, though. Some were statesmen themselves, which doesn’t allow for the kind of disappointment I want to explore, and, more concretely, none of them comes close to matching the pervasive influence of Marx. Good symmetry requires a lofty figure, a prolific and talented writer with works of unquestionable historical and cultural significance, whose actual participation in the movements he inspired is indirect enough that his defenders can try to exculpate him for the crimes of those movements.

I’m not the first to argue Friedrich Nietzsche plays this role. As Geoff Waite put it, Nietzsche’s is “the only position outside communism,” the only serious intellectual challenge to utopia as such. It is well-known that German soldiers carried Zarathustra as part of their military kit in the first World War, and Nazis later openly embraced Nietzsche’s “will to power” as an ethos. This is usually superciliously hand-waved away as a misappropriation, chalked up to the nefarious intervention of Nietzsche’s sister, but whether we agree with it or not does not much matter for the case I wish to make.

What interests me is the fact that Nietzsche is, in the eyes of North Atlantic and European intellectuals, too brilliant a thinker, too useful and influential, too dear to the European tradition as a whole, to ever be damned as fascist, certainly not the ur-fascist.

What is this role, anyway? Marx did not see himself, and is not seen by communists, as the inventor of communism. The Communist Manifesto is quite clear:

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. [1]

And this sentiment is unequivocally shared by Pan-African authors like Kwame Ture:

It’s a universal truth. The best we can give him is an astute observer. Because any man, any woman — if I’m sitting in the desert of Libya, in North Africa, looking at the relationship between capital and labour, I will come to the exact same conclusion as Karl Marx: that wherever capital tries to dominate labour, there will be a ruthless struggle against capital, by labour, until labour comes to smash capital, and dominate it! [2]

Rather than the prophetic evangelist of a grand and novel doctrine, Marx is better understood as a pugnacious thinker who, in the fray of heated arguments between socialists, prevailed over others because he managed to provide the surging revolutionary movement with a realistic appraisal of the enormity of its own task. Marx (and Engels!) synthesized an existing tendency and existing ideas with unprecedented clarity and portability, and by giving them such definition aided in their spread. Once we understand this, Nietzsche doesn’t need to be seen as a creator either; he certainly was not the architect of a fully worked-out fascist program. He was, however, a staunchly reactionary intellectual whose lifelong project was opposition to what we call social justice, to the emancipatory aspirations of those he called rabble. Nietzsche was adept at presenting radically anti-egalitarian sentiments with a heaping dose of artistry, obscurantism, and misdirection, thereby paving the way for many more people to proudly embrace reaction than would have otherwise.

This essay is not primarily about Nietzsche, though. It is an essay about fascism. The figure of Nietzsche is useful insofar as he helps us understand why fascism is a familiar — even widely appealing — phenomenon. Through the concept of “Really Existing Fascism” I hope to broaden our understanding of fascism so that it is no longer confined to a specific epoch — appearing and disappearing with the Axis Powers, resurfacing with Bush or Trump, a phenomenon related only to “capitalism in decay” — but is instead understood as an ever-present, complementary, and necessary mode of operation of “pluralistic” and “non-violent” liberal democracy. On this view, fascism is plainly at work long before Mussolini founds the first officially fascist party. Capitalism does not predate fascism, and fascism was never stopped, nor can it ever be stopped so long as capitalism endures.

In order to make this case (which I realize may be controversial) I will borrow from writers who have effectively recontextualized the entirety of modern European history, interweave their ideas with my own theorizing, and hopefully not lose every single reader along the way.

The Prehistory of Capital and the Dual Aspects of Capitalism

In 2017, William Clare Roberts, an Anglo-American academic Marxist, published an article that at first glance seems to be of interest only to niche specialists. The essay focuses on the question of what exactly Marx meant by the concept of “primitive accumulation.” Most people take this term to refer to the violent crimes capitalists committed to get the seed money to jumpstart the process of accumulation: forced displacement, robbery, slavery, and genocide. Implicit in the past tense is the idea that primitive accumulation is over — it was a phenomenon anterior to capitalism, it certainly led to capitalism, but it forms part of the prehistory of capitalism. Capitalism, compared to primitive accumulation, is relatively peaceful: it is a “civilized” form of theft in which the capitalist expropriates the surplus labour of his employees through relatively bloodless exploitation. The worker “freely chooses” to work 8 hours a day, and agrees to take home the wealth corresponding to only a fraction of them. Why? Because capitalists have bought up all the means of production, so workers must either work for them on their terms, or somehow “start a business” and join the ranks of the exploiters.

What Roberts does then is very interesting: by paying close attention to Marx’s writing, he builds a compelling case that Marx’s “primitive accumulation” never referred to the prehistory of capitalism (a mode of social organization) but only to the prehistory of capital (wealth that reproduces itself via exploitation):

Marx can — and does — affirm that processes of primitive accumulation are internal to capitalism. He insists nonetheless that they constitute the prehistory of capital because, while plunder, fraud, and theft can stock up wealth that can be used as capital, they cannot actually make that wealth function as capital. [3]

In this way, capitalism can be understood as a mode of production with (at least) two concurrent operational moments or aspects: violent expropriation — necessary whenever either big fortunes or desperate propertyless workers are lacking from the equation — and the “non-violent” regime of “voluntary” exploitation more often associated with “advanced” capitalist countries. Primitive accumulation never stops: at the same time that some in America live contented middle-class lives and millions of others get exploited by Amazon as contract workers, the United States uses its police forces to brutalize rebellious Black communities and its military forces to invade nations that haven’t sufficiently integrated into its market system. Capitalism expresses itself as voluntary exploitation in its core, and involuntary expropriation in its periphery (including its internal colonies).

Writing from the other side of the globe, Chinese legal and political theorist Jiang Shigong gives what turns out to be a striking account of the genesis of European empires and world empire in the innocuous form of a foreword for a pop history of Empire by British historian John Darwin, After Tamerlane. Jiang’s view of Western society is decidedly and self-consciously that of an outsider. What concerns him in his essay A History of Empire Without Empire is the way that “modernization theory becomes an ideological tool in service of Western imperialism and neocolonialism,” and particularly the way that, in John Darwin’s account,

“Imperialism” is no longer a historical phenomenon particular to “the highest stage of capitalism,” as Lenin theorized, but simply the expansive drive of empires throughout human history. This “new imperial history” effectively sterilizes left-wing critiques of “imperialism” from the 19th century onward, and allows Darwin to write a history of European imperial expansion unburdened by guilt. [4]

Jiang Shigong pushes against the tendency to erase important differences within the category of imperialism in order to sanitize European expansion and demonize Chinese sovereignty. He painstakingly analyzes the history of the interaction of European seafaring empires with the rest of the world, contrasts them with ancient Chinese and Indian empires, and rejects the impulse to treat “colonialism” and “imperialism” as synonyms that describe the actions of any large country:

Although the two concepts are used interchangeably, the concept of “colonialism” is more politically and even militarily associated with imperial territorial appropriation and violent conquest. The development of capitalism allowed the extraction of economic resources through trade and investment. Thus, in contrast to the “colonial empire” of naked conquest and plunder, “imperialism” is actually an advanced form (the highest stage of capitalism, per Lenin), an unequal redistribution of economic wealth enabled by seemingly mutually-beneficial commercial transactions and investments, imperial domination by more covert and superficially civilized means.

[T]he formal empire of “colonialism” and the informal empire of “imperialism” must not be seen as two different stages of historical development, but rather as two different ways of constructing empires. [4]

I mention these works in passing for two reasons: first, their actual content — they offer real historical insights, which is relevant insofar it sets the stage for the coming argument. More importantly, however, they illustrate the more abstract notion of opposed but united operational aspects. Modes of production must be understood not only in terms of a set list of features, but also as adaptive and dynamic engines with different expressions under different circumstances. Capitalism has at least two distinct operational aspects in exploitation and expropriation, and imperial expansion has at least two operational aspects in colonialism and imperialism.

Interlude: Hermeneutics

What follows is primarily a history of ideology, so we must say a few words about hermeneutics.

“Hermeneutics” is the theory and method of interpretation of a text. When we review any piece of media, nearly all of us will bring previous opinions of the author to bear, and explore how the text confirms or challenges them. Perhaps we want to approach a work that’s been harshly criticized with an eye towards exonerating the author, in which case we would be operating under a “hermeneutics of innocence.” Or perhaps it’s the opposite: we approach a celebrated text very cautiously, looking for suggestive clues, conspicuous omissions, trying to find places where the author tipped their hand and exposed themselves in a way that coheres with something else that we know about them. In this case we’re operating under a “hermeneutics of suspicion.”

I bring this up because it is good to remember that we have the ability to choose our method deliberately and consciously. We don’t have to delude ourselves into pretending we’re being “neutral” or “objective” when in reality we have an agenda. Openly pursuing an agenda does not automatically invalidate our conclusions — announcing it just makes it easier for others to identify where our blind spots lie. I welcome any challenges to this theory of fascism and its basic premises. What’s my agenda? I aim to turn the historical narrative of a genocidal Soviet Union defeated by a well-meaning liberal West fully on its head.

Now, some readers will question the relevance of the statements of the historical figures cited, following a “hermeneutics of suspicion” under which every claim by a socialist is a calculated ploy to mask sinister intentions, and a “hermeneutics of innocence” under which every claim by a cherished Western figure has been gravely misinterpreted or is in some way non-reflective of their “true values.” This is just as fair an approach as mine, but remember: it’s still a choice being made.

The 18th and 19th Century: Classical Liberalism, Genius, and Race Science

The “New Era,” in which genius rules, is thus distinguished from the old era principally by the fact that the whip imagines it possesses genius.
 — Friedrich Engels, 1850. [5]

A central idea in Domenico Losurdo’s masterpiece Liberalism: A Counter-History is that liberalism was, from its very beginnings, an ideology that sought to justify slavery. Hagiographers of the Founding Fathers and American independence love to portray it as a triumph of “freedom-loving peoples.” According to this story, slavery was merely a lingering imperfection, a backwards holdover righteously stamped out by the Civil War early in the nation’s history, and whatever regrettable byproducts of slavery that remain don’t fundamentally challenge the identification of liberalism and Western democracy with “freedom” as such. Losurdo argues, however, that liberalism is better understood as an ideology produced to satisfy the need felt by capitalists (business owners, entrepreneurs, etc.) to justify their rebellion against the monarchy while simultaneously justifying colonialism, Manifest Destiny, the genocide of indigenous people, chattel slavery, and the active suppression of workers’ rights. A core tenet of this capitalist ideology was that landed aristocrats were unworthy rulers, and that hereditary succession was stifling economic development, but they were not at all opposed to the existence of a ruling class; they hoped for a meritocracy that would recognize genius as its ruling principle. And so, as capitalist revolutions overthrew the feudal mode of production in favor of capitalism and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, doctrines of divine right in large part gave way to a more suitably modern myth: race science.

The works of liberal luminaries throughout this early period substantiate Losurdo’s thesis.

John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and its president from 1797 to 1801, published the following under a pseudonym in 1765:

We won’t be their negroes. Providence never designed us for negroes, I know, for if it had it wou’d have given us black hides, and thick lips, and flat noses, and short woolly hair, which it han’t done, and therefore never intended us for slaves. This I know is good a sillogissim as any at colledge, I say we are as handsome as old England folks, and so should be as free. [6]

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French philosopher who achieved prestige as one of the foremost observers and representatives of the Liberal tradition in defense of the American and French revolutions, in 1833:

The European race has received from Providence, or has acquired by its own efforts, so incontestable a superiority over all the other races which compose the great human family, that the individual, placed with us, by his vices and his ignorance, on the lowest step of society, is yet the first among savages. [7]

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who would go on to be US president from 1901 to 1909, said in 1886:

I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian. Take three hundred low families of New York and New Jersey, support them, for fifty years, in vicious idleness, and you will have some idea of what the Indians are. Reckless, revengeful, fiendishly cruel. [8]

Winston Churchill, who would go on to become the UK’s prime minister during the periods 1940-45 and 1951-55, said in 1902:

I think we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them. I believe that as civilized nations become more powerful they will get more ruthless, and the time will come when the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilized nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China — I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph. [9]

As we can see, impulses we recognize as fascist today — genocidal violence and racial supremacy — were perfectly commonplace, held by highly influential policymakers in the era traditionally thought of as pre-fascist — the idealized Golden Era of competitive, entrepreneurial capitalism. Contrary to the liberal myth of boundless political pluralism, no domestic challenge in the US, the UK, or France ever rose to the stature of even a serious speedbump to the genocidal violence of primitive accumulation.

Now, murder and theft are a matter of naked force, but dehumanization is the product of a whole superstructure of juridical, psychological, and pseudo-scientific excuses built to justify said violence. Aboriginal people inhabited the land we now know as Australia for over 50,000 continuous years, but European jurisprudence had no problem declaring it terra nullius [no man’s land] in 1788. The pattern repeats everywhere: the genocide of indigenous people in the countries now called “Canada” and “the United States” was carried out not only with complete impunity, but with acclaim; the colonization of “Africa” and “Asia” was framed as a “civilizing mission.”

The farce of “civilizing” rhetoric did find fierce opponents in Europe, however. Marx and Engels’ writing, which would go on to contribute to the Russian and Chinese revolutions and subsequent decolonial struggles, stood out for its denunciations of capitalist hypocrisy and colonial violence (albeit usually centering the emancipation of “advanced capitalist” workers):

The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked. [10]

Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin when in the black it is branded. [11]

A people which oppresses another cannot emancipate itself. [12]

At this point in time socialism was still a minor force, little more than an instinctive protest against the manifest brutality of capitalism. Its first significant victory still lay ahead, with the Paris Commune of 1870-71, but its star was rising fast.

Alongside this upsurge of progressive opposition to liberalism, the ranks of a reactionary opposition also began to swell. As Ishay Landa documents, 19th century liberal writers like John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Max Weber expressed anxiety rather than triumphalism: “there is clearly something ominous and disquieting, from a bourgeois and pro-capitalist point of view, in the way capitalism itself is shaping up, politically, socially, culturally.” [13]

Both Losurdo and Landa identify Friedrich Nietzsche as one of the most eloquent representatives of this tendency:

[W]e are by no means ‘liberal’; we are not working for ‘progress’; […] we contemplate the necessity for new orders as well as for a new slavery — for every strengthening and enhancement of the human type also involves a new kind of enslavement. [14]

As Losurdo demonstrates in Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel — another monumental work — Nietzsche tenaciously pursued, through various experimental phases, a consistent project of understanding the true source of the “historical sickness” of modernity and its tendency towards — and Nietzsche was not alone in thinking so — a mediocre egalitarianism. Nietzsche, like Marx and Engels, treated liberal hypocrisy and its pseudo-scientific rationalization with disdain. However, he stood at the opposite end of that contradiction. Unlike the forward-looking Marx and Engels, he identified the heights of human civilization in an idealized version of Ancient Greece, and was horrified by both the French Revolution and the Paris Commune. Nietzsche went so far as to identify “the knife-thrust of the [Socratic] syllogism” as the beginning of the end, the first gesture of the resentful slaves’ rebellion against their betters:

Socrates belonged, in his origins, to the lowest orders: Socrates was rabble. One knows, one sees for oneself, how ugly he was. […] With Socrates Greek taste undergoes a change in favour of dialectics: what is really happening when that happens? It is above all the defeat of a nobler taste; with dialectics the rabble gets on top. [15]

Marxists around the world would do the exact opposite: they would look optimistically ahead, dialectically treating time and change as an ally rather than a threat.

The three ideologies mentioned at the outset thus come into focus in their respective relationships to the institution of slavery: where liberals were greatly concerned with attempting to find lasting justifications for certain kinds of subjugation and not others, and socialists aimed to abolish slavery in all its forms, Nietzsche’s camp sought to transcend the vulgar need to even have to justify the practice. The tragic philosopher and his sympathizers speculated that slavery, as the fullest expression of inequality, was an inherent and even romantic aspect — maybe the defining aspect — of the human condition. This was an inescapable truth that should be embraced without apology by those capable of embracing it: the Übermenschen.

20th Century, Part I: Socialist Revolution and Fascist Counter-Revolution?

Let us look a century ahead, let us suppose that my attentat on two millennia of anti-nature and the violation of man succeeds. That party of life which takes in hand the greatest of all tasks, the higher breeding of humanity, together with the remorseless extermination of all degenerate and parasitic elements, will again make possible on earth that superfluity of life out of which the dionysian condition must again proceed.
 — Friedrich Nietzsche, 1872. [16]

What is fascism but colonialism at the very heart of traditionally colonialist countries?
 — Frantz Fanon, 1961. [17]

Briefly: in 1914 all major European empires engaged in total war against each other due to an unstable balance of powers in continental Europe resulting from inter-imperialist competition, clashing chauvinistic nationalisms, and fantasies of war turning “boys into men.” The Great War was momentous not only materially, in terms of death and destruction, but also as an ideological blow to the prevailing notion that “European civilization” was inevitable. Its brutality radicalized Russians to the point that the Bolsheviks managed a successful socialist revolution in emphatic rejection of the old world, ending the Russian Empire and founding the first workers’ state. [18] Meanwhile, Germany was humiliated in a defeat that vaguely implicated German communists, French and British empires were shaken, and the position of America on the world stage was greatly enhanced.

By this time, the world had already been fully carved up by seafaring European empires. Great powers had negotiated with each other and parceled distant peoples into “nations” by drawing straight lines on maps. They arbitrarily enforced languages and replaced traditions, installed ruthless repressive and extractive institutions, and basically did everything they could to efficiently funnel wealth from colonies back to the imperial core. These genocides were discussed euphemistically with names like “the Scramble for Africa,” “the Great Game,” and “the Age of Discovery.” As Lenin’s Imperialism lays out, looting and plunder were simply the biggest business of the era.

The Italian “National Fascist Party” officially inaugurated fascism as an avowed political project in 1922. The fascist countries — Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan — had something in common in the runup to the “World Anti-Fascist War” (as the “Second World War” is known in China): they were independent nation-states with advanced capitalist economies that were nonetheless colony-poor. These “middle countries” occupied a tier above colonized and vassalized territories in Africa, South America, and Asia, but a tier below veritable empires like the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Spain is a case in point: it had once been a colonial power, but around the turn of the century, after losing the Spanish-American War of 1898, it was forced to cede Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. This loss, alongside a wave of Latin American independence movements, reduced Spain’s status to that of a mere nation-state, and simultaneously vaulted the United States into the ranks of the major imperial powers. Imperialism had become a zero-sum game, which explains why capitalists in fascist countries were feeling left out.

Modern retellings of this history, just ast they embellish the extent to which the Founding Fathers were motivated by “love of freedom,” deliberately muddle the logical sequence of events that led to Axis expansionism, obscuring its economic rationale in favor of the psychopathology of an evil clique of usurpers.

As it turns out, Adolph Hitler was heavily inspired by the way the United States eliminated and subjugated Black and Indigenous people, and explicitly sought to replicate the feats of American “Manifest Destiny.” As Losurdo recounts, “With the unleashing of the war in the East, Hitler set about constructing the ‘German Indies,’ as they were sometimes called, or conquering a Lebensraum similar to the Far West.” [19]

From Hitler’s infamous Mein Kampf [My Struggle], published in 1925:

There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship laws] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the American Union, in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially. By refusing immigration on principle to elements in poor health, by simply excluding certain races from naturalization, it professes in slow beginnings a view which is peculiar to the folkish state concept. [20]

From his 1942 recollections:

The struggle we are waging [in Crimea] against the Partisans resembles very much the struggle in North America against the Red Indians. Victory will go to the strong, and strength is on our side. At all costs we will establish law and order there. […] Saxony, for example, will enjoy an unprecedented trade boom, and we shall create for her a most profitable export market, which it will be the task of Saxon inventive genius to develop. [21]

The resonance of these statements with those given earlier is unflattering to liberalism. Is it any surprise that they are not in broad circulation? It’s not hard to see why pop historians prefer to portray Hitler in apolitical terms as a tragically frustrated painter, thereby distancing him from his ideological forebears.

Hitler’s businesslike attitude was shared by Henirich Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust, who in 1943 said:

One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent, loyal and friendly to members of our blood and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Such good blood of our own kind as there may be among the nations we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the children and bringing them up among us. Whether the other peoples live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; apart from that it does not interest me. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only in so far as the tank ditch is completed for Germany. [22]

The same logic was manifest in fascist Japan’s brutality throughout Asia, and with Italy’s conquest of Abyssinia — the Empire of Ethiopia — in 1935. If Spain did not make much headway in “recovering past glory,” it’s because fascists there had a harder time repressing domestic opposition than they did elsewhere.

Moreover, the process of “traditional” colonization that fascists drew inspiration from was far from over. Winston Churchill expressed himself in practically identical terms in 1937, in the context of Britain offering support to Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine:

I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, “The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here.” They had not the right, nor had they the power. [23]

Shortly thereafter, in 1943, he had this to say about Britain’s colonial subjects in India, three to four million of whom were just then starving to death as a result of Churchill’s own policies:

“I hate Indians,” he told the Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery. “They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” The famine was their own fault, he declared at a war-cabinet meeting, for “breeding like rabbits.” [24]

At this point, when confronted with such callousness and explicit indifference to human suffering, when the existence of a hard line dividing liberalism and fascism is challenged, liberals tend to fall back on a classic eurocentric canard: “Everyone was racist back then.” It is worthwhile, then, to take note of how the leading statesman of the socialist camp, widely viewed after the fact as a deranged butcher and anti-intellectual thug, expressed himself in the same period.

Joseph V. Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1952, corresponded with an American news agency about the matter of antisemitism in 1931:

National and racial chauvinism is a vestige of the misanthropic customs characteristic of the period of cannibalism. Anti-semitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism.

Anti-semitism is of advantage to the exploiters as a lightning conductor that deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism. Anti-semitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of anti-semitism.

In the U.S.S.R. anti-semitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active anti-semites are liable to the death penalty. [25]

These quotes seriously call into question the default hermeneutics of suspicion that colors all Western appraisals of Stalin. This is because, just as Marx and Engels denounced colonialism on the basis of Western workers’ collective self-interest in emancipation, Stalin’s rejection of antisemitism isn’t just a moral posture, it’s functional. We don’t need to trust Stalin to understand that what he is saying makes sense regardless of what we imagine his private prejudice to be. Compared to the liberal psychopathology that passes as history, Stalin’s metaphor offers a far superior explanation for why the industrial bourgeoisie in control of Germany would find it useful to engage in antisemitic propaganda: “it deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism.”

Stalin rejected the doctrine of racial supremacy even more emphatically in a report to the 17th Party Congress in 1934, in which he discusses Hitler’s project of expansion:

Still others think that war should be organised by a “superior race,” say, the German “race,” against an “inferior race,” primarily against the Slavs; that only such a war can provide a way out of the situation, for it is the mission of the “superior race” to render the “inferior race” fruitful and to rule over it.

Let us assume that this queer theory, which is as far removed from science as the sky from the earth, let us assume that this queer theory is put into practice. What may be the result of that? It is well known that ancient Rome looked upon the ancestors of the present-day Germans and French in the same way as the representatives of the “superior race” now look upon the Slav races. It is well known that ancient Rome treated them as an “inferior race,” as “barbarians,” destined to live in eternal subordination to the “superior race,” to “great Rome,” and, between ourselves be it said, ancient Rome had some grounds for this, which cannot be said of the representatives of the “superior race” of today. (Thunderous applause.)

But what was the upshot of this? The upshot was that the non-Romans, i.e., all the “barbarians,” united against the common enemy and brought Rome down with a crash. The question arises: What guarantee is there that the claims of the representatives of the “superior race” of today will not lead to the same lamentable results? What guarantee is there that the fascist literary politicians in Berlin will be more fortunate than the old and experienced conquerors in Rome? Would it not be more correct to assume that the opposite will be the case? [26]

At no point did Stalin mistake Hitler for anything remotely resembling an ally. He expressed his concern with fascist expansionism again in an interview with American newspaperman Roy W. Howard, conducted in 1936:

In my opinion there are two seats of war danger. The first is in the Far East, in the zone of Japan. I have in mind the numerous statements made by Japanese military men containing threats against other powers. The second seat is in the zone of Germany. It is hard to say which is the most menacing, but both exist and are active. Compared with these two principal seats of war danger, the Italian-Abyssinian war is an episode. At present, the Far Eastern seat of danger reveals the greatest activity. However, the centre of this danger may shift to Europe. This is indicated, for example, by the interview which Herr Hitler recently gave to a French newspaper. In this interview Hitler seems to have tried to say peaceful things, but he sprinkled his “peacefulness” so plentifully with threats against both France and the Soviet Union that nothing remained of his “peacefulness.” You see, even when Herr Hitler wants to speak of peace he cannot avoid uttering threats. This is symptomatic. [27]

Compare those statements with these, made by Winston Churchill in 1935:

We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilization will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought it back serene, helpful and strong, to the forefront of the European family circle. [28]

Churchill, once again, addressing the House of Commons in 1937:

I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism. [29]

To give a sense of how widespread this attitude was — certainly not limited to Churchill — listen to how Mackenzie King, prime minister of Canada from 1935 to 1948, gushed about meeting Hitler in 1937:

“As I talked with him, I could not but think of Joan of Arc,” wrote King in his diary that night. The entry overflowed with pages of near-infatuation for Hitler. The German leader was “eminently wise,” a “mystic,” a “deliverer of his people from tyranny.” King went into obsessive detail about Hitler’s background, his vegetarianism, his love of nature, his alleged religiousness. He remembered every detail from the meeting: How Hitler positioned his hands, what he was wearing, his “knowing smile” and his “smooth” skin.

The racist extremism of the Nazis was no secret when King arrived in the Third Reich. Public book burnings had been staged as early as 1933 and German Jews were being progressively stripped of their property, employment and rights. Only two months before King’s arrival in Berlin, in fact, the city’s mayor had effectively banned Jewish children from attending public school. Meanwhile, Germany was rearming. Troops had already marched into the demilitarized Rhineland, openly violating the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

King didn’t just believe Hitler; he called [one of Hitler’s statements about peace] a “real note of humility.” [30]

Harry Truman, a US congressman who would shortly become vice president and, with Roosevelt’s death, president from 1945 to 1953, said the following on the floor of the US Senate on 23 June 1941:

If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. [31]

In this context we can understand why, when the Soviet Union reached out to Western countries for a military alliance against Hitler, the offer was rejected:

Papers which were kept secret for almost 70 years show that the Soviet Union proposed sending a powerful military force in an effort to entice Britain and France into an anti-Nazi alliance.

The offer of a military force to help contain Hitler was made by a senior Soviet military delegation at a Kremlin meeting with senior British and French officers, two weeks before war broke out in 1939.

But the British and French side — briefed by their governments to talk, but not authorised to commit to binding deals — did not respond to the Soviet offer, made on August 15, 1939. Instead, Stalin turned to Germany, signing the notorious non-aggression treaty with Hitler barely a week later. [32]

The Soviet Union’s leadership was not oblivious to the fact that, for the rulers in every established empire and fascist upstart, the USSR was an illegitimate and dangerous power, a conspiracy of “the rabble” — unpatriotic Judeo-Bolsheviks and Slavs. With the Munich Agreement of 1938 — a year before the Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was signed — the UK, France, and Italy agreed to placate Hitler by carving the Sudetenland, home to more than three million people, out of Czechoslovakia and handing it to Germany. Atrocious deals were being cut with Nazi Germany while sensible ones with the Soviet Union were scuttled because liberalism and fascism saw eye to eye on two crucial issues: bourgeois rule and racial supremacy.

Let’s return to the matter of antisemitism and dehumanization. The Holocaust is often distinguished from other atrocities in terms of 1) its industrial character, and 2) the fact that it denied the humanity of people who were largely accepted as human by the “civilized” world.

That it was carried out through industrial means speaks primarily to the industrial means available to the Nazi war machine. The Nazis were certainly not historically unique in using the latest technology to kill innocents — early American settlers were pioneers in bioterrorism long before the Manhattan Project or drone warfare. Moreover, such creativity has never been restricted to “guns, germs, and steel.” Benjamin Franklin’s memoirs show how the project of American genocide came to understand the effectiveness of alcohol as a weapon:

If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the sea-coast. [33]

The second characteristic is more distinctively disturbing: the aggressive ambition and scope of fascist dehumanization. Nazi Germany declared Slavs and Jews subhumans in the face of, because of, their obviously rising fortunes, and Japan declared all other Asian ethnicities inferior in total disregard for their obvious historical greatness. These weren’t arbitrary hare-brained prejudices that could just as easily have been otherwise, if only there had been the right friendly intervention on the right set of people, or “more historical awareness,” as is sometimes claimed. Dehumanization was a necessary logical precondition to justify declaring the lands in Eastern Europe and around Japan terra nullius, to justify the imperialist expansive drive into a fully “discovered” and occupied world. In other words, fascist race science played, in the first half of the 20th century, exactly the same role that liberal race science played throughout the “Age of Discovery,” just directed against a different set of targets and with the entire world, now vocal and interconnected, bearing witness.

In 1942, Stalin made the following remark:

It is very likely that the war for the liberation of the Soviet land will result in ousting or destroying Hitler’s clique. We should welcome such an outcome. But it would be ridiculous to identify Hitler’s clique with the German people and the German State. History shows that Hitlers come and go, but the German people and the German State remain. Lastly, the strength of the Red Army lies in the fact that it does not and cannot entertain racial hatred for other peoples, including the German people, that it has been brought up in the spirit of the equality of all peoples and races, in the spirit of respect for the rights of other peoples. [34]

Observe how Franklin D. Roosevelt, speaking in 1944, took essentially the opposite view:

We have got to be tough with Germany[,] and I mean the German people[,] not just the Nazis. We either have to castrate the German people or you have to treat them in such a manner so they can’t go on reproducing. [35]

Roosevelt’s comments foreshadow what many of us already know: the formal defeat of the self-declared fascist powers would not, in fact, mean the end of fascism as a political philosophy.

20th Century, Part II: Modern Liberalism and the Invention of “Totalitarianism”

Twenty-four years of discipline and labor have created an eternal glory, the name of which is the Red Army. Anyone who loves freedom owes such a debt to the Red Army that it can never be repaid.
 — Ernest Hemingway, 1942. [36]

We do not forget the humane attitude of the Soviet Union who was the only one among the big powers to open her doors to hundreds of thousands of Jews when Nazi armies were advancing on Poland.
 — Albert Einstein, 1945. [37]

In 1939, the US turned away the passenger ship MS St. Louis, which held nearly a thousand Jewish refugees from Europe. After their return to Europe, 254 of them died in the Holocaust. Just a year later, the Soviet Union welcomed “hundreds of thousands of Jews” escaping Nazi persecution. How could the US come back from this? How could it come back from joining the war late, deliberately letting the Soviet Union absorb fifty times the casualties suffered by the Americans, as per Truman’s explicit recommendation? How could it come back from dropping nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians for no discernible reason other than to threaten the Soviet Union, horrifying the world? [38]

As it turned out, on top of a worldwide campaign of anticommunist terrorism and mass murder, [39] the US would successfully invert known history with the most sophisticated, long-running, and thoroughgoing propaganda campaign to date. It would avail itself of radio, film, and television in unprecedented ways. Our focus, however, is on that campaign’s ideological cornerstone, a project that Western propagandists uphold with iron discipline even today: the invention of the category of “totalitarianism.”

Hannah Arendt, a German-born Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, became an American citizen in 1950. A year later, her book The Origins of Totalitarianism catapulted her into intellectual stardom. Her own personal experience surviving fascism gave her unassailable credibility and helped secure its place in the canon. But her criticism was not reserved for fascism alone. In the book, she denounced fascism and communism in roughly symmetrical terms, as different expressions of the long-term danger posed by the “mass man”:

What will happen once the authentic mass man takes over, we do not know yet, although it may be a fair guess that he will have more in common with the meticulous, calculated correctness of Himmler than with the hysterical fanaticism of Hitler, will more resemble the stubborn dullness of Molotov than the sensual vindictive cruelty of Stalin. [40]

Elsewhere in the same work, she took pains to distinguish settler-colonialism in South Africa from “totalitarianism”:

[Natives] were, as it were, “natural” human beings who lacked the specifically human character, the specifically human reality, so that when European men massacred them they somehow were not aware that they had committed murder. Moreover, the senseless massacre of native tribes on the Dark Continent was quite in keeping with the traditions of these tribes themselves. [40]

Regardless of whether they were more “fanatical” or “clinical,” the totalitarians were “aware that they had committed murder,” whereas colonizers were relatively in the clear, as their “senseless massacres” were carried out against creatures who “lacked the specifically human character.” This formulation essentially updates John Seeley’s infamous 19th-century apologia for the British Empire (“We seem, as it were, to have conquered half the world in a fit of absence of mind”) for a new era in which independent states were becoming powerful enough to challenge the hegemony of the North Atlantic powers. Arendt takes up Seeley’s claim and turns it into the key difference between (forgivable) colonialism and (criminal) fascism and socialism: colonization was accidentally inflicted on savages, whereas fascism deliberately enslaved people, and socialism deliberately expropriated capitalists. The rise of the West is imagined as a natural project, rendering the socialist and fascist projects both anti-natural by contrast. On this view, it hardly matters whether the radicals’ intentions were good or evil, or what outcomes were achieved — all that matters is that they are radical, that they’re challenging something that was meant to be.

In 1957, Arendt clarified her basic commitments in an appalling essay that her fans on the Left still struggle to excuse, analyzing the tensions that school integration had stoked in a racially segregated America:

But the principle of equality, even in its American form, is not omnipotent; it cannot equalize natural, physical characteristics. It is therefore quite possible that the achievement of social, economic and educational equality for the Negro may sharpen the color problem in this country instead of assuaging it. The right to free association, and therefore to discrimination, has greater validity than the principle of equality. [41]

Thus was the perspective of the foremost expert on “totalitarianism,” namesake of the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism in Dresden, Germany.

Another widely revered critic of “totalitarianism” was George Orwell. In 1946 he explained his mission:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. [42]

A little bolder than Arendt, a little spicier, Orwell claimed fidelity to a “democratic” socialism (the redundant modifier always indicates a rejection and condemnation of other socialisms). Unsurprisingly, Western authorities were all too happy to have his assistance in their struggle against the Soviet Union. They boosted his work enthusiastically, with the CIA going so far as to fully fund the first film adaptation of his Trotskyism-for-kids book, Animal Farm. [43]

Orwell also worked as a snitch for British Intelligence, informing them about potential communist subversives in the London intellectual scene:

There is a notable and obvious overlap in Orwell’s notebook between many of 1940s London’s prominent gay, Jewish and anti-colonial public figures and the accused “cryptos.” Orwell’s bigoted commentaries fill his suspects notebook. Jews are clearly labeled (“Polish Jew,” “English Jew,” “Jewess”) whilst others were mislabeled (“Charlie Chaplin — Jewish?”). The African-American bass singer and future civil rights activist Paul Robeson finds himself in Orwell’s list with the note “very anti-white,” whilst the half-Jewish poet Stephen Spender is damned as a “sentimental sympathiser… tendency towards homosexuality.” [44]

Writing in 1941 about his less-than-patriotic peers and their criticisms of the British Empire, Orwell does not hesitate to pin “part[ial] responsib[ility]” for Nazi aggression on them:

England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. [45]

Orwell fulminated against socialists in England for their lack of loyalty in much the same way that Arendt scolded America’s critics: dogmatic ingrates, unaware of how good they have it. Since they both preached the “twin evil” doctrine that anticommunist crusaders found so useful, these mediocre writers were showered with accolades and reprints. Their road to stardom was cleared by intelligence agencies that, throughout the Cold War and well into the twenty-first century, never once let up disappearing, silencing, marginalizing, and murdering the “hard” (i.e. communist) Left.

Now although these cultural Cold Warriors are exemplary of an intellectual trend, they were not in official positions of power. It’s useful to observe how the same collection of attitudes were expressed by someone who worked as an architect of American empire during this time.

In 1946, George Kennan, one of the men behind the “Truman Doctrine” and the “Marshall Plan,” reflected somberly on the geopolitical challenge posed by the Soviet Union:

The first thing that strikes me about measures of pressure is that they differ significantly in the case of totalitarian and democratic states. […] It would be a mistake to overrate the usefulness of the economic weapons when they are used as a means of counterpressure against great totalitarian states, especially when those states are themselves economically powerful. This is particularly true of the Soviet Union, because the Soviet leaders consistently place politics ahead of economics on every occasion when there is a showdown. [46]

In this peculiar passage, Kennan advocates for “democracy” and against “totalitarianism.” What does this mean exactly? What does it mean to put “politics ahead of economics,” and how is it characteristically totalitarian and anti-democratic? In a declassified top secret memo from 1948, Kennan expresses himself more freely, providing a much clearer picture:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. [47]

This is the mature and sober realpolitik that has driven anticommunist terrorism around the world for the past 70 years. Perhaps we could try to maintain a distinction between outright fascism and modern liberalism in terms of the fact that animosity on the basis of race plays a such a minor role in the latter, but even this meager distinction gets smashed to pieces by an examination of Kennan’s diary entries from 1978:

[Kennan] envisions all of humanity destined to “melt into a vast polyglot mass,” with only the Chinese, Jews, and blacks remaining apart. “Could this mean that these three minorities are destined to subjugate and dominate all as an uneasy but unavoidable triumvirate the rest of society — the Chinese by their combination of intelligence, ruthlessness, and ant-like industriousness; the Jews by their sheer determination to survive as a culture; the Negroes by their ineradicable bitterness and hatred of the whites?” [48]

In the absence of any significant points of disagreement, it seems as though the “fascist literary politicians” Stalin mocked in an earlier era, the Hitlers and Mussolinis, distinguished themselves from later Cold Warriors primarily by openly aspiring to a better position among the imperial powers, rather than operating covertly and with impunity from atop “the greatest country in the world.”

The myth of “totalitarianism” allowed Western propagandists to dramatically rewrite history, accusing socialists of kinship with fascists while simultaneously recruiting and installing fascists in power everywhere — Wernher von Braun, Walter Hallstein, Adolf Heusinger, Kurt Waldheim, Klaus Barbie, Nobusuke Kishi, Augusto Pinochet, Syngman Rhee, Suharto… the list is endless. The world was terrorized into erecting diplomatic and economic barricades against the Soviet Union, and the first anti-imperialist workers’ state was eventually strangled to death.

Far from disappearing with the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the myth of “totalitarianism” survived. It prevails today as a permanent staple of US propaganda against any country whose government refuses to bow to the supreme wisdom of “liberal democracy” and “free markets.” Alongside its role as a foreign policy weapon, the myth of “twin totalitarianisms” plays a domestic role as well, embrittling any effort to organize against capitalism even in the face of climate apocalypse. Any form of discipline other than that which carries the market’s seal of approval has become associated with horror and cruelty.

At the same time, wherever this propaganda program was foiled, communism survived. During the COVID-19 pandemic, though it was denounced as “authoritarian” by every newspaper in the West (including more than a few “leftist” outlets), swift state intervention in socialist states saved millions of lives. Humans asserted themselves over the genocidal will of capital.

It brings to mind a question raised by Fidel Castro in 1993:

Neither China nor Vietnam has self-destructed. We speak so much about the socialism that disappeared in the Soviet Union, why don’t we speak about Chinese socialism? [49]

The matter of the West’s particular affinity for propaganda about “totalitarianism” must be understood, and this understanding provides a way out of our predicament.

Marx, Nietzsche, and the Conscious Pursuit

In our story so far, Nietzsche and the question of symmetries and anti-symmetries between Nietzsche and Marx have sat unattended in the background. Now is the time to bring them to the fore and to explain why I consider them so useful.

Consider how Nietzsche talked about masks:

Every profound spirit needs a mask. Even more, around every profound spirit a mask is continually growing. [50]

Contrast this with the way Marx and Engels publicized their commitments, and encouraged others to do so, in The Communist Manifesto:

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. [1]

Consider how an early Nietzsche polemicizes in favour of a “new slavery” and the virtues of the ancients, whereas for Marx there is no question that the greatest hero of antiquity is the leader of slave revolts: “Spartacus is revealed as the most splendid fellow in the whole of ancient history.” [51]

A young Marx, musing on his vision of utopia in The German Ideology, waxes poetic about the possibility of a society freed from the division of labor itself:

In communist society, nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. [52]

Nietzsche, meanwhile, in Human, All Too Human, describes a different kind of utopia, a grim society organized around the harsh exigencies of breeding genius in the midst of scarcity:

My Utopia. — In a better arranged society the heavy work and trouble of life will be assigned to those who suffer least through it, to the most obtuse, therefore; and so step by step up to those who are most sensitive to the highest and sublimest kinds of suffering, and who therefore still suffer notwithstanding the greatest alleviations of life. [53]

Nietzsche was no fool. It would be a mistake to dismiss these aphorisms as the antisocial madness of a lone misanthrope; to recall Waite, Nietzsche’s project is “the only position outside communism.” Nietzsche is articulating widespread skepticism about the ability of socialism to deliver mass happiness, and his critique resonates powerfully with anyone who feels their individuality imperiled by a collective. Stalin (and his cohort) claimed Marx, while Hitler (and his cohort) claimed Nietzsche… and the majority of the Western world went on to claim Nietzsche too. Just take a trip to your local bookstore — everything Nietzsche ever wrote is now a classic that never goes out of print, finding its way into teenagers’ backpacks and academic seminars alike.

Accusing Nietzsche of being a proto-fascist, or even the ur-fascist, in a public setting has predictable consequences: his countless fans swarm to explain that he never actually endorsed the Nazi party because he was already dead, that any linkages to the Nazi project are the result of a conspiracy orchestrated by his German-nationalist sister, that he denounced German ethnonationalists and mocked antisemites, that his philosophy was in fact aesthetic and spiritual and anti-systematic and impossible to pin down, and that he grew out of any misguided ideas he may have held in his youth.

Domenico Losurdo examines each of these defenses in detail, including the conspiracy theory, in his critical biography of Nietzsche. Nietzsche comes across as a powerful and complex thinker, who indeed went through multiple phases and espoused contradictory beliefs, but Losurdo shows that one thing remains constant: Nietzsche never stopped experimenting to find the best way to oppose the egalitarian leveling tendencies of modernity that he despised. Funnily enough, after exposing the extent to which Nietzsche corresponded with out-and-out antisemites in his youth, Losurdo cedes some ground to Nietzsche’s apologists:

Cosima’s advice to be careful about what he said may have had a positive effect: far from remaining confined to the verbal level, the self-censorship led to a kind of sublimation and transcendence of immediacy, in the sense that the merciless analysis of modernity became to a certain extent autonomous of the Judeophobic themes that accompanied it. [54]

In other words, when his antisemitic interlocutors advised Nietzsche to mask racism in his writing, they inadvertently spurred him to find justifications for slavery and elitism that weren’t rooted in the all-too-modern and universalist (and thus unstable, empirically refutable) arguments of “race science.” After all, “race science” is, both historically and logically, a liberal concept. If racial differences turn out not to be inherent, there goes the whole (liberal) argument for white supremacy. Liberal racism still feels the need to justify itself in scientific, i.e. universalist terms. As Nietzsche correctly observed, this is already a capitulation to socialism, which wins more the more people scientifically reason together. To truly condemn socialism, Nietzsche painted the issue of class domination as one of will, aesthetics, “freedom,” and spirit.

Just as the material conditions of capitalist countries vying for resources on an already-occupied planet helped us understand fascism as a geopolitical phenomenon rather than a psychopathology, Nietzsche helps us understand the real ideological appeal of fascism for ordinary, educated people. Nietzsche helps explain how fantasies of “slavery” and “extermination” could become respectable and even beautiful. Nietzsche was uniquely talented at making his readers feel special and strong as a reward for embracing his deep, misanthropic pessimism:

May good reason preserve us from the belief that someday or other humanity will discover an ultimate, ideal order and that then happiness will shine down with constant intensity upon the people ordered in this way, like the sun in the tropics: […] No golden age, no cloudless sky is allotted to these coming generations. […] Nor will suprahuman goodness and justice stretch like an immobile rainbow over the fields of the future. [55]

We see now why Chinese and Soviet masses generate such widespread revulsion among the would-be aristocrats of the West, how even Western proletarians feel comfortable referring to them as gullible “herds” and “insects.” Nietzschean thought, unlike Hitlerian thought, is widely respected and acknowledged as an influence by powerful people in just about every institution in our society: in an academic setting (Hannah Arendt, Jordan Peterson), in mass media (superhero movies, Breaking Bad, etc.), and on the Left (Emma Goldman, Mark Fisher, Contrapoints, etc.).

My last argument regards consciousness-raising and self-awareness.

We’ve established that Marx used the concept of “primitive accumulation” to describe one of the operational aspects of capitalism. But Marx also discussed “primitive communism,” in reference to the solidarity and camaraderie that was necessary for the survival of early human societies, because it bore an important resemblance to future communist society.

According to Marx, solidary forms of social organization that in the past had arisen simply out of need and circumstance, which were equally superseded by need and circumstance (by the efficient oppression of man by man, by slavery), were to make an emancipatory comeback. However, this time around they would be enshrined and protected by masses of conscious workers, workers who know the value of their labour, who demand an economy that they have made, that they know they have made, and that they are capable of remaking ongoingly. [56]

Nietzsche, if we accept the reading of him as the ultimate fascist philosopher, is easily understood as making an analogous plea to his own reactionary constituency. Where Hannah Arendt and John Seeley try claim that Western colonization and slavery were “absentminded” pursuits, Nietzsche persuades readers that there is glory in all of it, if done properly, aesthetically, “beyond good and evil.” Where Marx wants the masses to rediscover “primitive communism,” only this time consciously, Nietzsche wants elites to pursue the brutal programme of “primitive accumulation,” only this time consciously and without private shame.

I say private because, in anti-symmetry with Marx, and fully aware of the danger of letting people know what he’s really about, Nietzsche recommends concealing one’s aims. Thus we come to understand Nietzsche’s warm reception in the liberal West, whose architects turn out to be much better pupils of Nietzsche than the Nazis ever were. George Kennan posits American supremacy as an end in itself, donning a perfectly serviceable mask of liberal pluralism, then goes on to play an important role in planning several decades of “Pax Americana” on the basis of genocidal terrorism. The defining characteristic of the fascist is that they defend their anti-egalitarianism purposefully. The fundamental cleavage between Classical Liberalism and Modern Liberalism is simply the heightened awareness, given the Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions of the 20th century, that it is tactically expedient to wear a mask.

The observation that capitalism always operates in dual aspects (the regime of non-violent exploitation in the core and the regime of violent expropriation in the periphery) is the key to understanding how, though swastikas may be banned and in poor taste, the entire history of the West can be described as deeply fascist:

The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked. [10]

Elevating Nietzsche to the position of ur-fascist means that he is not someone who can be dismissed out of hand. Our task as communists is to prove him wrong.

Conclusion: An ideological-spatial model of Fascism

For this is how things are: the diminution and leveling of European man constitutes our greatest danger, for the sight of him makes us weary. — We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that things will continue to go down, down, to become thinner, more good-natured, more prudent, more comfortable, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian — there is no doubt that man is getting “better” all the time.
 — Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887. [57]

The model of an equilateral triangle, where each of liberalism, fascism, and socialism represents a different vertex, is incorrect. Rajani Palme Dutt’s claims that fascism represents “capitalism in decay” and “the death-rattle of the dying bourgeois civilization” also confuse things. [58] Fascism is as co-constitutive of capitalism as liberalism is. Liberalism corresponds to the operational aspect of surplus value exploitation in the core, whereas fascism corresponds to the operational aspect of primitive accumulation at its temporal and spatial boundaries.

A much-simplified — but still useful — version of the “stagist” Marxist model of historical development looks like this:

  1. Primitive communism
  2. Slavery
  3. Feudalism
  4. Capitalism
  5. Socialism
  6. Communism

Describing fascism as the “death-rattle” of stage four obscures the fact that it has been present from the outset. Fascism is just the operational aspect that the unlucky part of the globe gets to experience capitalism as. We need to expand the model into a second dimension to integrate this understanding.

I propose the following:

  1. Primitive communism
  2. Slavery [59]
  3. Feudalism — Ideological superstructure in defense of divine right (monotheistic hereditary land claims)
  4. Capitalism — Ideological superstructure in defense of individual genius (entrepreneurship, race science, will to power)
    • Expropriative aspect: Primitive accumulation, fascism.
    • Exploitative aspect: Wage labour, liberalism.
  5. Socialism — Ideological superstructure in defense of mass consciousness (Soviets, democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, scientific socialism)
    • Multiple aspects (e.g. “Socialism with X characteristics”)
  6. Communism — Ideological superstructure no longer has any class or state content.

This model conceives of the Axis powers as failed fascist experiments in empire-building, and the North Atlantic empires as successful ones. Fascism as an accusation stops relying on a cartoonish depiction of the Nazis as a cautionary tale of a potential future dystopia. Instead, it captures the fact that vicious dehumanizing brutality is co-constitutive of the violent, white supremacist, “freedom-loving” Western worldview. As Jiang Shigong put it:

This resilience in the face of “challenges” became the savage spirit of “freedom” that Europeans came to cherish, and resistance to pressure and the impetus for world domination were elevated to the position of dominant philosophical ethos. [4]

This model also draws the distinction between socialist and capitalist projects more starkly, and thoroughly rejects the ahistorical notion of “totalitarianism,” as well as any other formulation that casts fascism as a “third way.”

Nietzsche is an essential figure because he’s not confined to either of the two operational aspects of capitalism, and his body of work is hugely influential. Thus, in analyzing his popularity (“the real is rational”), we get to appreciate the ideological appeal of fascism. His metaphysical and aesthetic defense of slavery, along with his appeals to a distinctly European spirit, as beautiful and effective as they may have been to many, reveal that the talented reactionary philosopher couldn’t find any way to counter the growing power and appeal of scientific socialism in rational terms. This understanding should give us the confidence not to lay down what Amílcar Cabral termed “The Weapon of Theory.” “Really Existing Fascism,” however vulgar Nietzsche may have found the compromises made in pursuit of his “new slavery,” should be defeated not only as a practice but also by fully dismantling its reactionary ideal.

Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from Nietzsche: “With dialectics the rabble gets on top.”

Main Reference Works

  • Domenico Losurdo, 2002. Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel.
  • Domenico Losurdo, 2004. Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.
  • Domenico Losurdo, 2005. Liberalism: A Counter-History.
  • Domenico Losurdo, 2008. Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend.
  • Ishay Landa, 2018. Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt Against the Last Humans, 1848-1945.
  • Jiang Shigong, 2021. A History of Empire Without Empire.
  • William C. Roberts, 2017. What Was Primitive Accumulation?

Postscript: A short note on Anarchism

Since we’re discussing two-dimensional models, it would be churlish not to address one popular two-dimensional model and its implications: the two-axis “political compass.”

This diagram, popular among the extremely online, organizes ideologies along a “Left-Right” axis and an “Authoritarian-Libertarian” axis. Anarchism, along with micro-variants like “anarcho-communism” and “libertarian socialism,” then lays claim to the “Left-Libertarian” quadrant, and thus positions itself as one of the Big Four.

To briefly cite some notable anarchist theorists:

The Communism of Marx seeks enormous centralization in the state, and where such exists, there must inevitably be a central state bank, and where such a bank exists, the parasitic Jewish nation, which speculates on the work of the people, will always find a way to prevail. [60]

The multitude, the mass spirit, dominates everywhere, destroying quality. [61]

Nietzsche was not a social theorist but a poet, a rebel and innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was of the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats. [62]

I have no quarrel with libertarians who advance the concept of capitalism of the type that you have advanced. […] Let me make it very plain that if socialism, which is what I call the authoritarian version of collectivism, were to emerge, I would join your [anarcho-capitalist] community. I would migrate to your community and do everything I could to prevent the collectivists from abridging my right to function as I like. [63]

Anarchism is an uninteresting ideological byproduct of capitalism characterized above all by its adherents’ transvaluation of their own irrelevance into a religious virtue. I consider it a minor sibling of liberalism and fascism, sharing all of their Euro-individualist delusions of genius and grandeur.

This is all I will say about it in this context.


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  2. Steve Lalla, December 2020. Marx didn’t invent socialism, nor did he discover it. Monthly Review. [web] 

  3. William C. Roberts, 2017. What Was Primitive Accumulation? Reconstructing the Origin of a Critical Concept. [web] 

  4. Jiang Shigong, 2021. A History of Empire Without Empire. [web] 

  5. Friedrich Engels, 1850. Review of Thomas Carlyle. Neue Rheinische Zeitung Politisch-ökonomische. [web] 

  6. John Adams, 1765-10-14. Humphrey Ploughjogger to the Boston Gazette. Founders Online. [web] 

  7. Alexis de Tocqueville, 1833. On the penitentiary system in the United States, and its application in France. [web] 

  8. Jon Schwarz, 2020-06-22. As Teddy Roosevelt’s Statue Falls, Let’s Remember How Truly Dark His History Was. The Intercept. [web] 

  9. Winston Churchill, 1902. A Midnight Interview. The Winston Churchill Society. [web] 

  10. Karl Marx, 1853-07. The Future Results of British Rule in India. [web] 

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  13. Ishay Landa, 2009. Who’s Afraid of the End of History? [web] 

  14. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882. The Gay Science. 

  15. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1888. The Twilight of the Idols. 

  16. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1972. The Birth of Tragedy. 

  17. Frantz Fanon, 1961. Wretched of the Earth. 

  18. Antonio Gramsci, 1917. The Revolution Against “Das Kapital.” [web] 

  19. Domenico Losurdo, 2014. War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century. Ch. 5, “The Third Reich and the Natives.” 

  20. Adolph Hitler, 1925. Mein Kampf. Vol. 2, Ch. 3. 

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  23. Andrew Roberts, 2018. Churchill: Walking with Destiny. p. cvi [web] 

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  27. J. V. Stalin, 1936-03-01. Interview with Roy Howard. [web] 

  28. Winston Churchill, 1935. Great Contemporaries. [web] 

  29. Winston Churchill, 1937-04-14. Address at the House of Commons, Situation at Bilbao. UK Parliament. (HC Deb 14 April 1937 vol 322 cc1029-145) [web] 

  30. Mackenzie King, 1937. Cited in Tristin Hopper, 2017-05-15. The prime minister with a man crush for Hitler: The day Mackenzie King met the Fuhrer. [web] 

  31. David McCullough, 1992-06-15. Truman. p. 262 (ISBN 978-0-671-45654-2) 

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  35. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in conversation with Henry Morganthau, 1991. Mostly Morganthau — A Family History. New York: Ticknor and Fields, p. 365. 

  36. Ernest Hemingway, 1942. [web] 

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  38. Gar Alperovitz, 2015-08-06. The War Was Won Before Hiroshima — And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It. The Nation. [web] 

  39. An earlier draft described many of these crimes, but it’s hard not to do so without sprawling endlessly. Socialism vs. the CIA is, after all, basically world history since the World Anti-Fascist War. Curious readers can seek out works such as The Jakarta Method (2020), Washington Bullets (2020), and NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (2004) to understand the scale of this project. 

  40. Hannah Arendt, 1950. The Origins of Totalitarianism. 

  41. Hannah Arendt, 1957. Reflections on Little Rock. [web] 

  42. George Orwell, 1946. Why I Write. [web] 

  43. Martin Chilton, 2016-01-21. How the CIA brought Animal Farm to the screen. The Telegraph [web] 

  44. Ben Judah, 2021-07-16. Why I’ve Had Enough of George Orwell. [web] 

  45. George Orwell, 1941. England Your England. [web] 

  46. George F. Kennan, 1946. Measures Short of War. American Foreign Service Association. [web] 

  47. George F. Kennan, 1948-02-24. Report by the Policy Planning Staff. United States Office of the Historian. [web] 

  48. David Greenberg, 2014-04-19. U.S. Cold War Policy Was Designed by a Bigot. The New Republic. [web] 

  49. Fidel Castro, 1993. Interview with Jas Gawronski. La Stampa. [web] 

  50. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886. Beyond Good And Evil. 

  51. Karl Marx, 1861. Letter from Marx to Engels In Manchester. [web] 

  52. Karl Marx, 1845. The German Ideology. [web] 

  53. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1878. Human, All Too Human. [web] 

  54. Domenico Losurdo, 2002. Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel. Section 1.5.6. 

  55. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1876. Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. [web] 

  56. Christian Thorne, 2017. Marx’s Philosophical Context. [web] 

  57. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals. 

  58. Rajani Palme Dutt, 1934. Fascism and Social Revolution. [web] 

  59. We can certainly speculate about how to backport this schema; perhaps polytheism could be argued to correlate in some way with granting slave-masters everyday power over life and death? Exploring that possibility is beyond the scope of this essay. 

  60. Mikhail Bakunin, 1871. Bakunin on Marx and Rothschild. [web] 

  61. Emma Goldman, 1917. Minorities versus Majorities. [web] 

  62. Emma Goldman, 1931. Living My Life. [web] 

  63. Murray Bookchin, 1979-10. Interview with Jeff Riggenbach. Reason Magazine. [web]