Historically, fascism has always been associated with imperialism: Hitler’s grand ambition, after all, was Germanlebensraum in a Russia cleansed of Slavs and Jews, whilst Mussolini sought to create a new Roman Empire in North Africa. This is hardly surprising, given that the ultra-imperialist Pan-German League was, according to Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann, the “direct ideological forerunner” of the Nazis, whilst Mussolini’s movement was born of dashed territorial hopes following the first world war. Likewise, today’s British National Party has its roots in the League of Empire Loyalists, a pressure group to resist decolonisation within the Conservative party, whilst most of the fascist formations in France, including the Front National, emerged from the OAS, a group of French military officers committed to maintaining Algeria in the French Empire. In the words of Alexander Reid-Ross*, “Historically speaking, fascism is not a derogation from imperialism, but a deepening of it – perhaps even a force majeure, a consequence of the momentum of centuries of crusades, colonialism, and imperialism through which Europe began to colonise itself”.
Yet, the fascism of today increasingly proclaims itself as proudlyanti-imperialist, opposed to the wars and austerity packages of the ‘globalists’, and apparently ready to staunchly defend those nations at the receiving end of empire’s military and economic aggression from Syria and Libya to Russia and Greece. The BNP opposed the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst the Front National maintains close ties to the West’s enemy of choice in Moscow, and neofascist networks are at the forefront of online ‘solidarity’ networks against US intrigue in Syria, Ukraine and Iran. What is going on?
In reality, anti-imperialism, just like nationalism, has always had its reactionary as well as its progressive variants. In 1873, Europe and America was plunged into a ‘Great Depression’ which lasted almost a quarter of a century. This triggered a new wave of colonial conquest, including the so-called ‘Scramble for Africa’ – but it also triggered a wave of almost millennial pessimism amongst European thinkers who saw economic decline as a harbinger of the collapse of western society at large. It was this intellectual environment that spawned theorists such as Charles Henry Pearson and Herbert Spencer, who saw imperialism as a force which, far from regenerating Europe, would ultimately destroy it. Not only was the ‘civilising mission’ rendered futile, they argued, by the genetic and cultural backwardness of non-Europeans; but by bringing Europeans into contact with supposedly inferior peoples, imperialism promoted a miscegenation that would fatally undermine the virility of the master race. In other words, these men opposed imperialism precisely because they were racist: the debate over imperialism, on both sides, was being fought strictly within the parameters of white supremacy.
John M Hobson, in his monumental survey The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics 1760-2010, notes that “in many racist texts it was assumed that the whites are destined to expand while the lower races will remain within their stationary limits. But in Pearson’s racist imagination it is the white West that is fated to remain within its stationary limits while the yellow races are destined to expand and triumph over the higher whites.” For Pearson, imperialism facilitated this predatory triumph of the inferior races by producing a “prosperity [which] triggered a non-white demographic explosion”.
A similar debate amongst racists is taking place today. Today, as then, there is a divide between liberal (‘cultural’) racists of the Fukuyama type – who believe that the innate superiority of western political and economic institutions means western culture is ordained to prevail – and the fearful fascistic racists who believe that demography dooms the west to degeneration and decline. The key difference between then and now is that today’s (’anti-imperialist’) fascists believe that imperialism creates a demographic threat to the white race not through the supposed prosperity it brings, but by so ravaging the non-European nations that its populations are forced to flee – to Europe.
Reading some of these writers today brings immediate parallels with the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists of our own age, who cover their racism with entirely legitimate fulminations against liberal arrogance and hypocrisy. Spencer, for example, highlights the hypocrisy of those who preach kindness and Christian compassion at home, but support extermination of the lower races abroad; whilst Sumner criticises the arrogance of “saying to somebody else, we know what is good for you better than you know yourself and we are going to make you do it” – a clear violation of the liberty the imperialists supposedly uphold. Yet, more than all this, the ultimate crime of imperialism was its transgression of Spencer’s injunction to “keep other races at arm’s length as much as possible”. It was the cultural and biological deterioration of white society brought about by racial mixing that was truly horrifying. In the words of Hobson, “the defensive racists in general sought specifically to ‘defend the West’ by seeking to maximise the distance between the white and nonwhite races so as to maintain white racial vitality and the supremacy of Western civilisation in what amounted to various ‘racial apartheid’ conceptions of world politics”.
Such thinking was also at the heart of the politics of the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in the in opposition to the extremely brutal US war on the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century. J Sakai writes that whilst the atrocities in the Philippines were denounced on humanitarian grounds, “the League was very careful to point out that their support for Philippine independence did not mean that they believed in any equality of colonial peoples with Europeans”. Furthermore, their opposition was explicitly grounded, not in internationalist solidarity, but in petty-bourgeois self-interest – specifically a fear that, by boosting the power and wealth of the monopoly capitalist class, imperialism would weaken their own position in the class struggle. Says Sakai, “they feared that the economic power gained from exploiting these new colonies, plus the permanent armed force needed to hold them, would be used at home to smother the ‘democracy’ of the settler masses”. And, like their racist anti-imperialist counterparts in Europe, the League were terrified of the degenerative effects of integrating the Philippines into the US Empire. As the League’s President Congressman George Boutwell put it, “Does anyone believe, that with safety, we can receive into this union the millions of Asia, who have no bonds of relationship with us…The question before this country shall be this: Should the labouring and producing classes of America be subjected to a direct and never-ending competition with the underpaid and half-clad labourers of Asia?” More troubling still was the thought that colonial subjects might actually become vote-wielding citizens of the mother country. In the words of Camp Clark, Filipinos “no matter whether they are fit to govern themselves…are not fit to govern us”. Furthermore, argued David Starr Jordan, the Filipino immigration that would inevitably follow annexation would lead to social chaos and breakdown – “wherever degenerate, dependent or alien races are within our borders today they are no part of the United States. They constitute a social problem: a menace to peace and welfare”. Why, he asked, are we taking “into our body politic millions of people – ignorant of and hostile to our laws, our language, our religion and the basic principles of our government?” The parallels with the racism of today are obvious: this particular, anti-immigrant, strand of ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history.
But it is worth noting here how utterly impotent, hypocritical and delusional it is. The Anti-Imperialist League were silent on both the Boer War (in which their supporters’ natural sympathies towards the Boer settlers were set against their extensive US investments and employment in the British mining industry) and the vicious European suppression of the Boxer rebellion in China. And, of course, they had to perform some major ideological contortions in order to rationalise their support for the colonisation of the US itself. Leading light Carl Shurz claimed the ‘old’ colonialism (annexing Native American lands in the first place, as well as, later, California, Texas, Florida, Alaska and so on) was justified because these lands were supposedly virtually unpopulated, and therefore the demographic ‘problem’ posed by the annexation of ‘millions of….half-clad labourers of Asia’ did not arise. This not only demonstrates the centrality of racist demographic concerns to the League’s ‘anti-imperialism’, but can even be read as a rationalisation of genocide.
This particular type of ‘anti-imperialism’, then, is not opposed to imperialism on principle, but only to certain types of imperialism, depending on whether they are judged to serve or undermine European settler interests. The annexation of Native and Mexican lands is ‘good’ imperialism, providing the settler masses with land without diluting their white culture and stock; whilst the annexation of Filipino territory is ‘bad’ imperialism, because it threatens the settler population with miscegenation, competition, and political-cultural degeneration. In a similar manner, notes Reid-Ross, Mussolini’s fascists “insisted that the conquest of Libya would empower the working class, strengthening the nation in ways socialism could only dream of” (24)
Today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists are the same, judging imperialism not by the impact on its beleaguered victims, but according to who is carrying it out, and who is benefiting from it. Today, the ‘bad’ (‘pro-Muslim’/ pro-banking/ ‘Jewish-instigated’) imperialism of Obama is contrasted with the ‘good’ (anti-Muslim, pro-US, coordinated with Russia) imperialism of Trump.
This demonstrates that the basis on which imperialism is opposed is crucial. If imperialism is being opposed not on principle, but because, for example, it is somehow ‘in cahoots with Islam’, or because it is detrimental to the needs of the (white) ‘volk’, this opens the door for supporting an imperialism which is aimed against Muslims, or which benefits the volk. And on further inspection, in fact, such a hypothetical imperialism turns out to be precisely the imperialism which actually exists.Muslims, after all, constitute the vast majority of those killed in imperialist wars, (including those killed by US-British-backed Salafist proxies); whilst the European volk do, in fact, benefit from the wars which underpin the west’s global power.
This is why a far right ‘anti-imperialist’ like Trump can in power escalate imperialist aggression on every single front – including against his supposed chum Putin – without prompting any major reevaluation by his fascist supporters. After all, he’s always hated Muslims and sought to increase US power: he has just realised that imperialism, far from being a hindrance to this, is, after all, quite a good means of pursuing both. In sum, allowing fascist infiltration of anti-imperialism not only allows fascist notions to develop and gain credibility on the left, but also neutralises anti-imperialism itself.
Whilst racist ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history, however, its modern variant has emerged from a specific configuration of fascism developed by men like Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey and Jean-Francois Thiriart in the decades following World War Two.
Julius Evola was a leading fascist ideologue in interwar Italy who, says Reid-Ross, “criticised Mussolini’s dictatorship for not being fascist enough” and has been credited as a major influence on Italy’s anti-Semitic Racial Laws of 1938.
Evola’s mentor was Rene Guenon, a French convert to Sufism, whose ‘spiritual’ fascism drew on his idiosyncratic readings of Arab, Buddhist and Hindu texts. Guenon blamed Judeo-Christian civilisation for the fall of Europe’s heroic warrior culture, and for Evola, therefore, only the rediscovery of a pagan ‘traditionalism’ could liberate and regenerate a dying Europe. Following World War Two, Evola identified the US as the modern flagbearer of cultural degeneration, and called for direct action against NATO to liberate Europe from its overbearing and crippling influence: a variant of fascism which “would come to paramount influence over the resurgent global fascist movement”, according to Reid-Ross. Here can be seen the seeds of the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascism advocated by those such as Alexander Dugin today.
One of Evola’s most important followers was Francis Parker Yockey, a US fascist who was very likely a Nazi agent during the war. Like Guenon and Evola, Yockey saw a (racially-defined) people’s strength as a product of the extent of its adherence to its own ancient traditional culture. And, for Yockey, the west itself no longer adhered to genuine western culture – which, he argued, was actually more honoured in the Soviet Union, whose authoritarianism reflected (pre-Enlightenment) European traditions far more than the liberalism of Europe and North America. Like Evola, he saw the most pernicious threat to genuine western culture as emanating, not from the USSR, but from the US itself. Putting meat on the bones of Evola’s call for resistance to NATO in Europe, he founded the European Liberation Front (ELF) in 1948 with the explicit aim of overthrowing US influence in Europe. Demonstrating fascism’s endless ideological malleability, the ‘anti-US’ formulation developed by Evola and Yockey was both a recognition of and adaptation to the ideological hegemony of the left and the popularity of the Soviet Union in the postwar years, and was a clear attempt to occupy the terrain of the anti-imperialist left. And it was very successful; in the opinion of Reid-Ross, “Yockey’s ideological melding of left and right would set the standard for the remainder of the century”. This is no exaggeration: it was the ELF, after all, who played a key role in building the networks between Russian and European far right groups in the 1990s that are at the heart of the ‘red-brown’ fascist resurgence today.
If the 1940s saw the development of a fascism which had switched from an anti-Soviet to an anti-US position, the 1960s would see the emergence of a strand which would apparently reverse fascism’s attitude towards colonialism. Tellingly, this would first emerge precisely out of the most virulently pro-colonial strains of the movement.
The OAS was an underground organisation of French military officers violently opposed to the decolonisation of Algeria. Formed during the Algerian of 1954-1962, it’s roots lay in the Cagoule organisation of the 1930s, who practised false-flag terrorism in France, which it blamed on the communists with the aim of herding a fearful people towards accepting fascism. The OAS was formed of its remnants, and is thought to have been responsible for around 2000 deaths during their two years of operation from 1961 to 1962. One young supporter of the OAS was the Belgian Jean-Francois Thiriart, a former communist who had switched sides and helped the Nazis locate Jews and resistance fighters during the war. Thiriart provided safe houses for OAS soldiers on their return from Algeria, and had in 1960 set up his own Belgian equivalent, the Mouvement d’Action Civique, to resist the liberation of the Congo. “However”, writes Reid-Ross, “as decolonisation spread, Thiriart’s aspiration grew to accentuate the left wing aspects of fascism and to transform the character of mainstream politics” – leading him to begin to call for workers rights and decolonisation. Once again, fascism was demonstrating its ability to adapt even its apparently most central beliefs in order to widen its appeal.
In reality, Thiriart’s support for third world decolonisation was superficial, and served primarily as a rhetorical justification for Yockeyan ideas about ‘liberating’ Europe both from ‘Zionist’ and US influence, and from non-European ‘infiltration’. As Reid-Ross writes, “The fascist notion of decolonisation remained distinct from the Third World decolonisation movement…their notion of ‘European liberation’ demanded the expulsion or otherwise liquidation of populations deemed non-European. The strong odor of anti-Semitism and racism continued to emanate from their literature, which emphasised violence against the state, ‘Zionists’, and NATO as a means of achieving the spiritual empire of Europe…Thiriarts’s appeal to the left by violently rejecting NATO and embracing Soviet and even Maoist influence retained only a short term promise of liberation from capital with a long term plan of genocide. This support for decolonisation was, more or less, a disingenuous ruse to cater to possible left wing recruits”.
In fact, whilst fascist ‘decolonialism’ clearly was an attempt to wear the clothes of the left, it was also much more than this. Using the language of colonisation to describe US (and ‘Zionist’) influence in Europe was and is about flattering the Europeans by endowing them with a (nonexistent) victimhood. At the same time, it is a transparent attempt to legitimise racism, by drawing an equivalence between third world liberation movements and white nationalism. As such, it is a perfect example of fascism’s appeal to the deep, but repressed, psychological needs of the western petty bourgeoisie. Specifically, fascism appeals to the aspiration of western peoples to maintain or restore their threatened privileges in a way that is in tune with their conscience. This idea of ‘decolonisation’ does this perfectly. Previously, biological theories of racism had served this purpose, provided conscience-salving justification for white privilege; but with the marginalisation of such theories in the postwar era, a new rationalisation became necessary. Fascist rhetoric about US colonisation of Europe not only absolved Europeans of responsibility for their own imperial foreign policies (now all projected onto the US), but simultaneously provided a veneer of ‘leftist’, ‘anti-imperialist’ credibility to attacks on immigrants, who were presented as the advance guard of a ‘colonial invasion’ driven by US-Zionist interests bent on destroying Europe. This was, then, the birth of a ‘politically-correct’ fascism which could present both the whitewashing of European crimes and anti-immigrant hatred as a part of a pseudo-left project to ‘decolonise’ Europe.
This precise formulation has huge currency today. The 1930s-era fascist trope of ‘communism as a Wall St plot’ has mutated into a new trope of ‘immigration as a Wall St plot’. Today, whilst the figure of the ‘poor Jew’ (communist) has been replaced by the ‘poor Muslim’ (immigrant), behind both of them lies the rich Jew pulling the strings; in both cases, supposed movements of the poor are seen as nothing more than Jewish plots to destroy Europe from within. Hatred of the poor is thus transformed into an acceptable and even necessary part of the struggle against the rich, much easier to square with petty-bourgeois sensibilities. This can be seen clearly in the obsession of many current neofascists with the supposed role of the Rothschilds and George Soros in ‘flooding Europe with immigrants’. One particularly lurid example is Gearoid O Colmain, a frequent RT commentator who proclaims himself a Marxist-Leninist (but clearly of the ‘National Bolshevik’ variety), who in 2016 penned an 11-part series entitled “Coercive Engineered Migration: Zionism’s war on Europe” published by several supposedly leftist websites such as Dissident Voice. O Colmain’s basic claim is that Zionists are using Muslim immigrants to facilitate white genocide and weaken Europe. In O Colmain’s view, the immigrant – the tool of the Jew – is responsible not only for the weakening, and potentially fatal, dilution of European culture, but for pretty much every crime and failure in the western world. For O Colmain, immigrants are responsible for the west’s wars of aggression, through pressuring western governments to invade their homelands – with Iraqi expats specifically held responsible for the US invasion of Iraq – and they are even to blame for the continuation of capitalism itself, by dividing the working class; reading O Colmain, one would imagine white people were chomping at the bit to enact communist revolution until those pesky Muslims came along. Ultimately the fulminations of O Colmain, and many others like him, represent yet another response to the Euro-Marxist despair at the western working class’s attachment to capitalism. Unable or unwilling to recognise that the western working class – their ‘chosen people’ – are, in fact, beneficiaries of capitalist-imperialism, they are forced to adopt all manner of idealist suppositions to explain their supposed failure to act in their own class interests. But O Colmain is too sophisticated for the ‘false consciousness’ argument. Instead he has another answer for the failure to make revolution in the west – the backward identity of the immigrant has divided the working class. As such, he, following in the footsteps of Yockey and Thiriart, provides a pseudo-left/ progressive veneer to anti-immigrant hostility. By opposing immigration, we are not, as it turns out, defending indefensible privileges or giving vent to base xenophobia – we are valiantly fighting against imperialist intrigue.
But perhaps the most important figure in the fascist appropriation of leftist concepts in the service of a more ‘politically-correct’ fascism, is Alain de Benoist. Like Thiriart, Benoist’s political career began as straightforward cheerleading for jingoistic imperialism in books like “Courage is their homeland” and “Rhodesia – land of the faithful lions”. But also like Thiriart, the decolonial upsurge of the 1960s, and the political earthquakes it unleashed in the west, led Benoist to reverse his former support for groups like the OAS and adopt a more leftist, ‘anti-colonial’ rhetoric. Writes Reid-Ross, “Though originally characterised by pro-colonial celebrations of early European warrior societies united by honour and loyalty, Benoist’s ideology transformed through the paradigm-shifting events of 1968 into a syncretic new formulation organised under the banner of the ‘Nouvelle Droite’”. In 1969, he created GRECE – the Research and Study Group for European Civilisation – and “produced a ‘neo-Gramscian’ analysis of social conditions based on anti-liberalism and anti-Marxism without necessarily condemning socialism”, attempting to “recapture what they saw as the unity between left and right that had prefigured 20th century fascism”. Like Thiriart and Yockey, GRECE sought to “demonstrate how even left wing revolutionaries…could be utilised in order to delegitimise liberal democracy”. The aim was to fight a long term battle of ideas (termed ‘metapolitics’) waged through his think tank.
Benoist was in many ways a natural progression of the path forged by Yockey and Thiriart. Whilst Yockey exploited the anti-US and pro-Soviet sympathies of the immediate postwar period, and Thiriart appropriated the decolonial rhetoric of the 1960s, Benoist drew on the concepts of the New Left to fashion an explicitly fascist form of identity politics. His ‘Nouvelle Droite’ movement directly lifted New Left catchphrases about ‘respect for diversity’ and the ‘right to difference’ to advocate a politics of racially-purified ethnic separation. This was essentially a rehashing of the global apartheid theories of the nineteenth century racists, who Benoist explicitly sought to rehabilitate. Theoretically in favour of the equality of races, Benoist advocated what has become known as ‘ethnopluralism’ – the idea that each ethnicity needs to defend its unique ethnic identity by resisting globalisation, inter-racial marriage, and immigration. By presenting such goals as an imperative for all races, Benoist sought to counter claims of white supremacism, and indeed claimed to support “Black Power”, “Yellow Power” and “Red Power” along with White Power. Even his hostility to immigration was presented as good for the immigrant: “The truth is that people must preserve and cultivate their differences…immigration merits condemnation because it strikes a blow at the identity of the host culture as well as the immigrant’s identity”. In line with classical fascism, the virility of a ‘people’ is seen as being dependent on their degree of internal homogeneity, with impurities and dilutions to be resisted or purged.
Benoist’s neo-Gramscian strategy of ‘counter-hegemonic’ ‘cultural struggle’ aimed to use the concepts of the left to delegitimise the left whilst simultaneously providing classic fascist tropes with a new acceptability through the use of politically correct terminology. In this way, notes Reid-Ross, Benoist sought to implement Hitler’s injunction to create a people who are “ready” for fascism. His ideological framework has been gold dust for fascists desperate to whitewash their image and legitimise fascist notions of racial purity, and has been seized on by neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer. For his supporters, anti-fascists are ‘the real racists’, whose support for immigration amounts to a form of ‘white genocide’ facilitated by a ‘colonial invasion’ of Europe. In other words, Benoist effectively lay the groundwork for the white ‘identity politics’ at the heart of modern fascism.
In his book, “Mistaken Identity”, Asad Haider defines identity politics as “the neutralisation of movements against racial oppression. It is the ideology that emerged to appropriate the emancipatory legacy in service of the advancement of political and economic elites”. Whilst true of identity politics in general, the white identity politics employed by modern-day fascism pushes this basic truth to the extremes. Trump’s successful harnessing of white identity, for example, has neutralised white workers so successfully that he has been able to enact some of the most extreme anti-working class policies since the Reagan era, resulting in a massive transfer of wealth from the poor (through unprecedented cuts to public housing and welfare programmes) to the rich (in the form of $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts). These tax cuts, CNN reported recently, have been used to finance a surge in share buybacks (to the tune of $178 billion), which will both artificially boost share prices – disguising the underlying sickness in the economy – and result in shareholder payouts that “could top $1 trillion for the first time ever”. In other words, Trump is facilitating the looting of the economy by billionaires before it goes bust, at the expense of the working class; but his attacks on immigrants, China, North Korea and so on allow him to parade as a valiant defender of those being plundered whilst simultaneously ensuring a solid list of scapegoats to be blamed when the impact of these policies really starts to bite. At the same time, Trump is pushing through executive orders to limit the powers of already weak trade unions to resist any of his measures. This is the reality of white ‘identity politics’ – racist tubthumping as a smokescreen for attacks on workers of allhues.
This article has, in its analysis of the ideological development of fascist notions of anti-imperialism, drawn attention to two major dangers in allowing fascists to infiltrate our movements: that they provide a smokescreen for the continuation of neoliberal attacks on the working class, whilst neutralising anti-imperialism itself. But there is also a far greater danger: that leftists allying with fascists on ‘anti-imperialism’ end up providing a platform for – and giving a veneer of credibility to – the other ideas of fascism, and specifically for the scapegoating of Jews and immigrants for problems rooted in the current crisis of the modern world system.
The various crises in which this system now finds itself – environmental, economic, and military-imperial – have been building for a long time, and the western ruling class have been preparing for them. The goal of western governments is to confine the impact of these crises, as far as possible, exclusively to the peoples of the third world. Liberal imperialism, in its various aspects (neoliberalism, ‘humanitarian intervention’ etc) has been laying the groundwork for this for some time; all that’s left is the legitimisation of the torture and killing of anyone who tries to flee. This is where the fascists come in. Capitalism in crisis has always utilised fascism – whether grudgingly or otherwise is open to debate – and continues to do so today. The question for those of us on the left is the degree to which we are willing to be utilised by the fascists.
* Alexander Reid-Ross’s book “Against the Fascist Creep” is one of the best accounts of the development of fascist infiltration of the left. Nevertheless, Reid-Ross himself is utterly hostile to the anti-imperialist struggle. It is indicative of the malaise in which we are in that the left is increasingly divided between an anti-imperialist wing deeply infiltrated by fascists and an anti-fascist wing dominated by those hostile to anti-imperialism. After all, as James Stuart has said, a consistent left movement must oppose both, as “fascism is imperialism at home and imperialism is fascism abroad”.
This article originally appeared in volume 25 number 4 of Counterpunch magazine. It is part one of a two-part series. The next part, available in the current edition of Counterpunch (volume 25 number 6), looks in detail at the networks cultivated by Russian fascist Alexander Dugin.