There is a debate going on within the leadership cult of the California Peace & Freedom Party about the nature of fascism, as if the participants are giant intellects on the subject. One thing I can say that mitigates their culpability for lacking scholastic aptitude on the subject is that most left wing organizations have their own definitions of words that are entirely divorced from the way that social scientists, especially political scientists, define concepts. One striking example that has much relevance to the topic of “fascism” is that so-called Marxists define “mass parties” and “cadre parties” 180 degrees opposite of how political scientists utilize the terms.
Whether one comes from a tradition of Trotskyism, Stalinism, or Social Democratic tendency, the debates around fascism usually entail a description of fascism in a way that is even incongruous with the English language and I suspect, with any other language of debate, although my guess is that leftists from Latino backgrounds may often have a better understanding of the concept because of its relation to Catholic social doctrine. Leftists usually (I’m trying to be careful to avoid making a “straw man” or “straw person” argument as those terms are used in logic and philosophy) describe “fascism” as a “movement” of the petit-bourgoisie or middle class that is authoritarian in nature and which is utilized as a tool of the titans of the capitalist class. There are many variations of this theme, but essentially, “fascism” is an “ism,” an ideology which may inspire movements, political parties, governments, and other social institutions and that is the fundamental flaw in most leftist thinking on this subject.
Case on point: I had a public debate by open letters over the internet with Peter Camejo, a Berkeley history major turned Trotskyist and later Green Party periodic candidate. While running for California Governor against Grey Davis and William Simon, he denied that Simon’s membership in Opus Dei made him a fascist and contended that the group was merely a “conservative” Catholic order. The many leftists in South America who have been tortured and executed with the blessing of Opus Dei bishops and arch-bishops might disagree. The people of Spain who suffered the Civil War and the Franco regime might also disagree, given that Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, Opus Dei’s founder, was an unabashed fascist.
This is part of what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
During Escrivá’s beatification process, Monsignor Vladimir Felzmann, who had been Escrivá’s personal assistant before Felzmann left Opus Dei and became a priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster and an aide to Basil Cardinal Hume, sent several letters to Fr. Flavio Capucci, the postulator (i.e., chief promoter) of Escrivá’s cause. In his letters, Msgr. Felzmann claimed to have personally witnessed Escrivá make controversial statements in defense of Adolf Hitler. The alleged statements by Escrivá include: “Vlad, Hitler couldn’t have been such a bad person. He couldn’t have killed six million. It couldn’t have been more than four million”, and “Hitler against the Jews, Hitler against the Slavs, this means Hitler against communism“. Msgr. Felzmann claimed that Escrivá made those remarks to him in 1967 or 1968, in Rome, during the intermission to a World War II-themed movie. Felzmann has also said that these remarks should be put in the context of Catholic anti-communism in Spain, and said that all of the male members of Opus Dei (who then numbered about fifty) volunteered in 1941 to join the “Blue Division“, a group of Spanish and Portuguese volunteers who joined the German forces in their fight against the Soviet Army, along the eastern front.
Peter Camejo’s disagreement with the characterization of Opus Dei as Fascist was based on his political upbringing as a Trotskyist, contending that “Fascism” (an ideology) is “a mass movement” and since Opus Dei in and of itself is not a “mass movement” it cannot be fascist. That is of course an absurd concept.
I also have news for people who think that any extreme right wing ideology or organization is “fascist.” Fascism is in essence, right wing communitarianism. Christian Democratic parties are generally speaking, motivated by a middle of the road or even left-wing communitarian doctrine, while ostensibly Marxist parties in Latin/Catholic nations are frequently left-wing communitarian in program even if they claim their ideology is “Marxist.”
I had the privilege of studying these concepts under two experts at California State University at Northridge, Blase Bonpane and Larry Litwin, in the Political Science Department. I also had the privilege of serving as Blase’s graduate assistant while I was working on an M.A. special major (I completed 22 units with a 4.0 GPA but dropped out to become a private investigator). What Blase taught me especially was invaluable in attempting to make heads or tails out of political ideology in Latin America.
The Sicilian St. Thomas Aquinas as a source of Catholic social and political doctrine is key to understanding communitarianism, and thus, its right wing (fascism) and left wing variants. The Western European or American Marxist, like the classical Liberal and classical Conservative, views “rights” as held and granted to the individual. The communitarian views rights as belonging to and bestowed upon classes. It is not that individuals don’t have rights, its just that they receive and exercise them as members of a class.
Take the PRI, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, of Mexico. It has had a classic communitarian structure even though it is a member party of the Socialist International (as is the rival PRD, Partido Revolucionario Democratica) and so is ostensibly social-democratic. You were a member of the PRI as a member of the workers section, its peasants section, or its “popular” (middle class) section. You participated in politics as a member of the class, not as an individual. Likewise, Cuba under Fidel Castro, while proclaiming itself “Marxist – Leninist,” is organized as a left-wing communitarian state. Salvador Allende’s vision for the transformation of Chilean society was communitarian in nature, which is precisely why the left-wing of the communitarian Christian Democratic Party swung over to Allende and became part of the popular front coalition that elected him President.
The similarities of ideology in both fascism and left-wing communitarianism, both stemming from St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic social doctrine, often lead to considerable ambiguity about what is right and what is left. On the one hand, Eva and Juan Peron are viewed as heroes of the working class and yet Eva’s “charitable foundation” was used for money laundering by the Nazis, enabling numerous Nazi War Criminals to escape to Argentina, working hand in hand with Opus Dei.
Another example of this ambiguity is demonstrated by Blase Bonpane’s take on Pope John Paul II’s visit to South America some decades ago. Blase had been sent down to cover the event by an American news organization and while most American reporters, lacking an understanding of the underpinnings of Catholic social doctrine, made it sound like John Paul II was delivering a “theology of liberation” message, when in fact he was advancing fascism and very dangerous policies. His track record was the promotion of numerous Opus Dei members as Bishops, Arch-Bishops, and Cardinals throughout the world, some of whom are documented to have been close collaborators with right-wing death squads and military operations.
In fact, the first thing that John Paul II did following his election as Pope was to fly to Spain to pray at the grave of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, Opus Dei’s founder. During his term as Pope, Balaguer was beatified and canonized as a saint faster than any other saint in the history of the church.
Returning to the intellectual light-weight nature of debate in the PFP cult, Steven Bruce Orcutt (aka Frank Runninghorse) seems to be leading the charge to insist on a rigid left-wing interpretation of what is and is not fascism. What is astounding is that in his years and years and years of attending college, he never seems to have encountered a political science or philosophy class that explained to him what fascism is really all about.