Historical Rise of Fascism and Current Manifestation in Pandemic

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In this talk, ILPS Chair Emeritus Jose Maria Sison presented an overview of the historical rise of fascism: its fundamental basis in the existence of the state of an exploitative ruling class which emerged as old primitive-communal societies dissolved into class societies; its modern roots as a recurring form of state violence under the rule of the monopoly big bourgeoisie; and the recent conditions of inter-imperialist rivalries, the Covid-19 pandemic, and growing people’s resistance, that favor the intensification of fascism throughout the world.


By Jose Maria Sison
May 14, 2022

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

After the institutionalization of patriarchalism and the private ownership of the means of production (in agricultural land, domesticated animals, pastures and metals) in the late barbaric stage of the primitive communal society, the interconnection of despotic leaders, wars by tribes and tribal confederations against each other, the execution of enemy combatants, famine and pestilence became obvious.

In the rise of civilization, larger societies (slave, feudal and capitalist) and even empires based on them arose. Metallurgy displaced the stone tools. Exploiting and exploited classes became well-defined and the state arose as the coercive instrument for the ruling class to keep the social order. And literacy allowed the passage of mankind from prehistory to history and from lower levels of information and knowledge to higher ones.

The subjugation of the oppressed and exploited people became more “human” and “civilized”. The winning community in a war against another did not execute the armed combatants of the defeated army but kept them alive as slaves or beasts of burden. These slaves were used to widen the agricultural fields. When they became too many and too difficult to manage the “enlightened” slave masters decided to become landlords and turn the slaves into serfs or rent-paying tenants of the land.

The larger and more complex the class-conflicted society became, the greater need for a state as coercive instrument of the ruling class to be able to keep the social order. In history, we have seen the fluctuations of the ruling systems and chief rulers from peaks of tyranny and despotism to the less brutal or more benign. As a matter of course, the worst forms of tyranny and despotism were those that sought to wage war against other communities, suppress the the people in discontent and were incompetent in dealing with the problems of production, famine and plague.

You have huge libraries to read about the histories of the interconnected phenomena of wars of conquest in empire-building, pacification of rebellious people, famine and plague. But I assure you that even if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the New Testament representing “war, death famine and plague” and the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament “sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague” are more products of the literary or religious imagination than history, they reflect the worst that have arisen from class-conflicted societies, whether at war with themselves or with others.

1. Historical Rise of Fascism

At any rate, while there are historical phenomena which we can refer to, such as the open rule of terror, tyranny, despotism, autocracy or authoritarianism from the advent of class-conflicted society to the present era of modern imperialism and world proletarian revolution, we are concerned with fascism as the topic of discussion in relation to pandemics and other pertinent terrible phenomena that victimize human kind.

The term “fascism” directs us to the time that it arose as a movement in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I as the first inter-imperialist war or among monopoly capitalist powers and in reaction to the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 by the monopoly bourgeoisie and landlord class of Italy. The term was adopted by Mussolini after the fasces, the symbol of power of the Roman empire, and subsequently became the generic term for subsequent brutal and despotic regimes in the industrial monopoly capitalist countries as well as for such regimes of the bureaucrat capitalists and big compradors in underdeveloped countries.

At the outset, let me describe fascism as the advocacy, movement and realization of the open rule of terror by the most reactionary political agents of the monopoly bourgeoisie who are flagrantly anti-communist, ultra-nationalist, racist, irredentist, patriarchalist and misogynist. And then let me try to show the connection between the rise of fascism and the possible stimulus given to it by the so-called Spanish flu of 1918.

The Spanish identity arbitrarily given to this pandemic has overshadowed for a long time the fact that soldiers from Spain, Italy, Germany and other countries who fought in France during World War I had picked up the virus from there. As a consequence, the influenza spread in Spain in the spring of 1918 and became extremely virulent in the summer and autumn of 1918.

But recent research in 2021 also shows that the same influenza pandemic that began in 1918 had a devastating health impact in Italy: 4.1 million Italians contracted influenza and about 500,000 died. And the researchers have discovered and concluded that said pandemic contributed to the rise of fascism in Italy on the basis of the contents of Mussolini’s newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia. (Refer to Am J Public Health. 2022;112(2):242–247.)

In a staff report published on 6 May 2020 , researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that German regions with higher mortality rates from the flu virus had a higher vote share for the Nazi Party in the elections of 1932 and 1933. The study showed that high death tolls from the 1918 influenza pandemic had earlier helped the Nazis gain power in “crucial” German elections.

The share of votes won by the Nazis was higher where a greater share of the population had died during the pandemic. Around 287,000 people died of influenza in Germany between 1918 and 1920. The research analyzed the link between death rates and other “extremist” parties, but referred to the Nazis as the most benefited as a “clear party of the extreme right.”

In contrast, the Communist Party saw their vote share decreased where the pandemic had caused more deaths. The author of the report, Kristian Blickle, an economist at the bank’s Financial Intermediation Function, said the change in demography caused by the pandemic, coupled with a historical tendency for German society to blame disease outbreaks on foreigners, may have increased support for extremist right-wing politicians.

Given the perceived foreign origins of the virus, a resentment arose for foreigners who were seen as responsible for the pandemic. The vote share won by right-wing extremists was stronger in regions that had historically blamed minorities for medieval plagues. The link between flu fatalities and right-wing support was seen even when cities and regions were controlled for ethnic and religious makeup, unemployment, previous right-wing voting and other characteristics that could be assumed to drive extremist voting. (Refer to Aftermath of World War I and the Rise of Nazism, 1918–1933 https://www.ushmm.org › learn › holocaust › chapter-1)

Soon after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China, the Royal United Services Institute of the United Kingdom noted that far-right groups and individuals were exploiting the pandemic by “promoting disinformation and conspiracy theories to enhance their anti-immigrant or anti-government agendas and attract a new range of followers.” In the first place, US President Donald Trump, the loudest voice in the entire Western propaganda system, deprecated Covid-19 as the Chinese virus.

In fact, there is more proof to show that the virus was first developed in the US Army’s biological warfare laboratory in Fort Detrick in Maryland USA sometime before October 2019 when the US sent a US military athletic delegation to the participation in the Wuhan Military Olympics. There had been a leak of the deadly virus and the laboratory had to be shut down. Five members of the US military athletic delegation, who circulated in their hotel and market in Wuhan, had been afflicted by the virus earlier in the US and had to be flown out of Wuhan by special US military plane during the military Olympics.

Reports of xenophobia toward people of Chinese and Asian descent have been on the rise in the US and other countries of the Western world. Early on, NBC News reported that more than 30% of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic, while a surge in attacks on Asian students occurred across Europe, North America and Australia. Ironically, incidents of xenophobia also arose in China, blaming “foreigners” for the spread of coronavirus in the country.

2. Covid-19 Pandemic in Conjunction with the Worst of Monopoly Capitalism

The Covid-19 pandemic emerged after a series of major historical phenomena after World War II in which US imperialism sought to reverse the revolutionary advances of the working class and oppressed peoples and nations in defeating fascism and pushing back colonialism and imperialism, in engaging in socialist revolution and construction, in establishing newly independent nation-states and in pushing forward the national liberation movements.

After World War II the US emerged as the No. 1 imperialist power and headed its traditional imperialist allies and client-states in carrying out a Cold War to contend with the Soviet Union and defeat the socialist cause and the national liberation movements with anti-communism and neocolonialism. The Cold War would have allowed the US to use nuclear weapons had not the Soviet Union succeeded in making them in 1949 in order to neutralize the US nuclear blackmail and put the US on a nuclear stalemate.

But the US and its traditional imperialist allies still succeeded in waging wars of aggression against the oppressed peoples and nations in the underdeveloped countries and killed 25 to 30 million people from the Korean War to the wars of the “new world order” of Bush the senior, especially under the US neoconservative policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since the latter half of the 1970s, US monopoly capitalism was already reeling from the crisis of overproduction due to the recovery of other imperialist countries previously ruined by World War II as well as due to the high costs of aggressive wars as in Korea and Vietnam. It was baffled by the problem of stagflation and started trying out how it could use monetarism and neoliberalism to solve this problem and how it could use to its advantage the already conspicuous phenomenon of modern revisionism and capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China.

The conclusive defeat of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China in October 1976 and the continuous full-blast restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, capped by the collapse of the Soviet revisionist regime and the disintegration of the revisionist-ruled regimes in Eastern Europe in 1991 made the US the winner in the Cold War and the sole superpower until the global capitalist financial crash came in 2008 to start a global economic depression, generate a multipolarity among the old and new imperialist powers (China and Russia) and aggravate the strategic decline of the US.

Since 1991, the world has reverted to a landscape of no socialist power to contend with the imperialist powers but the two big socialist countries themselves have become capitalist adjuncts of the traditional imperialist powers. However, it would not take long for the modern revisionists to be shamed by their false expectations of peace and prosperity as a result of capitulation to the traditional imperialist powers. Yugoslavia was destroyed in a war of aggression by the US and NATO even before the end of the 20th century and the blatant expansion of the US and NATO to the borders of Russia.

The global partnership of the US and China as promoters of neoliberal globalization did not last long as the US criticized the economic and military rise of China during the time of the Obama regime, and the Trump regime castigated China for maintaining a two-tier system of state monopoly capitalism and private monopoly capitalism, for manipulating the Chinese market and currency and for stealing US technology from US subsidiary companies as well as from research and development institutes and departments in the US.

Since the second decade of the 21st century, we have have become increasingly aware of a world of inter-imperialist contradictions and conflicts. And in the passage from the second to the third decade, we have become sharply aware of the multiple crises afflicting the entire world capitalist system, such as the following:

1. Neoliberalism or the dogma of unbridled private greed has generated a world in which the billionaires of fewer countries have grown rich at the expense of more countries and in which the billionaires of specific countries have grown rich at the expense of the people. The billionaires have the utmost freedom to accumulate profits from the depression of wages, tax cutbacks, privatization of public assets, shrinkage of social services, liberalization of trade and investments, and denationalization of client-economies.

But at the level of competing and rival imperialist powers, there is now an increasing tendency of protectionism and the use of sanctions by imperialist powers against others in connection. Take note of the trade war now developing between the US and China and the battle of sanctions between Russia and the US-NATO imperialists. With regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, the shrinkage of social services, especially through the privatization of the health system, the rulers increasingly use the coercive apparatuses of the state to impose lockdowns and suppress the freedom of expression.

2. Fascism and war are concomittants of monopoly capitalism as we have seen in the inter-imperialist wars of World War I and II and in succeeding historical periods when US imperialism took the initiative to unleash wars of aggression and used anti-communism, fascism and war hysteria within the imperialist countries as well as within the countries under attack during the Cold War and thereafter.

By themselves, the exploiting classes use fascism to oppress the people and to compel them to be conscripted and to render their goods and services for the war effort. But long before fascism and war can arise, the suppression of democratic rights by way of monopolizing disinformation or infodemic and enforcing lockdowns in the campaign against Covid-19 can be the pretext, cover and preparation for fascism and war. Just look at the way how Duterte [the Philippines’ president up to end-June 2022—PRISM eds.] has used the campaign against Covid-19 to enact the so-called Anti-Terror Law and to escalate the armed counterrevolution and the bogus war on illegal drugs.

3. Environmental catastrophe (in the form of global warming and pandemics) has become conspicuous as a result of the rapid and wide plunder of the environment by monopoly capitalism for the purpose of drawing super-profits from extractive enterprises (mining, logging, plantations and the like). Pandemics have arisen because of the widespread deforestation and disturbance of the various organisms in the forest. To aggravate matters, the imperialists have engaged in experiments of biological warfare.

4. The threat of nuclear war has become again more recurrent and loud than ever before because monopoly bourgeois leaders have their trigger fingers on the nuclear bombs, unlike in the past when a major pile of such bombs were under the control of proletarian revolutionaries or communists who had the existence and welfare of humankind in their social conscience. With imperialist powers totally in control of the nuclear bombs, they are prone to be crazed by fascism and war and to use weapons for annihilating humankind.

It is absolutely necessary for the proletariat and people of the world to rise up and fight for national liberation, democracy and socialism under the present conditions in which the inter-imperialist conflicts are escalating and the Covid-19 pandemic is being used as a pretext for suppressing basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and enabling fascism to arise in the traditional and new imperialist countries and in their puppet states.

As early as on April 2020, the UN Secretary General António Guterres warned the UN member-states not to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext for repressive measures. He urged governments to recognize that the threat was the “virus, not people”.

As early as December 2020 Civicus Monitor, an alliance of civil society groups which assessed 196 countries, reported a number of governments had used the pandemic as an excuse to curtail rights such as free speech, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. The state of civil liberties around the world is therefore bleak, with 87% of the global population living in countries deemed “closed”, “repressed” or “obstructed”.

The report further states: By using methods such as detention of protesters, excessive use of force, censorship, attacks on journalists, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, many governments have used Covid-19 to “introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms”. It states further: “The use of detention as the main tactic to restrict protests only shows the hypocrisy of governments using Covid-19 as a pretense to crack down on protests, [as] the virus is more likely to spread in confined spaces like prisons.”

In September 2021, the Amnesty International reported that Covid-19-related restrictions have been used to suppress human rights and constrict civic space, spread misinformation undermining the fight on Covid-19 and infringe on the right to freedom of expression and the right to health. The report called for stopping the use of the pandemic to silence independent reporting, debate and scrutiny; and for lifting all undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and guarantee the free flow of information as a key approach to protecting the right to health and enabling an inclusive recovery.

According to the report of the International Security (2021): “Across the globe, states have attempted to contain COVID-19 by restricting movement, closing schools and businesses, and banning large gatherings. Such measures have expanded the degree of sanctioned state intervention into civilians’ lives. But existing theories of preventive and responsive repression cannot explain why some countries experienced surges in repression after states in Africa initiated COVID-19-related lockdowns. While responsive repression occurs when states quell protests or riots, ‘opportunistic repression’ arises when states use crises to suppress the political opposition.”

In the US, as millions of protesters took part in the Black Lives Matter movement, the Trump administration responded with excessive force, police violence and mass detentions. In recent years, several states have enacted restrictive laws which limit people’s right to peacefully protest, while across the US, journalists, human rights activists and social activists have been increasingly detained or injured under measures previously adopted to carry out lockdowns and fight the pandemic. ■

Watch Prof. Sison deliver this talk on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laoU9xGlhFk

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