Today, it seems that the worst possible label you can give a political leader is “fascist.” Traditionally this is a term reserved for far right leaders and has been applied by many towards President Trump. Yet recently I have seen it used against liberal governors of states who are keeping quarantines in place. Calling a liberal a fascist seems odd, but, historically speaking, it may be understandable.
In the past, conservatives sometimes referred to liberals as communists and Marxists as an attack. The problem with this today is that some on the left are owning the title of Marxist or, at least, socialist. One of my colleagues refers to himself as a Marxist, as do several students. I find this strange and perplexing. First, do people really know the difference between a fascist and a Marxist? And why is it acceptable to call yourself a Marxist but totally incomprehensible to call yourself a fascist. (For this piece, I need to note that I have a word count so I do have to generalize. I acknowledge that these topics should be explored in much more depth and understanding.)
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing that we should start calling ourselves fascists. I have nothing but contempt for the concept. But should we not have similar contempt for Marxism? Since WWII, fascism has always carried a negative connotation. In fact, the term is not really used except as a slight towards opponents. The public has understandably denounced any fascist connections. The Nazis did cause WWII and were responsible for the deaths of more than 17 million during the Holocaust. What is puzzling is that if Nazis are to fascists what communists are to Marxists, then why is it acceptable to associate with communists when they are responsible for the deaths of between 21-70 million people worldwide between all the various communists’ regimes over time.
It is true that Marxist and communists are not the exact same thing. Marxism is the political ideology of Karl Marx’s ideas, whereas communism is the political system based on Marx’s ideas. However, the same holds true with fascism and Nazism. Fascism is a political ideology developed in Italy during WWI. The Great War brought about destruction that the world had never imagined, leading Italian Fascists to believe liberal democracy had failed, not unlike the communists. Both ideologies have socialist tendencies, believing in state control, but whereas communism is based on class, fascists used nationalism. Hence, communism is seen as left while fascists are seen as right. Obviously, this is a simplified explanation, but the premise is true. States like the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea used Marxist philosophy to create dictatorships the way the Germans did with fascism.
For years I have had an issue with the generally accepted left-right political spectrum. As it currently looks, Republicans are on the right with fascists on the far right. Conversely, Democrats are on the left with communists on the far left. I prefer the model where ideology or parties are on a circle instead of a line. In this model, the bottom of the circle can be democracy with Republicans a bit to the right along the circle and Democrats a bit to the left. At the top of the circle is totalitarianism with fascism a bit to the right side and Marxism a bit the other way. This model more accurately shows more similarities than differences in Marxism and fascism. They are both failed philosophies that caused death and pain for millions, yet one is more accepted than the other. Maybe it’s time to condemn all forms of extremism. The circle chart also shows that Republicans and Democrats are not so polarized. If the two parties can purge any who adhere to either Marxism or fascism and focus instead on democracy, maybe we can work a few things out. However, for that to happen, we need to condemn Marxists as much as we do fascists.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at http://www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.