Frank Ridley 1941

Fascism: What Is It?

I: The Science of Counter-Revolution

The art and science of Dialectics consists essentially of the study of things in movement. As History, rightly apprehended is, essentially, movement, it must be considered as the most suitable subject for dialectical treatment, not as some quasi-theological mumbo-jumbo, as in the writings of the so-called ‘Communist’ party, but in its correct sense, as the study of movement in action. And since Revolutionary history is history in its most dynamic movement, it is obvious that revolutionary history must, to obtain an exact perspective, be treated as a continuous movement of action and reaction, of revolution and counter-revolution; the latter necessarily caused and conditioned by the former.

It has been the basic and fundamental fallacy hitherto, of all historians of Revolution that they have treated Revolution statically and metaphysically, as a ‘thing in itself’, and not as the forward movement of the historic process, to which there usually follows an equally abrupt movement to the rear, the counter-revolution. (Compare HM Hyndman – The Evolution of Revolution – plus ‘the monstrous regiment’ of American professors who write ‘philosophies of history’ as though they were writing ‘histories of philosophy'!)

In actual history, that is, the history of class society, every real revolution is always followed by a counter-revolution, successful or unsuccessful. However, it is only recently that we have discovered this. For if it was reserved for the nineteenth century to discover that there is a permanent science of revolution, it has been reserved for the twentieth to discover that there is a complementary science of counter-revolution also.

Observing history from this standpoint, we note that all the great social changes from epoch to epoch have been ages of revolution followed by counter-revolution. The earliest revolutions of all, those that ‘liquidated’ the immemorial society of patriarchal times, are indeed screened from our view by the mists of ages – though in the writings of Homer, and still more of Hesiod, the Greek poets of the Age of Transition, glimpses of the contemporary landslide can still be obtained. But since the rise, concurrently, of classes and the class war, the process is plain for all to see.

In classical society we have a whole epoch of social revolution; in Greece, culminating in ‘The Red Kings’ of Sparta; in Rome in the revolution of the immortal Spartacus, and in reply we see the threatened property owners of the Mediterranean civilisation create the Empire of the Caesars, the ‘totalitarian’ phase of Antiquity, which concurrently ended the era of Social Revolution and the Ancient civilisation itself.

At the end of the Middle Ages we note the rise of Capitalism expressing itself in the Reformation in an era of social and religious revolution against the ‘dead hand’ of the Middle Ages and the Roman Papacy which had ruled that feudal theocracy. And faced with this age of uninterrupted revolution we see Catholicism forced back on the defensive, create in Ignatius Loyola [1] and his ‘Company of Jesus’ the toughest and most adaptable band of deliberate counter-revolutionaries that the world has known even up to this hour.

And, yet again, when the storms of the French Revolution surged over Europe, obliterating Monarchy, clericalism, and the whole mercantilist-feudal ancient regime, we see in quick reaction the era of ruthless counter-revolution represented by De Maistre and his ultra-montane Papacy, by that generation of repression and of the tyrannical suppression of the Liberal Revolution that is conjured up by the names of Metternich and the ‘Holy Alliance’ – 1814-48.

If the sixteenth century, era of dawning capitalism and of the Reformation, represented Revolution in the Positive degree; and if the nineteenth century, epoch of the Liberal Revolution and of the world-expansion of Capital, represented it in the comparative; the twentieth century, era of the world-diffusion of Socialism and of the Russian and Spanish Revolutions, represents it in a degree that is absolutely superlative. Whether we like it or no, ours is the age of the World-Revolution. Our age is only significant when and where it is revolutionary. The economics of the ‘Age of Plenty’ embodied in the revolutionary struggle of the Workers and Peasants throughout the world, rise with an ultimately irresistible violence against the ‘scarcity economy’, against the era of class society, which the Past has bequeathed to us.

And yet again, we see the recurrent phenomenon of Revolution succeeded by counter-revolution. On the one side, the Russian and the Spanish Revolutions, and revolutionary agitation throughout the world: on the other, the international counter-revolution, the most dynamic and original form of which is to be found in Fascism, the Counter-Revolution par excellence, of the twentieth century. It is with this contemporary form of Counter-Revolution that this pamphlet must henceforth concern itself.

First, however, we must ask ourselves this question: what is a counter-revolution? It is the more necessary to do this, since there is no subject in our contemporary world about which there is so much stark confusion, and about which so much sheer nonsense is talked and written, as there is about Fascism. There is not in existence a political regime, from that of Stalin to that of the ex-Negus of Ethiopia, which has not at one time or another found someone to style it as ‘Fascist’.

What is a counter-revolution? In what precisely consists its essence as and when contrasted with pure reaction? Speaking broadly, we can state that blind reaction is purely negative: to the ‘yes’ of the Revolution, it answers simply ‘no’. It defends the indefensible, and there is nothing positive about it. Hence, from the intellectual standpoint reaction is merely atavistic and ridiculous: its generic prototype, ‘Colonel Blimp’, [2] is simply and solely a figure of fun. Unlike blind reaction however, a genuine counter-revolution is never simply negative, and it is never simply a figure of fun. Contrarily, it always embodies a positive aspect which usually deceives many who are not necessarily merely fanatics and/or fools. Counter-revolution, unlike sheer reaction, consciously aims at, and often succeeds in obtaining, the adhesion of the masses, and not merely of interested cliques,

All the successive forms that counter-revolution has assumed throughout the ages conform to this permanent principle. The Roman Caesars who – as I have elsewhere expressed it – ‘averted dissolution by stabilising decay’, did, at least, make the decay tolerable to a society rendered desperate to the point of revolution by the intolerable corruption and oppression that characterised the rule of the Roman plutocracy in the last century of the Republic. Similarly the Jesuits not only defeated the Reformers but also stole their demagogic thunders: to be sure, these master-champions of reaction were the paradoxical protagonists of the ‘Social Contract’ of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and of modern democracy, even to the point of advocating the assassination of rulers, though of course, only of heretical rulers. Moreover, it was these arch-champions of the Medieval church who yet ‘reconciled’ Catholicism with the Capitalist System which ended the Middle Ages for ever. And we shall shortly see Fascism, the modern counterpart of Caesarism and Jesuitism, also fight Socialism by stealing its thunders; and combat our imperative contemporary need for an organised society by grafting upon bourgeois society as much organisation as any class society can stand without losing its generic nature as a class society.

In fact we may sum up the nature of any effective counter-revolution when we state that, in contradistinction to reaction pure and simple, a genuine counter-revolution only defends defensible positions. It concedes part in order to preserve the remainder. It defeats the Revolution by borrowing heavily from it.

We have briefly noted that this was so with regard to the successful counter-revolutions of the Past, such as Caesarism and Jesuitism. We can now note the same phenomenon in more detail in relation to the pre-eminent counter-revolutionary movement of our own century – viz Fascism – to the rise, evolution and political and economic character of which the remainder of this pamphlet must now be devoted.