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Red fascism is a term equating Stalinism, Maoism, and other variants of Marxism–Leninism with fascism. Accusations that the leaders of the Soviet Union during the Stalin era acted as "red fascists" were commonly stated by anarchists, left communists, social democrats and other democratic socialists as well as liberals and among right-wing circles.
Use of the term "red fascist" was first recorded in the early 1920s, in the aftermath of both the Russian Revolution and the March on Rome, for instance by Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri who wrote in 1922 that "“Red fascists” is the name that has recently been given to those Bolshevik communists who are most inclined to espouse fascism’s methods for use against their adversaries."
In the following years, a number of socialists began to hold the view that the Soviet government was becoming a red fascist state. Bruno Rizzi, an Italian Marxist and a founder of the Communist Party of Italy who became an anti-Stalinist, claimed in 1938 that "Stalinism [took on] a regressive course, generating a species of red fascism identical in its superstructural and choreographic features [with its Fascist model]".
While primarily focused on critiquing Nazism, Wilhelm Reich considered Stalin's Soviet Union to have developed into red fascism.
The term is often attributed to Franz Borkenau, a key proponent of the theory of totalitarianism (which posits that there are certain essential similarities between fascism and Stalinism). Borkenau used the term in 1939. Otto Rühle, a German left communist, used the term in a similar way. He wrote that "the struggle against fascism must begin with the struggle against bolshevism", adding that he believed the Soviets had influence on fascist states by serving as a model. In 1939, Rühle further professed:
Russia was the example for fascism. [...] Whether party 'communists' like it or not, the fact remains that the state order and rule in Russia are indistinguishable from those in Italy and Germany. Essentially they are alike. One may speak of a red, black, or brown 'soviet state', as well as of red, black or brown fascism.
Kurt Schumacher, who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, but survived WWII to become the first post-war SPD opposition leader in West Germany, described pro-Soviet communists as “red-painted fascists” or "red-lacquered Nazis".
Similarly, the exiled Russian anarchist Volin, who saw the Soviet state as totalitarian and as an "example of integral State capitalism", used the term "red fascism" to describe it.
In the US, Norman Thomas (who ran for president numerous times under the Socialist Party of America banner), accused the Soviet Union in the 1940s of decaying into Red fascism by writing: "Such is the logic of totalitarianism", that "communism, whatever it was originally, is today Red fascism". In the same period, the term was used by the New York intellectuals, who were left-wing but sided against the Soviet Union in the developing Cold War.
The term "red fascism" was also used in America during and leading up to the Cold War as an anti-communist slogan. In a September 18, 1939 editorial, The New York Times reacted to the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact by declaring that "Hitlerism is brown communism, Stalinism is red fascism". The editorial further opined:
The world will now understand that the only real 'ideological' issue is one between democracy, liberty and peace on the one hand and despotism, terror and war on the other.
After the war, in 1946, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover gave a speech in which he said:
Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini brands of Fascism were met and defeated on the battle fıeld. All those who stand for the American way of life must arise and defeat Red Fascism in America by focusing upon it the spotlight of public opinion and by building up barriers of common decency through which it cannot penetrate.
The speech was reprinted in December 1946 in the Washington News Digest, and Hoover also entitled an article “Red Fascism in the United States Today” in American Magazine in February 1947.
Jack Tenney, an anti-communist politician who chaired the California Senate Factfinding Subcommittee on Un-American Activities published a report entitled Red Fascism in 1947, which drew on the popular anti-fascism of the war years to portray the Soviet Union and domestic Communism as similar to the Nazis. The same year the term was used by politicians Everett Dirksen and Henderson Lovelace Lanham.
French philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy has used the term in arguing that some European intellectuals have been infatuated with anti-Enlightenment theories and embraced a new absolutist ideology, one that is anti-liberal, anti-American, anti-imperialist, antisemitic and pro-Islamofascist.
the Austrian historian and sociologist Franz Borkenau, himself a former Communist, published The Totalitarian Enemy on December 1, 1939 (London, Faber & Faber, 1940), writing the work after the shock of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the start of the war... For Borkenau, the pact clarified the situation and the parties present brought out the underlying similarities between the German and Russian systems, which he described as “Brown Bolshevism” and “Red Fascism,” thereby increasing the war’s legitimacy in defending freedom.
the prevailing anti-Stalinism of most of the New York writers overwhelmed their other concerns... they consciously chose to ally with the "West" as the lesser of two evils locked in struggle in the "Cold War." The "West", of course, was their euphemism for imperialism, which had now become an acceptable ally against what they called "Red Fascism."
In the postwar period, Tenney s language of "red fascism," which identified fascism with the domestic progressive agenda and denounced it as a Communist plot, would supplant McWilliams's equation of fascism with American political repression, class inequalities, and racism. Not only right-wingers such as Tenney but Cold War liberals as well identified fascism with an oppressive totalitarianism common to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and absent from the democratic society of the United States.