by Organon tou Ontos
FIRST OF all, let me suggest what I think it is that different varieties of fascism, and National Socialism, have in common. Let this also stand for my own personal view of ‘fascism’ in general:
• Radical communitarianism: Placing the interests of the community over the individual. The community can be a group, hamlet, town, city, province, or nation, so long as it is cohesive and sufficiently bounded (i.e., not arbitrary) to stand as a unit with its own “interests.” I don’t think this entails lack of privacy, just a legal element that ensures that private activity does not diminish the interests of the community.
• Hierarchical autarkism: Encouraging and actively promoting economic and agro-material self-sufficiency (self-sufficiency, not atomized individualism), at every level: Individual, family, town, nation. This helps to explain fascist ‘support’ for private property: Private property is not an end in itself, but a means of bettering the community — it entails a more resilient whole, rather than engendering chronic dependency.
• Meritocratic authoritarianism: Tied in with the above, a system that encourages self-sustenance tied to community interests that also encourages authoritarian rule by the most fit and the most capable. I remember a source some time back that mentioned an incident that involved a local NSDAP party functionary. He wanted Berlin to appoint him local leader. They responded by telling him that if he felt that he deserved and warranted it, he should just seize power, locally.
• Public rituals and social aesthetics: Unifying symbolism, mass meetings, etc. to create an atmosphere of theater. Fascism is a way of life, as well as a worldview. Some revisionists want to strip fascism down to just is essential elements of policy, ignoring or rejecting everything else as embarrassing spectacle. But I think fascism recasts human relationships. Making social rituals central diverts us from our selfish selves.
• Institutional opposition to decline: In the social, cultural, and in some cases ethnic and racial sphere, policies calculated to elevate higher elements (biological and cultural) over lower elements.
• Cultural, ethnic, or racial imperialism and irredentism: This is really an extension of autarkism. I mention this with some reservation. See below.
The question was asked: “Do you think there is a difference between the fascism of say, Mosley and Mussolini, or Antonescu and Franco?”
Beyond elements of commonality, there are important differences between various systems, I think. I use the term ’fascism’ (f in lower case) to describe the general phenomenon, and, for example, ‘Italian Fascism,’ to describe a specific instance of it. Many continue to argue that Italian Fascism defines fascism in general, and I disagree.
First of all, Mussolini’s state was not the first ‘fascist’ regime: In terms of name, core ideals, etc., the first fascist regime was D’Annunzio’s Regency of Carnaro in Fiume. He led a force of hundreds of dispirited Italian soldiers and forcibly retook the city. D’Annunzio was frustrated with Italy’s failure to re-annex the city. When they failed to do so, he seized Fiume on behalf of Italy. When Italy rebuked him, D’Annunzio declared war on Italy. His regime lasted for a year or so. His social policies were far more flexible and pluralistic than even Mussolini’s, but many of the core elements I discuss above were central to his brief regime.
Sir Mosley visited Italy, Germany, and absorbed the ideas of other fascist leaders. His core foreign policy aim was to conserve, rather than expand, the British Empire. He wanted to transform it into an instrument for the preservation of the British people. In My Life, written much later, he makes a key claim: “Fascism was an explosion against intolerable conditions by people who felt themselves threatened with decline, and wanted to live, and live greatly.” This ‘will to life’ is central to fascism (I have a quote from Franco on Ur-Fascism, my site, echoing Mosley). Another claim Sir Mosley made in the same book was that fascism, at its core, represent(ed) a sort of fusion of “Caesarism and science”: It combines the authoritarian impulse with a sober absorption of facts. He justified fascism in Britain primarily by appeal to the need for a system that truly represented the interests of the British people, who faced not only unemployment, “vile housing,” and decline, but the threat of a pointless war with Germany.
Mussolini’s regime arose from Mussolini’s determination to halt Italy’s decline. The abstract justification for fascism in The Doctrine of Fascism is an appeal to the interests and propensities of “the State.” But Mussolini did not write the entire Doctrine. It was penned by Giovanni Gentile, who was a trained Hegelian philosopher. Gentile, echoing Hegel, believed that the State represented the end and justification for society. Mussolini only wrote the second part of the Doctrine, and several things are, there, noticeable: He begins by immediately talking about the concrete conditions of the Italian Fascist party’s emergence and seizure of power. He does talk about “the State,” but he seems more interested in grounding the context of the Fascist regime’s emergence and persistence, and in contrasting Italian Fascism with rival doctrines. Mussolini’s Italy was interestingly pluralistic and remarkably tolerant, relative to our conceptions of fascism today. Sir Mosley’s state would likely have mirrored this.
In contrast to Sir Mosley, Mussolini neither entered power nor endured through it rejecting war with Germany or the prospect of war with such. In fact, during the 1920s, Mussolini detested Hitler, writing “rejected” across an image of himself that Hitler had sent him with a request for an autograph. When Mussolini met Hitler, he thought he was a clown. Later, when Dolfuss, leader of pro-Italy Austria, was murdered by pro-Hitler elements, Mussolini threatened to march on Austria to keep Austria a clerico-fascist state aligned with Italy. It was Hitler that backed away. Mussolini’s bond with Hitler was circumstantial, not ideological. Whereas Sir Mosley was concerned that another war with Germany would spell ruin for the British Empire, until 1936 Mussolini never rejected a prospect of conflict with Germany. Even then, Mussolini’s shift primarily came about because he was isolated after invading Abyssinia, and being saddled with economic sanctions by Britain, France, and the West. In hindsight, the West’s actions were hypocritical and self-righteous. But because Hitler accepted Mussolini’s imperialist aims, and had backed away from Austria after 1936, Mussolini shifted permanently into the German orbit.
It was around this time, or a little later, that Mussolini’s Fascist Party adopted racial policies. The relationship of race and racial policy to fascism has been one of several points that has caused those sympathetic with Hitlerian National Socialism to reject “fascism.” Even Sir Mosley’s British Union of Fascists had never adopted racial policies. In Fascism: 10 Questions Asked and Answered, Sir Mosley states that his government would only adopt racial policies if a need for them arose. This implied several things: The racial status quo in Britain, as of c. 1933, was to be preserved, not revolutionarily restructured. It also meant that minority groups in Britain could remain, provided that there was a consistent demonstration of loyalty to the nation over one’s native country. This, of course, included Jews. Despite Jewish claims to the contrary, I see no evidence in Sir Mosley’s program, not even the seeds of such, that he would have undertaken a policy of relocating British Jews abroad.
However, Sir Mosley does state in Fascism: 10 Questions Asked and Answered that only native White Britons could enter into his future government. This is another point of contrast with Mussolini’s Fascist state. Until 1936, there were Jewish members of the National Fascist Party of Italy, including its ruling organs and structures. There is continued debate about the significance and causes of Mussolini’s shift after 1936. Germany’s geopolitical power was waxing after 1936, following reoccupation of the Rhineland had France occupied a defensive position, and with the economic sanctions against Italy from France and Britain Mussolini’s turn toward racial policies might have been a combination of both shifting ideological rapport as well as gratitude. If one is disinclined to believe the latter, it should be remembered that Mussolini was prone to be impulsive. In 1940, when Hitler swiftly took France, Belgium, and Holland, Mussolini — fearing he would be left out of any favorable outcomes — hastily and impulsively declared war on France and Britain. I think this was a bad move (for reasons I won’t go into here), but it underlies my point: That Mussolini might have adopted racial policies to gain greater proximity to Hitler’s regime is believable.
The corporatist regime of Franco was less overtly fascist in its core policies and aims than Mussolini’s regime. Unlike Mussolini and Sir Mosley, Franco was partly reacting to the decline of clerical authority and privilege and wanted to use the instruments of state to extend the status quo. Hitler even purportedly remarked at one point that he felt the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War seemed to be peopled with individuals that reflected a greater concern for the masses. This subtle ideological difference underscores another point of departure among fascist regimes and movements. Personalities, in historical fascism, are to a great degree determinative. Sir Mosley came from the upper classes, although he seems to have been seized with a genuine concern for workers, soldiers, and the British masses in general. Franco did adopt a youth movement and other elements of fascism, but his regime could arguably be classified as reactionary fascism. Hitler’s regime, despite Marxist claims to the contrary, was a revolutionary subspecies of fascism. It is difficult to underestimate the truly revolutionary scope (in racial and ethnic terms, and not just for Germany but for the whole of Europe and Eurasia) of Hitler’s long term goals.
This distinction may be what is captured by the term ‘para-fascism.’ It sits alongside a variety of other terms, ‘clerico-fascism’ being one of them.
It would be a mistake, however, to claim that any fascist movement that had as its aim the extension or elevation of the religious scope of national life was necessarily only ‘reactionary.’ The briefly ruling Iron Guard in Romania was a diagnosably fascist movement, but it appealed to Romanian Orthodox religious convictions. Codreanu believed that a nation, as a community of physically and spiritually kindred people, was ensouled, just like the individual. Nations are raised to Heaven or condemned to Hell, just like the individual, on the basis of their deeds and actions in life. Codreanu also held the concomitant view that a nation is an historical entity that, in its totality, includes every single member, from the moment of the nation’s inception until the moment it expires. In his A Few Remarks on Democracy, he lodges the interesting claim that the bones and tombs of the dead, like the infinite unborn, are as much a part of the nation as those who are currently alive. This seems to have been a literal belief, not a token or metaphorical one, as part of his broader religious conception of the nation. Deeply anti-Semitic, in contrast to Franco (who may even have been partly Jewish himself, and had both a lenient personal and societal view of Jews), Codreanu’s regime was arguably revolutionary-conservative in its aims.
Many associate imperialism with fascism, and Mussolini and Hitler both had imperialistic or irredentist aims: The official Italian policy of ‘Spazio Vitale’ sought a greater cultural expanse of Roman (Italian) influence over the Mediterranean, while the German policy of ‘Lebensraum’ sought to displace a sizable number of Russians, Belorussians, and Poles in order to realize an aim of German colonial expansion. In the latter sense, the aim was not cultural assimilation but biological displacement. By contrast, Sir Mosley sought to conserve what Britain already had: The British Empire was still at its apex, but imperiled with economic and social signatures of decline that he wanted to stymie, turn inward, and use to insulate the British people. Codreanu did not seek expansion, only insulation from Bolshevik aims (in Bessarabia). Franco and Salazar also sought to conserve their empires. In a rare few cases, some fascist leaders actually sought the absorptive disappearance of their own country: The National-Socialist Movement of the Netherlands, under Mussert, accommodated a goal to gradually absorb Holland into the Third Reich, with the Dutch people’s historical breach from the German peoples sealed.
If it is a mistake to view all religiously motivated fascist movements as necessarily reactionary, it would also be a mistake to assume that all religiously driven movements were necessarily Christian. The National Gathering of Norway, under Quisling, sought a resurrection of pre-Christian cultural and social structures. By contrast, the leaders of other fascist movements either adopted a policy of conciliation with existing religious institutions or else they remained muted or quietly hostile. Mussolini was an atheist, but he recognized that the vast majority of Italians were Catholics. He signed a concordat with the Catholic Church, recognizing its sovereignty in its own sphere of life while insisting on the political primacy of Italian Fascism. Sir Mosley did not speak about religious issues very much. In Fascism: 10 Questions Asked and Answered, he makes the explicit point that the British Union of Fascists was strongly supportive of the monarchy. It is likely that he would have allowed the existing status quo in Great Britain of the 1930s to persist. His primary concerns were political and economic, in any event.
Some have said that fascism nearly always arises in opposition to something; either decline or Marxism.
That Jewish lesbian, Rachel Maddow, argued in one of her shows that Sir Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was a “corporate fascist movement” and projected that same basic view on fascism in general. So, the idea that fascism is just a reactionary insulation of moneyed interests and big business is alive and well. During the so-called war on terror, Bush’s policies were ridiculed as “fascist.” When he doled out “noncompetitive contracts” with friends in big business, it supposedly deepened this claim. Protecting big business and making war as an end in itself are both viewed as indicative of fascism.
I remember a textbook required of us in my introductory sociology course. It defined socialism as “community ownership of the means of production” and communism as “totalitarian socialism.” It defined capitalism as “private ownership of the means of production” and went on to define fascism as “totalitarian capitalism.” Crude and simple, but they reflect how the left views fascism: As “corporate fascism.” Anything left of center verges on “fascistic” in the mind’s eye of the Marxist. By contrast, the “right” uses fascism to project criticism of any social or cultural phenomenon it does not approve of. Enter “feminazis,” “ecofascists,” and “liberal fascists.” Anything that threatens the right of men to own guns, drink beer, smoke nicotine, become obscenely obese, or run a business, basically.
Every side’s bogeyman. Which makes perfect sense, of course, historically. After all, look at the Faustian pact between Anglo-American leaders and the Communist world. They both grasped and responded to a threat to their ways of life: The threat to the USSR was more immediate, while the threat to the USA was abstract and it consisted in showing the world that there were and are viable models as alternatives to economic liberalism. After the war, the remnants of hostility to fascism were trained on either side of these spectrums. This is also why the syncretism of fascism was, in many policies, bifurcated: For example, environmental policy became a ‘left wing’ aim (despite the fact that there are genuine ‘right wing’ bases for environmentalism). But the original alliance of convenience still resurfaces from time to time: In the controversy over the political views of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, right wing fundamentalist opposition to Darwinism fuses with left wing opposition to eugenics to create a hybrid critique of a supposedly proto-Nazi naturalist.
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