Here, and in the next three parts, we examine fascism explicitly. We will draw upon two sources for this part. The first is short but excellent essay of Master Land: The F Word, and the second is the Doctrine of Fascism by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile.
Let’s begin with Land’s central claim regarding democracy and fascism:
The general insight that remains incompletely crystallized is this: Democracy tends to fascism, due to its fundamental affinity with tribal mobilization (i.e. its essential illiberalism).
In our previous entry here, via the work of Leddhin’s Liberty or Equality, we more fully explored the democratic roots of fascism. Land’s claim regarding “tribal mobilization” was also prefigured in Leddhin in that democracy promotes tribal “identity” and mass “uniformity” as a matter of course.
Master Land then makes the claim, as we do and will explore more fully in a later post, that all the major powers developed similar fascist systems during the interwar and war years of the 20th century:
….. the reality of fascism, which was epitomized – universally – by the 20th-century war economy. Every major contestant of WWII – including the great Asian powers Japan and China – developed fascist governance to an advanced state.
Land then outlines several, universally held, features of the fascist state:
The essential feature was state seizure of the economy’s ‘commanding heights’ in the delegated (and integrated) ‘popular interest’. During war time such interest is peeled back to sheer survival, and thus publicized with dramatic intensity, which is also to say with an unusual absence of skepticism. Fascism is therefore broadly identical with a normalization of war-powers in a modern state, that is: sustained social mobilization under central direction. Consequently, it involves, beside the centralization of political authority in a permanent war council, a tribal hystericization of social identity, and a considerable measure of economic pragmatism.
Like its Continental European and Soviet competitors, American fascism had been fully consolidated by the beginning of the war. The New Deal cemented its structural pillars into place. Socialization of the economy through central banking, the transformation of the Supreme Court into a facilitator of systematic executive over-reach, and a transformation of mass-politics through broadcast media technologies had composed a new, post-constitutional political order.
(We do have one bone of contention with Land, however. The American Fascist system had not been fully consolidated until the end of WW2 which saw the permanent installation of the military-industrial complex which we examine in part 5.)
The take-home message is that fascism is the culmination of trends set in motion hundreds of years ago.
We claim that there are two primary causes for this fact.
The causes can be distinguished, imperfectly, into internal and external causes. The “internal” causes are what we have been examining so far. What we mean by internal causes is the process of centralization that results from competition for power in an unsecure political system via the use of patron-client relationships.
The second, external cause, is war, which we will look at in part 5.
The connection between the state, fascism and war is also noted by Land in the following paragraph:
Since the fascist state justifies itself through perpetual war, it naturally likes wars that cannot end. The Cold War looked like one, but wasn’t quite. The War on Terror is a better bet. In regards to their interminability, if not their moral intensity, ‘wars’ on poverty, drugs, and other resilient social conditions are more attractive still.
Fighting is what fascism is for:
Waging modern wars, and their metaphorical side-products, is what the fascist state is for. Winning them on occasion, and by accident, is only ever a misfortune. That lesson seems to have been thoroughly learned.
USG after WW2 had to reformulate its formula and distinguish itself from what it was fighting against:
The immense sacrifices – and, in fact, progressive fascist reconstruction of society that had been accelerated during the war years – was justified by the crushing defeat of an absolute evil. Distinction was imperative. Thus, the Soviets drew particular attention to the comparatively muted anti-capitalism of the Axis powers, while the Atlantic allies concentrated upon the exotic trappings of German anti-semitic Aryanism.
Thus, “fascism” in the West has been obscured, because if not, the similarities would have introduced “anomalies” and contradictions into the paradigm.
It is particularly notable that the predominant Western definition of fascism is remarkably maladapted to even the most basic comprehension of the Italian original, and that both Western and Soviet anti-fascist narratives are compelled to downplay the revolutionary socialism of its roots, in both its Italian and its German variants.
(These socialist “roots” are what we examine in the next part.)
Is the above fair, however? It is supposed to be an general description of fascism, but what about Fascism – Italian Fascism?
Firstly, to begin with, as we said here, we are deliberately taking a panoramic view of modern politics informed by history that sees more similarities than differences with all modern forms of government.
This “lumping” is opposed to “splitting” which attempts to distinguish and categorize the differences between say, American Progressivism, Italian Fascism and Soviet Communism.
Our theoretical and rhetorical purpose is to emphasize the similarities. In the next post, we will address the differences.
For the rest of this post, we look at what the real or “generic fascists” (to use Paul Gottfried’s term) say about themselves.
What did its own exponents such as Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile have to say about themselves in their own words? Does what they have to say about Fascism bare any resemblance or share any necessary features with Land’s characterization?
For this exercise, our source will be the Doctrine of Fascism.
Firstly, one must keep in mind the distinction between form and reality and this distinction seems especially important when it comes to Italian Fascism (it also applies to FDR’s Progressive Fascism as we shall see) because Mussolini was a political opportunist and Italian Fascism itself evolved (the better to capture power) over the decades.
John T. Flynn, writing in his book As We Go Marching, claims that:
…..socialism as a system of social structure with an organized body of doctrine was well understood. This was not true of fascism. Whether it was capitalist or anti-capitalist, labor or anti-labor, no one could say until the leaders themselves decided upon a course of action. It was improvised as the movement went along. Therefore we cannot define fascism as a movement committed to the collection of principles enunciated in its formal proclamation of principles and objectives—the Eleven Points of San Sepolcro. Mussolini, being in pursuit of power, made that objective the mold by which his policies were formed. Behold now the erection of the great fascist edifice.
In what follows, we pick out a few notable features that support our claims.
Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity (11). It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual (12). And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State (13). The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State – a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (14).
While there is much nonsense here about the “conscience and will of the people”, most of the above is refreshingly honest about how the Minotaur thinks.
DEFINITION OF FASCISM AS REAL DEMOCRACY
But if democracy be understood as meaning a regime in which the masses are not driven back to the margin of the State, and then the writer of these pages has already defined Fascism as an organized, centralized, authoritarian democracy.
As we will see in the next post, the Nazis could and did claim to be “democratic”. Why do democracies develop in this way? The answer is that in order to gain and maintain power there needs to be as Land says “sustained social mobilization under central direction.” This begins in the Party campaigning to gain power. Once power is achieved, the party machine that creates and sustains uniformity, regulation and control of its members are then transferred, via the organs of the state, to all aspects of society. This process can be fast, like in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia or slow as in America.
Fascism is the “riddle of history solved” forever:
THE FASCIST TOTALITARIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE
The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet. Monarchical absolutism is of the past, and so is ecclesiolatry. Dead and done for are feudal privileges and the division of society into closed, uncommunicating castes. Neither has the Fascist conception of authority anything in common with that of a police ridden State. A party governing a nation “totalitarianly” is a new departure in history. There are no points of reference nor of comparison. From beneath the ruins of liberal, socialist, and democratic doctrines, Fascism extracts those elements which are still vital. It preserves what may be described as “the acquired facts” of history; it rejects all else. That is to say, it rejects the idea of a doctrine suited to all times and to all people. Granted that the XIXth century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ” right “, a Fascist century. If the XIXth century was the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the “collective” century, and therefore the century of the State.
We can take the claim that Fascism rejects the pre-1789 world as genuine. Thus, if you have the panoramic historical view that we are trying to paint for you, Fascism sides with revolutionaries and not with the reactionaries.
The State and nothing but the State:
THE ABSOLUTE PRIMACY OF THE STATE
The keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Individuals and groups are admissible in so far as they come within the State. Instead of directing the game and guiding the material and moral progress of the community, the liberal State restricts its activities to recording results. The Fascist State is wide awake and has a will of its own. For this reason it can be described as ” ethical “.
At the first quinquennial assembly of the regime, in 1929, I said “The Fascist State is not a night watchman, solicitous only of the personal safety of the citizens; not is it organized exclusively for the purpose of guarantying a certain degree of material prosperity and relatively peaceful conditions of life, a board of directors would do as much. Neither is it exclusively political, divorced from practical realities and holding itself aloof from the multifarious activities of the citizens and the nation. The State, as conceived and realized by Fascism, is a spiritual and ethical entity for securing the political, juridical, and economic organization of the nation, an organization which in its origin and growth is a manifestation of the spirit.
The above passage makes clear that Fascism will necessarily involve a “a tribal hystericization of social identity”.
Revolutionary, not reactionary:
The Fascist State is, however, a unique and original creation. It is not reactionary but revolutionary, for it anticipates the solution of certain universal problems which have been raised elsewhere, in the political field by the splitting up of parties, the usurpation of power by parliaments, the irresponsibility of assemblies; in the economic field by the increasingly numerous and important functions discharged by trade unions and trade associations with their disputes and ententes, affecting both capital and labor; in the ethical field by the need felt for order, discipline, obedience to the moral dictates of patriotism.
Fascism desires the State to be strong and organic, based on broad foundations of popular support. The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporative, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organized in their respective associations, circulate within the State. A State based on millions of individuals who recognize its authority, feel its action, and are ready to serve its ends is not the tyrannical state of a mediaeval lordling. It has nothing in common with the despotic States existing prior to or subsequent to 1789.
Far from crushing the individual, the Fascist State multiplies his energies, just as in a regiment a soldier is not diminished but multiplied by the number of his fellow soldiers. The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves the individual adequate elbow room. It has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential. In such matters the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only. The Fascist.
John T. Flynn summarizes Fascism as follows:
As we survey the whole scene in Italy, therefore, we may now name all the essential ingredients of fascism. It is a form of social organization
1. In which the government acknowledges no restraint upon its powers—totalitarianism.
2. In which this unrestrained government is managed by a dictator—the leadership principle.
3. In which the government is organized to operate the capitalist system and enable it to function-under an immense bureaucracy.
4. In which the economic society is organized on the syndicalist model, that is by producing groups formed into craft and professional categories under supervision of the state.
5. In which the government and the syndicalist organizations operate the capitalist society on the planned, autarchial principle.
6. In which the government holds itself responsible to provide the nation with adequate “purchasing power by public spending and borrowing.
7. In which militarism is used as a conscious mechanism of government spending, and
8. In which imperialism is included as a policy inevitably flowing from militarism as well as other elements of fascism.
Flynn’s criteria for assessing if a state is tending towards fascism:
Wherever you find a nation using all of these devices you will know that this is a fascist nation. In proportion as any nation uses most of them you may assume it is tending in the direction of fascism. Because the brutalities committed by the fascist gangs, the suppressions of writers and statesmen, the aggressions of the fascist governments against neighbors make up the raw materials of news, the public is familiar chiefly with the dictator element in fascism and is only very dimly aware of its other factors. Dictatorship alone does not make a fascist state. The dictatorship of Russia, while following the usual shocking techniques of tyranny—the concentration camp and the firing squad—is very far from being a fascist dictatorship. In any dictatorship the dictator attacks such internal enemies and coddles such internal allies as suit his purposes, and so his suppressions and propaganda will be directed at different groups in different countries.
The next paragraph is particularly important:
Hence while Hitler denounces and persecutes the Jews, it was two Jews—Theodore Wolff and Emil Ludwig—who acclaimed Mussolini, because the latter did not find it profitable to attack them. The central point of all this is that dictatorship is an “essential instrument of fascism but that the other elements outlined here are equally essential to it as an institution. In different countries it may alter its attitudes on religion or literature or races or women or forms of education, but always it will be militaristic and imperialist dictatorship employing government debt and autarchy in its social structure.
Does any of this apply to America since 1933?
In the next part we take a slight detour by examining Fascism, Socialism and Communism, but then we look in depth at the fascist reconstruction of America during the FDR era, but if you are interested in pursuing the matter further, the following are a good start: