When either political party or the alienated OWS crowd demonstrates, inevitably there will be a few Hitler signs among the various groups, at which point mass indignation sets in, with finger pointing and squeals: how dare you accuse me or my group of such a horrible affiliation! Everyone who gets angry is correct, and the carriers of the Hitler signs probably are angry too, but are also uneducated about the sources of “fascism” or “Nazism” or (in the case of Franco-dominated nationalist Spain, what is sometimes called “clerical fascism”).
There is massive confusion in both political parties about the nature of “fascism” so this blog tries to review European and American history from the Enlightenment to the present and bring some clarity to the matter. I apologize in advance for the compressed and reductive sentences that follow, but I will be close enough in my analysis.
Start with the invention of the printing press in the 16th century. This matters because 1. Mass literacy was enabled for the first time; and 2. The 20th century dictatorships were frequently blamed by conservatives on mass culture enabled by literacy and then the radio, movies, and television. Self-educated persons (autodidacts) have been the target of elites threatened with dispossession since ordinary people were first able to argue with their “betters” –who had previously interposed themselves between reader and printed page to tell the “lower orders” what the texts actually said. (Elites are still doing it, but now most have Ph.D.s in the humanities.)
The scientific revolution of the 17th century only made matters worse for elites. Now empiricism and worldliness seemed to have pushed mysticism and other-worldliness off the historical stage. The following “enlightenment” produced different results in different countries. England and France took one path, while Germany, under the name of Enlightenment, preserved mysticism and the related notions of “roots”, “national character,” and “Zeitgeist” (the spirit of an age).
The Industrial Revolution, made possible by the deists and “mechanical materialists” of the Enlightenment, terrified all previous ruling classes and institutions, for a numerous and skilled new industrial working class threatened to challenge their dominance. Lords and ladies did not know how to manage machines, and many made common cause with the industrial bourgeoisie to keep the new workers in harness. The Social Gospel in America, like its European counterparts (e.g. Bismarck’s social insurance), was aimed to alleviate the worst working conditions, to avoid dispossession by a revolutionary mob, one that could be inspired by either anarchism or communism, both strong in the 19th century, and both products of the French Revolution.
(By comparison, the American Revolution was a walk in the park, and tended to breed populists, angry debtors, or small utopian experiments limited by middle class values, as opposed to European socialism or anarchism theoretically grounded in Marx or Bakunin.)
Where we are so far: Confronted by a new, potentially dangerous class, European elites dreamed up ways to co-opt and contain their potential usurpers. One of their most potent weapons, apart from the welfare state, was the earlier conception of organic nationalism, a contribution of the Germans in league with ultraconservative opponents to Jacobinism, then to Napoleon. 19th century culture was characterized by insurgent nationalism, with inspiration taken from folk cultures. Progressivism in both America and Europe was an elite innovation that followed Germany in its top-down structure of buying off or co-opting the working class. It was the middle class professions who were designated and trained to keep the masses in line—as “healers,” bureaucrats, teachers, lawyers, intellectuals in the new media.
Enabled by the Great War, the Soviet coup of October 1917 was the event that spawned all future developments in the world. Its centrality to subsequent world history cannot be exaggerated, and all the right-wing movements that followed reacted to the phantasm of working-class dictatorship, including fascism in Italy, then the weak Weimar Republic (social democratic), then the conservative nationalists who put Hitler in power in Germany to stop communism in that country, then the Franco-led rebellion against the social democratic Spanish Republic. Each of these fascisms is distinct from the others, was rooted in European history, and cannot be transposed into the present, except for tiny fringe groups, annoying but of little consequence (with the exception of radical Nazified Islam, which is no fringe element).
Many conservatives in America, particularly the organic nationalists, want to pin Nazism on the Left, because of the word “socialist” in the name of the Nazi Party (Nationalist Socialist Workers Party). (For what “Socialist” meant to Nazis see https://clarespark.com/2010/02/18/nazi-sykewar-american-style-part-four/,)This misconstrues what socialism meant to Hitler and his associates. “Socialist” referred to self-sacrifice for the sake of the “people’s community” for the Nazi conception of the state was Aryan: i.e., racially homogeneous and purified of [anti-social, individualistic] Jews. And Jews were held to be the embodiment of capitalist greed. By the late 1930s, the coalition between Nazis and conservative nationalists was broken, laying the groundwork for the Army revolt in the 1940s (the last gasp of conservative nationalism), and crushed by Hitler.
All three of the major fascisms were mystical and statist, and took the “Prussian Road” (state-controlled) to modernization. However, the various fascisms cannot be simply equated with communism, which gained many adherents as the culmination of progress and the final emancipation of the individual. For the various fascisms, progress was a bourgeois trick that led to uppity behavior in the working class, and there was much in these fascist cultures that leaned back toward bygone ages, medievalism and the Roman Empire, to be precise, whereas communism was future-oriented.
Take this example from one Spanish fascist calling for the “integrated state”: the speaker is Calvo Sotelo, the monarchist leader of those opposing the democratic Spanish constitution of 1931: “Against this sterile state I am proposing the integrated state, which will bring economic justice, and which will say with due authority: ‘no more strikes, no more lock-outs, no more usury, no more capitalist abuses, no more starvation wages, no more political salaries gained by a happy accident [pensions], no more anarchic liberty, no more criminal conspiracies against full production’. The national production will be for the benefit of all classes, all parties, all interests. This state many may call fascist; if this be indeed the fascist state, then I, who believe in it, proudly declare myself a fascist!” [quoted in Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, pp. 7-8]
As I have written before here, it was social democrats that distanced themselves from fascism, by mischievously equating communism and fascism/Nazism. Social democrats (today, the left-wing of the Democratic Party in America) disguise their own statism by declaring themselves anything but “totalitarian.” But insofar as they copy the organic nationalism that enabled fascism, or impose a multicultural, covertly racist, discourse in public space, the social democrats may be viewed, as I do, as proto-fascist. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/, or https://clarespark.com/2011/02/10/multiculturalism-cui-bono/.)
We aren’t in an American variant of fascism yet. We still have two capitalist parties confronting one another, but with contrasting strategies for wealth creation: one is derived from Keynes, the other from von Mises, Hayek, and the Friedmans. We still have the Constitution and the various Amendments. That some opinion-leaders in each party are capable of calling their opponents totalitarians or fascists, is a symptom of their continued domination of mass education. Someone has to call them on it, and I have tried to do that here. Education reform that fails to outline the history I have summed up here is complicit with reaction.
We still have a working class majority along with a middle-class that can either torture their students or clients with half-truths, or could emancipate them with a proper political education, and both these classes remain up for grabs.
Where they go, goes liberty. (For the difficulties of defining “liberty” see https://clarespark.com/2016/03/17/what-does-liberty-signify/).