YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 21, 2013

Fascism: what it is, what it is not

obama_change_hitler_lenin-mdm-e1318046441364When 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.

This is not a guillotine

This is not a guillotine

(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).

LaRouche demonstration sign

LaRouche demonstration sign

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/).



February 2, 2013

“Totalitarianism,” polarization, and single-issue politics

Leninism-picturePolarization. Pundits and politicians today often complain about “polarization” as an obstacle to “compromise,” without acknowledging that there may be irreconcilable conflicts that cannot be mediated, no matter how skillful or flexible the warring parties. However, it is acknowledged that the two major political parties are at odds over the best way to achieve economic growth: Democrats  want Keynesian demand-stimulus and government spending, while conservative Republicans and libertarians want free markets and limited government as the road to prosperity, for it is the private sector that holds their attention, though some of their admired forbears advocated a government safety net (the Friedmans, Hayek). Perhaps we should calm down a bit: there are two capitalist parties, and no one is ideologically inclined to eliminate the other Party, at least not yet.

Single-issue politics. Social movements of the 1960s that piggy-backed off the civil rights movement  (antiwar, feminism, gay rights, animal rights, environmentalism, now Latino/Hispanic rights) are generally supported by liberals, but tend to dismay conservatives, who see such issues as feminism and gay rights as destructive to the family and even causes of cultural decline and coarsening): hence the “culture wars.” And no one is giving an inch, so that single-issue politics tend to polarize us even further, with each side in the various struggles accusing their opponents of authoritarianism, narrow-mindedness or even “totalitarian” tendencies.

Leftists would have to view single-issue politics as mostly disruptive and even a bourgeois distraction to the class struggle, which will, after the revolution, remove all obstacles to the development of the human personality under the new dispensation. Whereas I see these various movements as incommensurate, that is, they should be treated as separate entities with different histories and implications for how we manage the economy. They should not be jumbled together or even compared to the struggle of black Americans to achieve equality of opportunity.

Totalitarianism. I asked some of my Facebook friends to explain what they meant by “totalitarianism.” They agreed that it signified a kind of statism that would go beyond anything we have now in the West, eliminating all civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc. Nearly all read Orwell, and already feel the heat of Big Brother in some tendencies of the Obama administration, or even in the social movements mentioned above insofar as they impose PC or are alarmingly “secular.” Orwell was unenthused over “secularism” too: see https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/. Meanwhile, pundits of the Right and even the middle, tend to use “totalitarianism” in a manner that equates Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany as functional equivalents, which Orwell did not, hoping for an English “Socialism.” (Orwell did see Socialism as an ongoing theme in Nazi Germany, but he was mistaken. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/12/10/were-nazis-socialists/.) For other writers, the Holocaust is viewed as terrible, but a distraction from the millions of victims under the Soviet Union and Communist China.

In his conclusions to The Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution: Ideological Polarization in the Twentieth Century (UC Press, 1981, Transaction Press paperback ed., 1991) Jacob Talmon does not equate the terror states of Nazis and the Soviets, reducing each to a kind of ultra–statism, though both regimes had to resort to terror in order to discipline their constituencies. They had different historical trajectories as I have constantly argued here before. Nazis regressed to the brutalities of the archaic and to feudal social relations, while Reds believed they were emancipating the lower orders from the modern world as directed by the imperialist bourgeoisie. Reds would complete the unfulfilled bourgeois project, while Nazism was a counter-revolution. (Irving Louis Horowitz appropriates Talmon to paper over the polarities that Talmon emphasizes between Nazis and Soviets, in my view, because Horowitz is allied with such as Hannah Arendt. Page numbers below are from the Transaction Press version.)

Several years ago, I vehemently criticized Jonah Goldberg’s best seller Liberal Fascism as misleading and wrong-headed. (See  https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.) Since reading the Goldberg  book, one that was much admired on the Right, I have read Eric Hobsbawm’s  tetralogy on modernity that does find communism to be an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and of the bourgeois revolution that the French mounted in 1789, but certainly not Fascism or Nazism. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/11/23/historians-vs-pundits-the-eric-hobsbawm-synthesis/, https://clarespark.com/2013/01/15/golden-globes-lincoln-clinton-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/) .

The redoubtable historian Jacob Talmon covered the same period as Eric Hobsbawm, but from a liberal anti-communist point of view. He faults both Leninism and the various fascisms for erasing the conception of humanity and the value of the individual, but would never agree with Jonah Goldberg that progressivism was a precursor to a kind of “liberal fascism”, i.e. to the excessive statism that alarms the Republican Party, libertarians, and some of the writers for National Review.

Jacob Talmon Stamps

Jonah Goldberg, a popular writer, was in over his head.

Here is an example of what Talmon means by “totalitarianism” in the drive toward Soviet bureaucratic centralism or “totalitarian democracy” : “Lenin experienced that sense of movement, of the eternal tug of war, of unbridgeable contradictions, of the approaching crisis, with an intensity and urgency unmatched by anyone in his circle….movement, contradiction, conflict, breakthrough, change were to him encased in an evolving totality held together by the iron-cast law of historical inevitability. The irresistible march of history could neither be affected nor could be allowed to be interfered with by human arbitrariness, caprice, preferences, feelings, sentiments, residual inhibitions.” (p.339) In Lenin’s historical imagination, the bourgeoisie (finance capital) was the oppressor standing in the way of the development of “personality.” A dictatorship of the proletariat” would destroy the bourgeoisie, thus going all the way to fulfilling the promise of Enlightenment and its liberation of thought.

For these authors, “totalitarianism” is less about total control, but rather a “breakthrough,” a “vision of revolution” that seeks to overturn the world as it exists in its totality. Totality is the essence of the world “totalitarian.”  Nazism overthrows the German Right and the Weimar social democrats, while celebrating neo-feudal social relations, with the Leader directing the organic racially purified “people’s community” (the integral Nation). By contrast, communism imagines an international working class proletarian brotherhood, who have abolished nationalism, imperialism, and capitalism. Without these evil “isms” all people would be able to develop a full individuality. But the fascisms deter anything smacking of the individual, glorifying instead the State/Party/as the embodiment of the people’s community. For Mussolini there was nothing outside the State, and the State would work its coercive magic on the sindicati (He had once been a revolutionary Syndicalist, influenced by George Sorel, and his masculinist cult of violence and war.)

(Hitler’s volkischness would be enlarged globally so that each state, under German leadership, would be its own racially pure polity, but his war aims were mostly directed to stopping the  Soviets and expanding into the Slavic areas that were bread  baskets; that would entail enslaving the inferior Slavs.)

Populism. But everyone, Populist-Progressives, anarchists, George Sorel, and all the anticapitalists in Europe, including Nazis and Leninists alike, hated the rule of money, going so far as to stigmatize “economic determinism” as a Jewish imposition. For  Lenin. insofar as he was influenced by J. A.  Hobson,  finance capital was seen as a Jewish plot to take over the world (see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/, and Talmon pp. 204, 439, 473-74 and passim); for Hitler, “Jewish Bolshevism” was a front for finance capital (also “Jewish”) and worse, the Jews were the “anti-race,” for they valued, from antiquity onward, humanity as one species: Talmon insists on this.

We should get our history straightened out, recognizing the stunted political imagination that the careless use of political language imposes. Now that defiled brain is a species of terror. And it feels “totalitarian” to me.

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