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Fascism and Socialism

From our friends at the Libertarian Alliance, a very interesting article on the close historical links between fascism and socialism (or at least Marxism). It has never ceased to amaze me how many people think that fascism/nazism and socialism are somehow divided by a wide gulf.

Sure, states professing fascism and nazism went to war with a state professing to be communist/socialist, but the most bitter struggles are always internecine, and anyway how can you miss the fact that the name of the Nazi party was National Socialist?

The article should provide you with ample ammunition to make uncomfortable the many, many socialists out there who view “fascist” as the ultimate in derogation.

From 1912 to 1914, Mussolini was the Che Guevara of his day, a living saint of leftism. Handsome, courageous, charismatic, an erudite Marxist, a riveting speaker and writer, a dedicated class warrior to the core, he was the peerless duce of the Italian Left. He looked like the head of any future Italian socialist government, elected or revolutionary.

Mussolini and a group of adherents launched the Fascist movement in 1919. The initiators were mostly men of the left: revolutionary syndicalists and former Marxists.

Apart from its ardent nationalism and pro-war foreign policy, the Fascist program was a mixture of radical left, moderate left, democratic, and liberal measures.

Given what most people today think they know about Fascism, this bare recital of facts is a mystery story. How can a movement which epitomizes the extreme right be so strongly rooted in the extreme left? What was going on in the minds of dedicated socialist militants to turn them into equally dedicated Fascist militants?

What indeed? The remainder of the article, on first read, seems to be well-researched and well-thought out story of intellectual and political ferment.

James Gregor has argued that Fascism is a Marxist heresy, a claim that has to be handled with care. Marxism is a doctrine whose main tenets can be listed precisely: class struggle, historical materialism, surplus-value, nationalization of the means of production, and so forth. Nearly all of those tenets were explicitly repudiated by the founders of Fascism, and these repudiations of Marxism largely define Fascism. Yet however paradoxical it may seem, there is a close ideological relationship between Marxism and Fascism. We may compare this with the relationship between, say, Christianity and Unitarianism. Unitarianism repudiates all the distinctive tenets of Christianity, yet is still clearly an offshoot of Christianity, preserving an affinity with its parental stem.

Yes, the authoritarian acorn never falls far from the collectivist tree.

21 comments to Fascism and Socialism

  • fnyser

    This has to be the best part:

    “In the panoramic sweep of history, Fascism, like Communism, like all forms of socialism, and like today’s greenism and anti-globalism, is the logical result of specific intellectual errors about human progress. Fascism was an attempt to pluck the material fruits of liberal economics while abolishing liberal culture. (41) The attempt was entirely quixotic: there is no such thing as economic development without free-market capitalism and there is no such thing as free-market capitalism without the recognition of individual rights. The revulsion against liberalism was the outcome of misconceptions, and the futile attempt to supplant liberalism was the application of further misconceptions. By losing the war, Fascism and National Socialism spared themselves the terminal sclerosis which beset Communism.”

  • toolkien

    As a guest I will try and keep this brief (and I recognize that what I say may not be original but it is self conceived; I haven’t read all on the subject so I’m certain my betters have already said the same more properly).

    I suppose the reason that many view a wide gulf between fascism and socialism is that many view the old notions of left and right on a straight line continuum while I view it as circular. In terms of a clock pure Anarchism is at 12 o’clock and pure Statism is at 6 o’clock, both idealistic and unobtainable as disagreements will undermine the ideal. Right Libertarianism exists between 1 and 2 o’clock, Moderate Right between 2 and 4 o’clock, and Right Statism exists between 4 and 6 o’clock with fascism at about 5 o’clock. Conversely Left Libertarianism exists between 10 and 11 o’clock, Moderate Left between 8 and 10 o’clock and Left Statism between 6 and 8 o’clock, with (practical) communism at about 6:30. So with my crude model Communism and Fascism exist very near each other at the Statist ‘pole’. Conversely, libertarians of each stripe are very near each other near the Anarchist ‘pole’. Of course communism is supposed to exist around 11:30 or after in its ideal form but we know from experience in its practical manifestation it exists at 6:30. It is my cynical interpretation that there are irresistible forces within the mass that move inexorably toward 6:00 regardless of initial intent of those adhering to the new order. It will be corrupted eventually and tyranny will manifest itself. But the most important notion is to consider the speed with which tyranny presents itself depending on models allowing for private property rights versus those that don’t. The left libertarian model bereft of individual property rights slides into Statism quite rapidly while the slide into Statism with individual property rights, that are bargained away under some sort of swap of liberty for security, is much slower. The end result is the same and revolution is ultimately necessary. The risk of course is that revolution is a collectivist activity and the likelihood of resetting a culture of liberty after revolution is chancy, but it is eventually found to be necessary. Those of us in the US are extremely lucky (as compared to other States experiencing revolution, South America, France, Russia) that those who founded this country, most of all Washington, did not aspire to some form of aristocratic rule, but adhered to transient rule, albeit by the upper class. It helped stave off tyranny for many decades, which has been slowly gathering for the last 100+ years, slowly due in large part to the underlying individualism and private property rights from the start. Unfortunately the curve is exponential, and we are see the steep upward momentum of Statism the later we are on the curve, the self-serving impetus of Statism feeding itself more quickly and efficiently. We are perhaps about two-thirds of the way, and the ascent will be alarmingly fast in the next 20-30 years or so.

  • Mike

    What do you call a communist country with a capitalist economy?



  • zacek

    for further reading on the subject see Joshua Muravchik, Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.

    Naziism substituted race struggle for class struggle; one could opine that anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism were born conjoined twins.

  • bil.

    Chapter 12: The Socialist Roots of Naziism
    in Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom isn’t bad either for more of the similar.
    Though I don’t know how likely Popper fetishists are to appreciate the insights of the Austrians.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Fascist/socialist – two sides of the same coin.

    I find it very interesting that Bill O’Reilly stopped his incessant labeling of Capital Hill liberals as “socialists” when I wrote demanding that intellectual honesty required he also label authoritarian conservatives “fascists”.

  • I agree with bil. on Hayek’s brilliant dissection of the Socialist roots of Hitlerism.

    No shameless self-promotion down here (means: no link) , but I posted a parallel between it and our anti-globos a few months ago – ( And when I see, now, that the French anti-globos, Jose Bove and ATTAC are building ties with fishy characters on the verge of fundamentalism such as Tariq Ramadan, I’m starting to ponder WHO could play the equivalent of the Prussian Nationalists factor alongside the Left in the upcoming disaster scenario…)

    Anyway, an interesting book on the real – and early – face of Socialism, which can achieve to fill the not-so-wide gulf, is George Watson’s “The lost literature of Socialism”.
    For instance, genocide is one of Socialism’s own theories, writes Watson.

    Engels in 1849, “advised” to exterminate the Hungarians who rose up against Austria, but also the Serbs and other Slaves, the Basques, the Britons and the Scots, while Marx wonders in 1852 how to get rid of those “moribund tribes”, the Bohemians, the Carinthians, the Dalmatians.

    Hitler “just” put the theory in practice. Reading Engels on the “races” issues clears all doubts about that.

    And what should we think of Bernard Shaw, admiring the Soviet Union so much that he pressed the chemists in the periodical “The Listener” in 1933, to devise a “humanitarian” gas in order to exterminate the enemies of Socialism in a “humane” way?

    Later, that argument was invoked by Adolf Eichmann, about the zyklon B, during his trial in Jerusalem, 1962. A “humane”, “painless” way to exterminate a people.

    Sounds like the very definition of Socialism to me.

    Another fascinating lecture is the gathering of mails between François Furet and Ernst Nolte, titled “Fascisme et Communisme” (French, sorry. Can’t tell if it’s been translated to English) where both confront their interpretations.

  • Actually this comes from the other Libertarian Alliance. There was a split in the 1980s and both bits retained the name and even logo. The one that I and other people here know about can be found at: http://www.libertarian.co.uk

  • john

    I recall that several of this same thesis, i.e. circularity of the political spectrum and the near-equivalence of fascism and socialism, was offered by Jerome Tucille in “Ni Marx Ni Jesus”, published in English as “Without Marx or Jesus”

  • fnyser

    Kevin, I think you are making the mistake covered in the “What They Told Us about Fascism” section.

    authoritarian conservative ≠ fascist

  • Tom Kince

    The real difference between fascism and socialism is the national focus. Socialism is international, in theory it has to be or it will fail. Fascism and most precisely NAZIsm ( National Socialist German Workers Party) is nationalist, just like Stalin’s Russia (roughly, socialism in one country.) Trotsky’s battles with Stalin were over whether Socialism could be internationalist or nationalist. Trotsky lost, and Stalin ended up fighting his fascist co-theorist.

    We get confused by ownership of the means of production. Ownership of the means of production is insignificant, its who controls the means of production that matters not who owns them.

    Fascism and Socialism are two very, very similar political theories that disagree simply on whether they can work in one country only or not. And it appears that the internationalist were right and are now doing their best to correct the mistakes of the nationalists.

  • OK, so we all pretty much agree. We can go out into the light and challenge our adversaries when next they taint us with Fascism and Nazism. I dare say most of us do that already, and that’s nice. But it’s misses the point that the modern left is not old-style socialist, not marxist-leninist but merely marxian. Much of the right has been missing this point all along. A week ago a potentially important article by Sean Gabb was published by the UK L.A. In it he bewails the Conservative Party’s failure to think outside the old, cold war framework. Throughout 18 years of government it totally failed to comprehend the nature of the left’s non-economic domestic agenda. It is still doing so today while the Guardianistas are in control and the country rolls along the road to a culturally egalitarian hell.

    Mr Gabb grasped the nettle and brought together the generality of cultural politics as taught to our children in university, the 24/7 “work” of a civil service impregnated with these teachings and the New Labour Project. The article wasn’t totally successful, I thought. It needs not a couple of thousand words but an important book to lay out the full argument. Even so, it was a brave move and I am surprised it has received no applause on this site.

    Fight the fascist smear by all means but better by far to lay bare the marxian soul of New Labour.

  • lucklucky

    Fascists = Sincere Comunists?

    They understood the contradictions: stopped dreaming of a workers based revolution, stopped dreaming of peasants and workers theoretical knowledge, will and intelectuall capacity, so they had to start a more hierarchichal revolution. Comunists keep in denial and lying . Fascists being pratical and having slight more intelectual honesty developed socialism into fascism.

  • What is missing from the discussion is the role of “Corporatism” which is the back-bone of the fascist state and what separates fascism and socialism in economic terms. The fascists generally coopted the industrial elite to help guide the economy whereas the socialists crushed them and took direct control of the economic levers. I say generally bcse clearly there are exceptions, but this is/was the modus operandi of the theory.

    In terms of political agenda the comments about the supposed internationalization of the Socialist agenda and its contrast with Fascisms system for one people or race seem spot on….

  • R. C. Dean

    The fascists generally coopted the industrial elite to help guide the economy whereas the socialists crushed them and took direct control of the economic levers.

    Looks like two different ways of creating a state-backed economic elite to me. The ChiComs are an excellent illustration of how, at the end of the day, this may be a distinction without a difference. They were Communists, until they spun off the bureaucrats running various state enterprises into independent corporations and now, voila!, they are fascists. Or as near as makes no difference.

  • Kevin L Connors

    Kevin, I think you are making the mistake covered in the “What They Told Us about Fascism” section.

    authoritarian conservative ? fascist

    Posted by: fnyser on October 21, 2003 05:01 AM

    What escapes you is that control of the individual is control of the primary determinant means of production.

  • David A. Fauman

    Francois Furet, the French historian, examines this question quite completely in “The passing of an illusion : the idea of communism in the twentieth century”. He points out that the reason the Hitler and Stalin were able to communicate so well with each other was their shared hatred and contempt for the property owning middle class. He traces this attitude to the French Revolution and the hatred there of the property owning middle class.
    I might point out here that this idea can be traced back to Plato in the “Republic” where the Philosopher King rules in a benevolent dictatorship over a polity of disenfranchised peasants. This is the source of the idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the hatred of the intellectual left for liberty and property.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    One chap invokes Watson, another Plato. We do have a good crowd here.

    Then there’s fnyser.

    j/k 😉

  • Kodiak

    The theoritical & physical links between fascism & socialism are know to almost everyone.

    What about the links between fascism & US eugenics, or Nazism with Rhineland capitalism, or Nazism with US republicans etc?

    The appeal of fascism was so strong that no one handling any crump of power could resist. The only ones who fought fascism & racism & paid that fight with their lives were true democrats, not German or US capitalists.

    Tom Kince: Fascism and most precisely NAZIsm ( National Socialist German Workers Party) is nationalist.
    Only right if you assume Hitler’s vision of Europe: a primitive dependency of Germany “needing” urgent aryanisation &, ultimately, ethnical, linguistical, cultural, economical cleansing to enforce utter & irreversible Germanisation.
    Nationalist as applied to Nazi -& historically too, pre-1945 German- concept of Volk is way too below the awful reality of racism.

  • David Allan

    They do differ from each other, but only in the way in which the scalene and the isosceles differ from each other: in degree, but not in kind. Socialism and fascism are each forms of statism, forms of government in which the government is given complete or extensive control over the lives of its citizens.

  • The disgusting book “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler ranks down with “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and the little “Red book” by Mao (also available). Many people try to single out Hitler as unique, but it is unfortunate that he was matched or surpassed in monstrosity as a member of the socialist trio of atrocities (Hitler, Mao, Stalin) that led to the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part): 62 million killed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 35 million by the Peoples’ Republic of China, 21 million by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. http://rexcurry.net/socialists.html

    They were the worst slaughter in history. http://rexcurry.net/socialists.jpg

    It is also important to remember that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics started as allies in 1939 to invade Poland in a pact to divide up Europe.

    Before, during and after the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics went on to kill even more people. The Peoples’ Republic of China then followed. Stalin, Mao and Hitler qualify as a true tragedy and that is why their heinous acts must never be forgotten with the building of the first Wholecaust Museum that will include the entire socialist slaughter. http://rexcurry.net/wholecaust-museum.html Fight the Holocaust deniers and the Wholecaust deniers.

    The book led to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Hitler used the word “socialist” constantly throughout the book as he promoted the dogma. In the book, he never used the word “fascist” in reference to his own dogma of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Many people forget that “Nazi” means “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” and one reason people forget is because the word “Nazi” is overused by media mouthpieces who never say the actual name of the horrid party. Most people no longer remember the meaning. A good mnemonic device is that the sick socialist swastika was used as two overlapping “S” letters for “socialism” under the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

    Here is another interesting fact: the word “swastika” does not appear in the book once in the German version. Hitler only used the term “Hakenkreuz” (hooked cross). “Swastika” was a bad translation of “Hakenkreuz.”

    The book might contain Hitler’s only written comments about the “swastika.” It is a brief section and can be interpreted as Hitler stating that the Hakenkreuz was also used as alphabetic symbolism of overlapping “sig” or “sieg” runes representing “S” letters for “socialism” or the “socialist victory” of his National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a news-breaking discovery by the historian Rex Curry. http://rexcurry.net/swastikanews.html