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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why fascists are leftists (but leftists aren't fascists)

We all know that leftists (and gullible media reporters) repeatedly get away with claiming righties are fascists - primarily by saying the Fascists were in cahoots with Big Business to oppress the working classes, and that the Fascists liked all things military. This is probably the most successful (and perverse) spin job in the history of propaganda. It's been a very powerful media tool: socialist politicians can demonise their rightwing competitors as resembling (or leaning towards) Hitler, Mussolini, etc.

Here's a quote attributed to Mussolini, but actually coined by an Italian named Giovanni Gentile:
Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
Gentile was the ghostwriter of The Doctrine of Fascism, Mussolini's explanation of the Fascist movement published in the Italian Encyclopedia. You will often find Giovanni's short summary used to justify the comparison of Fascists to rightwingers and capitalists.

A reader of the Volokh Conspiracy explains the meaning of 'corporate' in Italian of the pre-WW2 period:
The problem is that a 'corporate' in Italian of the period is not a business organization. A corporate is a production planning board made up of workers, owners, and others involved in production advocated by the syndicalist school of socialism. Their beloved quote is actually Mussolini (or maybe Gentile) making a connection between fascism and socialism . . .
Some other quotes from The Doctrine of Fascism:
Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State, which is the conscience and universal will of man in his historical existence. It is opposed to classical Liberalism, which arose from the necessity of reacting against absolutism, and which brought its historical purpose to an end when the State was transformed into the conscience and will of the people.
Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people.
So ask yourself this question: from which side of the political divide are fascists likely to arise? The side that favours individualism and capitalism? Or the side that favours 'collective responsibility' and the domination of the State over every area of life?

If Fascism arose from a broad rightwing powerbase, then surely its leaders and promoters would have developed from a capitalist background. Is this the case?

The following quotes are from this brief but fully referenced biography of Mussolini: The Mystery of Fascism.

Mussolini before WW1:
The great duce's fame was so far purely parochial. Upon his return to Italy, young Benito was an undistinguished member of the Socialist Party. He began to edit his own little paper, La Lotta di Classe (The Class Struggle), ferociously anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, and anti-Catholic. He took seriously Marx's dictum that the working class has no country, and vigorously opposed the Italian military intervention in Libya. Jailed several times for involvement in strikes and anti-war protests, he became something of a leftist hero. Before turning 30, Mussolini was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party, and made editor of its daily paper, Avanti! The paper's circulation and Mussolini's personal popularity grew by leaps and bounds.
During WW1, Mussolini became a pro-war leftist and started a publication entitled 'People of Italy' , leading to his eviction from the Socialist Party. Mussolini enlisted (disagreement over this: he may have been drafted) in 1915, and was seriously wounded by a grenade attack in 1917.

Mussolini after WW1:
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. They took with them some non-socialist nationalists and futurists, and recruited heavily among soldiers returning from the war, so that the bulk of rank-and-file Fascists had no leftwing background. The Fascists adopted the black shirts of the anarchists and Giovinezza (Youth), the song of the front-line soldiers.
QED: Fascists are populist military-trained leftists who take power by motivating a large number of (probably poor and unemployed) soldiers following a major war. This resembles exactly the situation in Nazi Germany, where Hitler took over the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis) and the Stormtroopers (former WW1 soldiers).

I hope this puts to rest any continuing confusion as to the origins of Fascism.

Interesting fact
Did you know the inverted pink triangle symbol of the Gay movement originated from a law (Paragraph 175) passed by Adolf Hitler. Under that law, homosexual men were imprisoned in concentration camps and often castrated. The pink symbol was used to indicate the nature of the prisoner's crime, just as the Star of David was used to indicate a Jew. Paragraph 175 remained in effect until 1969, meaning homosexual prisoners in Germany remained incarcerated, even though Jews and other Nazi political prisoners were freed by the Allies during or soon after WW2.

Sources
A timeline of major events in Mussolini's life
The Mystery of Fascism - a brief biography of Mussolini and Italian Fascism
The Doctrine of Fascism
Details of Mussolini's political dealings leading to his rise as Dictator of Italy
Notable quotes from The Doctrine of Fascism

Posted by Antarctic Lemur | 6/22/2005 04:46:00 PM

24 Comments:

Blogger reid said...

I agree with everything you've said above AL. I was talking to a leftie only yesterday about this, and like most, he couldn't shake his pavlovian association between govt and corporates. It's not an intellectual argument and it's real ingrained.

The excellent PBS doco Commanding Heights traces the association back to Pinochet. Hayek's disciples the Chicago Boys (Milton Friedman etc) were asked to rescue Argentina during his reign. An association was thereby created between his govt and Douglas-like economic policies (Douglas was another Hayek disciple), that lefties have exploited ever since.

Let's not worry about the truth.

Almost every leftie has this fantasy floating around their heads. Interesting how a fiction, as illustrated by the actual origins detailed in your post, becomes an accepted truth, (amongst a certain segment of course).

6/22/2005 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ashley Clarkson said...

Interesting piece, something to go away and ponder about. Thanks.

Reid: If you liked the series then you may like the book as well. I should probably write a review about it actually...

6/22/2005 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

We've already linked to that article, The Mystery of Fascism (it's a good one).

6/22/2005 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Yes I know, but I had to surround the other newly located info with biographical details.

6/22/2005 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Keep hammering away!

6/22/2005 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger JamesP said...

Surely the title should read: Why fascists are leftists (but leftists aren't all fascists). Since by your argument clearly some leftists are fascists.

6/23/2005 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Yes, Mussolini was a converted socialist, but then so is most of the ACT party. The Italian Fascist party was comprised of elements of the Italian left (Revolutionary Syndicalists, etc.) *and* the Italian right (Italian Nationalist party, the Futurists, former Arditi, etc.) It was not overwhelmingly leftist. Additionally, the Fascists were opposed to socialists and social democrats (as were the Nazis.) So what you’re effectively saying is that in Italy in the early 20s and in Germany in the early 30s, *there were no right wing political movements* - they were all left wing. Somewhat counterintuitive.

The other mistake you make is aligning classic liberalism with the right-wing. Not all the right-wingers are fans of unfettered individualism and capitalism. And it’s a stretch to say that statism is the monopoly of the left. You get your fair share of flag-waving “Queen and Country” traffic through here. It’s just further evidence that the labels of left and right are relatively meaningless, more so for the more exotic ideologies of libertarianism and fascism.

Don’t get me wrong, I love smearing social democrats as much as the next classic liberal. But I think bringing the term “fascism” into contemporary political debate comes across as somewhat desperate and the terms left and right are too abstract to meaningful.

6/23/2005 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

The Italian Socialist Party was communist, nothing at all like the non-ideological social democrats of the late 1970's Labour Party, some of whom formed the Act Party in the 1990's.

In fact there are so many half-truths, misleading statements, (and the old straw-man argument) in your comment that I need to address them one by one. Unfortunately I don't have time right now. Perhaps in a month or two I will do another post on this matter.

6/23/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Yeah, that's right, Lemur. Accuse me of “half-truths, misleading statements, (and the old straw-man argument)” but fail to back it up. But, hey, what does someone with an honours degree in history know?

The ACT reference was merely to say that Mussolini’s history in a left-wing movement doesn’t root him there in perpetuity. Does the Trotskyite and paleoliberal history of some members of the neo-conservative movement condemn them to being “left-wing”?

6/24/2005 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn said...

For the record, you haven’t proven or solved anything. Finer minds than some New Zealand dilettante with a pseudonym still debate whether (small “f”) fascism is even a self-consistent political concept. Aristotle A. Kallis’ Fascism Reader gives a good summary of the historiography. What you’re trying to prove requires a thesis, and if I was your supervisor, I’d suggest you were barking up the wrong tree, particularly with your non-contextual treatment of the left/right abstraction.

6/24/2005 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Glenn, having an honors degree in history makes you POV even more suspect.

6/24/2005 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Ackers1 said...

Quite so Lucyna. Why does having an honours degree in history make his point of view suspect when discussing something like fascism and its relevance to contemporary political debate? This smacks of the good old cultural cringe, the comforting stance of anti intellectualism. Ignorance is bliss!

6/24/2005 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Glenn, I think a significant point AL makes, which I think you back up ("...further evidence that the labels of left and right are relatively meaningless"), is that fascism is not necessarily an ideology of the right.

You might say they are meaningless labels, but its not what they mean, it is how they are used.

If you ask the average man on the street, I suspect the majority opinion would be an unfounded belief that fascism is totally from the right.

That is the way it is primarily taught, and the stereotypes perpetuated throughout mainstream society.

It's about time people start reading alternate opinions, based on valid thought processes. At the end of the day, we can all agree to disagree on bits and pieces, but if the result is the fascist label can't be thrown at the right by the left as part of the typical propaganda pieces, we have made progress.

Changing opinions is often not countering facts, it is countering opinions. It is the process of examining basic beliefs, and putting up the facts in a different light that then provides people with the thought tools to re-examine the underlying beliefs they have taken for granted.

AL makes excellent points, and if it only stirs up a little confusion in the average reader, as they grapple the import, it is good.

My belief is that the communism and its marketing face, socialism, has had a far more concerted and deeper effort to promote itself than capitalism in representative democracies. The right minded thinkers have only twigged to this in recent years and are learning the tactics and the counters. How annoying for the left, and how disconcerting.

(IMO) What people don't get is by defending one thing (say the nitty gritty of fascism) they effectively support the current (erroneous) beliefs. Look back by all means, but don't forget to look around.

6/24/2005 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

ackers1, you jump in at step 2. Lets go back to step 1:

Glen: "But, hey, what does someone with an honours degree in history know?"

Translation: I know every-thing because I have a degree (HONS), and AL's point of view is therefore suspect.

Glen: "..if I was your supervisor,"

Translation: Establish superiority, implicit statement indicating belief of supremacy.

So, ackers1, after Glenn fires the first shot, bringing credientials into account, it is perfectly reasonable for Lucyna to make the point a lot of Universities are the breeding ground for Left Wing ideology. Several of my history and political science teachers seemed as pink as they come.

I've done Political Science and History at University. Big deal. I've learnt far more since then, and don't need a degree to prove it.

Now, Glenn may not have been using his degree to intentionally diminish AL's argument, but that can be the effect to the average reader.

Lucyna's comment was not about anti-intellectualism. If anything, inferring that only people with degrees hold the valid opinion smacks of anti-intellectualism. Think about it.

6/24/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Lucnya: typical of the authors of this blog, you insult (which is fine) without backing it up (which is not fine.) Less froth and more substance might help your cause - at the moment, you’re only screeching to the converted. My point was Lemur’s “research” for this entry (Musollini’s explicit collectivism, the principles of Rocco’s corporatism) would be covered in a 200 level European History paper. There are no revelations there. I didn’t want to suggest he had training wheels on, but if he’s going to accuse me of dishonesty … (which I would actually consider "the first shot", ZenTiger)

ZenTiger: Lemur was not arguing that fascism is not a right-wing, he was arguing that it is left wing. The (understandable) association with the right comes from the fact that the Fascists and the National Socialists opposed the established socialist and social democratic parties and absorbed the natural constituency of the conservative and liberal parties. As I pointed out, if the Fascists and the National Socialists were left wing, then there were no significant right-wing parties. (And the insignificant ones coalesced with the Fascists and the National Socialists!)

Lemur’s argument is as follows:
1. He’s selectively defining the left as authoritarian statism (conveniently ignoring that rightists can also be authoritarian statists; and that not all leftists consider themselves authoritarian)
2. He’s selectively defining the right as classic liberalism (conveniently ignoring that there are many, many more flavors to the right than classic liberalism)
3. So, really, all he’s saying is that fascists are authoritarian statists (well, duh!) and are not classic liberals (well, duh!)

6/24/2005 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Glenn "would be covered in a 200 level European History paper" ...there you go again.

"As I pointed out, if the Fascists and the National Socialists were left wing, then there were no significant right-wing parties"

So what are you suggesting? That if there is a left wing party, there must always be a significant right wing party?

Points off for misspelling Lucyna's name.

I understand exactly what AL is arguing Glenn. Good on him, he makes some good points. It seems worth it if only to stir up the intellectuals - "better minds than AL" according to your analysis.

But you disregard my point entirely, and therefore the import of AL's post.

"The main thing that changed my world view was the fact that ideology was my business...I took the work seriously. And gradually, step by step, more and more often, it nauseated me. Then I went back again to the primary sources...When you get older, you want to look more deeply. And as soon as you begin to analyze what you believe it begins to crack"

Alexander N. Yakovlev.

Now there's someone who might understand history. Perhaps Russia can put up a momumnent to him when we make our first payment to them under the Kyoto Treaty.

6/24/2005 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Lucyna: I do apologise for misspelling your name

ZenTiger: Which was the point I “disregarded”? Because I would like to address it. That “fascism is not necessarily right wing?” I’m not disregarding it. But that’s not what AL is arguing. In fact, his argument leaves no room for the word “necessary.”

What I am suggesting is that the left/right wing spectrum, if it’s useful at all, is contextual. The political spectrum of Germany in the 1930s is a completely different animal to the political spectrum of the US in 2005 which is a completely different animal to the political spectrum of New Zealand in 2005. So claiming that no-one was on the right in German politics in the early 1930s is unintuitive and an abandonment of that model. And it doesn’t help your argument that the traditional support base of the left (unionized labour, the unemployed) were opposed to Fascism and the National Socialists; and that the traditional support base of the right were supportive.

I actually understand AL’s arguments very well, and I don’t dispute any of his facts, but I think his conclusion is incorrect. So I attempt to debate him and he accuses me of dishonesty without evidence. Well, fine.

All introducing fascism into a debate on contemporary politics does is come across as unhinged. (“FASCISTS WERE LEFT-WING!!! Oh, but … heh … of course … ahem … not all left-wingers are fascists …”) It’s classic Godwin’s Law. (“You’re a vegetarian? SO WAS HITLER!!!”) The phenomena of Fascism and National Socialism were aberrant responses to unique social and economic crises that have no reference today.

In response to your implied false assumptions, I am, as mentioned, a classic liberal, a paid up member of the National Party, and certainly no “product of left-wing academia.” I completed my history degree in my 30s, part-time, after/during ten years in business.

6/24/2005 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Well, Glenn, we obviously have a difference of opinion. I think that understanding the link between leftism and fascism to be vitally important. Fascism and Communism were both such fatally dangerous ideologies that we, the descendants of those who fought and died owe it to our ancestors, ourselves and our children and ongoing generations to be very clear on what fascism was, and how it came about. Your POV on fascism is the general view of the population, and is what is taught in the universities by leftist professors. I personally think the way it is taught is a very cynical exercise in obscuring it's roots from leftism, so that the image of leftism is not tarnished. This is why we continue to argue it.

The other thing is that this is our blog, we are in no way obliged to back anything up or reply to anyone if we don't want to. This may of course have long term consequences, which we are willing to accept. But, we do get very annoyed when people make out that we are obliged to do x, y and z.

If you want to do x, y and z, feel free. If you want to set up a blog condemning us, feel free. In the meantime, I'm happy to answer some of your points, as time permits and as I feel like it. As you see from this comment, I'm only answering part of the issues that you have raised.

6/24/2005 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Lucyna: Apparently “the general view of the population” is to associate fascism with the right, yet I have explicitly stated otherwise. So I’m not sure how you reached that conclusion. But it’s your blog ... no need to back it up.

Fascism and Communism’s roots are in collectivism, which is not the monopoly of left-wing politics. Fascism, in particular, has roots in nationalism, which is very much associated with the right. None of this is evidence enough to associate fascism with the left or the right, even if such terms had meanings outside of their particular historical contexts.

6/24/2005 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Glenn, extreme right wingers are considered fascists by the general population, are they not?

You say collectivism is not the monopoly of left-wing politics, can you give an example of where collectivists are right wing?

6/24/2005 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Kimble said...

Most people I ask think Hitler was right wing.

I say we drop the term right wing, as it is now only used by the left as an insult and a diversion from real debate. Neo-nazis are often referred to as right wing, simply because they are racist. The implication is that through the term "right wing" racism and individualism become synonymous.

Lets change the term from right wing to "Freedomist"©. Nobody is against freedom are they? Yet collectivism and socialism, ie those things you are against, require the gross restriction of freedom.

Freedomist© is also an alternative to libertarian, though it is amazing that to many on the left today liberty has become a swear word.

Another bonus is that leftists will no longer be able to say that "one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter" because by definition only a Freedomist© would fight for freedom.

[Explain to me why the left even use this phrase for the terrorists in Iraq? Surely they can see that Iraqi insurgents arent fighting to free the population, they are fighting to be able to rule them.]

6/24/2005 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ackers1 said...

Oh god, where does one even begin to deconstruct this tripe. Hve another drink Kimble.

6/24/2005 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Lucyna said...

I know how you feel, Ackers.

Ok, look, unless there's a reason I should call you Ackers1, be warned, I can't do it anymore. That "1" is too much!

6/24/2005 09:13:00 PM  
Blogger llew said...

Not that it matters, nor that anyone cares I imagine. But I quite like Kimble's Freedomist idea. Get the T shirts printed now!

Just the one quibble (maybe), is it "leftists" who call terrorists (or insurgents) "freedom fighters"? I always supposed that saying meant it was the guys doing the terrorism or insurgency who considered themselves freedom fighters.

Anyway... I agree (I promise not to make a habit of this Kimble), let's lose the right wing/left wing labels.

7/19/2005 04:25:00 PM  

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