Friday, February 17, 2017

Brief Remarks on the Meaning and Usage of 'Fascism'

In a recent video that addresses some claims about "fascism," its creator addresses several myths that persist about it; I offer some points of clarification on her claims.

National-Socialism and Italian Fascism (with an F in capital) are variants of fascism (with f in lower case).  It is a mistake to identify "fascism" with Italian Fascism alone, in the same way that Marxists would argue that Communism should not necessarily be identified solely or even primarily with Bolshevism. This is in spite of the fact that the Bolshevik "revolution" gave the world its first Communist state and inspired most subsequent Communist regimes and movements. The protofascist Regency of Carnaro preceded Mussolini's Italy, so it is an historical error, as well, to identify fascism with the later Italian Fascist regime.

The video linked above argues that fascism is a "top down" political worldview, and that it idolizes and enshrines "the State." It derives this view from a reading of "The Doctrine of Fascism." Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini wrote the tract together, and not just the latter alone. More critically, Gentile was a trained Hegelian philosopher, and imports Hegel's emphasis on the State into his contributions to the "Doctrine of Fascism." [1]

However, even in "The Doctrine of Fascism," you notice some modest distinctions in points that Gentile makes in his contributions to Part I, on the one hand, and the points Mussolini argues and contributes in Part II. Mussolini focuses a significant amount of attention on the concrete historical, social, and material contexts and conditions of the Italian Fascist Party's emergence and its subsequent seizure of power. He does mention the State, but he seems more interested, at least initially, in ground the organic basis of his movement.

I suggest that the difference in Mussolini's approach in his contributions to the "Doctrine of Fascism" arise from the otherwise obscured fact that Italian Fascism, in practice if not in its theory, was actually "bottom up" and not "top down" as some falsely claim. It was organic as a movement: It owed its base of support not only from middle and upper classes, but also from a not insubstantial following among the laboring classes. To Mussolini, Italian Fascism sprang from voluntarist, mass action, not from a prior objectification of the State.

The video linked above does not mention Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Sir Mosley did not emphasize the State in the way that Gentile emphasizes it in the "Doctrine of Fascism." Sir Mosley did not own a prior context of having been embedded in the Hegelian philosophical tradition. Despite the fact that he hailed from the propertied classes, he was a veteran of World War I and repudiated both economic reductionism and statist nationalism. Like Mussolini and Hitler, Sir Mosley sought syncretic unity throughout British society and aimed to overcome class conflict by emphasizing concordant national interests:
Fascism, above all, rests upon teamwork. The ability to pull together... to subordinate every faction, interest, or individual to the nation as a whole...
Likewise, other fascist movements throughout Europe also laid claim to inevitably local and national aspects of identity. There was often no theoretical prioritizing of the state. It is also interesting to note that "The Doctrine of Fascism" was not published until 1933, a decade after Mussolini seized power in Italy. The "Doctrine of Fascism" was theory that followed its practice, and Gentile seized on that prospect by stressing Hegelian elements of what was otherwise an organic movement grounded in laborer, artisan, farmer and small shopkeeper support as well as middle and upper class support rather than any one in particular.

The video that I link to above points out that Mussolini's movement did not emphasize race initially and that Jews were permitted to occupy positions in the Fascist Party and the Italian government. But the video's claim that Mussolini began emphasizing race as a response to pressure to deport Jews to camps is mistaken. The year that race was integrated into Italian policy was 1938, a full year before the outbreak of war or any deportations occurred. Italy's ideological shift toward Germany was as reflective of British, French, and US alienation of Italy as it was waxing German influence, despite the video's claims to the contrary. [2]

It must also be remembered that the Italian Fascist party could afford to omit racial policy as a concern. In the 1930s, European countries in general were still ethnically homogeneous and racially uniform. Hence, to claim that fascism, as a matter of doctrine, downplays race is to deliberately ignore our racial predicament today. Any fascist movement in any European country, especially in Western Europe, must address ethnic, racial, and national decline and not ignore it. In any event, though Mussolini did not emphasize it until 1938, Sir Mosley did. The British Union stressed that only native white Britons could be part of the state.

But Sir Mosley and the British Union stopped short of advocating racial policies. While Sir Mosley opposed non-European immigration to Britain and maintained that only native white Britons could be members of his future government, he did not seek to regulate racial issues or impose undue burdens on the existing minorities of Britain. Despite what is often claimed about the British Union, its policies toward Jews were intended to prevent negative Jewish influence, not prevent British Jews and their families from staying and living in Britain.

Mosleyite fascism, Italian fascism, and German National-Socialism are variants of fascism. There are many other fascist movements historically. If we identify one as representative of all, we misrepresent the historical reality of fascism and its potential future relevance.

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[1] Alfredo Rocco's "The Political Doctrine of Fascism," which Mussolini personally praised, also reflects this uniquely Italian Fascist emphasis on Hegel's view of the State.
[2] In 1935, Italy invaded the African country of Abyssinia. Britain, France, and the West all protested and imposed economic sanctions on Italy. This alienated Mussolini, who had only recently tried to get Britain and France to act to check Germany's growing strength on the Continent. After the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler's Germany, alone, did not criticize Italy, and indeed continued to seek Italian friendship. This was an important event for Italy, and Mussolini's government, which voluntarily shifted closer to Germany. One expression of this was the shift in Italian Fascist policy on race. From 1938, Jews were prohibited from being members of the Italian Fascist party, and race was formally emphasized.