Separating fact from fiction in the mythology of fascism
It is clear in the case of fascism, as with nearly every political ideology, that it has undergone significant change over the decades spanning its existence. Today fascism (specifically in its purest, most theoretical form) is relatively unknown to the average person. As a result it has become mixed in popular mythology with events, movements, and people which may or may not have any real relation to it. The only sure way for progressives to create lasting political and economic change in the modern world is for them to take it upon themselves to become informed and, subsequently, inform the uninformed.
When one compares fascism, as an ideology, to other competing systems of thought such as Communism it becomes immediately apparent that its foremost thinkers are far less known. This “gap” of understanding is even more pronounced outside the jargon-world of academia. There also are numerous reasons for this.
Primarily this phenomenon exists as a result of the geopolitical events of the twentieth century, wherein nearly all significant, ideologically fascist global powers met their ends either through economic or military means. In the case of Communism, however, state structures like the Soviet Union and Maoist China (among others) acted, through practice, to reinforce its ideological space within modern human thinking.
This paradigm also holds for societies violently opposed to Communist ideology, like the United States during the years of the Cold War, where Communism became a living evil, with fascism being reduced to the status of a defeated enemy (and also being falsely equated with German National Socialism).
In theory, adherents of fascist thought seek to affirm the place of the relationship between the private sector (corporate, industrial) and the state in public life. In other words, fascists traditionally recognize the productive power of capitalism and corporatization, however they also acknowledge the role of the state in organizing and containing such power to state-chosen ends.
An ideal fascist state would undoubtedly feature a robust corporate-industrial bloc. If one takes a naively optimistic view through the lens of fascism, then this collected, productive force is ideally administered for the direct benefit of the citizens (workers and “officers”) who fuel the machine. The state, then, plays the part of arbiter for the purpose of the application of this force.
In this sense “total” (extreme) fascism differs in a fundamental way from the ideological administration of a hypothetical “total” Communist state (before the “ideal” of a stateless society is reached, of course). Communism, as an ideology, requires that a social and political “overcoming” of industrial capitalism, and, in the process, a leaving behind of this stage of economic and dialectical progression occur.
Here it is also important to note that, in the Communist paradigm, just as socialism heralds the overcoming of capitalism, so too did capitalism herald the end of the previous, feudal economic order into which (most notably) Europe organized itself in its medieval period.
A key philosophical tenet shared between fascism and German National Socialism is a devotion to bringing about an end to Communist ideology and statecraft. Indeed, this was a significant factor governing the close relationship which, over time, developed between the Third Reich and Mussolini’s Italy, namely a frothing opposition to the Marxist paradigm.
On many other levels the ideology of National Socialism fits well with that of Fascism. Furthermore it is clear that, in practice, the state system constituted under Adolf Hitler and his internal circle embodied economic methods of reconstruction and organization which were nearly indistinguishable from equivalents within the fascist paradigm.
Where the two systems differ lies in outward presentation (propaganda and, by extension ideological construction). In Germany, National Socialism originally gained popularity as a movement for the workers. In this way it borrowed much from the liberation theology of Marxism.
Nazi propaganda also sought to identify social outliers, most notably Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, and even Communists. Identification was accomplished by ideologically isolating the target groups from the specific propaganda consumer group.
The economic hardship, for example, which spread in the wake of the First World War and the stock market crash of 1929 became, through propaganda and National Socialist posturing, an injustice perpetrated by these outlying groups.
A “solution” therefore was sought in severely restricting the rights and social mobility of these groups in the period prior to the breakout of the Second World War. This became a perverted ideal of the social “good” where nonsense genetic theory became bound up with the emotion of militaristic nationalism and just a tinge of ancient, Germanic paganism.
Another incredibly important distinction to note regards the relationship between fascist ideology and anti-Semitism. The first case which should be examined is that of the extreme face of anti-Semitism which arose concurrently and as a result of certain essential elements of National Socialist ideology in Germany. This represents the assimilation of centuries of compounded ethnic, racial, and religious struggle into an official German state policy of purist, genocidal fervor.
The experiences of Jews outside of the immediate zone of Nazi influence, however, varied considerably depending on their nation of residence. In Italy, as a second case, there existed prominent Jewish fascists who had found tolerance for decades. This is direct evidence of a distinct difference, both in thought and practice, separating Italian fascism from German Nazism.
The First World War changed Europe, in many ways, permanently. Indeed, much of the course of the Twentieth Century was decided on battlefields stretching from Paris to the vast edges of the Russian Empire and beyond. Many social institutions that are taken for granted today came about as direct results of the war.
In the United States institutions like a formal military draft for able-bodied male citizens began with US mobilization to enter the war in late 1916 and 1917. Many of the first government records of US citizens date from this period, as the vast majority of the appropriately-aged male population received a draft card. For the first time the nation was behaving in a manner which more closely resembled that of a modern, unified, industrial state.
In many ways the war served to galvanize societies across the globe. The economic devastation wrought over the course of its four years in Europe would also later serve as the rallying cry for revolutionary social and political movements seeking to right the ubiquitous wrongs which arose after, and sometimes as results of, the Treaty of Versailles.
Italy suffered humiliation at the hands of the Austrian army. Many people today forget that in the First World War Italy was allied with France. After the war ended the Italians incessantly grumbled about the terms of the treaty, from which they had gained seemingly nothing and lost very much. It was this environment which allowed Benito Mussolini and his Black Shirts to take over and to begin reorganizing the Italian state.
Germany was also brought to its knees at Versailles. Eventually unemployment and inflation would skyrocket. These coupled with internal strife would provide a tinderbox for National Socialist ideology.
Today fascism remains alive and well. However, this is not to say that the forms which this ideology took in past decades (specifically Italian and Spanish fascism, Japanese, paternalistic militarism etc.) remain. Every ideology, as a prerequisite for survival within the social medium of language, must, by necessity, be receptive to changes in culture and societal environment. To that end fascist ideology has evolved, in the process taking on elements of the respective characters of the time periods in which it has been constituted.
At present there exist in popular practice many economic and political organizing principles which, themselves, derive partially or wholly from some part of fascist thought. The corporate “oligarchy” present across much of the western world (and, increasingly, most everywhere else) is one example near to this category. Those who maintain control of this oligarchy also, by economic extension, tend to wield large volumes of political power and, thus, are able to shape official policy to better reflect and serve their desired ends.
Significant credit for the existence of this entity can be appropriately given to the rise of industrial capitalism (also, by extension, modern, representative democracies which naturally act to direct the available avenues by which firms may legally proceed in doing business).
The fascism of modern, popular mythology is best viewed not in terms of strict theory but instead in terms of what it represents from an experiential perspective. To the average western person the word “fascism” or “fascist” is immediately relatable to “totalitarianism” or “autocracy.” As history has repeatedly shown, this analogy is actually fairly apt. An average understanding of fascism, however, seldom steps beyond this simple set of associations.
At a larger level fascism represents an extremely important part of the modern socio-economic-political dialectic. It sits as a competing counterpoint to Communism and, indeed, provides the groundwork for a progressive analysis of the ways in which societies organize themselves internally while in simultaneous, external, geopolitical competition with differently ordered groups. In the interests of affirming global peace and prosperity it is essential that progressives embrace a wide study of varied state systems as this is the one sure path to reasoned decision making going forward, regardless of the real world direction which that path may take.