15 August 2016

Party like it’s 1932

With all the overheated rhetorical flak that inevitably accompanies these gross quadrennial spectacles of excess, jingoism and political polarisation that we call the ‘election cycle’ here in America, one is inevitably bound to hear comparisons of one or the other candidate to Hitler or Mussolini. The problem is, it’s all wrong. And the fact that we have such strongly-misguided hyperventilation on both sides against one candidate and the other actually both blinds and exposes us to the greater danger of something like fascism arising again in our country, in the near future.

Fascism really isn’t that hard to understand, though there seems to be a thriving academic trade in definitions of the term, ranging from the relatively simple to the mind-bendingly convoluted, which can easily descend to ridiculous levels of Freudian psychoanalysis (phallic symbolism, Œdipal and inferiority complexes, fetishistic and homoerotic cults of strength). And this obfuscation leads a number of other partizan observers to come up with their own, utterly wrongheaded and often deliberately-misleading, definitions of the term – which we will get to momentarily. But, simply put, fascism refers to the regimentation and militarisation of all aspects of social and individual life. The end goal of fascism (and here’s where the definitions are wont to get convoluted and prolix) is a fully-militarised, fully-mobilised, bourgeois-revolutionary one-party nation-state structure in a permanent state of total war against its neighbours, and against ethnic and political minorities within its borders.

The first aspect has to be present for the second to apply, of course. It’s remarkably foolish and muddle-headed, and serves only to confuse people, to claim that all one-party state structures are fascist, given that all aspects of people’s ordinary lives under a number of authoritarian, functionally one-party states nowadays (like China, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Syria and a number of other post-socialist nations) are not militarised and regimented at all, and certainly not in the comprehensive way that German, Japanese and Italian lives were in the 1930’s. Much less, indeed, are these states in a constant state of war with their neighbours (minor border disputes and diplomatic posturing notwithstanding), or with the ethnic minorities they govern. Neoconservatives, liberal hawks and other such jingos often like to make the claim that such states are fascist, but that’s not from any sober evaluation of the facts about these countries’ policies or the lives of the people who live in them, but rather it comes from their ideological end goal of overthrowing these regimes and remake them ex nihilo, in line with their own bourgeois-revolutionary ideological preferences.

For similar reasons, it should be noted that for all their flaws, none of the other modern ideologies – socialism, liberalism or conservatism – ought to be confused with fascism, even though fascism is also a modern ideology with a similar pedigree to all of the above. Libertarians and some American conservatives will often indulge the canard that fascism and ‘national socialism’ are socialist. The sophomoric version of this argument points in vulgar fashion at the name of the party (as if North Korea is to be considered a ‘democratic people’s republic’ simply because they call themselves so), though more sophisticated versions of this argument might bring up Röhm or the brothers Strasser – the left-sounding element within the NSDAP – or the welfare policies Hitler supported in order to pander to the working-class element which the Strasser brothers represented.

But these are all quite misleading. Having read now quite a bit of academic literature on Eastern European agrarian movements during the interwar period, one common theme is that the fascists never come from working-class backgrounds or from union movements, but instead from the urban haute bourgeoisie (bankers, industrialists, big businessmen) and the military. The class appeal of fascism was completely at odds with that of socialism, and very few were the socialists who were hoodwinked by the leftish-sounding noises coming from certain fascist leaders. Still less, in fact, were the rural agrarian workers and peasants fooled by the romantic and populist noises from those same leaders – and when their attempts to hoodwink agrarians and farmers largely failed, the fascists murdered the agrarian populist leaders (including, notably, Stamboliyski and Madgearu) under the guise of eradicating Bolshevism. Clearly the fascists themselves did not regard socialists or populists as ideological allies.

But speaking of Bolshevism, though, the real irony of the libertarian idea that fascism is a kind of socialism, is that it draws on Bolshevik and Stalinist arguments – specifically, the Comintern’s typological designation of parliamentary socialist parties as ‘social-fascist’. That’s right: in the attempt to show commonality between fascism and socialism, Hayek, Mises and other ‘anarcho-capitalists’ are deploying arguments that are explicitly and irreducibly Marxist in origin. And this actually stands to reason, because the libertarians’ focus is not on the superstructural regimenting and militaristic aspects which are actually key to understanding what fascism is, but instead on the ‘base’: trade policies which are in fact incidental to fascist social-cultural priorities and praxis. The logic of the libertarians and anarcho-capitalists is for all intents and purposes identical to that of the Stalinist Comintern, in that they reduce all aspects of life to a single dimension: that of economics. This leaves them blind, just as the Stalinists and the Comintern were blind, to the social-cultural contradictions between fascism and socialism, or between fascism and agrarian populism. The left-wing rural populist organiser and peasant-statesman Ion Mihalache was tried and effectively executed by the Romanian Communists as a fascist sympathiser, on frivolous grounds eerily similar to those on which Jeffrey Tucker nowadays cites Bernie Sanders as a fascist.

Likewise, supporters of the two major candidates need to both cool their jets on the topic, and also look to their own priorities. For all his bluster, phallic fixation, anti-Mexican rhetoric and bigger-than-life reality-television personality, Trump isn’t a fascist – simply because he isn’t calling for the mass militarisation of society. Nor would he; he’s no fool, though he does convincingly act like one on a regular basis. Liberals would do well to note here that the common street thuggery sometimes displayed by Trump supporters is not the same thing as paramilitarism. Likewise, for all her military adventurism, Clinton isn’t a fascist either. She wants all the fighting to be done, as it has been done for decades now, by a small, professional and silent (except when politically-expedient, naturally) all-volunteer fighting force; she’s far too clever, self-interested and sophisticated a liberal to make any such politically-suicidal call for her average, culturally-mainstream haute bourgeois constituent to sacrifice anything for the sake of her wars.

The danger, I fear, is but a short ways off yet, and will come when the next president’s policies in office fail. And if Bush’s and Obama’s policies are anything to go by, fail they will. This is not something I anticipate gladly, but it is something I have noted among the supporters of both Trump and Clinton: the idea that we are a weakening nation, and have to be restored to a position of prestige (or ‘greatness’) through military strength and hard-power projection abroad: against Russia in Clinton’s case, and against Iran in Trump’s. All of our hard-power projections within the past two decades – starting with Yugoslavia, through Afghanistan and Iraq, and now continuing in Libya and Yemen – have thus far resulted in varying degrees of failure, with the consequences of failure (measured in refugees and acts of Salafist terrorism) being felt most strongly now in Europe and North Africa. But when those consequences strike home again, the average American – economically-distressed, socially-disaffected and concerned with our nation’s prestige abroad – will begin calling for a much broader home-based militarism, and a restructuring of society along military lines to strengthen our resolve. The standard of strength-through-unity and purity-of-will will again be unfurled and flown at full mast, as it was in 2001 and 2002. Only this time, more so.

It’s a safe bet that the coming American totalitarianism and militarism will be quite different in kind from that of mid-twentieth century Europe – and it will come much more subtly here than it did there. Even so, for those of us who don’t meet that standard of purity or unity (and I know for a fact I won’t) – God help us all.


  1. There's a hell of a lot more thuggery from the the Soros funded left wing crowd than Trump supporters.

    Fascism is a singularly elusive ideology to comprehend. My left wing comp. pols professor insisted Mussolini's Italy was corporatist rather than fascist. In fact he thought the Soviet Union was corporatist in actuality as well once its initial revolutionary fervour cooled.

    Fascism is also an ill fitting descriptor of Hitler's Germany. While it undoubtedly exhibited fascistic elements, Hitler's racial imperialism turns to be yet another distinct class of mass politics that followed WWI (universal suffrage in the Anglosphere, the proletariat in Russia, and race in Germany). Thus Hitler was more than just a hyper conservative reactionary - he was a revolutionary.

    Franco's Spain in my view best suits the fascist moniker among other lesser powers. The power players of the third estate, recognizing their mistake in the destruction of what remained of Right Order by the French revolution, attempted through quantitative means (collective will to power) to restore the qualitative World of Tradition. Franco was most successful because his order was somewhat less quantitative. Thus, fascism is really more authoritarian than totalitarian. To give him credit he saved Spain at least for a time from the clutches of communist jews, anarchists, and other assorted tradition hating degenerates, at the cost of political amiability.

    In short, its time to move past the overly connotative 'fascist' label and instead consider various modes of mass politics in the first half of the 20th century conditioned as they were by the distal cause of the French Revolution and the proximate cause of the Great War. In their most poisonous form, the total fusion of the individual identity and will with that of the state created the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany. It's this phenomenological orientation that produces "the regimentation and militarisation of all aspects of social and individual life."

  2. I suppose I'm a bit of a right-wing neocon, but I actually agree with much of your analysis here. A lot of things which aren't Fascism get tagged as such.

    And the people who play the 'Hitler was a socialist' card are crushing bores.

  3. Just discovered your blog, and appreciated this post.

    I think also the rise of Fascism is connected to a sort of psycho-social disconnect between legacy and present. Germany, Italy, Spain etc. had a popularized legacy of greatness and suffered international ignominy and mass-spread economic and political malaise. Hence, Mussolini was praised for making the trains run on time. There might be a neurosis about America not being great, and slipping, but its not deeply believed. We have nothing like Weimar, yet. I think that's part of the reason why the Bush2 years were hyper-patriotic, aggressively imperial, highly militarized, but nonetheless did not become Fascist. America will have to implode for something like that to happen. However, for Western European countries, it's a possibility ripe for recurrence.

    I suppose the feeling of victimization and passivity avenged that might be a tell-tale symptom of Fascistic rhetoric would coincide with the psych-analytical sense of phallic-obsession. Unlike a military culture, say the Mongols or Sparta, to militarize a culture requires some sense of deficiency and inadequacy. Hence perhaps the appeal to a rejuvenated manhood. Now I'm just shooting in the dark.


  4. Lemur - Welcome to the blog!

    Not being a fan of Soros or of the professional anarchist crowd myself, I humbly beg to differ. They are much more similar than you are making them out.

    Regarding fascism: I think you may be slightly missing my point. Fascism is a bourgeois-revolutionary modernist ideology similar to neoconservatism or liberalism. But regarding your last paragraph, I think you've struck the nail on the head, so to speak. Fascism does have that sheer, visceral, emotive contact between the individual and the state which allows for such comprehensive regimentation, and requires an advanced degeneracy to take root.

    Matthew C. - Welcome back!

    Yes, the fascism-equals-socialism trope has long since worn out its welcome. I thought I'd give it a contrarian spin by pointing out the Stalinist roots of its logic, though.

    Cal P - Welcome to the blog!

    I don't go in for much of the psychoanalysis myself; I think it gets a bit oversold, though I have a high respect for Freud and for some of his students (like Christopher Lasch). That said, for a man shooting in the dark you're certainly striking close to the bull's-eye. I don't take much exception at all to your treatment of Weimar in contrast with America of 2001 and 2002, and that's part of the reason I hesitate to forecast fascism in America's near future (though something like it seems to be looming).