Why I’m Not a Fascist

In this post, I will be examining the theory of Fascism and explaining why I do not adhere to it as I once did. So, let’s begin by taking a look at the origins of the fascist ideology.

A historian by the name of Zeev Sternhell has traced the ideological roots of fascism back to the 1880s, and in particular to the fin de siècle (turn of the century) theme of that time. The theme was based on a revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society and democracy. [1] This school of thought began to see civilization as we know coming to and end from a crisis that required a final social solution. The school also began to drop all conceptions of individualism, most notably rationalistic individualism. Early on, fascism was influenced by various intellectual developments, including Darwinian biology, Wagnerian aesthetics, Arthur de Gobineau’s racialism, Gustave Le Bon’s psychology, and the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Henri Bergson. [2]

Given this history, this brings me to my first critique of fascist development. Much like most right wing ideologies of the time, fascism was not created from a material and scientific analysis of the socioeconomic conditions of the time (as was Marxism,) rather, it was created more as a reaction to what some perceived as societal degeneration (hence the term: reactionary.)

Furthermore, we cannot understand the ideology of Fascism without looking to one of its most prominent philosophers, Giovanni Gentile (whose philosophy much of this essay will be using as an authority on the Fascist ideology). Gentile was an Italian neo-Hegelian idealist philosopher, educator, and fascist politician, and was the prime minister of education in Fascist Italy. However, the purpose of this essay isn’t to go over his life, rather the philosophical groundwork he laid for the Fascist ideology.

Gentile’s philosophy, like Fascism as an ideology, is idealist. However, Gentile’s theory of idealism is what he called “actual idealism” which holds that it is the act of thinking as perception, not creative thought as imagination, which defines reality. [3] Therefore, due to this mindset, Gentile was able to interpret ontology and epistemology in such a way that he found vindication for the rejection of individualism, and acceptance of collectivism, with the state as the ultimate location of authority and loyalty outside of which individuality had no meaning. [4] Gentile also waged some interesting arguments against Marxian dialectics, which I feel should be addressed.

Gentile believed that the Marxist conception of the dialectic is a fundamental flaw to the application of socialist development. To Gentile, Marx had made the dialectic into an external object, and therefore had abstracted it by making it part of a material process of historical development. The dialectic to Gentile could only be something that is an active part of human thinking. It was, to Gentile, concrete subject and not abstract object. This Gentile expounded by how humans think in forms wherein one side of a dual opposite could not be thought of without its complement.

There are many problems I have with this critique of Marxist philosophy, most notably where Gentile asserts that a dialectic is only something that can be of human thought, and that externalizing it to material is a “fetishistic mysticism” as Gentile put it. Mostly because, Gentile provides a very weak justification for this where he asserts that people cannot be a part of the dialectical process, because it is a manifestation of one’s own mind. His logic is essentially circular in that “dialectics cannot be externalized because they are in people’s minds and they are in people’s minds because they cannot be externalized, etc., etc.” The fact of the matter is, Marxian dialectics allow for a concrete understanding of the socioeconomic developments of a given society, and the ideas of individuals do not change the material reality of their conditions. It only makes sense to apply the dialectic in such an objective sense as Marx did, for to do it in a subjective manner, would be to eliminate the explanatory power of the dialectic. For a simple proof of the dialectic, turn to simply nature itself, especially from the works of Darwin when he showed the dialectical process of nature as a long progression under which one species transforms into another. Here, there was no God that was needed to think this in his head to push the dialectic forward, it was simply the developments of nature. [5]

Next, I will move onto Mussolini’s criticisms of Marxist philosophy, from his work “The Doctrine of Fascism.” [4] In this work, Mussolini asserts:

That the [alterations] of economic life – discoveries of raw materials, new technical processes, and scientific inventions – have their importance, no one denies; but that they suffice to explain human history to the exclusion of other factors is absurd. Fascism believes now and always in sanctity and heroism, that is to say in acts in which no economic motive – remote or immediate – is at work. Having denied historic materialism, which sees in men mere puppets on the surface of history, appearing and disappearing on the crest of the waves while in the depths the real directing forces move and work, Fascism also denies the immutable and irreparable character of the class struggle which is the natural outcome of this economic conception of history; above all it denies that the class struggle is the preponderating agent in social transformations. Having thus struck a blow at socialism in the two main points of its doctrine, all that remains of it is the sentimental aspiration, old as humanity itself-toward social relations in which the sufferings and sorrows of the humbler folk will be alleviated. But here again Fascism rejects the economic interpretation of felicity as something to be secured socialistically, almost automatically, at a given stage of economic evolution when all will be assured a maximum of material comfort. Fascism denies the materialistic conception of happiness as a possibility, and abandons it to the economists of the mid-eighteenth century. This means that Fascism denies the equation: well-being = happiness, which sees in men mere animals, content when they can feed and fatten, thus reducing them to a vegetative existence pure and simple. [6]

This is a pretty long block of text, so let’s break it down. Mussolini states that he does not deny the importance of economic processes, however Marxism over emphasizes its explanatory power and ignores all other factors. Nothing could be further from the truth, in that by using economic analysis we are able to deduce all of these “other factors” that Mussolini is so keen on insisting we simply ignore. For example, by using Marxian economics, we can see that the working class (as defined by its relation to the means of production) is indeed being exploited given they are producing more value than they receive in a wage (this must be the case for a capitalist to make a profit) and from this we can see an inherent contradiction in society, in that there is one class that benefits off of exploiting another, and therefore their interests will be different, and since the capitalists own the private property they are using for exploitation, they will be the ones with the power to control the state via monetary influence, and this is exactly what we see. [7] From this, all we needed was a very basic economic concept and we are able to deduce so much about society as we know it, Mussolini fails to demonstrate how exactly materialist economic analysis falls short of Fascism’s explanatory power, especially because he states he rejects the notion of economic motives as a driving force of societal progression, even though I have just explained how economic motives do indeed influence and drive societies down certain paths.

Mussolini further dismisses other Marxian concepts without justification, so I shouldn’t need to go into too much detail in explaining why they’re wrong given he put in no effort to try and prove himself right. However I will intervene when he asserts that historical materialism “sees in men mere puppets on the surface of history, appearing and disappearing on the crest of the waves while in the depths the real directing forces move and work”, just because of how absurd the wording of his claim is. Essentially, historical materialism holds that there are different phases that historical development will undertake, given the current conditions of any given society. For Marx living under capitalism, he saw the inherent contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and saw that this contradiction is unstable and would cause the working class to rise up and overthrow their exploiters. Not because they’re mindless robots being driven by magical forces of history as Mussolini implies here, but rather because that is what their conditions call for. It is quite simple logic:

You (a worker) are exploited via wage labor -> You don’t want to be exploited -> The system that exploits you is unstable and ruthless and favors the ruling class -> You replace that system which suits your material interests.

However, me invoking “material interests” here will allow me to critique one of Mussolini’s last points where he asserts that we Marxists hold, “well-being = happiness, which sees in men mere animals, content when they can feed and fatten, thus reducing them to a vegetative existence pure and simple.” However, this is a brutal misrepresentation of what we mean when we say the workers are to satisfy their material interests. Mussolini does not really define “well-being” other than implying it calls for being able to feed yourself, and therefore as a consequence of his idealism, this allows him to say that being able to feed yourself does not equate to happiness. An assertion that we Marxists actually agree with, because one of our prime arguments against capitalism is that bosses will just provide to workers what they can get away with, and this will (in most cases, especially in the third world) not satisfy their happiness. However, socialism allows for much more than man only being able to feed himself, in that it allows one greater control over their work, more access to basic needs such as food and housing, more control over their society, and much more. [8] This would surely allow for one to reach self actualization especially when they don’t have to worry about basic necessities as they do under the capitalist mode of production.

This will pretty much conclude my critique of Fascist philosophy, but before I end this post I would like to give my thoughts on the Fascist conception of the state and economics and explain why I believe them to be wrong.

I already gave some insight into why Mussolini’s rejection of economic forces (and in turn, class struggle) as a driver of society is flawed, however here I would like to dissect more of the economic beliefs held by fascists. Most Fascist ideologies hold to the economic ideology of corporatism as a model for how a proper economy should function. The theory of economic corporatism, with relation to fascism, involves management of sectors of the economy by government- or privately- controlled organizations (corporations). Each trade union or employer corporation would, theoretically, represent its professional concerns, especially by negotiation of labor contracts and the like. This method, it was theorized, could result in harmony among social classes. [9]

However, this is the major flaw, there is no such thing as a harmony among the classes, it is simply not possible. Allowing for negotiations to be overseen by the state, does not eliminate the fact that the working class will always have different interests than the ruling class since they are the ones being exploited. Especially given the fact that given Fascism’s emphasis on social Darwinism via promoting “successful” businesses and trade unions (however in practice the only ones propped up by the state were those who benefited its officials), the contradiction will still remain. [10] It should also be noted that Mussolini himself saw this flaw, however he blamed it on the fact that the means of production were in non-state ownership, and therefore he underwent nationalization to try and resolve this contradiction. However because the capitalist mode of production was still in operation, this had little success and there was still mass corruption in Mussolini’s government as a direct result of these economic policies. [11] From this, we can also deduce that the Fascist perception of the state as an organism that works can be used to represent the interests of an entire race no matter their socioeconomic stance, rather than a tool of class domination, is ultimately what lead to Fascist governments ignoring the contradictions that came about from the capitalist mode of production. In short, no matter how hard Fascists may try, the law of value still reigns supreme over the capitalist mode of production, and an invocation of a “third position” of neither capitalism nor socialism will not resolve the inherent contradictions that rule under a system that produces commodities for their exchange-value off the back of exploitation. [12]

In conclusion, I am not a Fascist because the Fascist perception of philosophy is entirely idealist from its foundation, and has no place in material reality which can allow them to try and justify things like the Holocaust, [13] and dismiss inherent contradictions in society as just characteristics of one particular race or group of people because “surely when whitey does the same thing as a Jewish banker under capitalism, he won’t be greedy because genetics.” Their over simplification of class theory, and dismissal of extensive economic analysis also lead me to believe that Fascism simply lacks a firm theoretical framework to even present itself.

Notes:

  1. For this, see: Sternhell, Zeev, “Crisis of Fin-de-siècle Thought” and Stanley G. Payne. “A history of fascism, 1914–1945.”
  2. Sternhell, p. 171
  3. For Gentile’s philosophy I am mostly referencing his work: Gentile, Giovanni. “The Theory of Mind as Pure Act.”
  4. Mussolini, Benito. “THE DOCTRINE OF FASCISM
  5. For more on the Marxist perception of dialectics, see: Engels, Fredrick. “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
  6. See REJECTION OF MARXISM from Mussolini.
  7. Chomsky, Noam. “Who Rules The World?
  8. For an in depth explanations of the possibilities of a socialist economy, see: Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell’s “Towards a New Socialism” 
  9. Mazower, Mark. “Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century”
  10. De Grand, Alexander. “Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany”
  11. Knight, Patricia. “Mussolini and Fascism: Questions and Analysis in History”
  12. For more on this, see: Wright, Ian “The Law of Value: A Contribution to the Classical Approach to Economic Analysis
  13. Bauer, Yehuda. “A History of the Holocaust.”

 

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