Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Review (sorta)

Anatomy of Fascism.


Robert Paxton
If I ever go to Berkeley to get a degree in History, this guy can teach me!

I decided to read this to prepare for some lessons I will be teaching in the spring on Fascism in Europe between the wars. Specifically, i wanted to make sure I could explain as best as possible why Fascism and Socialism might appeal to different citizens at the same time.

Fascism is fascinating in that, out of all of the "isms", its the only one that appeared in the 20th century, additionally, it had never occurred to radical political theorists that a mass movement could be rightist. For seventy years, marxist, socialist and anarchist groups had monopolized the issues of class resentment and workers' anger, this all changed after the Great War.

As Paxton writes, "Fascists rejected the view that economic forces are the prime movers of history", instead relying on a burgeoning nationalism and xenophobia born of the resentment of what was seen as an unfair peace at the end of the first world war. Russia was never a workers' state, Trotsky wrote that Socialism had moved forward on the path of least resistance, i.e., as Czarist Russia was least capable of stopping socialist revolution, it was in Czarist Russia that the first socialist revolution took place. Socialist internationalists had long promoted the ideas of class solidarity, Fascistic politicians relied instead on middle class fear and resentment. They used that classic political trick, to make those who have little fear encroachment from those who have nothing, the same trick used by the right in the United States to make the working poor fear immigration, socialism, and black presidents.

Also interesting were the links between Fascism and Socialism, often thought of as diametrically opposed political philosophies, many Fascists had been under the influence of socialism before the war, Fascism was not so much a movement of the right as it was a movement opposed to centrism and leftism, sort of allying itself with conservatism because centrists and leftists wanted no part of it. But a surprising number of Fascists wanted the same sort of nationalization and well, socialization that the communists did, the key difference (beyond the pomp and militarism), was nationalism versus internationalism. Many early fascists were socialists but for the fact that they desired the supremacy of there own nation over the freedom of the workers of the world.

Resentment caused by the loss of empire stirred a nascent nationalism in the citizens of Germany, Austria, and Hungary (whose territories were often more than halved), and Italy (who lost know territory, but also gained none). Paxton remarks on this, "Italy, exceptionally, had belonged to the victorious alliance, but it had failed to achieve tha national expansion that the Italian nationalists who led Italy into the war had counted on. The victory was, in their eyes a vittoria mutilata.".

As a materialist, I agree only to some small extent with the notion that nationalism can be stronger than class, but only in that nationalism can SEEM to exert a stronger influence. In actuality, I believe that this sort of nationalism is an aftereffect of economic discrepancy.

Paxton goes on to discuss the possibility of some sort of fascist or neo-fascist movement arising today, including in the United States. He makes the point that any such movement will be defined not by the traditional memes of Fascism, but by patriotic ones. e.g. in the US, a neo-fascist movement will have as its symbols the stars and stripes and the Bald Eagle, and will be marked by pledges of allegiance, etc.

Obviously the notion of the American Right as fascist has become a cliche, but it is instructive to note how many of the traits of fascistic society are common the the neo-conservative movement.

Paxton defines Fascism on the final page of his book as,

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with a community decline, humilation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence, and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion".


Kevtron said...

Cliche or no, Paxton's final definition of fascism describes to a T the modern jingoistic (neo)Conservative movement.

The TeaBags have been co-opted by these would-be fascists, using that "old political trick" you spoke of... I wonder when they'll figure that out?

ben said...

Paxton talks a bit about the different stages of fascism, I don't have the book in front of me, but its basically that the first stage is for the movement to exist, this is fulfilled by almost any fascistic fringe group, the kkk being a good example, the second is for the group to integrate itself into popular government/ governance, this can be achieved either through the group itself, or through conservative (usually) groups co-opting the methods and platforms of these fringe parties.

It definitely does seem like this is happening with the American right, and with our national dialogue in general.

To some degree, I think that our best hope is the utter ineptitude of the people involved in these movements.

Kevtron said...

Which movement? The co-opted, or the ones who are doing the co-opting?

Obviously, those who have been co-opted are vacuous. For example, pretty much anything that comes out of the mouth of Sen. Inhofe of Kansas demonstrates that he is a bible-thumping misogynistic hick.

Unfortunately, the ideologues who stoke the fears of idiots like him are not fools. The Right have demonstrated repeatedly that they are at least clever enough to run circles around progressives for the last few decades.

ben said...

I think the place where the right really seems to beat us every time is on naming things. Democrats are fucking terrible at naming things.

Think about pro-choice vs pro-life.

or health care, public option has to be explained, republicans give names to things that immediately mean something (whether or not that implied meaning has any connection to rality)

Kevtron said...

Totally. You mean like "Death Panels", or the "Death Tax"? They certainly know how to frame a debate! Who wants a Death Tax? Nobody!

They manage to compress these things into little bite-sized memes, easily divorced from any context, that spread like wildfire. Eventually rational people begin using them. And then the debate is over!

What's up with that?

danny said...

I have to say this sounds interesting...but it's my understanding that fascism was utterly capitalistic...while they used rhetoric and symbolism to disguise their political/social/economic agendas and solidify their support i don't see the practice of leftist economic ideas as being a cornerstone of fact it was fascism's support of big business and the "free market" that garnered the now infamous support of wealthy industrialists from all over (Ford for one, right?)...this is not to say that, as you wrote, there weren't those involved that didn't favor more nationalized industry...and i am interested in those people...

danny said...

Im basing thaose other comments on what i remember from michael mann's book "fascists" (and maybe also roger griffin's "fascism")

danny said...

"Fascists tended to attack not capitalism per se, but particularly unpatriotic conceptions of capitalism, like finance capital, foreign capital, or Jewish capital." and despite their rhetoric... "In practice, once in power fascists leaned toward capitalism, they made deals with old regimes, and they sided more with upper and lower classes." ---michael mann

Kevtron said...

Danny said: "fascism was utterly capitalistic."

I think you're right, but I think it was simply a matter of political expediency.

Ben paraphrased Paxton:

" was a movement opposed to centrism and leftism, sort of allying itself with conservatism because centrists and leftists wanted no part of it.

...the key difference (beyond the pomp and militarism), was nationalism versus internationalism."

It seems to me like these particular fascists (not unlike our own fascists) used the most efficient vehicle. They used ideology simply as a means to an end. In this most famous example, that goal was hegemony. It seems that leftist ideals don't really jive with that sort of goal.

Does that sound legit? I'm kind of bullshitting at this point.

Kevtron said...

And I think that's what we're seeing now. Fascism does indeed support big business, and capitalism in general (and vice versa). Perhaps only because the capitalists are in charge, or perhaps because the two are inherently compatible, having the same goals.

The fascists-to-be are virtually synonymous with the Big Corporate Businesses/Industries (denoted by Capital Letters), Big Oil, Big Media, Big War, ya know.

And Wall Street (yet another Capitalized Euphemism) owns all of them.

So. Do the fascists control the capitalist machine, or vice versa? I suppose it's quite hard to say...

Seriously, what do you think?

ben said...

I think I agree with Kevin that it is largely a matter of political expediency. I think that one of the things that makes fascism fascinating is that it does not seem to have a coherent economic vision. I don't think it would be reasonable to say that fascism is inherently capitalistic, OR to say that it is somehow inherently opposed to capitalism.

Rather, it seems that fascism is a radical movement that chooses to avoid classification and rationality. Fascist dogma is whatever is most convenient to the fascist leader/ party.

It is certainly the case that fascism was often allied with big business. But I think this is generally because in the countries where we see fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, the other main current was socialism, obviously, socialism and private industry cannot coexist, so private industry funds fascism as a "lessor of two evils".

In this way, YES, fascism IS inherently capitalistic, but perhaps only due to practicality, and not due to ideology.