Left and Right

Fascism is Not Bourgeois, Marxism is Not Proletarian

A reader asks:

In the case of the fascist movement in Italy, several early founders were Marxists, so the connection between fascism and a (relatively) developed industrial society may be mostly due to the intellectual crisis among Marxists like Mussolini, who were psychologically impacted by nationalism during WWI. And in the case of Russia, there were significant numbers of intense, ideologically-driven, Jews in the Pale who fell for a Marxism born in industrialized Germany. Therefore, I see the possibility of a greater claim based on the necessary/sufficient claim of Jewish involvement as opposed to a Russian Revolution primarily due to its feudal state of development. Obviously, my claim gives great weight to the primacy of ideas. Thoughts?

My response:

Italian fascist theory reworked Marxism away from an emphasis on class conflict toward an emphasis on the conflict between subordinated nations against hegemonic ones. Mussolini claimed Italy was a proletarian nation fighting the dominant financial powers like England. The failure of proletarian revolutions to materialize in WW1 led a lot of former socialists toward revolutionary nationalism. A problem with the Marxist interpretation of fascism is that Marxists view fascism merely as a strong arm for capitalism.  But I think that is a misunderstanding of why fascist regimes have repressed labor uprisings and things like that. Fascists believe that both labor and capital should be subordinated to the “nation” whose manifestation is the state. They view labor uprisings as disruptive to national unity and weakening the nation and the state. But they also oppose autonomous capital when it conflicts with the interests of the state as well. Fascists are not and have never been laissez-faire economists, not even in an extremely watered down way like supply-siders or neoliberals. In a fascist regime, both labor and capital are considered to be arms and branches of the state and are expected to be subordinated to the state. Labor is expected to be subordinate to capital the same way enlisted ranks are expected to be subordinate to officers, and capital is expected to be subordinate to the state in the same way junior officers are expected to be subordinate to senior officers.
The Russian Revolution followed the same pattern as virtually all leftist or proto-leftist revolutions since Cromwell. What happens is that you have a rising middle class that experiences the frustration of its ambitions by a deeply entrenched corrupt elite that is impervious to reform. The left wing of the middle class then becomes a revolutionary class. Cromwell was the expression of the rising English bourgeoisie/merchant class. The American revolutionaries were the merchant and planter elites throwing off the traditional ruling class of king, clergy, and aristocracy. The same was true of France, the revolutions of 1848, and virtually all communist revolutions in the 20th century. This analysis also applies to our present-day tech-oligarchs and professional-managerial class. I very much agree ideas matter as well. A materialist/class analysis and an idealist/Weberian analysis are not mutually exclusive. They are complements to each other. The early English bourgeoisie were Puritans, the Americans were Lockean liberals, the French were Rousseauans, the continental revolutionaries of the 19th century were a mixture of liberals, socialists, and nationalists, and the 20th-century revolutionaries were Marxists. In the postmodern era, the dominant ideas among the far left are what I call totalitarian humanism. Jewish participants in the Russian revolution are analogous to the rising middle class minorities that are constituents for totalitarian humanism in our own time.

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3 replies »

  1. I think that you get fascism somewhat in reverse here. The idea was not that the economic agents should be arms of the state, it was that the state should be a tool of the nation, speaking inclusively. Theoretically the fascists world have subordinated the state to consesus based corporate politics, similar to how The Palpatinate or Burgundy operated in the middle ages, and decentralized most of the traditional state functions into self government by guilds and communes. In practice, they’re were one of the most laissez-faire economies in the Great Depression. The fascist conception of the state, while never realized, was fundamentally different from the Marxist or even bourgeoisie. In practice it basically was a bourgeoisie state. Most ‘fascist’ institutions were not appreciably controlled by the party or different from private clubs that already existed in Italy.

    Your description of fascism is more accurate to national socialism, although in their case the party became the state. Nazis explicitly rejected corporatism.

    I also deny that classes exist. This is a Marxist dumbing down of social subordination (rank, status) and confusing it with the completely different question of economic functions.

    • “Theoretically the fascists world have subordinated the state to consesus based corporate politics, similar to how The Palpatinate or Burgundy operated in the middle ages, and decentralized most of the traditional state functions into self government by guilds and communes.”

      Didn’t the Strassers have plans for restructuring Germany along the lines of something similar to that?

      “I also deny that classes exist. This is a Marxist dumbing down of social subordination (rank, status) and confusing it with the completely different question of economic functions.”

      Classes can be defined in different ways. You can define class according to wealth, function, status, rank, or some combination of these. I tend to agree with Weber on that. The Marxist typology is helpful for understanding class on a functional level, at least within a limited contextual framework.

  2. “Didn’t the Strassers have plans for restructuring Germany along the lines of something similar to that?”
    Strasserism evolved over time. To start it was more conventionally socialist, with a plan of autarky. In the end Otto Strasser, in Germany Tomorrow, advocated a radically decentralized Germany with localist industry, no ethnic discrimination against Jews and free trade.

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