07 August, 2008

Liberal Fascism, pt. 2

So, we are supposed to see a party in favor of universal education, guaranteed employment, increased entitlements for the aged, the expropriation of land without compensation, the nationalization of industry, the abolition of market-based lending—a.k.a. "interest slavery"—the expansion of health services, and the abolition of child labor as objectively and obviously right-wing.
Oh, and did we mention an obsession with fitness and even health food, and a desire to remove the influence of Christianity from government decision-making?

Suppose you took the platforms and/or programs of the Nazi and Fascist parties, stripped them of their respective racist and nationalist elements, and considered only their social and economic programs. Would they resemble the platform of the Republican or the Democratic parties?

Jonah Goldberg provides the answer. Aside from the quote above, which excerpts the Nazi Party's platform in 1920—shortly after Hitler joined—he also highlights some proposals from the Fascist party's platform. Just a few:
  • Universal suffrage, including for women.
  • Repeal titles of nobility.
  • "A foreign policy… in opposition to all foreign imperialisms."
  • Eight actual hours of work in a day.
  • A minimum wage.
  • The seizure of all goods belonging to religious congregations and the abolition of episcopal revenues. [In Italy, as in much of Europe at that time, these usually came from the State, not from the people's offering plates. In Italy I believe this is still the case.]
  • A large, progressive tax on capital.
  • The seizing of uncultivated farmland, followed by redistribution to cooperatives.
This does not sound capitalist, but like what I've heard of countries like the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Cuba, and so forth. Some of these are likewise carried in the contemporary platform of the Democratic Party. To my knowledge, none are to be found in the Republican Party platform. In fact, Mussolini had been a raving Socialist, editing the Socialist newspaper Avanti!.

Both Nazi and Fascist parties lost early elections. After all, Germany and Italy already had Socialist parties, and it takes time to build party support and organization. Neither Hitler nor Mussolini had the patience for this sort of thing, and resorted to a change in emphasis, as well as open street battles with Socialists and Communists. Goldberg argues that the usual depiction of this change in tone pretends that there was a change in substance as well, but no change in substance actually occurred. Once they seized power, they largely implemented their platforms, making pragmatic accommodations with industry in order to govern. If the reader thinks that this pragmatic accomodation proves they were right-wingers, then the reader should remember that Lenin, after taking power, did exactly the same thing in Russia during the early 1920s. Stalin didn't get around to exterminating the kulaks until a decade later.

How then do Mussolini and Hitler get depicted popularly as right-wingers? Goldberg argues that historians do not in fact consider them right-wing capitalists or traditionalists; that popular impression is the lingering echo of Soviet propaganda.

Eh, what? Goldberg explains that the Soviets had a habit of labeling anyone who opposed them as Fascists and/or Nazis. This tactic was the brainchild of Leon Trotsky, and led to poetic justice when Trotsky lost a power struggle with Stalin. He ended up being labeled a spy for the Fascists, Nazis, and capitalists.

There's an example of this in an otherwise-awful Russian film, The Cuckoo. A Russian soldier meets a Finnish soldier and immediately starts calling him Fascist, in Russian of course. The Finn replies in German, Not Fascist! Democracy! The Russian replies, Fascism, democracy: they're all the same. That was more or less the Soviet point of view.

Goldberg then makes an argument that I found clever. For the sake of argument, assume that Hitler and Mussolini did move to the right. Goldberg points out they were nevertheless right-wing socialists. They were in no way, shape, or form right-wing capitalists, right-wing opponents of big government, right-wing low-tax advocates, right-wing opponents of race-based hiring (especially not the Nazis, although Mussolini didn't care about one's race), or even right-wing Christian evangelicals.

And the fighting with Socialists and Communists? That, explains Goldberg, was the consequence of trying to fight it out among each other. The use of red in the Nazi flag symbolized socialism, and according to Goldberg Nazis and Communists generally voted the same way in the Reichstag. He even relates stories of Communists whom the Party sent to start fights at Nazi Party meetings, but decide instead to change their party affiliation once they hear Hitler speak. Why? Hitler preached national socialism; Communists preached international socialism. After losing a war to most of the rest of the world, Germans were not so keen on all this internationalist crap that Lenin was preaching. (So to speak.) He also mentions how Italian Fascists railed in their newspapers against Nazism's racism. That was before the two became buddies of sorts.

This is one of the key points Goldberg hammers repeatedly. The prime difference between Fascists and Communists was not whether capitalism was evil; both agreed on that. Instead, it was whether to build national socialism or international socialism. Mussolini and Hitler discarded internationalist pieties in favor of building their respective nations or races. Communists maintained their dreams of an international workers' revolution, instead of the national revolutions that Hitler and Mussolini engineered.

So Goldberg seems to have answered quite effectively some of the questions I mentioned in my last entry on the book. Unfortunately, some of my discontent with the writing style remains, including one I forgot to mention last time:
  • Things still seem out of order. Goldberg discusses Mussolini, then takes a few pages to discuss what he calls Jacobin Fascism. Essentially, this is meant to explain how the roots of Fascism lie in the French Revolution. This would have been better developed in a chapter of its own before Mussolini, I think, and with more detail.
  • There are a few impolite references to people with whom Goldberg disagrees. I neglected to mention that in the Introduction he repeatedly refers to the numerous 20th century apologists for Communism as "useful idiots". According to American conservative lore it was Lenin's description of such people. (Wikipedia disputes the use of the term, but it does appear to summarize Lenin's attitude at least.) Goldberg never explains this in the text, and I doubt most people know the origin of the term. They might end up thinking Goldberg is name-calling. (In a way he is, but not in the way they think.)
I do think Goldberg is succeeding at defending his thesis. I am especially impressed by the answer to the question I posed above: if you removed the nationalism and racism from the Fascist and Nazi parties, would they resemble more the Republican or the Democratic parties?

Of course, nationalism in the case of the Fascists, and racism in the case of the Nazis, were not minor points to their platforms. Nationalism and racism are today supposed crimes of the American conservative movement. (I recently mentioned that they haven't helped themselves by singing Jesse Helms' praises. Goldberg shows up in that entry as one of the exceptions to that shameful episode.)

Goldberg is making hints about tying racism and nationalism to the American left wing. Before I get there, I'd like to admit my bias in his favor. Most American segregationists I've read about never struck me either as particularly capitalist. Jim Crow laws are hardly an example of a government's laissez-faire attitude to the economy; I've read that during the Civil Rights era a one-time newspaper in the nearby town of Petal, MS made the point that perhaps Mississippi's poverty could be attributed in part to the fact that its economy was chained down along with 1/3 of its population. Likewise, the North Carolina newspaper News and Observer carries on its editorial page a quote from Josephus Daniels, its legendary publisher, urging his followers to advocate for the poor. Wikipedia also notes that Daniels advocated for the poor. I vaguely recall (perhaps incorrectly) that Daniels was instrumental in setting up state-provided care for the mentally ill. Yet he was also a racist who whipped anti-black sentiment to such a raging boil that he helped instigate the only overthrow of a democratically elected government in the United States: the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. I can list a large number of other segregationists who likewise held what one might call progressive views, if only you ignored their racism.

Of course racism does appear on the other side as well; I've read somewhere that William Buckley, the founder of modern American conservatism, believed for a while that blacks were inferior to whites, but later changed his mind, and quite publicly.

The point Goldberg is trying to make—although I don't think he repeats it enough—is that the labels racist, fascist, and Nazi tend to be applied rather uniformly by supporters of the Democratic party against supporters of the Republican party whose words, proposed policies, and histories do not meet any serious definition of those terms. Rather, the left simply likes to wield the term as an incredibly useful cudgel. I agree with him that this is unfair, but I am not so sure that the stronger evidence supports reversing the accusation.

But, I have a bunch of chapters to go.


Clemens said...

Very thoughtful, though I still don't agree much of what Godlberg says. It is a stale cliche, but one I realized was true long ago, that if you push any political continuum to its furtherest extremes, you have a circle, not a straight line. Hence, the authoritarianism, racism, ultimate glorification of the state above all else, seem to be aspects of both the far right and the far left.

At the Un of Minnesota there was a grad student who for reasons of personality was called a "fascist" by the leftest wing of the grad students. She was Jewish, which did not make the incident any more sensible. But it taught me the point you are making about how quick we are about using the term fascist for anyone not liked by the left. "Useful idiots" seems to be the new right wing equivalent.

Racism lurks behind a great deal of American politics, and I am glad you point out the oddity of otherwise progressive folks being committed to segregation. It can't be a default position to accuse people of racism, but it certainly is there often enough. At least in the South it kept progressives from ever gaining much ground. Their opponents could always accuse them of wanting to make blacks equal to whites.

jack perry said...

Hence, the authoritarianism, racism, ultimate glorification of the state above all else, seem to be aspects of both the far right and the far left.

I agree. The biggest problem I have with Goldberg's writings is that he implicitly defines conservatism to be a moderated of libertarianism. This despite the fact that he writes alongside a number of commentators who seem to have celebrated American imperialism, the expansion of the New Deal, etc.

I have more to write on this, too, when I have time… alas, finding time is harder now that school is back in session. I wanted to write a part 2 1/2 and a part 3, but I now doubt I'll get to them.

About the Jewish grad student though—something Goldberg points out is that Jews were quite prominent in Mussolini's fascist republic until Mussolini fell in line with Hitler. But that took twenty years or so, and Goldberg even quotes Mussolini deriding Hitler's notions as not being real fascism.