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In 1923 thejoumalist Isaac F.

Marcosson wrote admiringly in the�New York Times


that "Mussolini is a Latin [Teddy] Roosevelt who�first acts and then inquires if
it is legal. He has been of great service�to Italy at home."4 The American Legion,
which has been for nearly�its entire history a great and generous American
institution, was�founded the same year as Mussolim's takeover and, in its early
years,�drew inspiration from the Italian Fascist movement. "Do not forget,"�the
legion's national commander declared that same year, "that the�Fascisti are to
Italy what the American Legion is to the United�States."5�Mussolini was a
particular hero to the muckrakers#those progressive liberal joumalists�who
famously looked out for the little�guy.Wt�Fascism certainly had its critics in the
1920s and 1930s. Emest�Hemingway was skeptical of Mussolini almost from the start.
Henry�Miller disliked Fascism's program but admired Mussolini's will and�strength.
Son�Fhe nativist Ku�Klux Klan#ironically, often called "American fascists" by
liberals#tended to despise�Mussolini and his American followers�(mainly because
they were immigrants).'.�When the left did finally start attacking Mussolini
in�eamest#largely on orders from Moscow#they lumped him in essentially the same
category�as Franklin Roosevelt, the socialist�Norman Thomas, and the progressive
Robert La Follette.12�The answer resides in the fact that Fascism was bom of a
"fascist�moment" in Westem civilization, when a coalition of intellectuals�going
by various labels#progressive, communist, socialist, and so�forth#believed the era
of liberal democracy was drawing to a close.�It was time for man to lay aside the
anachronisms of natural law, traditional religion,�constitutional liberty,
capitalism, and the like and�rise to the responsibility of remaking the world in
his own image.�God was long dead, and it was long overdue for men to take
His�place. Mussolini, a lifelong socialist intellectual, was a warrior in�this
cmsade, and his Fascism#a doctrine he created from the same�intellectual material
Lenin and Trotsky had built their movements�with#was a grand leap into the era of
"experimentation" that would�sweep aside old dogmas and usher in a new age. This
was in every�significant way a project of the left as we understand the tenn
today,�a fact understood by Mussolini, his admirers, and his detractors.�Mussolini
declared often that the nineteenth century was the century�of liberalism and the
twentieth century would be the "century of�Fascism." It is only by examining his
life and legacy that we can see�how right#and left#he was.�Mussolini's Nietzschean
contempt for the "slave morality" of�Christianity was sufficiently passionate that
he'd sought to purge�Christians of all kinds from the ranks of Italian Socialism.
In 1910,�Sorel's impact on Mussolini is vital to an understanding of�fascism
because without syndicalism fascism was impossible.�Syndicalist theory is hi�[t's
not quite socialism�and it's not quite fascism. Joshua Muravchik calls it "an ill-
defined�variant of socialism that stressed violent direct action and was
simultaneously elitist�and anti-statist." Essentially, syndicalists�believed
in�rule by revolutionary trade unions (the word is derived from the�French word
syndicat, while the Italian wordfascio means "bundle"�and was commonly used as a
synonym for unions). Syndicalism informed corporatist�theory by arguing that
society could be�divided�by professional sectors of the economy, an idea that
deeply influenced the New Deals�of both FDR and Hitler. But Sorel's
greatest�contribution to the left#and Mussolini in particular#lay elsewhere:�in
his concept of "myths," which he defined as "artificial combinations invented�to
give the appearance of reality to hopes that inspire�men in their present
activity." For Sorel, the Second Coming of�Christ was a quintessential myth
because its underiying message#�Jesus is coming, look busy#was crucial for
organizing men in desirable ways.21�For syndicalists at the time and, ultimately,
for leftist revolutionaries of all�stripes, Sorel's myth of the general strike was
the�equivalent of the Second Coming. According to this myth, if all
workers�declared a general strike, it would cmsh capitalism and render
the�proletariat#ramer than the meek#the inheritors of the earth.�Vhether the
implementation of a general strike would actually have�this result didn't matter,
according to Sorel. What mattered was mobilizing the masses�to understand their
power over the capitalist mling classes. As Mussolini said in�an interview in
1932, "It is faith�that moves mountains, not reason. Reason is a tool, but it can
never�be the motive force of the crowd." This kind of thinking has
been�commonplace on the left ever since. Think of Al Sharpton when
Think of Al Sharpton when allegedly confronted by the fact that the Tawana
Brawley�"assault"�was a fake. "It don't matter" he's reported to have said.
"We're�building a movement."22�Even more impressive was Sorel's application of the
idea of myth�to Marxism itself. Again, Sorel held that Marxist prophecy
didn't�need to be tme. People just needed to think it was tme. Even at the�tum of
the last century it was becoming obvious that Marxism as social science
didn't�make a whole lot of sense. Taken literally, Marx's�In other words,
Marx�should be read as a prophet, not as a policy wonk. That way the�masses would
absorb Marxism unquestioningly as a religious�dogma.�Sorel was deeoly influenced
by the Pragmatism ofWilliam James,�who pioneered the notion that all one needs is
the "will to believe."�u-guing that any religion that worked for the�believer was
not merely valid but "tme." Sorel was an irrationalist�who took this sort of
thinking to its logical conclusion: any idea that�can be successfully imposed#with
violence if necessary#becomes�tme and good. By marrying James's will to believe
with Nietzsche's�will to power, Sorel redesigned left-wing revolutionary politics
from�scientific socialism to a revolutionary religious movement that believed in
the utility�of the myth of scientific socialism. Enlightened�revolutionaries would
act as if Marxism were gospel in order to�bring the masses under their control for
the greater good. Today we�might call these aspects of this impulse "lying for
justice."�Of course, a lie could not become "tme"#that is, successful#�unless you
had good liars. This is where another of Sorel's major�contributions comes in: the
need for a "revolutionary elite" to impose its will upon�the masses. On this
point, as many have observed,�Mussolini and Lenin held almost identical views.
Central to their�common outlook was the Sorelian conviction that a small cadre
of�professional intellectual radicals#who were prepared to reject compromise,
parliamentary�politics, and anything else that smacked�of�incremental reform#were
indispensable to any successful revolutionary struggle. This�avant-garde would
shape "revolutionary�consciousness" by fomenting violence and undermining
liberal�institutions. "We must create a proletarian minority sufficiently
numerous, sufficiently�knowledgeable, sufficiently audacious to substitute itself,
at the opportune moment,�for the bourgeois minority,"�Mussolini channeled Lenin in
pitch-perfect tones. "The mass will�simply follow and submit."24�Whatever else it
may have been, however, one thing is clear: the�French Revolution was the first
totalitarian revolution, the mother of�modem totalitarianism, and the spiritual
model for the Italian�Fascist, German Nazi, and Russian Communist revolutions.
A�nationalist-populist uprising, it was led and manipulated by an intellectual
vanguard�determined to replace Christianity with a political�religion that
glorified "the people" anointed the revolutionary vanguard as their�priests, and
abridged the rights of individuals. As�Robespierre put it, "The people is always
worth more than individuals ... The people�is sublime, but individuals are
weak"#or, at any�rate, expendable.25�According to Rousseau, individuals who live
in accordance with the general will are�"free" and�"virtuous" while those who defy
it are criminals, fools, or heretics.�These enemies of the common good must be
forced to bend to�the general will. He described this state-sanctioned coercion
in�Orwellian terms as the act of "forcing men to be free" It was�Rousseau who
originally sanctified the sovereign will of the masses�while dismissing the
mechanisms of democracy as cormpting and�Rousseau's community is not defined�by
ethnicity or geography or custom. Rather, it is bound together by�the general will
as expressed in the dogmas of what he called a "civil�religion" and enforced by
the all-powerful God-state. Those who�defy the collective spirit of the community
live outside the state and�have no claim on its protections. Indeed, not only is
the state not required to defend�antisocial individuals or subcommunities,�it is
compelled to do away with them.29�Robespierre argued that only a "religious
instinct" could defend the�revolution from the acid of skepticism. But the
revoludonaries also�knew that before such faith could be attached to the state,
they had�to exterminate every trace of "deceitful" Christianity. So they embarked
on a sweeping�campaign to dethrone Christianity. They reFascism is indebted to the
French Revolution�in other ways as�well. Robespierre appreciated, as did Sorel and
his heirs, that violence was a linchpin�that kept the masses committed to the
ideals of�the Revolution: "Ifthe spring ofpopular govemment in time ofpeace�is
virtue, the springs of popular govemment in revolution are at once�virtue and
terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without�which virtue is
powerless. Terror�not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the
general�principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs"34�"For
the first time in history," writes the historian Marisa Linton,�"terror became an
official govemment policy, with the stated aim to�use violence in order to achieve
a higher political goal." The irony�The utility of terror was multifaceted, but
among its chief benefits�was its tendency to maintain a permanent sense of crisis.
Crisis is�routinely identified as a core mechanism of fascism because it
shortcircuits debate�and democratic deliberadon. Hence all fascistic�movements
commit considerable energy to prolonging a heightened�state ofemergency. Across
the West, this was the most glorious boon�ofWorldWarL�Mussolini realized "there
was no space in Italian politics for a party�that was both nationalist and
Left."42�This, I think, distorts the picture. Mussolini did not move fascism�from
left to right; he moved it from socialist to populist. An unAfter all, the
notion�that political�power is and should be vested in the people was a classical
liberal�position. Populism was a more radical version of this position. It's�still
a "power to the people" ideology, but it is skeptical of the
parliamentary�machinery of conventional liberalism (e.g., checks�and�Direct
democracy and nationalization were two�of the main planks of the Fascist agenda.
Mussolini also stopped�The key distinction for "producerism,"�as many called it,
was between those who created wealth with their�own hands and those who merely
profited from it. William Jennings�Mussolini's style was remarkably similar to
Yasir Arafat's�(though Arafat was undoubtedly far more murderous). He played
the�political game of claiming to seek peaceful accords and alliances�while
straining to contain the more violent elements within his�movement. His�^rudely,
Pragmatism is a form of relativism which holds that any belief that is useful�is
therefore necessarily true. Conversely, any truth that is inconvenient or non-
useful�is necessarily untme. Mussolini's useful tmth was the concept of
a�"totalitarian" society#he made up the word#defined by his famous�motto:
"Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing�against the State."
The�Adolf Hitler:�Man of the Left�What Hitler got from Italian Fascism#and, as
indicated above,�from the French and Russian revolutions#was the importance
of�having an idea that would arouse the masses. The particular content�of the idea
was decidedly secondary. The ultimate utility of ideas is�not their intrinsic
truth but the extent to which they make a desired�action possible#in Hitler's case
the destmcdon ofyour enemies, the�attainment of glory, and the triumph of your
race. This is important�His opportunism, pragmatism, and megalomania�often
overpowered any desire on his part to formulate a fixed ideological
approach.�^.ccording to Rauschning, Hitler was�a pure opportunist devoid of
loyalty to men or ideas#unless you call�hatred of Jews an idea#and willing to
break oaths, liquidate people,�and say or do anything to achieve and hold power.
"This movement�is totally without ideals and lacks even the semblance of a
program.�Its commitment is entirely to action ... the leaders choose action on�a
cold, calculating ana cunmng oasis. For National Socialists there�was and is no
aim they would not take up or drop at a moment's notice, their only�criterion
being the strengthening of the movement"�', Hitler had no�great foundational ideas
or ideological svstem. His genius lay in the�realization that people wanted to
rally to ideas and svmbols. And so�Nevertheless, the four significant "ideas" we
can be sure Hitler�treasured in their own right were power concentrated in
himself, hatred#and fear#of�Jews, faith in the racial superiority�of the�German
Volk, and, ultimately, war to demonstrate and secure the�other three.�The Nazis
rose to power exploiting anticapitalist rhetoric they indisputably believed.�Even
if Hitler was the nihilistic�cipher many�Nazism also emphasized many�of the themes
of later New Lefts in other places and times: the primacy of race,�the rejection
of rationalism, an emphasis on the organic and holistic#including
environmentalism,�health food, and�exercise#and, most of all, the need to
"transcend" notions of class.�For these reasons. Hitler deserves to be placed
firmly on the left�because first and foremost he was a revolutionary. Broadly
speaking,�the left is the party of change, the right the party of the status
quo.�On this score, Hitler was in no sense, way, shape, or form a man of�the
right. There are few things he believed more totally than that he�was a
revolutionary. And his�\.nd his followers agreed. Yet for more than a�generation
to call Hitler a revolutionary has been a form of heresy,�particularly for Marxist
and German historians, since for the left revolution is�always good#the inevitable
forward motion of the�Hegelian
wheel of history. Even if their bloody tactics are (sometimes) to be
lamented,�revolutionaries move history forward.�(For�conservatives, in contrast,
revolutions are almost always bad#�unless, as in the case of the United States,
you are trying to conserve�the victories and legacy of a previous revolution.)�You
can see why the Marxist left would resist the idea that Hitler�was a
revolutionary. Because ifhe was, then either Hitler was a force�for good or
revolutions can be bad. And yet how can you argue that�Hitler wasn't a
revolutionary in the leftist mold? Hitler despised the�bourgeoisie,
traditionalists, aristocrats, monarchists, and all believers in the�established
order. Early in his political career, he "had�A related definition of the right is
that it is not merely in favor of�preserving the status quo but affirmatively
reactionary, seeking to restore the old�order. This perspective obviously leaves
much to be desired since most libertarians�are considered members ofthe right
and�few would call such activists reactionaries. As we shall see, there
is�"Reactionary" is one of those words smuggled in from Marxist�talking points
that we now accept uncritically. Reactionaries in�. It is for this reason that
Hitler saw himself in an�existential battle with the forces ofreaction. "We had no
wish to resIf we put aside�for a moment the question of whether Hitlerism�was a
phenomenon of the right, what is indisputable is that Hitler�was in no way
conservative # a point scholars careful with their�words always underscore.
Certainly, to suggest that Hitler was a conservative in�any sense related to
American conservatism is lunacy.�American conservatives seek to preserve both
traditional values and�the classical liberal creed enshrined in the Constitution.
American�conservatism straddles these two distinct but overlapping libertarian�and
traditionalist strains, whereas Hitler despised both of them.�Taken as a�whole,
they point to a man who felt he had much to compensate for�and whose egocentrism
knew no bounds. "I have to attain immortality," Hitler once�confessed, "even if
the whole German nation�perishes in the process"11�Hitler suffered from an
enormous intellectual inferiority complex.�A lifelong underachiever, he was
etemally bitter about getting poor�grades in school. More important, perhaps, he
resented his father�for any number of perceived offenses. /�Hitler's hatred of
communists was also given new heat and�rength during the war, thanks largely to
antiwar agitation on the�home front. German civilians starved along with the
troops. They�' German Reds fed off this suffering, organizing�strikes against the
govemment and demanding peace with the�Soviets and the establishment of German
socialism. Hitler, who as�it would tum out had no problem with German socialism,
saw�communist antiwar mobilization as treason twice over: it not only�betrayed the
troops at the front but was done at the behest of a foreign power. Infuriated�by
the fifth columnists, he railed, "What�was�the army fighting for if the homeland
itself no longer wanted victory? For whom the�immense sacrifices and privations?
The soldier�is expected to fight for victory and the homeland goes on
strike�against it!"12�[t tumed out that�this antisocial, autodidactic misanthrope
was the consummate party�man. He had all the gifts a cultish revolutionary party
needed: oratory, propaganda,�an eye for intrigue, and an unerring instinct
for�populist demagoguery. When he joined the party, its treasury was a�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"#me expansion ofhealth services, and the
abolition ofchild�labor as objectively and obviously right-wing.�Wliat the Nazis
pursued was a form of anticapitalist, antiliberal,�and anti-conservative
communitarianism encapsulated in the concept of Volksgemeinschaft,�or "people's
community" The aim�was to�' The aim was to�transcend class differences, but only
within the confines of the community. "We have�end�
:he most striking thing about the platform was its concerted appeal to
socialistic�and populist economics, including providing a livelihood for citizens;
abolition of income from interest; the total confiscation of war�profits; the
nationalization of tmsts; shared profits with labor; expanded old-age pensions;
"communalization of department stores";�the execution of "usurers" regardless of
race; and the outlawing of�child labor. (The�The aim was to�transcend class
differences, but only within the confines of the community. "We have endeavored"
Hitler explained, "to depart from the�extemal, the suoerficial, endeavored to
forget social origin, class,�profession, fortune, education, capital and
everything that separates�men, in order to reach that which binds them
together."13 Again and�again, Nazi propaganda, law, and literature insisted that
none of the�"conservative" or "bourgeois" categoncs snould hold any German�back
from fulfilling his potential in the new Reich. In a perversely�ironic way, the
Nazi pitch was often crafted in the same spirit as liberal sentiments like "a mind
is a temoie thing to waste" and "the�content of their character." This sounds
silly in the American context�because to us race has always been the more
insumiountable barrier�than class. But in Germany class was always the crucial
dividing�line, and Nazi anti-Semitism provided one of many unifying concepts that
all "tme" Germans, rich and poor, could rally around.�The�For another, the
"social�space" the Nazis were fighting to control was on the left. Not only�rsis
typified by Shirer but most Marxist�analysis concedes that the Nazis aimed first
to "destroy the left" before they went after the traditionalist right. The reason
for this was�that the Nazis could more easily defeat opponents on the left because
they appealed to the same social base, used the same language,�and thought in the
same categories. A similar phenomenon was on�The Nazis may not have called
themselves left-wingers, but that's�almost irrelevant. For one thing, the left
today#and yesterday#�constantly ridicules ideological labels, insisting that words
like "liberal" and "left" don't really mean anything. How many times have�we heard
some prominent leftist insist that he is really a "progressive" or that she
"doesn't believe in labels"? For another,�the "social�Not only�the conventional
analysis typified by Shirer but most Marxist�analysis concedes that the Nazis
aimed first to "destroy the left" before they went after the traditionalist right.
The reason for�this was�that the Nazis could more easily defeat opponents on the
left because they appealed to the same social base, used the same�language,�and
thought in the same categories. A similar phenomenon was on�display during the
1960s, when the New Left in the United States#�and throughout Europe#attacked the
liberal center while largely ignoring the traditionalist right. In American
universities,�for example,�conservative faculty were often left alone, while
liberal academics�were hounded relentlessly.�The Nazis' ultimate aim was to
transcend both left and right, to�advance a "Third Way" that broke with both
categories. But in the�real world the Nazis seized control of the country by
dividing, conquering, and then replacing the left.�Fhis is the monumental fact of
the Nazi rise to power that has�been slowly airbmshed from our collective
memories: the Nazis�campaigned as socialists. Yes, they were also nationalists,
which in�the context of the 1930s was considered a rightist position, but this�was
at a time when the "intemationalism" of the Soviet Union�defined all nationalisms
as right-wing. surcij we've leamed rrom�the parade of horribles on offer in the
twentieth century that nationalism isn't inherently right-wing#unless we're
prepared to call�Stalin, Castro, Arafat, Chavez, Guevara, Pol Pot, and, for that
matter, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy,�right-wingers.
Stalin himself mled as a nationalist, invoking�"Mother Russia" and dubbing Worid
War II the "great patriotic war."�But even if Nazi nationalism was in some ill-
defined but fundamental way right-wing, this only meant that Nazism was right-
wing�socialism. And right-wing socialists are still socialists. Most of the�).
What distinguished Nazism�was that it forthrightly included a worldview we now
associate almost completely with the political left: identity politics. This
was�what distinguished Nazism from doctrinaire communism, and it�One of the great
ironies of historv is that the more similar two�groups are, the greater the
potential for them to hate each other. God�The doctrine of social fascism had two
consequences that are directly relevant to our discussion. The first is that
forever�afterward,�anyone who was against the far left was seen as being in league
with�the fascist far right. For decades, even after the launch ofthe
Popular�Front, if you were against the Soviet Union, you were open to the�charge
of being a fascist. Even Leon Trotsky#the co-founder of the�Soviet state#was
labeled a "Nazi agent" and the leader of a failed�"fascist coup" the moment Stalin
decided to get rid of him. Indeed,�charges of rightism, fascism, and Nazism were
leveled at countless�victims of Stalin's purges. Eventually, the intemational left
simply�reserved for itself the absolute right to declare whomever it desired�to
delegitimize a Nazi or fascist without appeal to reason or fact. In�time, as
Nazism became synonymous with "ultimate evil," this became an incredibly useful
cudgel, which is still wielded�today.�The second consequence ofthe doctrine of
social fascism was that�it caused Hitler to win.�