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International Fascism - Theories, causes and the new consensus


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International Fascism

Theories, causes and the new consensus

“International Fascism – theories, causes and the new consensus”, edited by Roger Griffin is a compilation of the views over fascism belonging to three political thinkers: A. James Gregor, George L. Mosse and Stanley G. Payne.

Considering the fact that the background always has an obvious effect upon the writings of any, we are bound to get acquainted with some information regarding the three authors’ feedback.

The interest of the editor Roger Griffin for Fascism is also stressed by his background information. Roger Griffin is a British academic political theorist at Oxford Brookes University, England. His recent efforts have focused on a definition and examination of fascism. Griffin's theory of fascism suggests that a heuristically useful ideal type of its definitional core is that it is a palingenetic and populist form of ultra nationalism. In other words it seeks, by directly mobilizing popular energies or working through an elite, to eventually conquer cultural hegemony for new values, to bring about the total rebirth of the nation from its present decadence, whether the nation is conceived as a historically formed nation-state or a racially determined 'ethnos'. Conceived in these terms, fascism is an ideology that has assumed a large number of specific national permutations and several distinct organizational forms. Griffin's approach, though still highly contested in some quarters, has had an enduring impact on the comparative fascist literature of the last 15 years, and builds on the work of George Mosse, Stanley Payne, and Emilio Gentile in highlighting the revolutionary and totalizing politico-cultural nature of the fascist revolution (in marked contrast with Marxist approaches). The fascist attempt to institute a different civilization and a new temporality in the West found its most comprehensive expression in the 'modernist states' of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, which also revealed the destructive and self-destructive nature of all fascist political projects to 'regenerate' the nation or achieving cultural renewal.

In what the extract is concerned, one can easily notice the editor’s absolute lack of interference – the reader is can only deal with the three authors’ presentations of fascism and these ones’ differentiated points of view. Therefore our presentation will be based on emphasizing the main ideas of each author and a comparison between the three perspectives over fascism.

“What [fascist] leadership cadres wanted to do with their societies […]?”

A. James Gregor, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, well known for his views on fascism and security issues is the first to expose ideas. Glancing at this one's feedback, it becomes obvious that he owns a great interest for the issue of “fascism”. Since the 1970s, Gregor has spent most of his academic research on the study of Fascism and it is for this that he is best known. In 1974 he wrote The Fascist persuasion in radical politics. More recent is his book “The Faces of Janus”. The book argues that Fascism was actually a left-wing philosophy. In the words of the American Historical Review he also asserts that Fascism 'was a compelling and coherent synthesis of ideas generated by some of the most creative thinkers of our time.' Never advocating Fascism as a political system, Gregor has continued to define himself as committed to the values and convictions of democratic liberalism, consistently arguing that the American brand of democracy has proven the most effective system of government and the most likely to endure.

In the essay of our concern, entitled “A modernizing dictatorship”, he chooses to put emphasis on the link between fascism and the process of modernization. The political thinker began his referring to Henry Ashby Turner’s suggestion that one should analyze “fascism in terms of its relationship to the process we have come to understand as ‘modernization’” .Therefore, Gregor took upon as his duty to develop and explain this one’s idea.

First, he describes the meaning of “modernization” – “complex process involving industrialization, urbanization, secularization and rationalization” , which according to him, was not quite the case of the fascist movement. From what he is saying, we realize that their aim was to “de-urbanize” and “de-industrialize”, while still nourishing the “need and desire for the products of industry” which means that basically fascists are anti-modern - they “implemented many modernizing policies only as the means to anti-modernist ends” which seems to be a paradox.

The fact that the fascist movement entered into a coalition with Futurism, Italian Nationalism and Revolutionary National Syndicalism which had clearly the intention to be modernizing led to the idea that it could not be definitely characterized as anti-modernization. The three movements were known as pleading for an industrialized Italy, with flourishing urban centers, secular political control of community life and a rationalized bureaucratic infrastructure to govern the peninsula effectively. In order to explain better how these movements influenced Fascism, A. James Gregor proceeded at presenting general aspects of each of the movements.

Futurism emerged due to the ideas of F.T.Marinetti and it seemed to have been a modernizing movement. In the work “Futurist manifesto” the father of futurism said that “magnificence of the world has been enriched with a new beauty: the beauty of speed. ” speed was linked to mechanization and Marinetti pleaded for the “identification of man with machine”. Continuing this idea, it seemed that futurists were tied to the idea of geometrized cities made out of steel, cement and crystal and filled with machines. Eventually A.J. Gregor concluded that Futurist were the subsequent flood tide of Fascism.

The emergence of Nationalism was Enrico Corradini’s idea and it was clearly characterized as having modernizing views. They emphasized on the idea of quantity and quality of national production. Because Italy was considered to be economically undeveloped, the idea of modernization is linked the principle of production which influences that of distribution. The main virtues for a nation of producers were considered to be sacrifice and discipline and maximum of efficiency to the process of production was desired. By the year 1923 Nationalism and inclinations toward modernization had been assimilated by fascism. If the two movements were thought as being modern, the same thing could be said about the National Syndicalism.

Eventually, by the end of the war, Mussolini called his movement “productivistic socialism”. Two concerns for Fascism that could never be let down, were the reality of the nation and the exigencies of production. Fascist movement next to the other three – Futurism, Nationalism and National Syndicalism supported the urban development, the rationalization of urban institutions, the reorganization of the bureaucracy an the basis of technical competence, the abolition of “traditional” and nonfunctional agencies, the expansion of road, rail waterways and telephonic communications systems, the modernization and secular control of the educational system and the reduction of illiteracy. The emphasis put on modernization led to the development of Rome, Milan, Turin, and Genoa which became heavily populated; consequently they were transformed into modern industrial and commercial centers. This is proved by the rate of economic development in Italy, which was competing with those of other European powerful states: France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. This lead to the conclusion that it couldn’t be considered as an anti-modernism movement. Moreover, Mussolini’s appeal to the past, to the glories of the ancient Roman Empire came as a feedback for an Italian uprising, very much like in the cases of the Maoist China and that of the Soviet Union.

As a conclusion for A. James Gregor’s essay, the modernization and the development of Italy could not have been possible without the developments that happened during the fascist period.

“Like a scavenger, fascism scooped un scraps of romanticism, liberalism, the new technology and even socialism, to say nothing of a wide variety of other movements lingering from the nineteenth into the twentieth century”

George Lachmann Mosse was a German-born American left-wing Jewish gay historian of fascism in general and Nazi Germany in particular. He saw fascists as 'scavengers' who took bits of other ideologies to create a new one. For Mosse, fascism was not a rational ideology, but was rather the expression of irrational feelings. His essay in question is entitled “A politico-cultural revolution” and presented a different perspective on Fascism. In the beginning of his article, the author stated that fascism is related to oppression and domination because of war and the fascist record in power; and also that it appeared as a clear reaction against progressive movements like liberalism and socialism. The George L. Mosse starts his presentation by making a comparison between Fascism and Bolshevism which seem to have much in common according to many thinkers. The common characteristics were: both were based on the idea of popular sovereignty (“rejection of parliamentary government and representative institutions on behalf of a democracy of the masses in which the people directly governed themselves” ), the leaders symbolized the people and put across the “general will” instead of representative assemblies, emphasis upon the so called monolithic type of leadership(Il Duce, Mussolinianism), a new secular religion worked as a bound between people and leaders at the same time playing the role of tool of control over masses. They both expressed through official ceremonies, festivals and imagery on public level and on private level through control over all the aspects of private life. The leader used as means of manipulating the masses propaganda and terror. George Mosse states that term terror must be interpreted in the case of fascism as a fragile consensus between the leader and the people and it was supposed to increase gradually its intensity. Also this consensus made possible the creation of a secret police.

Both bolshevists and fascists put a lot of emphasis over the dissolution of all parliamentary and pluralistic traditions in the state, as they chased the total collapse of social, economic and political structures that existed in their nations during and after the First World War.

While it developed, Fascism annulated the distinction between private and public life and the only way to survive was through active participation in the national cults, therefore it encouraged activism. Also, both the bolshevists and the fascists introduced uniforms as sign of total obedience. Another common point of the two movements was their attempt to mass mobilization and the substitution of pluralistic and parliamentary government with modern mass politics. Both leaders – Mussolini and Stalin – had no obstacle in imposing themselves to the masses. The author categorized Fascism as being a revolution and the movement achieved the political power through modern methods of communication and control. The fascist revolution was based on a two-steps process: the amoeba-like absorption of ideas from the mainstream of popular thought and culture and the urge towards activism and its taming. This fascist revolution imagined itself as being a “Third Force” that was able to put away and to replace capitalism and materialism. The means used by the “Third Force” were: stress upon the national past and the mystical community of the nation and the emphasis put upon the middle-class respectability which demonstrated as being essential for political success. It was a process meant to find a “third way” or a golden way between Marxism and capitalism.

The means to transform Fascism into a new culture were the constant repetition of slogans, choruses, symbols and participation in mass ceremony. Fascism did not try to educate the tastes of worker but it accepted its preferences and supported it until the end.

What is more, the lack of original approach and projects of propaganda did not prove a disadvantage. As fascism appeared and extinguished so rapidly, it had no time to create a tradition for itself. It focused on creating an ideal society, a type of social organization which became its goal. The fascist utopia imagined a scenario in which after the enemies had been defeated the “new Rome” or the Third German Empire would emerge characterized by many middle-class virtues. The new fascist man that would live in this utopian world would be naturally masculine – Fascism representing itself as a society mainly composed out of men. The masculine ideal for this society was characterized by ideals of male strength and beauty (in a children’s book the Duce was described as being as beautiful as the sun, as good as the light and as strong as the hurricane); also the new fascist male must be energetic, courageous and laconic. In fact this ideal man was exactly the opposite of the intellectualizing liberals and socialists.

George Mosse ends its article by concluding that “the fascist attitude towards life was suffused by cultural factors through which, as we have attempted to show, the movement presented itself: it was the only mass movement between the wars which could claim to have a largely cross-class following” . In fact, Mosse ended saying that the fascist dream – meaning the fascist utopia – turned out to be a nightmare.

“The goal was to envelop the participant in a mystique and community of ritual that appealed to the aesthetic and the spiritual sense as well as the political”

Stanley George Payne is a historian of modern Spain and European Fascism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Entitling his essay “A form of revolutionary ultra-nationalism”, he is the one who talked about fascism, as a “new political culture and ideology “[8] whose foundations consist of a special type of philosophical and moral beliefs. But these foundations were not stable – fascism lacked coherency as many of its aspects proved contradictory and no rationalist. And the main reason for this was the fact that, as Roger Eatwell observed, fascism was a collection of concepts, gathered from various sources . Yet, what is more than clear is that Fascism, as a doctrine situated itself in between socialism and capitalism, being based on “vitalism” and “idealism” and the “rejection of economic determinism”. Its aim was to create, a new culture, a new typology of men for whom the physical and interior would count in equal quantities, whom would know how to praise courage and would grow up to becoming superior. What indeed placed fascism somewhere near anti-modernity was its rejection of, at the time so modern, rationalism, materialism and egalitarism and the bending towards more philosophical and idealist methods of approach. In order to achieve this, fascism frequently made appeal to the idea of a “messianic mission” – it strived to lay the bases of what they called a “new civic religion”. By doing this, by creating this system of “all-encompassing myths that would incorporate both the fascist elite and their followers” they wanted to bind together the nation though links such as loyalty and common faith, as well as to make sure that fascist society would become ever-lasting. What is peculiar is the fact that the leaders were not exactly sure how this utopian society should look like. This lead to an unavoidable confusion and irrationality, which came to be the greatest handicap of this ideology. On the one hand fascist ideas regarding the state were situated somewhere far from the traditional models (monarchy, personal dictatorship or the republic), yet making constant reference to situations in the past.

What was even more puzzling, both for the “heads”, but especially for the fascist adherents was the economic side. The state subordinated all economic issues and worked for good of the entire society – through “eliminating the autonomy of large-scale capitalism and major industry, altering the nature of social status and creating a new communal or reciprocal productive relationship through new priorities”[10]- yet without altering the principle of private property.

Fascism is commonly seen as the ideology which embodied the most extreme form of modern nationalism although slightly racist. Violence and struggle were inherent for the well development of the fascist doctrine. Moreover fascists thought violence to have a certain amount of “positive and therapeutic value in and of itself, that a certain amount of continuing violent struggle, along the lines of Sorelianism and extreme Social Darwinism, was necessary for the health of national society”[11]. To this we can add the fascists’ struggle for militarizing politics, through a wide range of military insignia and terminology, as well as through the employ of symbols and various military emotive effects. Having put a lot of emphasis on the street manifestations – meetings, marches, ceremonial or liturgical rituals – the fascist activity found itself to be going beyond the actions of the left revolutionary movements.

Another fundamental characteristic of fascism is its fancy for the principle of masculinity. It made a “perpetual fetish” of the virility of their actions and manifestations, of its programme and style. Roger Hriffin himself had categorized this inclination as a type of “radical misogyny”- no other kind of movement expressed such fright of what androgyny represented. Fascism was inclined towards youth like no other ideological system. Moreover, it was enough open as to manage to combine populism and elitism.

In the end of his essay, Payne has managed to knit together some features of fascism as to give a short definition : “a form of revolutionary ultra-nationalism for national rebirth that is based on a primarily vitalist philosophy, is structured on extreme elitism, mass mobilization and the Führerprinzip, positively values violence as end as well as means and tends to normatize war and/or the military virtues”.

The three views gathered by Roger Griffin in the compilation “International Fascism - theories, causes and the new consensus” try to interpret Fascism from as many perspectives as possible in order to give us a clear idea of what the fascist movement intended to mean and what it was eventually.

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 127.

Henry A. Turner, Jr., „Fascism and Modernization”, World Politics, XXIV (July 1972), pp. 548.

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 128.

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 128.

Idem, page 129

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 138

Idem, page 146

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 147.

R. Eatwell, „Towards a New Model of Generic Fascism”, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 4(1) (April 1992), pp. 1-68

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 151

Roger GRIFFIN, International Fascism – Theories, causes and the new consensus, page 152

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