Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Doctrine of Fascism: Fascism vs Marxism.


The second part of "The Doctrine of Fascism" ("Political and Social Doctrine", a little under 7 pages long) differs from the first in style and content and can be read profitably without it.

Perhaps as a former journalist Mussolini was a better writer than Gentile (the likely author of the first part). Here we'll assume that the second part was written by Il Duce himself. Gentile added the first, without taking credit, in an attempt to give the essay more intellectual credibility. Not a wise decision, in my opinion.

At any event, this second section, less philosophically ambitious, is much more instructive and -- at least -- understandable.

It aims to explain Fascism, as alternative to Marxism and demo-liberalism. Like a real estate agent describing a dilapidated shack as a "renovator's dream" while ignoring questions about plumbing and roofing, Mussolini deftly avoids the word "improvisation" to describe the doctrine of Fascism (example: "A doctrine -- fully elaborated, divided up into chapters and paragraphs with annotations, may have been lacking, but it was replaced by something far more decisive -- by a faith."); but, after what we've discussed already, there's little need for comment.

The difference between Fascism and Marxism seems Mussolini's priority (for brevity's sake we'll leave his critique of demo-liberalism out):
"Such a conception of life makes Fascism the resolute negation of the doctrine underlying so-called scientific and Marxian socialism, the doctrine of historic materialism which would explain the history of mankind in terms of the class struggle and by changes in the processes and instruments of production, to the exclusion of all else."
This is an easily understood statement and one that, unsurprisingly, conservative and liberal luminaries approved, particularly after physical demonstrations of Mussolini's bona fides, like murder and beatings.

For instance, this was Winston Churchill's endorsement in a personal letter to Il Duce in 1927:
"What a man! I have lost my heart!… Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism."
Compared to Churchill's unblushingly fawning missive (see also), Austrofascist minion Ludwig von Mises sounds like an example of aristocratic manliness and sobriety:
"It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error."
And one may forgive John Maynard Keynes his occasional nazi/fascist embarrassment.


A closer reading, however, reveals two things more: (1) Mussolini is not equally opposed to all kinds of socialism, quite to the contrary, his beef is with Marxist socialism, and (2) there is a pattern among the intellectual influences he acknowledges.

Eduard Bernstein, the revisionist father of the modern SPD and social democracy, is the first thinker Mussolini mentions:
"A uniform, universally accepted doctrine of Socialism had not existed since 1905, when the revisionist movement, headed by Bernstein, arose in Germany, countered by the formation, in the see-saw of tendencies, of a left revolutionary movement which in Italy never quitted the field of phrases, whereas, in the case of Russian socialism, it became the prelude to Bolshevism."
He doesn't acknowledge that (indeed, there is the subtle suggestion that Fascism "struck a blow at [Marxist] socialism in the two main points of its doctrine"), but the fascist critique of Marxism, whatever its merits or lack thereof, was written by Bernstein. Like Bernstein
"Fascism also denies the immutable and irreparable character of the class struggle which is the natural outcome of this economic conception of history; above all it denies that the class struggle is the preponderating agent in social transformations".
Having abandoned historical materialism, Fascism, like Bernstein, embraces a moral critique of laissez faire capitalism and a conception of the state as society's manager. Unlike Bernstein, who prophesied an increasingly harmonious society where demo-liberal governments intervene to moderate/eliminate class struggle until society spontaneously evolve into socialism, Fascism sees nation-states, led by quasi-religious chieftains, struggling for dominance. That much is easy to understand.

Harder to assess, using Mussolini's hydrographic metaphor, is the handful of tributaries to the great Fascist river: on one hand, Georges Sorel, Charles Péguy, and Hubert Lagardelle; on the other, Angelo Oliviero Olivetti, Paolo Orano, and Enrico Leone. Extending the metaphor, all of them (perhaps with Sorel's exception) mere creeks, compared to the better-known, larger proto-Fascist rivers. Indeed, Mussolini explicitly dismissed the pro-aristocratic reactionary Joseph de Maistre, one of the latter: Fascism does not take him as a prophet, Il Duce declared.

There's more. The three first items in Mussolini's list are petty bourgeois/middle class Frenchmen, the last three, the same, only Italians. Why no German or Austrian proto-fascist, among the many available, made it to Mussolini's list?

Why such a peculiar selection?

There was a connection between the French and Italian sides of the family. Sorel (a Bernstein supporter) and Péguy (Sorel's friend) were associated to and wrote for the journal Le Mouvement Socialist, founded by Lagardelle (the essay's reference to the "Movement Socialists" is a mistranslation from the French, where "Mouvement" is a noun, and "Socialist" an adjective: The Socialist Movement would be its correct English translation). Their socialism was a revisionist one.

Sorel also wrote for Il Devenire Sociale, completing its stable of writers, which included Orano, Olivetti, and its founder, Leone.

Mussolini met his fellow Italian exiles in Switzerland. They all were part of what is known as revolutionary syndicalism (Mussolini mentions that word in his essay; I highly recommend this article on the subject). Syndicalists had extremely heterogeneous ideas, ranging from Sorel's views on revolutionary violence (which Mussolini predictably endorsed) and about the usefulness of myths, to Leone's pacifist stance; from anarchism to totalitarianism to Utopian socialism (I believe Angelo Olivetti was related to Camillo Olivetti, founder of the typewriter manufacturing firm, and father of Adriano, a Utopian socialist who became a fascist; if readers can confirm or correct my guess, I'd appreciate it). In fact, there was little in common to these characters' thoughts, beyond their idealistic revisionism and nationalism, and their independence from, distrust of and often open hostility to internationalist orthodox Marxism. You know, Marxists are dogmatic, yes?


Péguy and Sorel died before the nazi/fascist era. Lagardelle became a minister in the Vichy collaborationist government and was sentenced to life in prison; A.O. Olivetti became one of many Jewish fascists and died in 1931 before Mussolini embraced anti-Semitism. Orano, too, embraced Fascism and died in Allied captivity in 1945, before being tried. Leone eventually turned pro-Bolshevist and was sent to a mental asylum in 1925; he died there in 1940.

This gives a surprisingly ironic twist to the much maligned Marxist "dogmatism", doesn't it?


  1. To many the pursuit of the hated Red justified the elements of violence in the episode. To others the imperious need of meeting the challenge of labor justified the cudgels. Mussolini was all right as long as he played along with the democratic powers. "I do not deny," said Mr. Churchill as late as December 1940, in a speech in the House, "that he is a very great man. But he became a criminal when he attacked England." Mussolini's crime lay not in all the oppressions he had committed upon his own people, not in his trampling down ofliberty in Italy, in attacking Ethiopia or Spain, but in attacking England."

    John T. Flynn in As We Go Marching

    Nigel O

    1. Thanks for the link, Nigel.

      I knew about Flynn's book: the Mises website has an extended excerpt from it, containing that passage you quoted; but I haven't read it.

      It seems like an interesting read, though.

  2. You are being biased. Mussolini also suppressed Social Democracy! He was involved in the assassination of Giacomo Matteoti, a social democrat, in 1924.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Maybe I'm being biased or unfair but, frankly, I don't think so.

      You are, of course, right to point that Mussolini may have ordered or at least inspired the murder of Matteoti (who was a reformist/revisionist or social democrat, if you like). Further, I'm sure fascists did not limit their violence to communists, workers, and trade unionists. They may well have targeted others, including centre and centre-right people.

      It's also true that Mussolini proscribed all Italian parties, not just orthodox Marxists.

      It wasn't so much ideology, however, that made Matteoti dangerous to Mussolini, but his denunciations of electoral fraud. His death was not a matter of principle, but of political convenience: had Matteoti played ball with the fascists, he may well have been spared.

      Mussolini's attitude towards social democracy (or towards other parties) was not as clearly hostile as it was against orthodox, Marxist socialism.

      The other side of the coin is that those other parties were not as consistently hostile to Fascism as orthodox Marxism was, either. There were Italian equivalents to Churchill, Mises, and Keynes.


      Other than Matteoti's case, do you find any other instance of bias or unfairness?


      But perhaps what you dislike is my disapproval of reformism and revisionism or social democracy.

      When I denounce those things I'm not implying that they automatically turn people into fascists. Nope.

      But I believe reformism/revisionism or social democracy make it easier for reformists/revisionists or social democrats to degenerate into fascists. It makes them more susceptible to infection, as it were. That seems to be a bridge much farther for most orthodox Marxists (not for all, by any means).