The political philosophy of communism represented on the whole a coherent and carefully developed point of view. Even in change it was meticulously careful to preserve its continuity with Marxism, which in turn had been elaborated by two generations of scholarship.
Lenin and Trotsky were men of settled convictions and long experience in party leadership before World War I. By comparison fascism in Italy and national socialism in Germany were mushroom growths. The parties were non-existent until they sprang up out of the demoralization that followed the war. Their leaders were men with neither the interest nor the aptitude for philosophical construction.
Though the beliefs and ideas and prejudices that went into the making of their ideologies had been long in existence, they had never been part of a coherent body of thought. And when they were put together to make a philosophy, their combination was largely opportunist. They were chosen with a view to their emotional appeal rather than to their truth or their compatibility, and often with a cynical indifference to intellectual honesty.
Both in Italy and in Germany opportunism was inherent in the process by which the parties extended their power. Discordant groups with incompatible interests had to be held together by appealing not to common purposes or principles but to common hatreds and fears. Peasants and large landowners, small shopkeepers and large industrialists, white-collar salaried workers and trade unionists were brought precariously together by the politician’s device of promising everything to everybody, where a straightforward and definite program of any sort would surely have repelled some group that the party wished to attract.
In both countries the leaders adopted this strategy consciously and purposefully. Mussolini in his early speeches adopted the pose of the practical man, of the empiricist or the institution without theories, the man whose motto is Action not talk. There is no need for dogma, discipline suffices. Thus in an article written in 1924 he Said
We Fascists have had the courage to discard all traditional political theories, and we are aristocrats and democrats, revolutionaries and reactionaries, proletarians and anti-proletarians, pacifists and anti-pacifists. It is sufficient to have a single fixed point the nation. The rest is obvious.
Similarly in Germany the twenty-five articles which the National Socialist party adopted in 1926 and declared to be its unchangeable principles had in fact nothing to do with its policies. In the electoral campaign of 1933 Hitler refused to state a program.
For all programs are vain; the decisive thing is the human will, sound vision, manly courage, sincerity of faith, the inner will these are the decisive things.
A leader of the party in Dresden, writing to an industrialist in 1930, was franker.
Do not let yourself be continually confused by the text of our posters. There are catch words like Down with capitalism. But these are necessary. We must talk the language of the embittered socialist workman. We don’t come out with a direct program for reasons of diplomacy.
Moreover, when Mussolini decided in 1929 that fascism must provide itself with a body of doctrine, it was done almost by decree; the work must be finished in two months, between now and the National Congress.
Under these circumstances many persons reached the conclusion that fascism and national socialism simply had no philosophy. Their methods appeared to be a mixture of mob psychology and terrorism, and their leaders appeared to have no purpose except to get and keep power. To some degree, of course, this was true but it was not the whole, truth.
Fascism and national socialism were genuine popular movements that elicited the fanatical loyalty of thousands of Germans and Italians. Even in the case of the higher leaders, who were most obviously cynical, it would be hard to say whether they were the masters or the slaves of the ideology they had helped to create.
A plausible argument might be made to prove that anti-Semitism, in which they believed as sincerely as they believed anything, was in fact their most disastrous handicap. And though the fascist philosophy was in many respects synthetic and ad hoc, it was put together largely out of elements that had long been current and that had the emotional force not only of familiarity but of passionate prejudice and sometimes of passionate aspiration.
This philosophy, it is true, was not a rational plan for reaching limited and clearly defined ends. But then it made no such claim for itself. It professed to be creative, to depend on sound vision and the inner will. And when it tacitly or expressly assumed that creativeness and vision are antithetical to intelligence and reason, it was merely echoing an idea that had been current in European philosophy for a century.
When it made creativeness the prerogative of a Leader charged with charismatic virtue, it was saying only what romantic hero-worshippers had been saying since the days of Thomas Carlyle. The fascist hero, especially in defeat, was a tawdry figure, and the fascist philosophy was no doubt a vulgarization and a caricature, but like all caricatures it resembled something real. For better or worse it belonged to the evolution of European political ideas and practice, and in that sense it was a philosophy.
The hypothesis that fascism and national socialism were merely the creatures of personal ambition forced on Italy and Germany by propaganda and terrorism would be more plausible if it were certain that they died with Mussolini and Hitler, or that they will have no counterparts in other countries. Few thoughtful men would assert that this is so, however much they may wish it.
Fascism and national socialism were reactions to a real state of affairs, and the fact that they were intellectually mediocre and outraged the moral convictions of the civilized world is not, unfortunately, a guaranty that they may not have their analogues.
The only guaranty for that would be a more intelligent and a less barbarous way of dealing with the problems inherent in the situation that produced them. Fascism and national socialism depended for their driving force on national patriotism, which is admittedly the most powerful sentiment in the political world today and which also has elements of genuine cultural value.
Yet they moved in a European society-in fact in a world-society-in which absolute national self determination and sovereignty are manifestly impossible. Their new order professed to resolve the disparity between a political world in which the governing units are nations and an economic world in which only a handful of great powers can aim at even approximate self sufficiency.
Their solution postulated the proposition that any international order must be an imperialism under the forcible control of a dominant nation. And the disproof of that proposition can never be complete until an effective international order on some more liberal principle is in sight.
In their domestic policy fascism and national socialism professed to stabilize an economy in which inflation and depression had largely wiped out the security of both property and labor. They offered what they claimed were peaceful and orderly and just means for resolving the tensions between management and workers, which may jeopardize production and national security itself.
They promised full production and full employment in an economy which has never utilized its full productive power except in preparing for war. Their solution in fact destroyed the civil liberties of working men without securing the rights of property or the freedom of Industrial management. Its price was indeed ruinous, but the only assurance that it will not be paid again would be a more intelligent way of fulfilling the promises. The recurrence of fascism in some form will never be impossible so long as any important part of the public can be persuaded that intelligence in politics is barren, disputatious, timid, and incapable of action, or that democratic procedures are feeble, decadent, and plutocratic.
The fact that fascist and national socialist philosophy was so largely a synthetic product put together out of diverse and long familiar elements has made its proper historical antecedents difficult to locate. its sources have been found, both by its friends and its enemies, in Italian history as far back as Dante and in German history as far back as Martin Luther. This kind of historical explanation, by the assembling of isolated ideas out of context, is unenlightening.
No European literature since the sixteenth century has lacked apologies for political absolutism, which is indeed the simplest of political ideas and the readiest defense against the threat of insecurity and disorder. For obvious reasons both fascism and national socialism ransacked history for ideas and heroes that could be called into service.
In itself this process would have caused the two movements to develop quite different philosophies, since a German and an Italian public would hardly be amenable to the same emotional appeals. As a matter of pure logic it would be easy to contrast the philosophies of Mein Kampf and of Mussolini’s article in the Encyclopedia Italiana.
The contrasts would, however, prove very little, since no one has ever doubted that the substance was the same, no matter how different the language. The differences, even if they amount to logical contradictions, are easy to account for The place to begin is the overt and not too highly rationalized identity between the two philosophies.
Fascism in Italy and national socialism in Germany both put themselves forward as socialist regimes adapted to national purposes, or as what figured in Goebbels propaganda as true socialism. In both countries they finally attained power by the alliance of a professedly socialist party with a nationalist party.
This occurred in Italy early in 1920 when Mussolini suddenly adopted nationalism, despite a long record of violent anti-nationalism, and when the Nationalist party made at least a token acceptance of syndicalist socialism. In Germany a corresponding event occurred when Hitler finally gained a majority in the Reichstag by a coalition with Hugenberg’s Nationalists, despite his announced determination to forego all compromises and alliances. Alfredo Rocco, long a leader of the Italian Nationalists who became Minister of Justice in the new coalition, thus stated the principle of fascism av a nationalist form of socialism in the Chamber of Deputies in 1925.
Fascism understood that the problem of the organization of social groups-that is, of syndicalism was by no means necessarily connected with the movement designed to destroy capitalist economy, which is based on the private organization of production, so as to substitute for it a socialist economy, based on the community organization of production. It saw the necessity of isolating the syndicalism phenomena from socialism, which had complicated it with all the anti-national, international, pacifistic, humanitarian, rebellious ideologies of its political doctrine, that had nothing to do with syndicalism organization. Thus fascism created a national-syndicalism, inspired wholly by sentiment for the fatherland and by national solidarity.
The idea was simple enough and appealing enough so that its origin hardly needs looking for Society ought to be cooperative rather than torn by strife; the nation is the society to which everybody belongs; therefore every class and every interest ought to work together in the interest of the nation.
The idea also implied the main lines of Strategy for a party that meant to seek power on so utopian a platform it must be socialist, at least in name, because in Italy and Germany popular politics had long run in terms that were in some sense socialist. Yet it had at the very least to neutralize and sterilize the political influence of labor unions that were in general socialist whether they were Marxian or not.
A-nationalist socialism was well calculated to appeal to the lower middle class-the small shopkeepers and salaried employees-who had suffered most from inflation and depression and who were terrified at the prospect of being degraded to the ranks of the proletariat, a fate that Marxism had long promised them.
In every country this class finds itself precariously balanced between organized labor on one side and large-scale business on the other, and since it is defenseless by its own efforts against both, the prospect of help from a national government is correspondingly welcome. The larger industrialist and businessman might hope that in the new combination nationalism would take the curse off socialism.
At least he might both free from any effective pressure by union labor, and while in accepting socialism he gave up the dream of escaping regulation by the government, that was after all more than he really expected. On the whole it seemed more realistic to believe that he might control government, while government in turn controlled labor, and in any case he needed the support of government for commercial expansion abroad.
Thus a nationalist version of socialism promised happiness for everyone, and while the prospect on careful analysis might have seemed utopian, it was at least a welcome relief in a society that suffered from the psychological aftermath of the war, whose middle class had been expropriated by inflation, and whose economy offered no reasonable opportunity to large numbers of young men.
The proposed partnership was indeed very unequal, at least for those who seriously believed that socialism meant a redistribution of national income and substantial improvement in the general standard of living. It was also very precarious. But every side could always hope that the next turn would be in its favor, and the leadership could always throw the advantage now one way and now another. And as the party consolidated its power it became progressively independent of all sides.
A program of nationalist socialism determined also the main lines of political theory by which such a program must be supported. In essence it meant a complete control of the national economy by national government in the national interest. Hence it was equally opposed to any form of liberalism that tended to limit political control over the economy and to Marxism which regarded politics as determined by the economy.
A fascist political philosophy must therefore put itself forward as an exalted form of political idealism. It must condemn alike the brutality of Marxian materialism and the egoism and plutocracy of liberalism. Against the rights of liberty, equality, and happiness it must set the duties of service, devotion, and discipline. Since it was intrinsically nationalist it must identify internationalism with cowardice and lack of honor, and it must interpret all self governing associations as agencies of the class struggle, which it claimed to supersede.
It must as a matter of course brand parliaments as mere talking shops and all forms of democratic procedure as futile, weak, and decadent. It must set up the glory and power of the nation as a moral end that includes or overrides all individual goods and it must magnify the will of the nation as a force capable of surmounting all obstacles both material and spiritual. These were in fact the principles that Mussolini put into the Italian Labor Charter promulgated in 1927.
The ends of the Italian nation are superior to those of he separate individuals or groups of individuals which compose it Work in all its forms is a social duty. Production has a single object, namely, the well-being of individuals and the development of national power.
In Germany also the idea that all the nation’s resources, both economic and cultural, might be consolidated for national purposes was old and familiar. It had in fact been more nearly realized in German than in Italian history. Sometimes the idea had been exploited mainly in the interest of nationalism, sometimes of socialism, but whatever the emphasis the idea itself was no novelty.
It was essentially the principle that the philosopher Fichte had developed in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat as far back as 1800. The economic philosophy of Friedrich List had departed from the non-political tradition of English economics in being quite definitely a plan for national economic development, with political regulation of both capital and labor in the interest of national expansion.
Though German party socialism had been in general Marxian, socialist speculation had always included figures like Rodbertus, Lassalle, and Eugen Duhring, whose philosophy leaned toward some kind of state socialism rather than toward internationalism. The idea that the class struggle might be supplanted by some form of cooperation between capital and labor had been almost a characteristic heresy of Marxian revisionists.
It was in no way surprising, therefore, that an idea so simple and so familiar should have been enticing to Germans in the period of economic and political demoralization that followed World War I. Two writers, of no great philosophical importance but of considerable literary brilliance, did much to popularize the idea of Prussian Socialism among German intellectuals, Oswald Spengler and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck.
History, according to Spengler’s philosophy, is a record of the struggle between culture areas. Sometimes a culture area was described as Europe in contrast with Asia, sometimes it was the white race in contrast with the colored races. In either case the conclusion was drawn that it is the historical mission of Germany to defend the frontier of European civilization against Asia and the Colored races.
Political democracy is a form of degeneration which is due partly to industrialization and partly to the debauching of the will to power by intellectualism. Consequently it must be superseded by an era of dictatorial leadership and of competition for world empire in this process national states will be absorbed as tribes and peoples were conquered and absorbed by Rome.
Democracy and freedom rest on the illusion that men are rational, and intellectualism is a weed of the pavement, a typical corruption produced by the urban proletariat, Only in the peasantry and the aristocracy does the healthy will to possession and power survive, and these have always been the driving forces of history.
For man is by nature a beast of prey; justice, happiness, and peace are dreams, and the ideal of physical betterment is boring and senile. Hence it followed that socialism must be purged of the Marxian dogmas of internationalism and the class struggle.
In Germany this means that it must be incorporated with the Prussian tradition of discipline and authority. Political parties and parliamentary institutions must give way to political and economic hierarchy, and the industrial working class in particular must be reduced to obedience. The fundamental question, as Spengler saw it, was whether trade rules the state or the state rules trade first idea is British and the second German.
Spengler’s conception of a healthy society was in important respects identical with that which actuated national socialism a Junker industrialist political class, a settled peasant agricultural economy, enough industry to provide the sinews of military power, and a working class disciplined to obedience and deprived of the independent labor unions that give it political influence. By these devices, if only they could be made compatible with one another, Spengler hoped to see Germany raised to the headship of a continental empire that should rival or eclipse Britain.
The thought of Moeller van den Bruck was substantially similar. The recurrent theme of The Third Reich was that Every people has its awn socialism, but ideally it is a socialism that begins where Marx ends. Being a Jew, Marx lacked the appreciation of any ideal values and in particular of national values.
A true national socialism is not materialist but idealist. It is not proletarian, for proletarians are what remains at the bottom. It has been purged of every element of liberalism, which is a false front for plutocracy, and of liberal democracy which is the death of nations. It depends upon the will of a nation that knows what it wills under the guidance of a great leader who can express the nation’s will. In it the class struggle has beer replaced by national solidarity, for only a united nation is strong enough to stand in the European chaos.
The only question is whether the national elements in the German working classes will have the power and the will to wheel the proletarian battle front in a national-socialist direction; or rather, to wheel it right about, so that the forces which were directed to class war against our own nation shall face the foreign toe.
The expression national-socialist in this passage did not refer to Hitler’s party, but its use suggests the reasons that led Hitler to adopt the name.
Whether Hitler was influenced by Prussian socialism is hard to will and not very important. The Third Reich was republished with Goebbels endorsement in 1931, but after the expulsion of the socialist members of the party, it became proper to depreciate Bruck as a mere liberality man. What is quite certain, however, is that Hitler’s plan for organizing his party, as he described it at the end of the first volume of Mein Kampf, depended on combining nationalists and socialists. Germany in 1918, he said, was a people torn into two parts. Its nationalist part, which comprises the layers of national intelligence, is timid and impotent because it dare not face its defeat in the war.
The great mass of the working class, on the other hand, which is organized in the Marxian parties, consciously rejects any promotion of national interests. Yet it comprises above all those elements of the nation without which a national resurrection is unthinkable and impossible. The highest aim of the new movement is the nationalization of the masses, the recovery of our national instinct of self-preservation.
It is also certain that Hitler’s propaganda was cleverly designed to appeal to a working class steeped in Marxian ideology. The ration played the same utopian part as the classless society, and the class struggle was displaced by the struggle of the have-not nations against the forces of Jewish democratic plutocracy. His promises of economic betterment were limitless but altogether vague, as was necessary if the anti-Marxists were not to be repelled.
Fascism and national socialism, therefore, were attempts to draw together the whole population of the nation, eliminating or suppressing all rivalry between groups and interests, and to marshal the total resources of the country behind its government. They were socialist in a twofold sense they appealed to a public in which popular political movements had usually been socialist, and they required a thoroughgoing political control over business and industry.
They were not socialist in the sense that they included any serious intention of redistributing national income in the interest of the working class. They were nationalist also in a twofold sense no sentiment except nationalism was general enough and powerful enough to control the divergent interests that had to be united, and nationalism was the antithesis of parliamentarism and internationalism.
They were not nationalist in any sense that implied respect for nationalism as a cultural value or as the moral prerogative of all peoples. Their success, therefore, could have Only one outcome. The only condition that submerges the divergent social and economic interests of a modern nation is preparation for war.
Accordingly fascism and national socialism were in essence war governments and war economies set up not as expedients to meet a national emergency but as permanent political systems. In a situation where national self-determination was not a feasible plan for political order in Europe, they meant the regimentation of national resources for imperialist aggression against other nations and the organization of the Italian and German peoples for imperialist expansion.
They assumed that the only feasible form of international organization is, as Spengler had said, internationalism not by compromise or concession but by victory and annihilation. They were socialist and nationalist in a form antithetical to individual liberty and democracy, endowed, as Mussolini said on the eve of the Abyssinian War, in an ever higher degree with the virtues of obedience, sacrifice, dedication to the fatherland. They signified that the whole life of the nation, political, economic, spiritual, should concentrate on those things which form our military necessities.