Fascism—an “Ism” of the Left, not the Right

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The imminent arrival of American fascism is a favorite theme of American political scientists. Some even believe It Has Already Happened Here. For instance, this year’s American Political Science Association convention featured a panel discussion on the topic, “Is It Time to Call It Fascism?” I was not at the convention, but I would have relished the opportunity to have challenged the panel and Professor Dvora Yanow of California State University, Hayward, the panel chair, with a question of my own: “Is there a theoretical-definitional grounding to make the claim that the present U.S. administration is fascist, and is it useful, critically, to use that language at this point in time?”

First, fascism had its academic theoreticians but in fact fascism, as a concept, has no intellectual basis; its founders did not even pretend to have any. Adolf Hitler’s ravings in Mein Kampf, Giovanni Gentile’s hortatory article in the Italian Encyclopedia, Benito Mussolini’s boastful balcony speeches, all can be described, in the words of Roger Scruton, as “an amalgam of disparate conceptions.” It is about this “amalgam” that Professor Henry Ashby Turner Jr. has written:

Anyone who reads many studies of fascism as a multinational problem cannot but be struck by the frequency with which writers who begin by assuming they are dealing with a unitary phenomenon end up with several more or less discrete subcategories. Regardless of what criteria are applied, it seems very difficult to keep fascism from fragmenting. In spite of this, there has been a general reluctance to consider what must be regarded as a definite possibility: namely, that fascism as a generic concept has no validity and is without value for serious analytical purposes. . . . The generic term fascism is in origin neither analytical nor descriptive.

The Russian extremist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (whatever became of him?) was called a “fascist.” But as Professor James Gregor wrote, “In what sense Zhirinovsky is a fascist is difficult to say with any intellectual conviction.” Yet “fascism” still has meaning in democratic societies, as seen in the fracas a few years ago over Austria’s Joerg Haidar. Labeling someone you dislike a “fascist” is still a popular polemical sport: Call someone a Communist and proof is demanded; even with proof, you risk being called a red-baiter. Call someone a fascist and that’s enough to convict.

In the lexicon of the left, there is nothing lower than a red-baiter but there is no such person as a “fascist-baiter.” We’ve all heard about “anti-communist hysteria,” especially during the McCarthy era, but there is no such thing as “anti-fascist hysteria.” The name-calling got a little ridiculous when in the 1969 Sino-Soviet split, Moscow and Beijing called each other fascist.

Having combed their literature, Professor Gregor has shown beyond a shadow of doubt the affinities, too long ignored, between fascism and Marxism-Leninism. (It was Don Luigi Sturzo who provided the reductio ad absurdum: Fascism was black communism and communism was red fascism.)

Richard Pipes has written that “Bolshevism and fascism were heresies of socialism.” Recalling that Mussolini began his political career as a distinguished Italian socialist, Professor Gregor writes: “Fascism’s most direct ideological inspiration came from the collateral influence of Italy’s most radical ‘subversives’—the Marxists of revolutionary syndicalism.”

Even Nikolai Bukharin, the leading Soviet ideologist purged by Joseph Stalin, began to have misgivings about the Revolution and to allude to the emerging system’s fascist features. Says Professor Gregor: “By the early 1930s, the ‘convergence’ of fascism and Stalinism struck Marxists and non-Marxists alike. . . . By the mid-1930s, even Trotsky could insist that ‘Stalinism and fascism, in spite of deep difference in social foundations, are symmetrical phenomena.’ . . . Fascist theoreticians pointed out that the organization of Soviet society, with its inculcation of an ethic of military obedience, self-sacrifice and heroism, totalitarian regulation of public life, party-dominant hierarchical stratification all under the dominance of the inerrant state, corresponded in form, to the requirements of fascist doctrine.”

Left liberals have never dared face the fact that Marxism-Leninism and fascism, V. I. Lenin and Mussolini had a common origin.