Fascism: the Real Story

excerpted from the book

Contrary Notions

by Michael Parenti

The Michael Parenti Reader

City Lights Books, 2007, paperback

Fascism is the name given to the political movement that arose in Italy under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, who ruled that country from 192.2. to 1943. Nazism was a movement led by Adolph Hitler, who was Germany's dictator from 1933 to 1945. Nazism is considered by most observers to be a variant of fascism, as to a lesser degree was the militaristic government that controlled Japan from 1940 to 1945; so too the Falangist movement led by Francisco Franco, who in 1939 took over Spain after a protracted civil war, with the military aid of the Italian and Nazi fascists.

... the major characteristics of the fascist ideology.

First, the leadership cult, the glorification of an all-knowing, supreme and absolutist leader.

Second, the idolatrous worship of the nation-state as an entity unto itself, an absolute component to which the individual is subsumed. Everything for the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state. That was Mussolini's and Hitler's dictum. Hitler's henchman Rudolf Hess once said, "Adolf Hitler is Germany, and Germany is Adolf Hitler," thereby wrapping both the leadership cult and the state cult in one. The leader is the embodiment of the state, and the state is supreme.

Third, glorification of military conquest and jingoism: the state is vitalized and empowered by subduing, conquering, and enslaving other peoples and territories.

Fourth, propagation of a folk mysticism, with its concomitant xenophobia and racism. The Nazi slogan was em Volk, em Reich, em Führer (one people, one empire, one leader), an atavistic celebration of the special blood lineage and wondrous legacy of the people. Along with this comes a disdain for other peoples and nationalities. For the Nazis and most other Eastern European fascists, the core enemy was the Jew, who was seen as the perpetrator of all societal ills. Behind the trade unionists, communists, homosexuals and others were the Jews, wickedly alien creatures who would pollute the pure-blooded and undermine the state.

Fifth, on behalf of the interests of the giant business cartels, there was a concerted suppression, both by the Italian fascists and German Nazis, of all egalitarian working-class loyalties and organizations, including labor unions.

Of these various characteristics of fascism, the last one is rarely talked about by mainstream historians, political scientists and journalists who usually ignore the link between fascism and capitalism, just as they tend to ignore the entire subject of capitalism itself when something unfavorable needs to be said about it. Instead, they dwell on the more bizarre components of fascist ideology: the "nihilist revolt against Western individuality," the mystic yolk attachment, and so forth. Fascism was those things, but along with its irrational appeals it had rational functions. It was a key instrument for the preservation of plutocratic domination.

Upon assuming state power, Hitler and his Nazis pursued an agenda not unlike Mussolini's. They crushed organized labor and eradicated all elections, opposition parties, and independent publications. Hundreds of thousands of opponents were imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. In Germany, as in Italy, the communists endured the severest political repression of all groups.

The Italian and German cartels looked to huge armament contracts and related public works as an expanded source of profitable investment. This also fit with their desire for a more aggressive foreign policy that might open new markets and put them on a better footing with their French and English competitors. So the fascists became a very useful ally against the capitalists' two worst enemies: the workers in their own country, and the capitalists in other countries.

Not all the big industrialists and financiers supported fascism with equal fervor. Some, like Thyssen, were early and enthusiastic backers of Hitler. The aged Emil Kurdoff thanked God that he lived long enough to see the Führer emerge as the savior of Germany. Others contributed money to the Nazis but also to other anti-socialist parties on the right. They backed Hitler only when he appeared to be the most effective force against the left. Many of them remained privately critical of the more extreme expressions of Nazi propaganda and were uneasy about the anti-bourgeois rhetoric enunciated by some of the plebeian brownshirts.

Some business elements were not that enamored with Hitler. Light industry had lower fixed costs and more stable profits than heavy industry, and was more dependent on consumer buying power. Consequently, light industrialists were not that keen about a more aggressive foreign policy and subsidies to heavy industry. But when push came to shove, they may not have been close to the fascists, but they were not about to ally themselves with the proletariat against the business class, of which they were a part. They either sided with the cartels or kept their mouths shut.

There was another element in these two societies that not only tolerated the rise of fascism but supported it: the capitalist state itself. Not the parliament as such, but the instruments of the state

that had a monopoly on the legal use of force and violence, the police, the army, and the courts. In Italy years before Mussolini emerged victorious, the police collaborated with the fascists in attacking labor and peasant organizations. They recruited criminals for the fascist squadristi, promising them immunity from prosecution for past crimes. While applications for gun permits were regularly denied to workers and peasants, police guns and cars were made available to Mussolini's goons.

Likewise in Germany immediately after World War I, the military police and the judiciary tended to favor the rightists while suppressing the leftists, a pattern of collaboration that continued into Hitler's day. In other words, these liberal capitalist democracies-that supposedly were "equally opposed to totalitarianism of the left and right"-were not really equally opposed. They often collaborated with the extreme right, those who were protecting the interests of big capital and the existing class structure. If defeating socialism and communism also entailed destroying democracy, so much the worse for democracy.

In Germany, it was the same story. Between 1933 and 1935 wages were lowered anywhere from z to 40 percent, a harsh cut for ordinary workers trying to make ends meet. Wage taxes were instituted. Municipal poll taxes were doubled and other payroll deductions were imposed. The nonprofit mutual-assistance and insurance associations that had existed before the Nazis were abolished. Their funds were taken over by private insurance companies that charged more while paying out smaller benefits. And in Germany, just as in Italy, inflation substantially added to the workers' hardships.

In both Italy and Germany, perfectly solvent publicly owned enterprises, such as power plants, steel mills, banks, railways, insurance firms, steamship companies, and shipyards, were handed over to private ownership. Corporate taxes were reduced by half in both Italy and Germany. Taxes on luxury items for the rich were cut. Inheritance taxes were either drastically lowered or abolished. In Germany between 1934 and 1940 the average net income of corporate businessmen rose by 46 percent. Enterprises that were floundering were refloated with state bonds, recapitalized out of the state treasury. Once made solvent, they were returned to private owners. With numerous enterprises, the state guaranteed a return on the capital invested and assumed all the risks. The rich investor did not have to worry about any losses; if a business did poorly, the investor would be recompensed from the state treasury.

What the fascist state attempts is a final solution to the problem of class conflict. It obliterates the democratic forms that allow workers some room for an organized defense of their interests.

... a similar fascist pattern emerged to do its utmost to save corporate business from the troublesome impositions of democracy. Fascism's savage service to big capital remains almost entirely a hidden history.

Fascism watch

Home Page