Rise and Fall of Classic Fascism

excerpted from the book

Friendly Fascism

The New Face of Power in America

by Bertram Gross

South End Press, 1980, paper


Friendly fascism portrays two conflicting trends in the United States and other countries of the so-called "free world."

The first is a slow and powerful drift toward greater concentration of power and wealth in a repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership. This drift leads down the road toward a new and subtly manipulative form of corporatist serfdom. The phrase "friendly fascism" helps distinguish this possible future from the patently vicious corporatism of classic fascism in the past of Germany, Italy and Japan. It also contrasts with the friendly present of the dependent fascisms propped up by the U.S. government in El Salvador, Haiti, Argentina, Chile, South Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere.

The other is a slower and less powerful tendency for individuals and groups to seek greater participation in decisions affecting themselves and others. This trend goes beyond mere reaction to authoritarianism. It transcends the activities of progressive groups or movements and their use of formal democratic machinery. It is nourished by establishment promises-too often rendered false-of more human rights, civil rights and civil liberties. It is embodied in larger values of community, sharing, cooperation, service to others and basic morality as contrasted with crass materialism and dog-eat-dog competition. It affects power relations in the household, workplace, community, school, church, synagogue, and even the labyrinths of private and public bureaucracies. It could lead toward a truer democracy-and for this reason is bitterly fought...

These contradictory trends are woven fine into the fabric of highly industrialized capitalism. The unfolding logic of friendly fascist corporatism is rooted in "capitalist society's transnational growth and the groping responses to mounting crises in a dwindling capitalist world". Mind management and sophisticated repression become more attractive to would-be oligarchs when too many people try to convert democratic promises into reality. On the other hand, the alternative logic of true democracy is rooted in "humankind's long history of resistance to unjustified privilege" and in spontaneous or organized "reaction (other than fright or apathy) to concentrated power...and inequality, injustice or coercion".

A few years ago too many people closed their eyes to the indicators of the first tendency.

But events soon began to change perceptions.

The Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis crept out of the woodwork. An immoral minority of demagogues took to the airwaves. "Let me tell you something about the character of God," orated Jim Robison at a televised meeting personally endorsed by candidate Ronald Reagan. "If necessary, God would raise up a tyrant, a man who may not have the best ethics, to protect the freedom interests of the ethical and the godly." To protect Western oil companies, candidate Jimmy Carter proclaimed presidential willingness to send American troops into the Persian Gulf. Rosalyn Carter went further by telling an lowa campaign audience: "Jimmy is not afraid to declare war." Carter then proved himself unafraid to expand unemployment, presumably as an inflation cure, thereby reneging on his party's past full employment declarations.

Reaching the White House with this assist from Carter (as well as from the Klan and the immoral minority of televangelicals), Reagan promptly served the immediate interests of the most powerful and the wealthiest. The Reaganites depressed real wages through the worst unemployment since the 1929-39 depression, promoted "give backs" by labor unions, cut social programs for lower and middle income people, expanded tax giveaways for the truly rich, boosted the military budget and warmed up the cold war. They launched savage assaults on organized labor, civil rights and civil liberties.

economist Robert Lekachman
"Ronald Reagan must be the nicest president who ever destroyed a union, tried to cut school lunch milk rations from six to four ounces, and compelled families in need of public help to first dispose of household goods in excess of $1,000...1f there is an authoritarian regime in the American future, Ronald Reagan is tailored to the image of a friendly fascist."

The bad news is that evil now wears a friendlier face than ever before in American history.

"Like a good TV commercial, Reagan's image goes down easy," Mark Crispin Miller has written, "calming his audience with sweet inversions of the truth...He has learned to liven up his every televised appearance with frequent shifts in expression, constant movements of the head, lots of warm chuckles and ironic shrugs and sudden frowns of manly purpose. Reagan is unfailingly attractive-'a nice guy, 'pure and simple." But what is really there, he asks, behind the mask?

The President's critics have many answers. Some call him "an amiable dunce." Some see him, reports Miller, as a devil "who takes from the poor to give to the rich, has supported infanticide abroad, ravages his own countryside and props up brutal dictatorships." Others regard him as a congenital falsifier who surrounds any half-truth with a "bodyguard of lies." Miller himself has still another answer: there is nothing behind the mask. "The best way to keep his real self hidden" he suggests, "is not to have one...Reagan's mask and face are as one." To this, one might add that the Reagan image is an artfully designed blend of charisma and machismo, a combination that Kusum Singh calls charismacho.

"Princes," wrote Machiavelli many centuries ago, "should delegate the ugly jobs to other people, and reserve the attractive functions for themselves." In keeping with this maxim, Reagan's less visible entourage has surrounded the President with highly visible targets of disaffection: Volcker, Stockman, Haig, Weinberger, Kirkpatrick, and Watt. In comparison, Reagan looks truly wholesome. This makes it all the more difficult to focus attention on the currents and forces behind the people behind the President-or for that matter, other less visible leaders of the American Establishment.

beyond "nice guy" imagery. They establish America's symbolic environment. The Reagan administration has triggered a great leap forward in the mobilization and deployment of corporatist myths. Many billions of tax-exempt funds from conservative foundations have gone into the funding of such think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly three hundred economists on the staffs of conservative think tanks are part of an informal information network organized by the American Heritage Foundation alone. (This contrasts with only about two dozen economists working for trade unions, most of whom are pinned down in researching contract negotiations.)

Expanded government intervention into \ the lives of ordinary people is glorified under the slogan "getting the I government off our backs." Decriminalization of corporate bribery, fraud and the dumping of health-killing wastes is justified under the banner of "promoting free enterprise" and countering "environmental extremists." Private greed, gluttony and speculation are disguised in "free market" imagery. Business corruption is hidden behind smokescreens of exaggerated attacks on the public sector. Like Trojan horses, these ideas penetrate the defenses of those opposed to any new corporatism. They establish strongholds of false consciousness and treacherous terminology in the minds not only of old-fashioned conservatives but also of the most dedicated liberals and left-wingers.

Hence on many issues the left seems bereft, the middle muddled and the right not always wrong. Other elements are thereby added to the new bill of frights.

One is a frightening retreat by liberals and leftwingers on the key gut issues of domestic policy: full employment, inflation and crime. "Deep cynicism has been engendered in progressive circles by past experiences with 'full employment' legislation (as) the tail on the kite of an ever expanding military economy." A movement for full employment without militarism or inflation is seen as dangerous by old-time labor leaders, utopian by liberals and by some Marxists as impossible under capitalism. Inflation is seen as a conservative issue-or else one that requires the kind of price controls that necessitate more far-reaching social controls over capital. Middle-of-the-roaders try to deal with crime by fussing too much with the details of the police-courthouse jail-parole complex and too little with the sources of low-income crime, racketeering, political corruption and crime in the executive suites. Thus the demagogues among the Reaganites and their frenetic fringes have been able to seize and keep initiatives on these issues.

Samuel Johnson
"Power is always gradually stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent."


The Rise and Fall of Friendly Fascsim

Looking at the present, I see a more probable future: a new despotism creeping slowly across America. Faceless oligarchs sit at command posts of a corporate-government complex that has been slowly evolving over many decades. In efforts to enlarge their own powers and privileges, they are willing to have others suffer the intended or unintended consequences of their institutional or personal greed. For Americans, these consequences include chronic inflation, recurring recession, open and hidden unemployment, the poisoning of air, water, soil and bodies, and, more important, the subversion of our constitution. More broadly, consequences include widespread intervention in international politics through economic manipulation, covert action, or military invasion...

I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting undeserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds. I see pretended patriots who desecrate the American flag by waving it while waiving the law.

In this present, many highly intelligent people look with but one eye and see only one part of the emerging Leviathan. From the right, we are warned against the danger of state capitalism or state socialism, in which Big Business is dominated by Big Government. From the left, we hear that the future danger (or present reality) is monopoly capitalism, with finance capitalists dominating the state. I am prepared to offer a cheer and a half for each view; together, they make enough sense for a full three cheers. Big Business and Big Government have been learning how to live in bed together and despite arguments between them, enjoy the cohabitation. Who may be on top at any particular moment is a minor matter-and in any case can be determined only by those with privileged access to a well-positioned keyhole.

I am uneasy with those who still adhere strictly to President Eisenhower's warning in his farewell address against the potential for the disastrous rise of power in the hands of the military-industrial complex. Nearly two decades later, it should be clear to the opponents of militarism that the military-industrial complex does not walk alone. It has many partners: the nuclear-power complex, the technology-science complex, the energy-auto-highway complex, the banking-investment-housing complex, the city-planning-development-land-speculation complex, the agribusiness complex, the communications complex, and the enormous tangle of public bureaucracies and universities whose overt and secret services provide the foregoing with financial sustenance and a nurturing environment. Equally important, the emerging Big Business-Big Government partnership has a global reach. It is rooted in colossal transnational corporations and complexes that help knit together a "Free World" on which the sun never sets. These are elements of the new despotism.

A few years ago a fine political scientist, Kenneth Dolbeare, conducted a series of in-depth interviews totaling twenty to twenty-five hours per person. He found that most respondents were deeply afraid of some future despotism. "The most striking thing about inquiring into expectations for the future," he reported, "is the rapidity with which the concept of fascism (with or without the label) enters the conversation." But not all knowledge serves the cause of freedom... the tendency is to suppress fears of the future, just as most people have learned to repress fears of a nuclear holocaust. It is easier to repress well-justified fears than to control the dangers giving rise to them.

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote a popular novel in which a racist, anti-Semitic, flag-waving, army-backed demagogue wins the 1936 presidential election and proceeds to establish an Americanized version of Nazi Germany. The title, It Can't Happen Here, was a tongue-in-cheek warning that it might. But the "it" Lewis referred to is unlikely to happen again any place. Even in today's Germany, Italy or Japan, a modern-style corporate state or society would be far different from the old regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese oligarchs. Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism. In any First World country of advanced capitalism, the new fascism will be colored by national and cultural heritage, ethnic and religious composition, formal political structure, and geopolitical environment. The Japanese or German versions would be quite different from the Italian variety-and still more different from the British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Australian, Canadian, or Israeli versions. In America, it would be supermodern and multi-ethnic-as American as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credit cards, and apple pie. It would be fascism with a smile. As a warning against its cosmetic facade, subtle manipulation, and velvet gloves, I call it friendly fascism. What scares me most is its subtle appeal.

I am worried by those who fail to remember-or have never learned -that Big Business-Big Government partnerships, backed up by other elements, were the central facts behind the power structures of old fascism in the days of Mussolini, Hitler, and the Japanese empire builders.

I am worried by those who quibble about labels. Some of my friends seem transfixed by the idea that if it is fascism, it must appear in the classic, unfriendly form of their youth. "Why, oh why," they retrospectively moan, "didn't people see what was happening during the 1920s and the 1930s?" But in their own blindness they are willing to use the terms invented by the fascist ideologists, "corporate state" or "corporatism," but not fascism.

I am upset with those who prefer to remain spectators until it may be too late. I am shocked by those who seem to believe in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's words of 1940-that "there is no fighting the wave of the future" and all you can do is "leap with it." I am appalled by those who stiffly maintain that nothing can be done until things get worse or the system has been changed.

I am afraid of inaction. I am afraid of those who will heed no warnings and who wait for some revelation, research, or technology to offer a perfect solution. I am afraid of those who do not see that some of the best in America has been the product of promises and that the promises of the past are not enough for the future. I am dismayed by those who will not hope, who will not commit themselves to something larger than themselves, of those who are afraid of true democracy or even its pursuit.

I suspect that many people underestimate both the dangers that lie ahead and the potential strength of those who seem weak and powerless. Either underestimation stems, I think, from fear of bucking the Establishment ... a deep and well-hidden fear ...

...the fanfare of elections and "participatory" democracy usually disguises business- government control.


Between the two world wars fascist movements developed in many parts of the world.

In the most industrially advanced capitalist countries-the United States, Britain, France, Holland and Belgium-they made waves but did not engulf the constitutional regimes. In the most backward capitalist countries-Albania, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Spain, and Yugoslavia-there came to power authoritarian or dictatorial regimes that boastfully called themselves "fascist" or, as the term soon came to be an all-purpose nasty word, were branded "fascist" by their opponents. The most genuine and vigorous fascist movements arose in three countries-Italy, Germany and Japan-which, while trailing behind the capitalist leaders in industrialization and empire, were well ahead of the laggards.


In Milan on March 23, 1919, in a hall offered by a businessmen's club, former socialist Benito Mussolini transformed a collection of blackshirted roughnecks into the Italian Fascist party. His word "fascism" came from the Latin fasces for a bundle of rods with an axe, the symbol of State power carried ahead of the consuls in ancient Rome. Mussolini and his comrades censured old-fashioned conservatives for not being more militant in opposing the socialist and communist movements that arose, in response to the depression, after World War I. At the same time, they borrowed rhetorical slogans from their socialist and communist foes, and strengthened their support among workers and peasants.

In their early days these groups had tough going. The more respectable elements in the Establishment tended to be shocked by their rowdy, untrustworthy nature. Campaign contributions from businessmen came in slowly and sporadically. When they entered electoral contests, the Fascists did badly. Thus, in their very first year of life the Italian Fascists suffered a staggering defeat by the Socialists.

In 1920 the left-wing power seemed to grow. Hundreds of factories were seized by striking workers in Milan, Turin, and other industrial areas. Peasant unrest became stronger, and many large estates were seized. The Socialists campaigned under the slogan of "all power to the proletariat."

For Mussolini, this situation was an opportunity to be exploited. He countered with a nationwide wave of terror that went far beyond ordinary strikebreaking. Mussolini directed his forces at destroying all sources of proletarian or peasant leadership. The Fascist squadristi raided the offices of Socialist or Communist mayors, trade unions, cooperatives and leftwing newspapers, beating up their occupants and burning down the buildings. They rounded up outspoken anti-Fascists, clubbed them, and forced them to drink large doses of castor oil. They enjoyed the passive acquiescence-and at times the direct support-of the police, the army, and the church. Above all, business groups supplied Mussolini with an increasing amount of funds. In turn, Mussolini responded by toning down the syndicalism and radical rhetoric of his followers, and, while still promising to "do something for the workers," began to extol the merits of private enterprise.

On October 26, 1922, as his Fascist columns started their so-called March on Rome, Mussolini met with a group of industrial leaders to assure them that "the aim of the impending Fascist movement was to reestablish discipline within the factories and that no outlandish experiments . . . would be carried out." l On October 28 and 29 he convinced the leaders of the Italian Association of Manufacturers "to use their influence to get him appointed premier." 2 In the evening of October 29 he received a telegram from the king inviting him to become premier. He took the sleeping train to Rome and by the end of the next day formed a coalition cabinet. In 1924, in an election characterized by open violence and intimidation, the Fascist-led coalition won a clear majority.

If Mussolini did not actually march on Rome in 1922, during the next seven years he did march into the hearts of important leaders in other countries. He won the friendship, support, or qualified approval of Richard Childs (the American ambassador), Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas Lamont, many newspaper and magazine publishers, the majority of business journals, and quite a sprinkling of liberals, including some associated with both The Nation and The New Republic. "Whatever the dangers of fascism," wrote Herbert Croly, in 1927, "it has at any rate substituted movement for stagnation, purposive behavior for drifting, and visions of great future for collective pettiness and discouragements." ~ these same years, as paeans of praise for Mussolini arose throughout Western capitalism, Mussolini consolidated his rule, purging anti-Fascists from the government service, winning decree power from the legislature, and passing election laws favorable to himself and his conservative, liberal, and Catholic allies.

Only a few days after the march on Rome, a close associate of Hitler, Herman Esser, proclaimed in Munich among tumultuous applause: "What has been done in Italy by a handful of courageous men is not impossible here. In Bavaria too we have Italy's Mussolini. His name is Adolf Hitler...." F. L. CARSTEN

In January, 1919, in Munich, a small group of anti-Semitic crackpot extremists founded the German Workers Party. Later that year the German Army's district commander ordered one of his agents, a demobilized corporal, to investigate it. The Army's agent, Adolf Hitler, instead joined the party and became its most powerful orator against Slavs, Jews, Marxism, liberalism, and the Versailles treaty. A few months later, under Hitler's leadership, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party and organized a bunch of dislocated war veterans into brown-shirted strong-arm squads or storm troopers (in German, S.A. for Sturmabteilung). The party's symbol, designed by Hitler himself, became a black swastika in a white circle on a flag with a red background.

On November 8, 1923, in the garden of a large Munich beer hall, Adolf Hitler and his storm troopers started what he thought would be a quick march to Berlin. With the support of General Erich Ludendorff, he tried to take over the Bavarian government. But neither the police nor the army supported the Putsch. Instead of winning power in Munich, Hitler was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but confined in luxurious quarters and paroled after only nine months, the gestational period needed to produce the first volume of Mein Kampf. His release from prison coincided with an upward turn ~n the fortunes of the Weimar Republic, as the postwar inflation abated and an influx of British and American capital sparked a wave of prosperity from 1925 to 1929. "These, the relatively fat years of the Weimar Republic, were correspondingly lean years for the Nazis."

Weimar's "fat years" ended in 1929. If postwar disruption and class conflict brought the Fascists to power in Italy and nurtured similar movements in Germany, Japan, and other nations, the Great Depression opened the second stage in the rise of the fascist powers.

In Germany, where all classes were demoralized by the crash, Hitler recruited jobless youth into the S.A., renewed his earlier promises to rebuild the German army, and expanded his attacks on Jews, Bolshevism, the Versailles treaty, liberalism, and constitutional government. In September 1930, to the surprise of most observers (and probably Hitler himself), the Nazis made an unprecedented electoral breakthrough, becoming the second largest party in the country. A coalition of conservative parties, without the Nazis, then took over under General Kurt von Schleicher, guiding genius of the army. With aged Field Marshal von Hindenberg serving as figurehead president, three successive cabinets- headed by Heinrich Bruening, Franz von Papen, and then von Schleicher himself-cemented greater unity between big business and big government (both civilian and military), while stripping the Reichstag of considerable power. They nonetheless failed miserably in their efforts to liquidate the Depression. Meanwhile Adolf Hitler, the only right-wing nationalist with a mass following, was publicly promising full employment and prosperity. Privately meeting with the largest industrialists he warned, "Private enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy." On January 30, 1933, he was invited to serve as chancellor of a coalition cabinet. "We've hired Hitler!" a conservative leader reported to a business magnate.

A few weeks later, using the S.A. to terrorize left-wing opposition and the Reichstag fire to conjure up the specter of conspiratorial bolshevism, Hitler won 44 percent of the total vote in a national election. With the Support of the Conservative and Center parties, he then pushed through legislation that abolished the independent functioning of both the Reichstag and the German states, liquidated all parties other than the Nazis, and established concentrated power in his own hands. He also purged the S.A. of its semi-socialist leadership and vastly expanded the size and power of his personal army of blackshirts.

Through this rapid process of streamlining, Hitler was able to make immediate payments on his debts to big business by wiping out independent trade unions. abolishing overtime pay, decreasing compulsory cartelization decrees (like similar regulations promulgated earlier in Japan and Italy), and giving fat contracts for public works and fatter contracts for arms production. By initiating an official pogrom against the Jews, he gave Nazi activists a chance to loot Jewish shops and family possessions, take over Jewish enterprises, or occupy jobs previously held by German Jews.

Above all, he kept his promise to the unemployed; he put them back to work, while at the same time using price control to prevent a recurrence of inflation. As Shirer demonstrates in his masterful The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Hitler also won considerable support among German workers, who did not seem desperately concerned with the loss of political freedom and even of their trade unions as long as they were employed full time. "In the past, for so many, for as many as six million men and their families, such rights of free men in Germany had been overshadowed as he [Hitler] said, by the freedom to starve. In taking away that last freedom," Shirer reports, "Hitler assured himself of the support of the working class, probably the most skillful and industrious and disciplined in the Western world."

Also in 1919, Kita Ikki, later known as "the ideological father of Japanese fascism," set up the "Society of Those Who Yet Remain."

His General Outline of Measures for the Reconstruction of Japan, the Mein Kampf of this association, set forth a program for the construction of a revolutionized Japan, the coordination of reform movements, and the emancipation of the Asian peoples under Japanese leadership.

In Japan, where organized labor and proletarian movements had been smashed many years earlier and where an oligarchic structure was already firmly in control, the transition to full-fledged fascism was- paradoxically-both simpler than in Italy and Germany and stretched out over a longer period. In the mid-1920s hired bullies smashed labor unions and liberal newspapers as the government campaigned against "dangerous thoughts" and used a Peace Preservation Law to incarcerate anyone who joined any organization that tried to limit private property rights. The worldwide depression struck hard in Japan, particularly at the small landholders whose sons had tried to escape rural poverty through military careers. The secret military societies expanded their activities to establish a Japanese "Monroe Doctrine for Asia." In 1931 they provoked an incident, quickly seized all of Manchuria, and early in 1932 established the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

At home, the Japanese premier was assassinated and replaced by an admiral, as the armed forces pressed forward for still more rapid expansion on the continent and support for armament industries. As the frontiers of Manchukuo were extended, a split developed between two rival military factions. In February 1936, the Imperial Way faction attempted a fascist coup from below. Crushing the rebels, the Control faction of higher-ranking officers ushered in fascism from above. "The interests of business groups and the military drew nearer, and a 'close embrace' structure of Japanese fascism came to completion," writes Masao Maruyama. "The fascist movement from below was completely absorbed into totalitarian transformation from above." Into this respectable embrace came both the bureaucracy and the established political parties, absorbed into the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. And although there was no charismatic dictator or party leader, the Emperor was the supercharismatic symbol of Japanese society as a nation of families. By 1937, with well-shaped support at home, the Japanese army c seized Nanking and started its long war with China.


Before fascism, the establishments in Italy, Japan and Germany each consisted of a loose working alliance between big-business, the military, the older landed aristocracy, and various political leaders. The origin of these alliances could be traced to the consolidation of government and industry during World War I.

"Manufacturing and finance," writes Roland Sarti about World War I in Italy (but in terms applicable to many other countries also), "drew even closer than they had been before the war to form the giant combines necessary to sustain the war effort. Industrialists and government officials sat side by side in the same planning agencies, where they learned to appreciate the advantages of economic planning and cooperation. Never before had the industrialists been so close to the center of political power, so deeply involved in the decision-making process " 0

United in the desire to renew the campaigns of conquest that had been dashed by the war and its aftermath, the establishments in these countries were nonetheless seriously divided by conflicting interests and divergent views on national policy. As Sarti points out, big-business leaders were confronted by "economically conservative and politically influential agricultural interests, aggressive labor unions, strong political parties ideologically committed to the liquidation of capitalism, and governments responsive to a variety of pressures." Despite the development of capitalist planning, coping with inflation and depression demanded more operations through the Nation-State than many banking and industrial leaders could easily- accept, more government planning than most governments were capable of undertaking, and more international cooperation among imperial interests than was conceivable in that period

The establishment faced other grave difficulties in the form of widespread social discontent amidst the uncertain and eventually catastrophic economic conditions of the postwar world. One of the challenges came from the fascists, who seemed to attack every element in the existing regimes. They criticized businessmen for putting profits above patriotism and for lacking the dynamism needed for imperial expansion. They tore at those elements in the military forces who were reluctant to break with constitutional government. They vilified the aristocracy as snobbish remnants of a decadent past. They branded liberals as socialists, socialists as communists, communists as traitors to the country, and parliamentary operations in general as an outmoded system run by degenerate babblers. They criticized the bureaucrats for sloth and branded intellectuals as self-proclaimed "great minds" (in Hitler's phrasing) who knew nothing about the real world. They damned the Old Order as an oligarchy of tired old men, demanding a New Order of young people and new faces. In Japan, the young blood was represented mainly by junior officers in the armed forces. In Italy and Germany the hoped-for infusion of new dynamism was to come from the "little men," the "common people," the "lost generation," the "outsiders," and the "uprooted" or the "rootless." Although some of these were gangsters, thugs, and pimps, most were white-collar workers, lower-level civil servants, or declassed artisans and small-businessmen.

But the fascist challenge did not threaten the jugular vein. Unlike the communists, the fascists were not out to destroy the old power structure or to create an entirely new one. Rather, they were heretics seeking to revive the old faith by concentrating on the fundamentals of ;imperial expansion militarism, repression, and racism. They had the courage of the old-time establishment's convictions. If they at times sounded like violent revolutionaries, the purpose was not merely to pick up popular support from among the discontented and alienated, but to mobilize and channel the violence-prone. If at the outset they tolerated anti-capitalist currents among their followers, the effect was to enlarge the following for policies that strengthened capitalism. Above all, the fascists "wanted in."

In turn, at a time of crisis, leaders in the old establishment wanted them in as junior partners. These leaders operated on the principle that "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." Ultimately, the marriage of the fascist elements with the old order was one of convenience. In Italy and Japan, the fascists won substantial control of international and domestic politics, were the dominant ideological force, and controlled the police. The old upper-class structure remained in control of the armed forces and the economy. In Japan, the upper-class military was successfully converted to fascism, but there were difficulties in winning over Japan's family conglomerates, the zaibatsu.

Thus, while much of the old order was done away with, the genuinely anti-capitalist and socialist elements that provided much of the strength in the fascist rise to power were suppressed. The existing social system in each country was actually preserved, although in a changed form.


From the start fascism had been nationalist and militarist, exploiting the bitterness felt in Italy, Germany, and Japan over the postwar settlements. Italians, denied territories secretly promised them as enticement for entering the war, felt cheated of the fruits of victory. Japanese leaders chafed at the rise of American and British resistance to Japanese expansion in China, and resented the Allies' refusal to include a statement of racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Germans were outraged by the Versailles treaty; in addition to depriving Germany of 13 percent of its European territories and population, the treaty split wide open two of Germany's three major industrial areas and gave French and Polish industrialists 19 percent of Germany's coke, 17 percent of its blast furnaces, 60 percent of its zinc foundries, and 75 percent of its iron ore.

Furthermore, each of the fascist nations could ground their expansion in national tradition. As far back as 1898, Ito Hirobumi, one of the founders of the "new" Japan after the Meiji restoration of 1868, had gone into great detail on Japan's opportunities for exploiting China's vast resources. While the late-nineteenth-century Italians and Germans were pushing into Africa, the Japanese had seized Korea as a stepping-stone to China and started eyeing Manchuria for the same purpose. Mussolini's imperial expansion in Africa was rooted, if not in the Roman empire, then in late nineteenth-century experience and, more specifically, in the "ignominy" of the 1896 Italian defeat by ill-armed Ethiopian forces in Aduwa. Hitler's expansionism harked back to an imperialist drive nearly a century old-at least.

Now, while Japan was seizing Manchuria, Mussolini responded to the crash by moving toward armaments and war. He used foreign aid to establish economic control over Albania, consolidating this position through naval action in 1934. In 1935 he launched a larger military thrust into Ethiopia and Eritrea.

By that time, the Nazi-led establishment in Germany was ready to plunge into the European heartland itself. In 1935, Hitler took over the Saarland through a peaceful plebiscite, formally repudiating the Versailles treaty. In 1936 he occupied the Rhineland and announced the formation of a Berlin-Rome Axis and the signing of a German-Japanese Pact. Hitler and Mussolini then actively intervened in the Spanish Civil War, sending "volunteers" and equipment to support General Franco's rebellion against Spain's democratically-elected left-wing republic.

The timetable accelerated: in 1938, the occupation of Austria in March and of Czechoslovakia in September; in 1939, the swallowing up of more parts of Czechoslovakia and, after conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August, the invasion of Poland. At this point, England and France declared war on Germany and World War II began. Japan joined Italy and Germany in a ten-year pact "for the creation of conditions which would promote the prosperity of their peoples." As a signal of its good intentions, Japan began to occupy Indochina as well as China. Germany did even better. By 1941 the Germans had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. They had thrown the British army into the sea at Dunkirk and had invaded Rumania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. A new world order seemed to be in the making.

For Japan, it was the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," and for Italy a new Roman Empire to include "the Mediterranean for the Mediterraneans." And, for Germany, the new order was the "Thousand Year Reich" bestriding the Euro-Slavic-Asian land mass.


The essence of the new fascist order was an exploitative combination of imperial expansion, domestic repression, militarism, and racism. Each of these elements had a logic of its own and a clear relation to the others.

Imperial expansion brought in the raw materials and markets needed for more profitable economic activity. By absorbing surplus energies as well as surplus capital, it diverted attention from domestic problems and brought in a flood of consumer goods that could at least for a while- provide greater satisfactions for the masses.

Domestic repression in each of the three countries was essential to eliminate any serious opposition to imperialism, militarism, or racism. It was used to destroy the bargaining power of unions and the political power not only of communists, socialists, and liberals but of smaller enterprises. It helped hold down wages and social benefits and channel more money and power into the hands of big business and its political allies

Militarism, in turn, helped each of the Axis countries escape from the depression, while also providing the indispensable power needed for both imperial ventures and domestic pacification.

All of the other elements were invigorated by racism, which served as a substitute for class struggle and a justification of any and all brutalities committed by members of the Master Race (whether Japanese, German, or Italian) against "inferior" beings. This may not have been the most efficient of all possible formulae for exploitation, but it was theirs.

No one of these elements, of course, was either new or unique. None of the "haves" among the capitalist powers, as the fascists pointed out again and again, had built their positions without imperialism, militarism, repression, and racism. The new leaders of the three "have nots," as the fascists pointed out, were merely expanding on the same methods. "Let these 'well-bred' gentry learn," proclaimed Hitler, "that we do with a clear conscience the things they secretly do with a guilty one." There was nothing particularly new in Mussolini's imperialism and militarism.

His critics at the League of Nations in 1935, when a weak anti-Italian embargo was voted on, may have seemed shocked by his use of poison gas against Ethiopian troops, but he did nothing that French, British, English, and Dutch forces had not done earlier in many other countries. The Japanese and Germans, however, were a little more original. In China and other parts of Asia, the Japanese invaders used against Koreans, Chinese, Burmese, Malayans, and other Asians even harsher methods than those previously used by white invaders. Similarly, up to a certain point, the Nazi war crimes consisted largely of inflicting on white Europeans levels of brutality that had previously been reserved only for Asians, Africans, and the native populations of North, Central, and South America.

In open violation of the so-called "laws of war," German, Japanese, and Italian officials-to the consternation of old-style officers from the upper class "gentry"-ordered the massacre of prisoners. All three regimes engaged in large-scale plunder and looting.

Since German-occupied Europe was richer than any of the areas invaded by the Japanese or Italians, the Nazi record of exploitation is more impressive. "Whenever you come across anything that may be needed by the German people," ordered Reichsmarshall Goering, "you must be after it like a bloodhound...." The Nazi bloodhounds snatched all gold and foreign holdings from the national banks of seized countries, levied huge occupation costs, fines and forced loans, and snatched away tons of raw materials, finished goods, art treasures, machines, and factory installations.

In addition to this unprecedented volume of looting, the Nazis revived the ancient practice of using conquered people as slaves. In doing so, they went far beyond most previous practices of imperial exploitation. By 1944, "some seven and a half million civilian foreigners were toiling for the Third Reich.... In addition, two million prisoners of war were added to the foreign labor force." Under these conditions German industrialists competed for their fair share of slaves. As key contributors to the "Hitler Fund," the Krupps did very well. "Besides obtaining thousands of slave laborers, both civilians and prisoners of war, for its factories in Germany, the Krupp firm also built a large fuse factory at the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where Jews were worked to exhaustion and then gassed to death."

Domestic repression by the fascists was directed at both working-class movements and any other sources of potential opposition. In all three countries the fascists destroyed the very liberties which industrialization had brought into being; if more was destroyed in Germany than in Italy and more in Italy than in Japan, it was because there was more there to destroy.

All three regimes succeeded in reducing real wages (except for the significant increments which the unemployed attained when put to work by the armaments boom), shifting resources from private consumption to private and public investment and from smaller enterprises to organized big business and channeling income from wages to profits. As these activities tended to "de-class" small entrepreneurs and small landowners, this added to the pool of uprooted people available for repressive activities, if not for the armed services directly. Moreover, each of the three regimes attained substantial control over education at all levels, cultural and scientific activities, and the media of communication.

In Germany, however. domestic repression probably exceeded that of any other dictatorial regime in world history. An interesting, although little known, example is provided by Aktion t 4. In this personally signed decree, Hitler ordered mercy killing for hospital patients judged incurable, insane or otherwise useless to the war effort, thereby freeing hospital beds for wounded soldiers. At first the patients were "herded into prisons and abandoned castles and allowed to die of starvation." Since this was too slow, the Nazis then used "a primitive gas chamber fed by exhaust fumes from internal combustion engines." Later they used larger gas chambers where "ducts shaped like shower nozzles fed coal gas through the ceiling . . . Afterward the gold teeth were torn out and the bodies cremated." Two years later, after about ten thousand Germans were killed in this manner, a Catholic bishop made a public protest and the extermination campaign was called off.

By this time, however, Aktion t 4 had been replaced by Aktion f 14, "an adaptation of the same principles to the concentration camps, where the secret police kept their prisoners-socialists, communists, Jews and antistate elements." By the time he declared war on the United States in December 1941, Hitler extended Aktion f 14 to all conquered territories in his "Night and Fog" (Nacht und Nebel) decree, through which millions of people were spirited away with no information given their families or friends. This was an expansion of the lettres de cachet system previously used by French monarchs and the tsar's police against important state prisoners. Under this method untold thousands vanished into the night and fog never to be heard of again.

Each of the three regimes, moreover, developed an extra-virulent form of racism to justify its aggressive drive for more and more "living space" (in German, the infamous Lebensraum). Italian racism was directed mainly against the Africans-although by the time Italy became a virtual satellite of Nazi Germany, Mussolini started a massive anti-Jewish campaign. Japanese racism was directed mainly against the Chinese, the Indochinese, and in fact, all other Asiatic people and served to justify, in Japanese eyes, the arrogance and brutality of the Japanese troops. The largest target of Nazi racism was the Slavs, who inhabited all of the Eastern regions destined to provide Lebensraum for the Master Race.

And during World War II more Slavs were killed than an' other group of war victims in previous history.

But Nazi racism went still deeper in its fanatic al anti-Semitism. Hitler, of course, did not invent anti-Semitism, which ran as a strand through most significant ideologies of the previous century. While a strong strain of anti-Semitism has usually characterized the Catholic church, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, went further in urging that Jewish "synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed." 18 Nazi anti-Semitism brought all these strands together into a concentrated form of racism that started with looting, deprived the German Jews (about a quarter of a million at that time) of their citizenship and economic rights under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and then-following Martin Luther's advice with a vengeance-led to the arson, widespread looting, and violence of the Kristolnacht ("The Night of the Broken Glass") of November 1938. Early in 1939 Hitler declared, in a Reichstag speech, that if a world war should ensue, "the result will be . . . the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe," a threat and near-prophecy that he kept on repeating in his public statements. A few weeks after the Nazi invasion of Russia he started to make it a reality with a decree calling for a "total solution" (Gesamtlosung) or "final solution" (Endlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe which were under German influence. The "final solution" went through various stages: at first simply working Jews to death, then gassing them in the old-style chambers used under Aktion t 4, then using still larger gas chambers capable of gassing six thousand prisoners a day- to the lilting music of The Merry Widow-through the use of hydrogen cyanide.

While business firms competed for the privilege of building the gas chambers and crematoria and supplying the cyanide, recycling enterprises also developed. The gold teeth were "melted down and shipped along with other valuables snatched from the condemned Jews to the Reichsbank.... With its vaults filled to overflowing as early as 1942, the bank's profit-minded directors sought to turn the holdings into cold cash by disposing of them through the municipal pawnshops." Other recycling operations included using the hair for furniture stuffing, human fat for making soap, and ashes from the crematoria for fertilizer. While a small number of cadavers were used for anatomical research or skeleton collections, a much larger number of live persons-including Slavs as well as Jews-were used in experimental medical research for the German Air Force on the effects on the human body of simulated high-altitude conditions and immersion in freezing water. All in all, of an estimated 11 million Jews in Europe, between 5 and 6 million were killed in the destruction chambers (and work gangs or medical laboratories) at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belsen, Sibibor and Chelmna, as well as minor camps that used such old-fashioned methods as mere shooting.'.


Centrally controlled propaganda was a major instrument for winning the hearts of the German, Japanese, and Italian people. The growth of the control apparatus coincided with the flowering during the 1920s and 1930s of new instruments of propagandistic technology particularly the radio and the cinema, with major forward steps in the arts of capitalist advertising. "Hitler's dictatorship." according to Albert Speer, "was the first dictatorship of an industrial state in this age of technology, a dictatorship which employed to perfection the instruments of technology to dominate its own people." Apart from technology, each of the Axis powers used marching as an instrument of dominating minds. In discussing this method of domination, one of Hitler's early colleagues, Hermann Rauschning, has given us this explanation: "Marching diverts men's thoughts. Marching kills thought. Marching makes an end of individuality. Marching is the indispensable magic stroke performed in order to accustom the people to a mechanic, quasi-ritualistic activity until it becomes second nature."

The content of fascist propaganda. however, was more significant than its forms or methodology. In essence, this content was a justification of imperial conquest, rampant militarism, brutal repression, and unmitigated racism. Many fascist theorists and intellectuals spun high-flown ideologies to present each of these elements in fascist exploitation in the garb of glory, honor, justice, and scientific necessity. The mass propagandists, however (including not only Hitler, Mussolini, and their closest associates, but also the flaming "radicals" of the Japanese ultra-right), wove all these glittering abstractions into the super-pageantry of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, between the Master Race which is the fount of all culture, art, beauty, and genius and the inferior beings (non-Aryans, non-Romans, non-Japanese) who were the enemies of all civilization. As the stars and the planets gazed down upon this apocalyptic struggle, the true defenders of civilization against bolshevism and racial impurity must descend to the level of the enemies of culture and for the sake of mankind's future, do whatever may be necessary in the grim struggle for survival. Thus, bloodletting and blood sacrifice became a spiritual imperative for the people, an imperative transcending mere materialism.

This holy-war psychology was backed up by the indiscriminate use of any concept, any idea, theory, or antitheory that was useful at a particular time or place. Liberalism and monarchism, individualism and collectivism, hierarchic leadership and egalitarianism, scientific management and organic spontaneity, private enterprise and socialism, religion and atheism-all were drawn upon as the condition warranted- to polish the image of the nation's leader and play upon the emotions of both establishment and masses. No human interest, drive, or aspiration was safe from exploitation. To help in organizing support of specific groups, promises were made to workers as well as businessmen, peasants as well as landowners, rural folk as well as urbanites, the old nobility as well as the "common man," the old as well as the young, women as well as men.

On of the great successes of the classic fascists was to concoct was to concoct misleading pronouncements on their purposes and practices. Anti-fascists have often accepted some of these self-descriptions or added part-truths of their own. The result has been a vast structure of apparently indestructible myths. Today, these myths still obscure the nature of classic fascism and of present tendencies toward new forms of the o d horror. Although the classic fascists openly subverted constitutional democracy and flaunted their militarism, they took great pains to conceal Big Capital-Big Government partnership. One device for doing this was the myth of "corporatism" or the 'corporate state." In place of geographically elected parliaments, the Italians and the Germans set up elaborate systems whereby every interest in the country-including labor -was to be "functionally" represented. In fact, the main function was to provide facades behind which the decisions were made by intricate networks of business cartels working closely with military officers and their own people in civilian government.

There is no doubt that in all three countries the consolidation of the fascist establishment was supported by a psychological malaise that had hit the lower middle classes harder than anyone else. But if one examines the support base of classic fascism, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fascists had multi-class support. Many workers joined the fascist ranks-even former socialist and communist leaders. To the unemployed workers not represented by trade unions or the socialist movement, fascism offered jobs and security and delivered on this promise. Although the older aristocrats were somewhat divided on the subject, many highly respectable members of the landed aristocracy and nobility joined the fascist ranks. The great bulk of civil service bureaucrats was won over. Most leaders of organized religion (despite some heroic exceptions in Germany and some foot-dragging in Italy)either tacitly or openly supported the new regimes. Leading academicians, intellectuals, writers, and artists toed the line; the dissident minority who broke away or left the country made the articulation of support by the majority all the more important. Hitler enjoyed intellectual support, if not adulation, from the leading academicians in German universities. In Japan, the Showa Research Association brought many of the country's leading intellectuals together to help the imperial leaders formulate the

... instead of operating directly, big capital under fascism operated indirectly through an uneasy partnership with the fascist politicos, the military leaders, and the large landowners. If the privileged classes won many advantages as a result of the indispensable support they gave to the fascist regimes in Italy, Japan, and Germany, they also paid a high price. In addition to being subjected to various forms of political plunder, they lost control of many essential elements of policy, particularly the direction and tempo of imperial expansion. Second, the shift from constitutional to fascist capitalism meant structural changes, not merely the removal of a fig leaf. The fascists suppressed independent trade unions and working-class parties and consolidated big capital at the expense of small business. They destroyed the democratic institutions that capitalism had itself brought into being. They wiped out pro-capitalist liberation and old-fashioned conservatism as vital political forces. Third, while classic fascism was terroristic, it was also beneficent. The fascists provided jobs for the unemployed and upward mobility for large numbers of lower and middle class people. Although real wage rates were held down, these two factors alone-in addition to domestic political plunder and war booty-improved the material standard of living for a substantial number, until the whole picture was changed by wartime losses. roughshod over his or her students may be called a "fascist pig."

... for thousands of years hundreds of governments have been fiercely brutal-sometimes on conquered people only, often on their own people also. If we stick by this terminology, then many of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, the old Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Indian, and Chinese empires, the Huns, the Aztecs, and the tsars who ruled Russia were also fascist. Some of these, let me add, also exercised total control over almost all aspects of human life. Indeed, "force, fraud and violence," as Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski have pointed out, "have always been features of organized government and they do not constitute by themselves the distinctively totalitarian operation." 28 But concentrated capital, modern-style government, and constitutional democracy are relatively new features of human history-as is also the kind of Big Business- - Government alliance that subverts constitutional democracy. Anyone has the constitutional right to pin the label "fascist" or "fascistic" on the brutalities of a Stalin or his heirs in various "Marxist-Leninist" countries, or on the bloodbath inflicted by American firepower on Indochina for a full decade, or even on the latest case of police brutality in a black or Latin ghetto of New York City. This may be a forceful way of protesting brutality. It is much less than a serious examination of the realities of classic fascism or the accumulating tendencies toward new forms of fascism toward the end of the twentieth century.

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