Rise and Fall of Classic Fascism
excerpted from the book
The New Face of Power in
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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.
THE RISE AND FALL OF CLASSIC FASCISM
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.
ITALY, GERMANY, JAPAN
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
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
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
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.
BREEDING GROUNDS OF FASCISM
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
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
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
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.