Facism as Left-Wing Movement: Proudhon claimed as Fascist Precursor

Proudhon pic

The great anarchist philosopher P.-J. Proudhon: absolute opponent of the state and everything Fascism stands for.

I’ve posted several pieces criticising the Tory and Libertarian assertion that Fascism is ‘Left-wing’ or a variety Socialism. The argument is that because the Fascists took part of their ideology from the Left and pursued a policy of state intervention, then they must, therefore, be left-wing, even when they claimed they were not, and attacked Left-wing, Socialist and working class organisations and parties. Perhaps the most extreme example of this, and its reduction ad absurdum, is the claim by Sir Oswald Mosley in his autobiography, My Life, of the great anarchist P.J. Proudhon, as one of Fascism’s precursors and formative influences. It’s in the chapter on ‘The Ideology of Fascism’.

This is bizarre, as if there’s one thing Proudhon did not stand for, it’s nationalism and a totalitarian, coercive state. It’s exactly what Proudhon campaigned against and spent his career trying to destroy. Yet Mosley claims Proudhon as one of the intellectual influences on Fascism. He is, as far as I know, the only person to do so.

There was a Syndicalist component in Italian Fascism. The Fascists were also strongly influenced by the French revolutionary Syndicalist Georges Sorel, particularly his advocacy of the morally uplifting and purifying power of violence in the service of the revolution, and the use of powerful myths, such as that of the General Strike, to inspire the working class to further direct action. The ex-Syndicalists Bottai, Pannunzio and Rossoni conceived and developed the Fascist corporate state as a ‘National Syndicalism’, in which the workers and employers in each industry were organised in corporations, which were then declared to manage the economy. In fact they didn’t. The workers’ organisations were effectively smashed, and placed under the control of the industrialists. At factory level, the workers’ organisations were kept well away from the workers on the shop floor. The corporations were only allowed to advise the government, and effectively acted only as a rubber stamp, to declare state approval for policies and decisions Mussolini had already made. Attempts to turn the corporations into genuine working class organisation with real power were rejected and denounced as ‘Bolshevism’.

As for the power of myth and violence, the Fascists certainly took those over. The object of the inspiring myth was changed from the general strike or revolution to the nation. As for violence, while Sorel was a strong influence, he was certainly not the only ideologue, who stressed its virtues in the service of revolution, social change or nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, traces the idea of modern political violence all the way back to the French Revolution and its activist form of democratic politics. It’s a Conservative view of Fascism’s origin. Other political scientists and writers instead stress the peculiar historical conditions in Italy and Germany, which they feel better explain the emergence of Mussolini’s Fascism and National Socialism. Even tracing the ancestry of Fascism as far back as the French Revolution and Rousseau, O’Sullivan does not, however, include Proudhon as one of its intellectual ancestors.

The solution to this problem – how Fascism could possibly include Proudhon, who actively opposed nationalism and the state – lies in the existence of the Cercle Proudhon, set up in France in 1911. It was founded by Georges Valois, a former member of Charles Maurras extreme nationalist organisation, Action Francaise. Valois split from the organisation in order to try to recruit the working class to the nationalist cause. It was intended to be a study group which would ‘unite nationalists and left-wing anti-democrats’ against ‘Jewish capitalism’. Valois declared it aimed at the ‘triumph of heroic values over the ignoble bourgeois materialism in which Europe is now stifling … [and] … the awakening of Force and Blood over Gold’. Valois denunciation of materialism and exaltation of ‘force’ and ‘blood’ is classic Fascist rhetoric, preceding the foundation of Fascism itself in 1919. The Cercle, however, collapsed and was unable to recruit more than a few intellectuals and journalists.

It’s not hard to see why. While hostile to parliamentary democracy, Proudhon, like the rest of the Anarchists after him, was motivated by a desire to promote individual freedom and equality, which they believe are denied by the existence of the state. It’s in stark contrast to authoritarian nationalism, which demands the maintenance of order and hierarchy, and the abolition of personal freedom through subordination to the will of the dictator. It also shows the sheer absurdity of trying to claim for extreme nationalism, Left-wing organisations and ideologies that are directly opposed to it. The Cercle Proudhon failed because of this, and only person who was seriously taken in by its attempt to add Proudhon to the list of Fascism’s intellectual founders was Mosley. It’s another example of how absurd the claim the Fascism is itself somehow Left-wing actually is.

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8 Responses to “Facism as Left-Wing Movement: Proudhon claimed as Fascist Precursor”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. buddyhell Says:

    Proudhon was also an anti-Semite. Perhaps that’s what Mosley found attractive about him.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I didn’t realise that Proudhon was an anti-Semite, though it doesn’t surprise me. It was all too common across the political spectrum in the 19th century. And that certainly would have appealed to Mosley.

      • buddyhell Says:

        Yes, very true. Even Bakhunin had anti-Semitic moments. 😦

      • jess Says:

        If we must look for a source for this anti-semitism, let me once again offer the name of William Cobbett.

        He was constantly anti-semitic and racist in his ‘Register’.

        I am not going to offer any excuses for him. There can be none

        But here is an example from an early issue;

        “”This latter circumstance, supposing it to be correctly stated, would by no means tend to reconcile me to a war, of which one of the consequences would be a drain upon our population; for, in estimating the people of a country, I never shall proceed upon the principle that numbers are only to be attended to; that an Italian, a Negro, or a Jew, is as good as an Englishman ; that stock-jobbers are as good as farmers; and that the squalid inhabitants of commercial and manufacturing towns are worth as much to the state as an equal number of the inhabitants of villages and the skirts of commons”
        SUMMARY OF POLITICS: Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register Saturday, October 20, 1804; Issue 16

        Perhaps better known is the article ‘The Jews’ printed on Jan 5th 1828. I am not going to quote from that, but can supply a copy if there is any interest.

        The poet Heine was fascinated by Cobbett when he visited England. He translated some of his work, being particularly interested in his caustic satirical ‘style’

        According to a biographer of Heine

        “Cobbett, whose fierce sarcastic style he must have found congenial, though he found the man..unamiable. He may have noticed that two issues earlier [in the Register] Cobbett printed a vicious anti-Semitic attack; he always feared that this would be one of the components of popular radicalism” [Sammons, Heine, p.149]

        Heine became ‘the poet of radical romanticism’ in the 19thc. His influence stretched from Marx to Matthew Arnold. But that is a very long essay, and not appropriate here

        See also J.W. Osborne ‘William Cobbett’s Anti Semitism’; The Historian, 1984, repr Schweizer and Osborne (Eds) Cobbett in his Times

  3. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  4. jess Says:

    Lets look carefully at what Mosely wrote;

    “Fascism too derived much from its intellectual antecedents and by no means only from the relatively modern sources usually ascribed to it such as Sorel, Pareto,Proudhon, Nietzsche, and earlier English writers and men of action like Hobbes,Strafford, Bolingbroke, and later Carlyle.”

    But there is no evidence that I am aware of, from the 1930’s that Mosley held this view then. Nor did his chief ideologue, Raven Thompson

    [Mosley wrote of him:”Six months after my speech to the English-Speaking Union, in the autumn of 1933, I met a remarkable man who then joined the party and became one of my most valuable
    colleagues. This was Raven Thomson, who in 1932 had published a book of exceptional interest on Spengler which I read when we came together. His approach differed from mine because his conclusion was as pessimistic as Spengler’s, and his concept of the immediate future seemed to me an almost ant-heap collectivism. I had said in my E.S.U. speech that modern Caesarism would inevitably have a collective character, but his collective ideas seemed to go much too far in eliminating individualinfluence. The reason certainly was that at the time he wrote the book he was a
    communist”

    But Mosley seems influenced in his autbiography by a much later book; ” Some years ago Dr. Popper brought the industry and erudition of central Europe to London University and in his book,The Open Society and its Enemies, virtually denounced every outstanding thinker from Plato to Hegel as a fascist: I gladly accepted the gift, and expressed my appreciation for this confirmation of what I had long suspected.

    Popper had possibly been influenced by this article, which appeared in 1945. “Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Harbinger of Fascism
    J. Salwyn Schapiro; The American Historical Review
    Vol. 50, No. 4 (Jul., 1945), pp. 714-737”

    And had, in turn influenced a didactic, pompous clown like Mosley with the concept

    • beastrabban Says:

      That seems quite likely, and it certainly would have appealed to Mosley. He does state in his autobiography that with all the other great thinkers who have been denounced as Fascists, he feels he is in good company. Or words to that effect. In which case the Cercle Proudhon becomes a kind of Fascist precursor, but outside the main line of Fascist descent. An attempt by Rightists to appropriate elements of the Socialist and anti-authoritarian tradition for their own ultra-nationalist, highly authoritarian revolt.

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