Posts Tagged ‘Austro-Fascism’

Democratic Socialist on Liberalism, Classical Liberalism and Fascism

November 6, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the connections between the Libertarianism of Von Mises and Von Hayek and Fascism, and the 1970s Fascist coup in Chile led by General Pinochet, which overthrew the democratically elected Communist president, Salvador Allende. I reblogged a video the other day by Democratic Socialist, in which he showed that Pinochet, contrary to the claims made by the Von Mises Institute, was indeed a brutal dictator, and that his rescue of Chilean capitalism, threatened by Allende’s entirely democratic regime, was very similar to Hitler’s seizure of power in Nazi Germany.

In the video below, Democratic Socialist explains the difference between the Liberalism of the Enlightenment, and the ‘Classical Liberalism’ of Von Mises and Von Hayek, both of whom supported Fascist regimes against Socialism and Democracy. In Von Mises case, he served in Dollfuss’ ‘Austro-Fascist’ government, while his pupil, Von Hayek, bitterly denounced democracy, supporting the regimes of the Portuguese Fascist dictator Salazar and then Pinochet’s grotty dictatorship in Chile. Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, claimed that a planned socialist economy was also a threat to freedom, and influenced both Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. And the latter was a good friend and admirer of Pinochet.

The video begins with Democratic Socialist drawing a distinction between Enlightenment Liberalism, and ‘Classical Liberalism’. Enlightenment Liberalism was a revolutionary force which challenged the power of the feudal aristocracy and the clergy. It championed freedom of belief, the right to free speech and assembly, freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial. It also stated that people had a right to private property.

Von Mises, the founder of ‘Austrian economics’ and ‘Classical Liberalism’, declared that the essence of his political and economic system was private property, and was hostile towards both democracy and socialism because both appeared to him to challenge the rights of the owners of the means of production. Thus he supported Dollfuss during the Austrian Civil War, when Dollfuss suppressed the socialists and Communists with army. The video includes a clip from a British newsreel showing Austrian soldiers shooting at the houses in the working class suburb of Vienna, into which the Schutzbund – the ‘Protection League’ formed by the Socialists and Communists – had retreated following Dollfuss’ attempt to suppress them by force. The voiceover describes Dollfuss as ‘diminutive’, and a still from the footage shows an extremely short man in uniform surrounded by various uniformed officers. Which seems to add him to the list of other dictators of shorter than average height – Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco. The Nazis themselves were profoundly hostile to the Enlightenment. After the 1933 seizure of power, Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazis’ chief ideologist, declared that the legacy of 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – had been ended by the Nazi coup.

After the War, Von Hayek’s attacks on socialist planning in The Road to Serfdom led Churchill to make a scaremongering speech about Labour in the 1945 election. Socialist planning, the great war leader declared, was abhorrent to the British people, and could only be imposed through a ‘Gestapo’, which he had no doubt, would be very humanely carried out. The video shows two senior members of the Labour party, one of which was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Callaghan, Denis Healey, describing how horrified they were by this slur against people Churchill had worked so closely with during the War.

In fact, Churchill’s lurid rhetoric had the opposite effect, and encouraged more people to vote for the Labour party so that they won with a landslide.

The video goes on to cite the texts, which document how Von Hayek declared his support for Salazar in Portugal, stating that he would preserve private property against the abuses of democracy, and how he claimed that the only totalitarian state in Latin America was that of Salvador Allende. Who was elected entirely democratically, and did not close any opposition newspapers or radio stations. Democratic Socialist also shows that Thatcher herself was a profound admirer of Pinochet, putting up a quote from her raving about his dictatorship. He also states that Thatcher, like Pinochet, also used the power of the state to suppress working class opposition. In this case, it was using the police to break up the miner’s strike.

Democratic Socialist is right in general about Enlightenment Liberalism being a revolutionary force, but many of its leaders were by no means democrats. The French Revolutionary was also keen to preserve private property, and the suffrage was based on property qualifications. Citizens were divided into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ – that is, those who possessed enough money to qualify for voting, and those who did not. This was also true of the American Founding Fathers, who were also keen to preserve the wealth and privileges of the moneyed elite against the poor masses. The fight to extend the franchise so that everyone had the vote, including women, was a long one. Britain only became a truly democratic country in the 1920s, after women had gained the vote and the property qualification for the franchise had been repealed. This last meant that all working class men had the vote, whereas previously only the wealthiest section of the working class – the aristocracy of labour – had enjoyed the franchise following Disraeli’s reforms of 1872.

The British historian of Fascism, Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism Between the Wars makes this point to show that, rather than having a long tradition of democracy, it was in fact only a recent political innovation, against which sections of the traditional social hierarchy were strongly opposed. This was the aristocracy and the business elites. He states that in Britain the right to vote was connected to how much tax a man paid, and that the principle that everyone had an innate right to vote was rejected as too abstract and French. This distrust of democracy, and hatred of the forces of organised labour, that now possessed it, was shown most clearly in the upper classes’ reaction to the General Strike.

As for the other constitutional liberties, such as a free press, right to a fair trial and freedom of assembly, Pugh also states that the 19th and early 20th century British ‘Liberal’ state was quite prepared to suppress these when it suited them, and could be extremely ruthless, such as when it dealt with the Suffragettes. Hence he argues that the Fascists’ own claim to represent the true nature of traditional British government and values needs to be taken seriously by historians when explaining the rise of Mosley and similar Fascist movements in the ’20s and ’30s.

Democratic Socialist is right when he states that the Classical Liberalism of Von Mises and Von Hayek is Conservative, and supports the traditional feudal hierarchy of the aristocracy and church as opposed to the revolutionary Liberalism of the new middle classes as they arose in the late 18th and 19th centuries. But I don’t think there was a clear division between the two. British political historians have pointed out that during the 19th century, the Liberal middle classes slowly joined forces with the aristocracy as the working class emerged to challenge them in turn. The modern Conservative party, with its ideology of free trade, has also been influenced by one aspect of 19th century Liberalism, just as the Labour party has been influenced by other aspects, such as popular working class activism and a concern for democracy. Von Mises’ and Von Hayek’s ‘Classical Liberalism’ can be seen as an extreme form of this process, whereby the free enterprise component of Enlightenment Liberalism is emphasised to the exclusion of any concern with personal freedom and democracy.

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Pareto, Liberismo, Free Trade and Conservative Fascism

April 11, 2014

Vilfredo-Pareto-Quotes-5

Vilfredo Pareto: Free Trade economist who believed in the importance of elites.

I’ve posted a number of piece criticising the attempts by Conservatives, such as the Dorset MEP Daniel Hannan, to smear Socialism through the argument that Fascism was simply one form of it. American Conservatives in particular seem to believe that any form of state intervention or collectivist approach automatically equals Socialism, which is in turn equated with Communism and Nazism. Mussolini started his career as a radical Socialist, and there were elements of Socialism, and specifically Syndicalism, in Fascism. Fascism was, however, an unstable and frequently incoherent mixture of different and contradictory ideologies and attitudes. Syndicalism was one element. Others were the middle class, Conservative ideologies of free trade, private enterprise and liberismo.

Liberismo was the ideology of the Italian middle classes. It was associated with the belief in a balanced budget and sound, stable currency, and reflected the interests of the middle class groups with fixed incomes, who felt themselves vulnerable to inflation. These were rentiers, pensioners, civil servants, professionals and White collar workers. These groups looked to Fascism to halt rising prices. At the same time, Mussolini presented the Fascist movement as defending private enterprise and the small businesses from Socialism and organised Labour on the one hand, and the large trusts and cartels of big business on the other. They resented the way the government, under their influence, had maintained a policy of high tariffs and high state expenditure. The Italian Nationalists, who later merged with the Fascists, had attacked international finance and the major banks. The crash of the Banca di Sconto associated with the Perrone brothers and the Ansaldo conglomerate in 1922, resulted in a number of small investors losing their savings. The Perrone brothers and Ansaldo were major figures and backers of the Nationalists, who blamed their bank’s failure on the government blindly obeying the dictates of the rival Banca Commerciale.

Fascist elitism and contempt for democracy also had part of its origins in the ideas of the economist Vilfredo Pareto. A professor of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne, Pareto was a staunch supporter of free trade. This in turn led to his contempt for parliamentary democracy and belief in the importance of elites. He also valued myth, considered as powerful irrational ideas and images, as a means through which governments and movements could inspire their supporters to action. His works also explored the use of force and consent. He argued that the ‘foxes’ of the old, patrician order, would now be overthrown by ‘plebean’ lions, and denounced the humanitarianism of contemporary liberal politics as a symptom of a political order in decline. As the above quote makes clear, Pareto believed that contemporary democracy was merely an ideological disguise for the way the elite continued to hold power while maintaining the impression that it was the masses who were in control of government. Mussolini read Pareto when he was a radical Socialist, and took over his idea elitism, and utter contempt for parliamentary democracy and humanitarianism.

Free trade, private enterprise, and a balanced budget, became elements of Fascism. This is, however, denied by Conservatives, who seem to believe that they stand apart from and opposed to it in a way which the Socialist parts of Fascism do not. Liberismo and Pareto’s elitism may also explain the strongly anti-democratic trend in Libertarianism. Both von Hayek and Mises served in Vollmar Dollfuss’ Austro-Fascist regime. Dollfuss banned the Austrian Socialist party on the grounds that it was preparing a revolution. It’s unclear whether this was true, or merely a pretext. The regime was allied to Mussolini’s Italy, and looked to the Duce for protection against annexation from Hitler’s Germany. After Hayek moved to America, he also travelled to Chile after Pinochet’s coup to examine the implementation of his economic doctrines there. Pareto’s prediction of the victory of the plebs over the patricians may well have been another piece of myth-making – a powerful image intended to inspire fear in the middle classes, and force them to act against the threat from the working class. Hayek in his absolute support for private enterprise, free trade and willingness to serve Right-wing dictatorships, seems to have shared these attitudes. This is despite Libertarianism’s claim to represent traditional Liberalism. Libertarianism and its adherents share the same attitudes as the Conservative followers of liberismo who joined the Fascists.

For further information, see ‘Pareto, Vilfredo’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport: Greenwood Press 1982) 392.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1987).