Posts Tagged ‘Denis Mack Smith’

Hitler, Mussolini, Trump and Rhetorical and Political Inconsistency

March 9, 2016

A number of media commenters have pointed out the inconsistencies and contradiction in Donald Trump’s speeches as he tries to drum up support for his presidential campaign. Kyle Kulinski over at Secular Talk, for example, has pointed out how Trump has argued for separate, and opposite positions on the Middle East, healthcare and the economy. For example, on the Middle East he has at one moment declared that America should go in much harder to carpet bomb whole cities, and torture and kill not just terrorists, but also their families. At other moments, sometimes just after he has argued passionately for the preceding policy, he has completely reversed his position. Instead of renewing America’s campaign in the Middle East, he has argued instead that America should not get involved, and instead leave Vladimir Putin to sort out ISIS.

His position on healthcare is similarly muddled. At one point he appeared to be arguing for something like the socialised medical service advocated by the Democrat, Bernie Sanders. He has then immediately reversed his position, and stated instead that he intends to repeal Obamacare, and increase competition and free enterprise. He has since been forced to clarify his position, and has since released a detailed description of his policy. This makes it clear that his policy is based very much on increasing competition, and allowing the insurance companies to deny or increase charges for people with severe and difficult to treat forms of illness. And by the way – this is exactly one of the reasons why supporters of the NHS in England actively oppose the introduction of insurance based health care. It actively denies care to those most in need, the chronically sick.

Trump’s stance on industry and the economy is also unclear. He has said at various points that if he got into power, he would prevent corporations leaving America to keep jobs in the country. At other moments, he’s stated that he intends to keep wages low. The two positions aren’t quite contradictory. Corporations are moving abroad to take advantage of the cheap labour available in the Developing World. So keeping wages low would encourage some companies to stay in America. This would, however, keep blue-collar workers in the in-work poverty into which they’ve been plunged by the Neo-Lib policies of successive administrations.

Hitler’s own policies, as stated in his speeches, were also a mixture of contradictory attitudes and positions. He at once appeared to be anti-capitalist and the defender of capitalism, and tailored his rhetoric to suit the differing audiences in the places where he was speaking. In rural areas with a strong tradition of anti-Semitism, he’d concentrate on stirring up hatred and resentment against the Jews. In industrial areas with a strong background of working class politics, either Socialist or Communist, he’d instead focus on the ‘Socialist’, anti-capitalist elements of the Nazi programme. And in 1929, speaking to a meeting of leading German businessmen, he claimed to be the defender to German private industry against the forces of Marxist Socialism.

Mussolini too changed his position frequently. Denis Mack Smith, in his biography of the Duce, Mussolini (London: Paladin 1983) describes how Mussolini’s frequent changes of position, and adoption of extreme views, came from his attempts to drum up excitement and interest amongst his audience. On page 39 he writes

Mussolini’s journalistic style prompted him to take an extreme position whenever possible. Extremism was always dramatic and eye-catching. He was far more concerned with tactics than with ideas, and his violent changeability was bound to seem confused it measured by strict logic; but he had discovered that readers liked extreme views and rarely bothered much about inconsistency. If he appeared successively as the champion of the League [of nations] and then nationalist, as socialist and then conservative, as monarchist and then republican, this was less out of muddle-headedness than out of a search for striking headlines and a wish to become all things to all men.

And on page 40 he notes that Mussolini

called himself a man for all seasons, ‘an adventurer for all roads’. As he said, ‘I put my finger on the pulse of the masses and suddenly discovered in the general mood of disorientation that a public opinion was waiting for me, and I just had to make it recognise me through me newspaper.

This sounds very much like Trump. And like Mussolini, Trump is also fiercely nationalistic and xenophobic, attacking Mexicans and Muslims, and encouraging the violent expulsion of protestors from his rallies. Trump probably wouldn’t be a ruthless butcher like Hitler or Musso, but he would turn America into a much less free, much more authoritarian and brutal place.

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Thatcher, Mussolini and Manipulation of the Economy to Destroy Working Class Opposition

April 18, 2014

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Margaret Thatcher destroyed much of Britain’s manufacturing base, and particularly the coal industry, in order to break the power of the trade unions that had brought down Edward Heath’s government. Kittysjones has recently blogged about the academic report into Thatcher’s ‘calculated immiseration’ of the working class for ideological reasons and the profit of the upper and middle classes. See her post ‘ Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”’ at http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/tory-dogma-and-hypocrisy-the-big-state-bureaucracy-austerity-and-freedom/.

Mussolini did something similar in Italy. Apart from taking violent action against the Socialist party and the trade unions, who were attacked and their offices wrecked in a concerted campaign of violent intimidation, the Duce also attempted to alter the demographic and class structure of Italian society to halt the increasing emergence of urban opposition. He pursued a deliberate ‘ruralisation’ policy, intended to stem and reverse immigration to the towns from the countryside. He believed that the ideal societies were those of peasant proprietors. These were more fertile than urban societies, and more docile and supportive of autocratic regimes. Sophisticated urbanites, on the other hand, were too clever and too willing to discuss and criticise. And like Margaret Thatcher, the prosperity of the citizens counted for little. Denis Mack Smith in his biography of Musso states:

Prosperity, as he had to confess, was not very high on his list of priorities except for its propaganda value; national strength was far more important. He was expecting a war at any time after 1934 and wanted the country to become self-sufficient in food before then. This was one reason why he hoped Italy would remain mainly agricultural: urbanization was threatening to endanger the food supply of a rapidly growing community. Another hazard was that as people moved to the towns they began to think and talk too much. Peasants, he asserted, were more necessary to fascism than intellectuals or town artisans, both of which latter categories were, as he had to admit, unenthusiastic about his regime if not strongly hostile.

…. the healthiest nations were those based on a population of small proprietors who worked ‘obediently, and preferably in silence’. On the other hand, urban conditions encouraged not only disobedience but a wish for higher wages and greater comfort which, in turn, would result in smaller families, all of which would be profoundly unfascist. To ‘ruralize Italy’ would, he knew, be immensely costly and might take half a century, but it would have to be effected. Less should be spent on improving conditions in the towns because ‘cities are pernicious and parasitic’; even in the countryside, he thought it necessary to restrict improvements in popular housing because better conditions might result in fewer children being born. Such beliefs became an obsession with him. He order the prefects to stop any move away from the land and to use force if necessary. Rome should not become an industrial city but remain the centre of an agricultural region, and many other important towns should be forcibly reduced in size. But he had chosen a hopelessly unequal battle and the towns went on expanding as before. At first he falsified the census returns to conceal this untoward fact, but eventually went into reverse and decided to spend a great deal of money to make Rome into a great centre of industry.

Thus Thatcher, the Tories and the Italian Fascists were determined to sacrifice their countries’ industrial development in the interests of creating their ideal societies, societies which consisted of the poor obeying their social superiors without question, and where critical, urban working and intellectual classes were highly unwelcome.

There is, however, one major difference between the two: Mussolini abandoned this policy when it could not be achieved, and promoted Rome’s industrial development. Maggie and the Tories were successful, and Britain’s manufacturing base has contracted ever since.

The Coalition, Mussolini and the Manipulation of Statistical and Budgetary Government Bureaux

April 17, 2014

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One of the other parallels between the Coalition and Fascist Italy is the way they both have deliberately reorganised government statistical and financial departments in order to provide spurious economic figures supporting the regime and its policies. The Tories set up the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, which was supposed to provide financial information supporting the government’s austerity programme. Despite its ideological raison d’etre, the Office still has some kind of independence, as a couple of times it has criticised the government’s austerity campaigns for slowing and destroying economic growth.

Similarly, Mussolini reorganised the Institute of Statistics and the Corte dei conti to take them out of parliamentary control, and make them subordinate to him personally. Denis Mack Smith in his biography, Mussolini (London: Paladin 1983) writes

The manipulation of economic facts was an essential part of Mussolini’s system. He gained much credit by promising that his annual budget would be of a ‘crystalline simplicity’ so that every citizen could know how his money was being spent; but in practice the figures became more obscure than ever. By the end of the 1920s, even the experts were baffled when they tried to find out about the balance of payments or how much was being spent on public works or the militia. The corte dei conti, whose job was to supervise expenditure, was artfully removed from parliamentary scrutiny and placed directly under the head of government. So was the Institute of Statistics, whose director was instructed to publish no figures without higher approval. Mussolini recognized the publicity value of statistics and thought it no sin to ‘attenuate’ those he objected to in the monthly statistical bulletin. Foreigners, as a result, learnt to pay little attention to official publications. (p. 142).

And so the Tories and Tory Democrats increasingly resemble the Fascists in their use of manipulated figures to support a harsh regime that attacks and punishes the working class, the poor and the sick and disabled for the enrichment of an elite.

Mussolini, Press Censorship and Contempt for Newspaper Readers

April 16, 2014

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Mussolini before becoming the Duce, Italy’s Fascist dictator, had been a newspaper editor. Denis Mack Smith in his biography, Mussolini (London: Paladin 1983) describes both his style of journalism and his contempt for newspaper readers, which he used to justify stifling the freedom of the press.

The new premier was exceptional in having made his name as a newspaper editor and journalism continued to be one of his great passions. He was probably the best popular journalist of his day, and his ability to simply and vulgarize issues, to disregard consistency where necessary – in his own words, to over-dramatize or even invent facts – all these early lessons greatly helped to him effective in the kind of populist politics he was drawn to instinctively. They made him a successful politician, if a bad statesman.

He now decided to change the rules of journalism so that no one else could succeed as he had done. While in opposition, he had condemned censorship of newspapers as shameful and dangerous, and his pledge to maintain freedom of the press received unanimous support in the first fascist party congress; but as a dictator he seized on the fact that anyone who could manipulate the press might be able to change public opinion overnight, and even before the march on Rome he had prepared measures to control the newspapers. Here was the main novelty of Mussolini’s revolution and one of the principal reasons for his success. His sort of fascism could never have appeared before the days of popular journalism; nor in all probably could it have happened later, once Italy became a more literate and politically more sophisticated society. (pp. 78-9).

Censorship was something Mussolini had once condemned outright and some of his associates still disliked it. But once he was in power he meant to control journalism. Newspaper readers were gullible and impotent; he owed them no respect but claimed he had a duty to protect them from irresponsible editors whose lies were discrediting Italy abroad. Suddenly on 20th June 1925, late in the evening, he caught parliament unawares and proposed new press laws. All was over in half an hour with no debate and only five dissentient votes; parliament was then closed until the end of the year. (p. 105).

Mike once quoted Lord Beaverbrook to me as an illustration of the conscious bias of the press: ‘I print nothing but propaganda, propaganda and propaganda’. Members of Blair’s cabinet have said that during his administration he always trying to formulate policies that would gain the support of the press barons, such as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail; and that Rupert Murdoch was a constant, silent presence over the cabinet meetings. And Murdoch’s attitude to his newspapers – the Sun, News of the World and the Times indicates to me that he had a similar contempt for his readers, cynically manipulating the news to sale papers and push through his right-wing policies. And the Tories were perfectly willing to violate the press monopoly laws in order to give him the papers and journalistic influence he wanted. He operates in a democratic system, but there’s still much of Mussolini’s attitude to politics, the press and its readers in his style of journalism and management.

More on Mussolini and the Conservative Industrialists

April 14, 2014

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I’ve posted a number of piece on the way Mussolini appealed to the Italian middle classes to support Fascism through posing as defending private industry, property and free trade against Socialism and the organised working class. Denis Mack Smith in his biography also states that the Duce also talked about reducing bureaucracy, ending state unemployment payments and stating that social inequalities should be increased. (Mussolini (London: Paladin Grafton book 1983) 134). He also made moves to allow private enterprise a share of the telephone system and life insurance, both of which had been state enterprises. (p. 135).

One of the first things Margaret Thatcher did as PM was privatise the phone company. The Tories are also extremely keen on reducing bureaucracy and have increasingly cut down on unemployment benefit. They are also intending to end the NHS and introduce a system of private medical insurance, as in the US. And Kittysjones in one of her pieces last week pointed out that Maggie Thatcher also believed in increasing social inequalities as a spur to people trying to improve their position in society. With the ideological similarities between Conservativism and one section of Fascist ideology so strong, I’m surprised that there aren’t shouts of ‘Duce! Duce!’ at the Tory annual conferences.