Posts Tagged ‘Fascism’

Moeller van den Bruck, the Nazis and Revolutionary Conservatism

March 6, 2019

I’m published many articles on this blog attacking the claim that Nazism was a form of socialism. It’s essentially a Conservative smear, intended to put people off anything remotely socialist, like state medical care, strong trade unions, an extensive and effective welfare state or the nationalisation of important industries, by associating these policies with the horrors of the Third Reich. The standard arguments for the socialist nature of the Nazi party is that they called themselves socialists and there were socialist elements in the 1922 Nazi party programme. In practice, however, Hitler was very firmly for private industry and was only willing to consider nationalisation if a business or agricultural estate was failing. He considered businessmen part of the biological elite following Social Darwinist ideology, and definitely did not want the workers to share in the profits of the companies they worked for. He was also bitterly opposed to ‘Marxist’ socialism, which meant not only Communism but the reformist socialism of the SPD, anarchism and the trade unions. The anti-capitalist elements of Nazi ideology were based on the Italian Fascist corporate state, which had its roots in syndicalism, but also in Italian Nationalism. And even then the Nazis in power did not create anything resembling the Italian corporatist system.

But aside from styling themselves ‘socialist’ to steal the clothes of the genuinely socialist parties and movements, the Nazis were also strongly influenced by extreme right-wing radical ideologues, who saw themselves as Conservatives. One of these was Moeller van den Bruck, whose 1923 book, The Third Reich, provided the Nazis with the name of their new order. Hitler met van den Bruck a year before the book’s publication, and was greatly impressed. So impressed that he wanted van den Bruck and himself to work together. But van den Bruck refused. Van den Bruck also called for a form of patriotic, indigenous German socialism, but considered himself a revolutionary Conservative. Noel O’Sullivan describes his views on pp. 144-7 of his book Fascism (London: J.M Dent & Sons 1983). He writes of van den Bruck’s view of Conservatism and revolution

Moeller’s starting-point, like that of other radical conservatives, was the belief that the only relevant form of conservative doctrine in the modern world is one which begins by accepting and embracing revolution, instead of by rejecting or suppressing it. ‘Conservatism and revolution co-exist in the world today’, Moeller wrote, with the result that the task now is to evolve ‘a conservative revolutionary thought as the only one which in a time of upheaval guarantees the continuity of history and preserves it alike from reaction and from chaos’. In the same context, he explained that ‘conservatism and revolution would destroy each other, if the conservative had not … the political wisdom to recognise that conservative goals may be attained even with revolutionary postulates and by revolutionary means’. The essence of the new, radicalised conservatism, then, is that it ‘seizes directly on the revolution, and by it, through it and beyond it saves the life of Europe and of Germany’. (pp.144-5).

On the following pages he describes the similarity between Moeller’s radical conservatism and Nazism. These were

  1. Revolutionary conservatism was not the ideology of a party, but an entire worldview.
  2. Revolutionary conservatism has no doctrine, but was a ‘war for life, for the nation’s freedom’.
  3. Revolutionary conservatism was against rationalism and thus parliamentary democracy, capitalist economics and Bolshevik socialism.
  4. This was to be achieved through a native, corporate German socialism which had descended from the remote past in the form of guilds and professional bodies.

This last point seems to me to be an attempt to find a suitable model from German history for corporate state of the type Mussolini was creating in Italy.

O’Sullivan then goes on to discuss how radical conservatism like van den Bruck’s could easily lead into Nazis, and van den Bruck’s reasons for rejecting the older, traditional form of conservatism. This was the older conservative ideal was too static to gain the support of masses. Hence the fall of the Second Reich of Bismarck and the Kaiser. The Third Reich, however, would have as its task the conquest of the political apathy of the masses. O’Sullivan concludes

In this respect, the affinity between the Nazi ideal, on the one hand, and Moeller’s vision of a ‘conservative revolution’ which could create a Third Reich, on the other, needs no comment: both envisaged a Third Reich based on the activist fervour of the masses. (p. 147).

Clearly van den Bruck’s revolutionary conservatism differs considerably from modern, parliamentary conservatism. Van den Bruck’s conception of it was an attempt to create a revolutionary, socialistic form of the old conservative opposition to political liberalism, based as this was on parliamentary democracy, laissez-faire capitalism, and ‘Bolshevik socialism’, which meant everything from Communism to democratic, reformist socialism. Modern Conservatism, however, has borrowed considerably from 19th century Liberalism in its promotion of free trade capitalism and parliamentary democracy, even if this latter is becoming increasingly restricted through legislation designed to keep the poor and ethnic minorities from voting under the pretext of combating voter fraud. On the other hand, modern Conservatism still retains the vehement hostility to trade unions and genuine socialist politics, which are being condemned by the right on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘cultural Marxism’. And there is a section of the Tory party, whose views and membership frequently intersect with the overtly Fascist parties and organisations.

This therefore poses a problem for those, who maintain that the Nazis must be socialists, because they claimed they were. By that standard, the conservative element in Nazism must also be taken seriously and accepted, because Moeller van den Bruck, whose ideas paralleled theirs and which they partly adopted, saw himself as a Conservative, albeit of a radical, revolutionary type. But don’t expect anyone in the Republican Party in America and the Tories over here to do so. Despite their support for Fascist monsters like Pinochet and other Latin American butchers and torturers, they’re very keen to deny they have any connection to real Fascism, which is really just socialism. At least, for the purposes of public propaganda.

Herzl’s De Judenstaat and the Rhetoric of Fascism

March 6, 2019

One of the points Tony Greenstein, a determined opponent of all forms of racism and Fascism makes against Zionism is that it’s a Jewish version of anti-Semitism. Instead of believing that Jews and gentiles can live together in harmony, peace and friendship, it is based on the terrible view that this is impossible, and Jews must therefore have their own state. It’s a concession to gentile anti-Semitism, and Greenstein supports this arguments by quoting passages from modern Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl. Herzl believed that gentile resentment of Jews for emerging from the ghetto and joining and competing with them in wider society was natural. At one point in his writings he even talks about he came to ‘forgive’ anti-Semitism in Paris. And Greenstein also makes the point that some of the rhetoric Herzl used when arguing for a Jewish state is anti-Semitic.

In a post on the 10th January 2019, Greenstein wrote a piece illustrating just how anti-Semitic Herzl’s rhetoric could be with excerpts from Herzl’s text, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). This contrasted the wretched condition of modern, diaspora Jewry with the brave, new Jewish type that would come into being with his projected new state. Modern Jewry was represented by the ‘Y*d’, small, ugly, dark, cringing. The future citizen of the Jewish state, on the other hand, was the ‘Hebrew’, who was everything fine and noble: tall, strong, beautiful, proud. Now Herzl was clearly trying to improve the condition of the Jews, who were oppressed in eastern Europe. Herzl had originally been in favour of Jews integrating into wider, gentile society. But he turned against the idea after the ferocious pogroms of the 19th century which forced many eastern European Jews to flee abroad – to England and the United States, for example. But clearly the language used to describe contemporary eastern European Jews, the Yiddish-speaking masses of Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia, is very much that of the anti-Semites.

But it’s also similar to the rhetoric used by later Fascists – by Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany – to express the contempt they also felt for their compatriots and their perceived failings, in contrast to the new Fascist type into which they wished to mould them. Mussolini several times rejoiced when conditions became harder for Italians, because it would, he believed, improve them by toughening them up. For example, he was very pleased at the cold winter of 1939-40, commenting ‘This snow and cold is very good. In this way our good-for-nothing Italians, this mediocre race, will be improved. One of the principal reasons I wanted the Apennines because it would make Italy colder and snowier.’ And when there was a coal shortage in January 1940, he was happy again, because it was good for them to be put to tests that would shake off their centuries-old mental laziness.

See Noel O’Sullivan, Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons 1983) 66.

Mussolini blamed every failure in the War on the national character of the Italians, who were ‘a soft and unworthy people’, or a ‘people made flabby by art’. And when Speer told Hitler in March 1945 that the War was lost, both economically and militarily, Hitler declared ‘The nation has proved itself weak, and the future belongs solely to the stronger eastern nation.’

O’Sullivan, Fascism, 80.

O’Sullivan also has this to say about the Fascist project of creating a new breed of human:

The fascist ideal, by contrast, involved nothing less than the creation of an entirely new kind of man. The character of this man would be martial and heroic, with a will which recognised no obstacles. For that reason, Marxism, in fascist eyes, was no better than liberalism. It offered, that is, only one more materialist ideal, and by its stress upon the laws of history it deprived the will of its potential creative power. For the Nazis, racial theory implied that the new man was in fact already in existence, but lay buried by a mass of corrupt liberal, democratic and materialist values, which had therefore to be destroyed in order to reveal the Aryan prince hidden beneath them. For the Italian Fascists, on the other hand, the new man had still to be created.

O’Sullivan, op.cit., 74.

That monster, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS who supervised and implemented the industrial murder of 11 1/2 million innocents – 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million non-Jews in the concentration camps, was determined to bring the new type of Aryan German into existence through a creation of a special breeding programme, the creation of a different, Nazi society and the colonisation of the territories conquered from Poland and the USSR. The German historian of Nazism, Joachim C. Fest, thus describes his vile plans

It was his conviction that by systematically pursuing his policy, ‘on the basis of Mendel’s Law’, the German people could in 120 years once more become ‘authentically German in appearance’. To this end he put forward and partially implemented an alteration in the marriage to do away with monogamy. He had various plans for establishing a privileged SS caste, eliminating traditional standards of value and working out a system of limited educational and developmental opportunities for subjugated peoples. Within the national frontiers pushed three hundred miles to the east, towns were to be pulled down and that ‘paradise of the Germanic race’ created, of which splendid visions were continually conjured up by the Reichsfuhrer of the SS, and those of his followers who enjoyed his special confidence. A widespread network of defensive villages was also envisaged, not merely to make it possible for the members of the Order, the ‘New Nobility’ to maintain tehir dominant position by force and government, but also to re-establish the ancient contact with the soil.

Fest, The Face of the Third Reich (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970) 175-6.

I am not claiming that Herzl was a Fascist or a Nazi. He was a secular democrat, who seems to have genuinely believed that the indigenous peoples of the area in which the new Jewish state was to be established could be peacefully removed from their ancient homeland. And I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that Herzl envisaged any kind of eugenic breeding programme, like that dreamed of by Himmler and the rest of the Nazis.

But Herzl was a nationalist, and like the revolutionary nationalists of the various eastern European nations struggling to gain their independence from the great empires in the 19th century, he demanded a radical break with the existing political order. And like the Future Italian Fascists, he saw the state as creating the nation. Mussolini declared of the relationship between state and people

It is not the nation that guarantees the state, as according to the old nationalistic concept which served as the basis of the political theories of the national State of the nineteenth century. Rather the nation is created by the State, which gives to its people, unconscious of its own moral unity, a will and therefore an effective existence.

O’Sullivan, ibid, 173.

The similarity between Mussolini’s attitude to the state and that of Herzl’s, even if the latter did not articulate it in so many words, is due to the similarity between the Italian and Jewish peoples. Italy had been forged through the conquest and amalgamation if different states, whose peoples had, it was believed, different national characteristics and who spoke different dialects. In 1911 the Italian Nationalist, Corradini, complained that there was as yet no national Italian language and literature. The new Italian people had also to be created by the national Italian state. Similarly, it can be argued that there is no single Jewish people. The Ashkenazi Jews of eastern Europe spoke Yiddish, a language derived from the middle Franconian dialect of medieval German. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, speak Ladino, a language descended from Old Spanish. And this is quite apart from the Jews, who naturally spoke the national languages of the countries in which they had lived for centuries. Zionism’s opponents were keen to point out that Jews weren’t a nation, but a religion. In Britain they stated very clearly that like their non-Jewish countrymen, they were Brits. It was simply the religion that was different, not nationality.

Herzl wasn’t a Fascist, and it would be an anachronistic distortion to say so. Nevertheless, he shared certain attitudes with them, derived in part from their similar positions as radical nationalists, seeking in part to mould their peoples into a higher national type through state action. He shared Hitler’s and Mussolini’s contempt for their own peoples, which in Herzl’s case is expressed through language that is shockingly anti-Semitic.

And perhaps this is why Jewish anti-Zionists suffer so much harassment and truly vile abuse from the Israeli lobby. They are diaspora Jews defying this extreme nationalism to support a state to which they have no desire to emigrate, and which to them is often a terrible distortion of what they see as the true nature of Judaism and Jewish people. It’s a sharp reproach to Herzl’s ‘Hebrews’: the despised ‘Y*ds’, who should, when they’re not cringing and kowtowing to their gentle masters, be desperate to join their ranks with all the fervour of the ultra-nationalist. But they aren’t, and worse: they’re talking back.

Proto-Fascism at Fiume and those Denied ‘Political Rights’

March 19, 2016

Noel O’Sullivan in his book on Fascism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1983) has an appendix containing the constitution of Fiume. This was the proto-Fascist state founded by the Nationalist poet, playwright and adventurer, D’Annunzio, shortly after the First World War. The island had been granted to the new kingdom of Yugoslavia, although it had previously been part of Dalmatia, which had been a Venetian possession in the Middle Ages. The decision of the people of Fiume to join Yugoslavia was seen as a bitter insult to the notion of Italianita, Italian character and pride, and so, assisted by the Syndicalist sailors, D’Annunzio marched on the island, conquered it, and set up what has been described as ‘a comic-opera’ government that lasted a year before the Italian government succeeded in ousting it.

In power, D’Annunzio’s regime had all the hallmarks and practices that were adopted by Mussolini, including the corporative state and speeches from the balcony by the dictator. D’Annunzio and his collaborators published a constitution, formally setting out the basis of the new statelet’s government. Article 17, in the section ‘The Citizens’ lists the people, who would be denied their rights as citizens under the law. It stated

Those citizens shall be deprived of political rights by formal sentence, who are: condemned by law; defaulters with regard to military service for the defence of the territory; defaulters in the payment of taxes; incorrigible parasites on the community if they are not incapacitated from labour by age or sickness. (p. 196).

This criminalises conscientious objectors, those unable to pay tax, and malingering benefit scroungers. It’s so close to modern Tory ideology that I’m surprised Ian Duncan Smith didn’t have it framed and put up behind his desk, or that Peter Lilley didn’t read it out twenty years ago when he was goose-stepping up and down the Tory Party conference reading out his ‘little list’ of people he didn’t like. Naturally, this was all about welfare scroungers, including unmarried mothers. You know, the people Sir Keith Joseph thought were a menace to ‘our stock’, and so presumably ought to be culled for eugenic reasons.

But while the Tories hate people, who don’t pay their taxes if their poor and simply dodging them, they do seem just to love the rich, who decide that paying taxes is for the little people, and demand all kinds of tax loopholes and offshore schemes to avoid paying their whack. They can’t do enough for them. Which is why I think it might be a good idea to introduce a version of the law over here. Instead of denying the rights of citizenship to people on welfare and anti-militarists, it should instead just deny it to the wealthy, who can pay their taxes but seek to withhold them. I think that would be a good policy. After all, if they’re using offshore accounts as a basis for avoiding tax, then they can’t or shouldn’t complain if their right to vote, stand as a political candidate or serve on a jury is removed from them. I think a dose of that revision of the Fascist law could be very popular. Just not with the rich or the Tories.

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

May 4, 2014

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.

Tory MEP Hannan Describes French Front National as ‘Left-Wing’

March 31, 2014

Daniel Hannan

Tory MEP and supporter of NHS privatisation Daniel Hannan. In his view, the Front National are left-wing.

Following this morning’s post tracing the accusation that the National Front/ BNP are left-wing parties to the pamphlet by Stephen Ayres of the National Association For Freedom (NAFF), now the Freedom Association, The National Front are a Socialist Front, I received this comment from Buddyhell:

Hannan has today written a blog that describes le Front National as “far-left”. He will not be told. Even his stablemates attack him for the way he lazily draws lines between fascism and socialism. In essence, Hannan is smearing the Left with these assertions.
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100265536/france-has-given-up-on-its-politicians-with-good-reason/
.

I’ve blogged before about the way Fascism included left-wing elements amongst a number of competing and contradictory ideologies and groups. Mussolini had started off as a radical Socialist, but broke with the party over his support for Italy joining the First World War. Jess has also commented on this morning’s post about the nature of Fascism, pointing to a report in the Guardian for the 13th October 2009 that Mussolini was being paid £100 a week by MI5 in 1917 for his continued vocal support for the Italian war effort. See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/13/benito-mussolini-recruited-mi5-italy. ‘The name’s Mussolini. Benito Mussolini’, she remarks drily. Unfortunately, Mussolini was never that suave. According to Denis Mack Smith’s biography, he got thrown out of at least one school for spending all his time in the local cemetery drinking, using foul language and seducing the local girls. He also raped one young woman, who had the misfortune to catch his eye. He did like sharp suits, however. After haranguing the crowd dressed in the rough clothes of a worker, he used to go home and put on a smart suit and patent leather shoes. So, with the promiscuity and the suits, a bit like Bond, but only a really nasty, thuggish one.

Mussolini and the Corporate State

Mussolini seized power by promising to defend the middle classes and private property from the threat of Socialism and organised labour. The Fascist squadristi pursued a campaign of violence and terror against the Socialist and Communist parties and their supporters. In power, Mussolini created the corporate state, which presented Fascism as a radical alternative to laissez-faire capitalism. The corporations were industrial bodies consisting of the trade union and employers’ organisation for a particular industry or sector of the economy. Parliament was replaced by a Council of Corporations. Each corporation sent three delegates – one from the union, one from the employer’s organisation and one from the Fascist party to represent ‘the people’. It was partly based on Syndicalism, a form of Anarchism that seeks to replace the capitalist state by a system in which industry is owned and managed by the workers themselves through their trade unions. Mussolini called his system, ‘National Syndicalism’. Several of the architects of the corporative state were former syndicalists, like Pannunzio and Michele Bianchi.

A similar system had also already been advocated by Alfredo Rocco and the Italian Nationalist Association, representing the interests of the extreme Right-wing industrialists. Their programme included state-organised cartels, and single, state-controlled union, and the destruction of the political role of Socialist party. Under the Fascist regime, strikes were forbidden and a special system of Labour Courts was set up to settle industrial disputes. Although the Fascists claimed to have solved the conflict between capital and labour, the reality was that the unions were under the strict control of the state, which favoured the industrialists and employers. Pannunzio did argue for a more radical corporate system, in which the corporations would take over the direct running of the economy, which would lead to the erosion of the differences between capital and labour and transcend private industry. His plan was, however, attacked by the industrialists and the Fascist party as ‘Bolshevism’. Noel O’Sullivan, in his book, Fascism, suggests that the corporate state was never more than half-hearted, and had been set up by Mussolini to suggest that his regime was based on more than brute force.

Radical Anti-Capitalism and the Salo Republic

After he was ousted from power, Mussolini established a Fascist rump state, the Italian Social Republic, under German control around Salo in the north of Italy. In his constitution for the new state, il Duce declared that he was going to smash capitalist plutocracy, and make labour the ‘indestructible basis’ of the state. There were to be workers’ councils, profit-sharing, social housing and land reform. He also nationalised some of the larger industries. It’s questionable how serious these anti-capitalist measures were, as the Salo republic and its leader were nothing more than German puppets.

Fascism and the Right to Private Property

After the War, the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, initially supported a pan-European corporate state. However, in his 1968 autobiography, My Life, he rejects the corporate state as too cumbersome. He advocated instead a form of the prices and incomes policy, while promising to protect and support private industry. Trade unions would still be permitted, but would be confined to managing the welfare system.

Despite advocating a strong and economically powerful state, Fascism has generally aimed to protect private industry and property, within certain limits. Article 8 of the Constitution of Fiume, the proto-Fascist state established by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, guaranteed ‘the enjoyment of property legitimately obtained’, as well as other features of liberal democracies, such as sickness and infirmity benefits, as well as assistance for the involuntarily unemployed. Mosley, in his answer to Question 42: Do you believe in Private Enterprise? in his book Mosley: Right or Wrong? (London: Lion Books 1961) made it very clearly that it had his full support:

Yes, certainly. Private enterprise must always be the main motive of the economy. Most men work for themselves and their families, and want to do so in freedom … All men and women should have freedom to live and work as they like, and to enjoy the fruits of their labour in freedom and peace without interference or robbery by the state or vested interest. We must reduce taxation in order to prevent the present interference and robbery by the state. But we must also have strong government to protect the individual against interference and robbery by vested interest, monopoly, etc. (pp. 58-9).

Fascism as Neither Socialism Nor Capitalism

Although they ally with the Right, Fascist regimes have also presented themselves as being a ‘Third World Alternative’ between Socialism and capitalism, in which private industry is retained but made to act socially in the interests of the state. One Fascist slogan was ‘neither left nor right, but forwards!’ In the 1980s there was a scandal in Germany when it was found that the German Liberal party, the Freie Demokraten, had been infiltrated by Neo-Nazis.

Origins of Fascism in Pre-WW I Conservative Elites

Despite this, historians such as Richard Thurlough in his Fascism in Britain, 1918-86, have seen the origin of Fascism in the radicalisation of agrarian elites against modernity and the threat of a radical working class. British Fascism had its roots in pre-First World War Die-Hard Conservatism, which wished to emulate some of the welfare successes of Bismarck’s Germany as part of an efficiency campaign to strengthen the British Empire, a policy which necessarily also included military expansion.

Thus, while Fascism does indeed contain genuinely revolutionary elements, it is not Socialist and in practice sides with the Right and traditional Conservatives against the Left.

Daniel Hannan and the ‘Left-Wing’ Front National

Daniel Hannan, however, sees the Fascism as a form of Socialism. In his column in today’s Telegraph covering the electoral gains made by Marine le Pen’s Front National, he describes the party as moving in a left-ward direction. He writes

It is important to understand that Marine Le Pen positioned herself to the Left of the UMP and, at least on economics, arguably to the Left of the Socialists. She railed against capitalism and globalisation, called for higher expenditure, and supported state-run energy, healthcare, education, transport and financial services. Where her father used to complain about welfare scroungers, she wants a more generous range of entitlements. Where he used to describe his party as being of the Right, she recently told Le Monde that it was “neither Right nor Left, but founded on the opposition of the current political class, on the defence of the nation, on the rejection of ultra-capitalism and of Europe”.

Front National Programme Fascist Anti-Capitalist, but not Left-Wing

While this approach certainly looks left-wing, and is almost certainly designed to win voters from the Socialists and the Left, it does not mean that the Front National are now a Left-wing party. Le Pen fille is merely stressing the anti-capitalist element of the Fascist tradition. In fact her statement that the Front is neither Right nor Left, but founded on the opposition of the current political class, on the defence of the nation, on the rejection of ultra-capitalism’ could be taken as a general statement of Fascist ideology, with the possible exception of opposition to Europe. And it’s important to note here that she rejects ‘ultra-capitalism’, not capitalism itself.

How serious the Front National actually is about this ostensibly left-wing programme is moot. Mussolini’s original Fascist programme was little different from that of the radical Socialists and Syndicalists, but he soon rejected it in order to gain Conservative support. Hitler also made little effort to implement the Socialist parts of the 1926 Fascist programme for the same tactical and ideological reasons. And the Tricolour Flame of Berlusconi’s former coalition, led by Gianfranco Fini, is a ‘post-Fascist’, centre Right party.

Front National Voters also Rejecting Neoliberalism, Not Just French Political Class

Apart from characterising the Front National as now rather left-wing, Hannan’s view of the victory is also flawed. He sees it as a rejection by the French people of the traditional political class due to the country’s economic problems – three million unemployed, high taxation and crippling strikes. But this doesn’t seem borne out by the Front’s tactics. If they were genuinely seeking to reject Socialism, rather than the Socialist party, then Le Pen would have no need to advance a Socialistic political programme. It instead looks like Le Pen is trying to win working class voters alienated by the political class’ support for the EU and its international, Neoliberal economic and social policies, as well as hostility to immigration. And if the French electorate were rejecting Socialism, then they could simply vote for the UMP, or simply give up voting and turn inwards into apathy and cynicism, as in Britain. The UMP have made some gains, but it looks like many of them are responding to Le Pen’s attack on the EU, its open borders and Neoliberalism.

Hannan is, however, a man of the Tory extreme Right. He’s also an opponent of the EU, but strongly supports Neoliberalism, including loudly calling for the privatisation of the NHS. He thus doesn’t want to admit that the Front’s gains may show a positive rejection of laissez-faire international capitalism, as well as the political class advocating it.

The Nazis and Conservatives as Faux-Workers’ Parties

February 28, 2014

A few days ago I posted a piece pointing out the similarity between workfare and the commercial exploitation of poor souls the Nazis imprisoned in the concentration camps as ‘anti-social elements’. These included not only Jews, but also the voluntarily unemployed – called the arbeitscheu – and political dissidents, which were mainly Communists, Socialists and trade unionists. Now it seems the Tories are attempting copy the Nazis’ propaganda tactics still further: Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, wants to rebrand them as the ‘Worker’s Party’.

There is an excellent post at Another Angry Voice attacking this rebranding. See The bizarre Tory effort to rebrand themselves as “The Workers Party” at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/tories-rebrand-workers-party.html.

The Tories attempt to rebrand themselves as the ‘Worker’s Party’ is exactly what Hitler did with the Nazi party. And that ain’t an exaggeration.

There’s an attempt by the Conservatives to claim that Fascism is a form of Socialism, like Communism. Yesterday I reblogged a piece about the way this piece of Tory propaganda had been repeated yet again by Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph. Shapps’ proposed rebranding is an attempt to reverse the current images of the Tory and Labour parties by claiming that Tories somehow represent the workers, while Labour represent … well, it’s unclear who the Tories think they represent, but the clue was historically in Labour’s name: the working class. I expect the Tories will start attacking Labour by claiming they are the party of unelected bureaucrats, the feckless, unmarried mothers and skivers, as well as a condescending ‘liberal elite’ that secretly hates and despises the working class. This is, after all, the line they’ve been running for the past couple of years.

It’s also in line with the attempts of some prominent members of the Conservative party to appeal to trade unionists. I did hear of one, who had attended every one of his local trade union conferences, who was explicitly arguing that the Tories should attempt to win them over. According to the Fabian pamphlet, Labour and the Unions: Natural Allies about fifty per cent of trade unionists do in fact vote Conservative, basically because trade unionists tend to be better paid and have their own homes compared with non-unionised workers. It’s also not the first time the Tories have attempted to present themselves as a labour-oriented movement. In the 1970s there was a Conservative trade union movement. Any trade unionist, who seriously believes that the Tories have any sympathy with the working class would, however, be seriously mistaken. The Tories have consistently hated and opposed the unions, who have been one element in the formation of the Labour party. The origins of the Labour party go back to the late 19th century when some trade unionists entered parliament as ‘Lib-Labs’ as party of the Liberal party. These broke with the Liberals and, together with socialist societies like the Fabians, the Social Democratic Federation and others, formed the Labour party as they felt that the working class needed a party to represent them.

The Conservatives, however, have consistently attacked the unions, especially the ties they have to the Labour party. Thatcher’s ideology included as one of its fundamental elements an attack on trade union power. Witness the way she and the other Conservatives mobilised the police to destroy the miners. The Conservative trade unions were dissolved sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, if I remember correctly, leaving the movement’s leader feeling bitterly betrayed. He then denounced the Tories as the party of the bosses. Well, he had to wake up sometime.

Their cynical tactics in this are very much those of the Nazis. The Nazis started out as a fringe, socialist group calling itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. However, they don’t seem to have taken the ‘socialist’ elements of their ideology at all seriously. Of the 25 points of the original party programme, the only one that Hitler attempted to implement once they were in power – and that only half-heartedly – was the breaking up of the large department stores. Hitler was determined to try to win over the workers, and disappointed that the Nazis actually succeeded in gaining very few members from the working class. Much of the Nazis’ image as a ‘workers’ party’ was deliberately copied from the left-wing parties in order to steal their constituency. Joachim C. Fest, in his biography of Hitler, gives a statement by der Fuehrer, where he says that he consciously copied the red in the Nazi flag to stress the ‘socialist’ part of the party, in order to win the workers over from ‘Marxist’ socialism. He then analyses Hitler’s peculiar idea of the term ‘socialist’ to conclude that to Hitler, words like ‘socialism’ were simply counters being used to gain votes.

And once in power, the Nazis smashed genuine working class organisations like the trade unions, the SPD – the German Socialist party, the Communist party, as well as the various Anarchist and Syndicalist groups. These parties and groups were dissolved, and their members and leaders sent to concentration camps. They also destroyed the system of factory councils, which had been set up in Germany during the ‘Raeterevolution’ – the Soviet revolution – of 1919. These were replaced by the DAP – the Deutschearbeitsfront or German Labour Front. This attempted some alleviation of conditions in factories, and organised workers’ holidays and recreational activities following the Italian Fascist Doppolavoro. However, it was designed as a conduit for promoting the idea of the Fuehrerprinzip – the ‘Leader principle’ in the factories. The factory managers were the leaders, and the workers their followers with few rights. In theory, however, they had the right to appeal to the local Nazi leadership to replace a bad manager during a dispute. I can’t imagine the Tories tolerating something like that. It would be far too left-wing for them.

As for representing the workers, in 1933 Hitler gave a speech to a meeting of German industrialists stating that ‘Private property cannot survive an age of democracy’, declaring that it could only be preserved by his personal dictatorship. In another speech, Hitler declared that ‘the class conscious worker is as welcome in our party as the race conscious Jew’. When he was asked in the 1920s what action he would take against the German industrialists, he replied that he would do nothing. They had shown themselves to be naturally superior to other people, and so deserving of their position, through their efforts to rise to the top of society. it’s a social Darwinist attitude entirely in accord with the views of this administration on the right to rule of the middle and upper classes.

So let’s look at the similarities between Grant Shapps’ vision of the Tories as the Workers’ Party, and the Nazis.

Both are parties that deliberately appeal and represent the interests of the industrialists and upper classes.

Both are hostile to genuinely left-wing working class organisations, such as Socialists, trade unions, Communists, Anarchists, and Syndicalists.

Hitler smashed the German trade unions. The Tories wound up the Conservative trade union movement.

Both the Nazis and the Tories have imposed compulsory, forced labour on the unemployed, who were denounced by the Nazis as ‘arbeitscheu’ and the Tories as ‘skivers’, for the profit of private industry.

I therefore feel that if Grant Shapps genuinely feels that the Tories are the ‘worker’s party’, he should go all the way and make it explicit. I therefore recommend that the Conservatives rename themselves ‘The National Conservative British Workers’ Party’. This is, after all, a clear expression of their attitude towards the workers.

From Political Apathy to Dictatorship

February 17, 2014

Russell Brand

Russell Brand: Funny man and bête noir of the Right

A little while ago, Russell Brand caused controversy by declaring that politics and politicians was now so corrupt that people shouldn’t vote. He then went on to say that he wanted a revolution instead, though qualified this by saying it should be bloodless. Both statements were extremely controversial, with Webb, the other half of the comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, attacking him advocating revolution, which, in his view, led to violence, gulags and horrific atrocities by the state.

These are all indeed dangers of a revolution, and were certainly consequences of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. They can also be the dangers of political apathy, of deliberately not voting, at least as used in the tactics of the extreme Right to bring down a democratic system they detest.

Hans Zehrer

Hans Zehrer: Extreme Right-wing Theoretician of apathy.

One of the leading neoconservative intellectual circles in Germany during the last years of the Weimar republic was based around the magazine Die Tat (‘The Deed’ in German), edited by Hans Zehrer. Zehrer was influenced by the sociological theories of Max and Alfred Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Vilfredo Pareto. The last was an Italian political theorist, who was particularly important in the rise of Fascism for his theories about the role of elites in shaping society. The early 1930s were a period of acute unemployment and frustration for young German graduates as the twice as many students graduated from university than there were suitable jobs for them. Zehrer was interested in the role of the intellectual in society, and shared their resentment at the lack of opportunities for them. He therefore urged them to abandon the Weimar republic, and drew on the experiences of the various youth leagues and Pareto and other political theorists to develop ideas about the new elite that would arise from these alienated intellectuals. He was so opposed to the Weimar republic and its democracy that he urged his readers to stand back from any political activity with the slogan ‘Achtung, junge Front! Draussenbleiben! (Attention, young front! Remain Uncommitted!)

There are parallels to today’s situation. Disenchantment with the political system is strong, with more and more people staying away from the voting booths. Employment prospects for graduates are similarly declining. Despite the massive expansion of Higher Education over the last twenty or thirty years, the number of careers open to graduates has not expanded, but sharply declined. As result, many students leaving university now find themselves performing menial, dead-end jobs saddled with tens of the thousands of pounds student debt. None of the political parties has shown themselves remotely sympathetic. It was Tony Blair, who introduced tuition fees. This was followed, however, by a massive increase under the Coalition. The Lib Dems are particularly resented for their complicity in this. Not only had Nick Clegg lied when he told the nation’s students that he would abolish them, but Vince Cable also declared that graduates should automatically pay more tax as they would inevitably become high earners. This is a fact that has escaped many former students, now waiting on tables or flipping burgers in McDonald’s. There is considerable alienation against the present situation and the three main parties, who are held to be responsible for it.

This hasn’t shown itself in a turn to extremist parties, however. Communism has more or less collapsed, and the BNP remains extremely unpopular. Other Right-wing groups and parties, however, have emerged, such as the English Defence League and UKIP. The latter deny they are racist, but are motivated by bitter resentment of the EU, to the point where they have been described as ‘BNP-lite’. They also claim to stand apart from the three main parties, Labour, Liberals and Conservatives, but are like them in that they share their Neo-Liberal economics. Indeed, they are more extreme in their enthusiasm for privatisation, free-trade and the destruction of the welfare state than the Tories.

In the Weimar republic, the alienation of the Conservative intellectuals contributed to the rise of the Nazi dictatorship. That probably won’t occur here, as truly Fascist movements are despised. What it is leading to is less voters turning out to oppose UKIP. And there is the danger that without an active engagement in politics by the British public, this will become the preserver of unelected, managerial elites. Those who would undoubtedly benefit from this are the multinational corporations to whom the government has handed so much of the administration of British public life and state. Atos as public servants are appalling. Atos as an unelected government would be unimaginably worse.

IDS’ Beliefs and Fascist Irrationalism

February 17, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Ian Duncan Smith: The Sane Choice

‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here? Must’ve started about 1982 [the year Reagan was elected] I think’,

– Comedian Bill Hicks on being reproached for reading in a Virginia waffle house.

‘This man is dangerous. He believes his own propaganda.’

– German Conservative politician on Adolf Hitler.

Ian Duncan Smith doesn’t seem to like defending his policies rationally. His department has repeatedly refused demands to release the figures of the numbers of people, who have died due to being denied benefit support as a result of his reforms. Such requests are decried as ‘vexatious’. Other excuses for not releasing them include the straightforward admission that these would create public opposition to them, and prevent their implementation. Mike’s blogged about this a number of times on Vox Political, after his own request for the figures under the FOI was turned down. These statements are a tacit admission by IDS and the rest of his department that they know their policies are killing people by the thousands, and that they simply don’t work in the way they’re claimed. They just don’t want you and the rest of the British public knowing it.

When challenged whether his views are correct, IDS has been known to retreat into mere statements of belief. They are correct, according to IDS, because he believes in them.

Another political figure, who used much the same arguments, stressing belief, rather than rationality, was the Right-wing German writer, Ernst Junger. Junger stated that it was completely unimportant whether a cause was true or not. What was important was ‘to sacrifice oneself for a faith, regardless of whether that faith embraces truth or error.’

Junger was one of the intellectual precursors to Nazism. He declared that it was a privilege to take part in the intellectuals high treason against intellect. Unlike the Left, who were horrified by war, Junger saw it as inspiring and ennobling, glorifying the First World War and its violence in his 1922 collection of essay Der Kampf als innere Erlebnis (Struggle as Inner Experience). He stated

Combat is one of the truly great experiences. And I have still to find someone to whom the moment of victory was not one of shattering exaltation… I should not like to do without this force among the complex of emotions that drive us through life.

Considering war as a necessity and a release, he further stated that in military combat

the true human being makes up in a drunken orgy for everything he has been neglecting. Then his passions, too long damned up by society and its laws, become once more uniquely dominant and holy and the ultimate reason.

He therefore urged for a state of Total Mobilization, in which work would be a preparation for war. This would lead the working class away from Socialism and Marxism, and spread nationalism further throughout society. Of the First World War he said

This war is not the end, but the chord that heralds new power. it is the anvil on which the world will be hammered into new boundaries and new communities. New forms will be filled with blood, and might will be hammered into them with a hard fist. War is a great school, and the new man will be of our cut.

Other Right-wing intellectuals also shared Junger’s irrationalism. Junger was influenced by Oswald Spengler, whose ‘The Decline of the West’ exerted a profound influence on Fascist and nationalist groups in Germany and throughout Europe. In his 1924 speech On the Political Duties of German Youth, Spengler declared

Whether one is right or wrong-that doesn’t amount to much in history. Whether or not he is superior to his adversary in a practical way, that is what decides whether he will be successful. .. To be honourable and nothing else-that’s not enough for our future… To train oneself as material for great leaders, in proud self-denial, prepared for personal sacrifice, that is also a German virtue. And, given the case that, in the hard times ahead, strong men will appear, leaders to whom we must entrust our fate, then they must have something upon which they can rely. They need a generation such as Bismarck did not find, which appreciates their kind of action and does not reject it for romantic reasons, a dedicated band of followers who have, but way of long and serious self-training, come to the point of understanding the necessary and do not-as would doubtless be true today -reject it as un-German.

Both Hitler and Mussolini saw their parties as movements, first and foremost, in which action and belief came before reasoned analysis and political programmes. Hitler refused to announce the Nazis’ programme for the 1933 German elections because

All programmes are vain; the decisive thing is the human will, sound vision, manly courage, sincerity of faith, the inner will.

Mussolini attempted to give Fascism a quasi-religious element in the policy of Fascismo Mistica, that would render it invulnerable from rational attack. Ten years before Hitler’s statement, he declared that Fascism was, above all, a myth:

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality.

George Sorel

This Right-wing celebration of the forces of unreason, of belief and violence instead of rationalism and intellectual analysis and discussion, ultimately derives from Georges Sorel. Sorel was a Syndicalist, who believed that the workers should use trade unions to seize power in through violent revolution in a General Strike. However, it was not necessary that the General Strike should actually occur. All that mattered was that it should provide an inspiring myth that would encourage the workers to action against the bourgeoisie.

This irrationalism was designed to place the central, mobilising ideas of Fascism and Nazism beyond rational criticism.

Just to assert the supreme importance of such things as race, blood, soul, will character, and manly courage is to place all politics beyond criticism, since obviously belief in such things is impervious to rational attack. To say that modern Italy is the heir of Imperial Rome, that the Third Reich is the continuation of the empire of Barbarossa, that liberalism is foreign to the ‘Latin mind’, that purity of race is more important than thought, that ‘insight’ is more valuable than ‘barren intellectualism’-all of these assertions may be ridiculous, but they are argument at a level above-or below-that at which refutation is possible.

Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought III: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd. 1959) 300.

And so it is with Ian Duncan Smith. His statements that he ‘believes’ in his policies towards the unemployed and the disabled is also intended to put them beyond rational questioning.

Now Conservativism isn’t Fascism, even though many of the proto-Nazi writers of the Weimar period, such as Moeller van den Bruck, considered themselves ‘revolutionary conservatives’. Nevertheless, Conservatism does share with Fascism a stress on the irrational, and an appeal to social solidarity rather than rational arguments. This is particularly clear in Private Eye’s review of Roger Scruton’s 1987 Untimely Tracts

Roger Scruton is an anomaly: a conservative intellectual. In the past, few Tories have felt a need to theorize and few have been able to write or enunciate clearly. Even now most Tory utterances are pleasantly uncomplicated: the faithful barking of Paul Johnson, say, or the appreciative gargling of Auberon Waugh.

But this will not do for Professor Scruton. He wants his arguments; he has to have his reasons. Of course, to well-brought-up Tories this simply show him up as a grammar school bug, too keen by half. Scruton knows that intellectuals are a bit off, but he just can’t help himself. He is a philosopher, through and through. For the social solidarity which stiffens most reactionaries, he seeks to substitute a flow of ‘hences’ and ‘therefores’.

‘Rogers’ Thesaurus’ in in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 287-8.

Hence the furious denunciations of Left-wing intellectuals and academics for daring to question rationally traditional society and its institutions. It’s therefore not surprising that Scruton in the above book declared that most teachers were ‘diseducated’, lamented that the majority of MPs ‘are no longer from a social class which feels no need to use the Commons for the purpose of social gain’ and defends hereditary peerages as essential to economic stability.

Now I am not accusing IDS of being a Fascist, but his appeal to belief to defend his policies, rather than reasoned argument, is part of Fascist irrationalism. You can also see a Fascistic element in his militarism, and the determination to use mass mobilisation – workfare – to mould the working class to take them away from socialism. Under IDS this is much less to do with forming work as preparation for war, and so giving the workers an element of excitement, but of simply crushing their wills to reduce them to the level of servile drones for international capitalism.

All this needs to be challenged, and IDS held to account. His appeal to belief, rather than facts and figures, is ridiculous and dangerous, just as it was to a far great extent with the Nazis and Fascists.

The Other Reason the Mail Monstered Ralph Milliband

February 15, 2014

Milliband Canada 1978

Ralph Milliband, father of Labour leader Ed, lecturing in Canada in 1978

Last October the Daily Mail ran a vicious article attacking Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, for his supposed hatred of Britain. Milliband senior, the Mail claimed, was a hard-line Stalinist, who had Britain’s institutions, and so hated the country itself. The immediate reason for this was his son’s outstanding performance at the Labour party conference, which clearly marked Milliband junior out as a threat that had been to be verbally attacked. Lacking anything else with which to smear him, they concentrated on his father instead.

Left-wing blogs across the country took the opportunity to remind the Daily Mail of its hypocrisy and its own past of supporting Fascist dictators and their imitators, like Oswald Mosely. Pride’s Purge and Another Angry Voice both posted some truly excellent articles on this. The latter’s post on the Mail’s attacks on Milliband, ’12 Things You Should Know about Daily Mail Slurs about Ralph Milliband’, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/12-things-ralph-miliband-mail-slur.html. It’s well worth reading, as it covers Lord Rothermere’s support for Adolf Hitler, as showing in the photograph below.

Lord-Rothermere-and-Hitler1

Harold Harmsworth, owner of the Daily Mail, and an Austrian politician he much admired.

It also reproduced a photo of the article from one of his other papers, pledging full support to Oswald Moseley’s Fascist Blackshirts.

Mirror Rothermere

Lord Rothermere, the former owner of the Daily Mail, urges his readers to give Fascism a ‘helping hand’.

Pride’s Purge not only covered this, but also how the Daily Mail had serialised the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also pointed out that while Ralph Milliband was risking life and limb for his adopted country during World War II, the father of Paul Dacre, the current editor of the Mail, was on front-line duty in this country as, er, their showbiz editor. See ‘How Daily Mail’s Editor Paul Dacre’s Father Avoided the Front-line in W W 2’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/update-on-daily-mail-editor-paul-dacres-father-avoiding-the-front-line-in-ww2/; ‘While Ralph Milliband was fighting in Germany, Paul Dacre’s father was avoiding the front-line’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/while-ralph-miliband-was-fighting-in-normandy-paul-dacres-father-was-avoiding-the-front-line/; and ‘Of course the Daily Mail doesn’t like Ed Milliband. He’s a Jew’ at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/of-course-the-daily-mail-doesnt-like-ed-miliband-hes-a-jew/.

There is perhaps another, further reason why the Daily Mail found Ralph Milliband to be such a desperate threat that even after his death they felt compelled to attack him. Ralph Milliband was indeed a leading Marxist intellectual. More specifically, he analysed the capitalist state to show how it was dominated by and operated to enforce the class interests of its leading, capitalist citizens and officials.

In his seminal work The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Ralph Milliband devoted considerable attention to these questions and demonstrated the predominance in the upper echelons of the State of public school, Oxbridge educated White men from wealthy backgrounds, who retained both formally and informally many links with businessmen-through directorships, shareholdings, social clubs and residential areas-and who shared a common outlook in favour of capitalism and the principles of accumulation for profit and market regulation.

-John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1988) 227.

The present government is led and dominated by Eton educated aristos such as Dave Cameron, Nick Clegg, and George Osborne. Now the Marxist conception of the state as the creation of the ruling class is controversial, even within Marxism. It’s classic formulation is by Lenin in his The State and Revolution. Other Marxists have challenged this, and suggested instead that the state is partly autonomous. The existence of the present government and its intensely class-based composition, adds considerable force to Lenin’s and Milliband’s argument. Given this, and the success of Ed Milliband at the time, no wonder Dacre and co felt threatened.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

Osborne Pic

The ‘Two Posh Boys’ (courtesy Nadine Dorries) Cameron and Clegg, with fellow aristo George Osborne, leading a government doing its best to prove Lenin right about the class basis of the State

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!