Posts Tagged ‘Italian Nationalism’

Arbitrary Detention in Fascist Italy and the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition’s Secret Courts

March 17, 2019

Fascism was, from its very origins in 1919 an aggressive, violent movement that sought to destroy and suppress its opponents. But the creation of the Fascist police state was only really created in November 1926 with the passage of the legge di pubblica sicurezza, or Public Safety Law. This was introduced by the former Nationalist politician Alfredo Rocco, who declared

The function of public security is no longer to be considered as something exceptional, in conflict with the dogma of individual liberty as the foundation and aim of society. It is, on the contrary, to be judged as one of the primary functions of the activity of the state…. It is therefore an activity whose exercise cannot be obstructed by absurd preconceptions.

This allowed the Fascist parties to arrest and send into internal exile and confinement people who were only suspected of subversion without legal representation or redress. And it followed legislation originally passed by the liberal Italian state, which Mussolini and his thugs had overthrown.

I found this description of the law, its effects and its liberal origins in Adrian Lyttelton’s The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929 (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Lt: 2nd Edition 1987). pp. 298-9. After the above quotation from Rocco, Lyttelton writes

With this flat repudiation of all doctrines of natural law or individual rights went the abolition of all distinctions between the State as a permanent entity and the Government of the moment. The safety of Fascism and the safety of the State were treated as identical.

In accordance with these premises, all vestiges of the responsibility of the executive for its actions were annulled. The citizen was left without redress; the police were no longer required to produce reasons to justify the imposition of restrictions on liberty. The police authority, for example, enjoyed absolute discretion in granting authorization to form associations or to exercise certain professions: ‘consequently the citizen has no right to obtain authorization, or – having obtained it – to keep it.

The institution of confino made possible the internal exile and confinement to an enforced domicile, for a period of up to five years, of those suspected of the intention of engaging in subversive activity. The procedures governing the operation of the confino were especially arbitrary. the decision to commit suspects to the confino was taken by a provincial committee presided over by the Prefect; the only appeal was to a committee headed by the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior. The accused could be arrested at once, before their appeal was heard, and they were not allowed either to employ a lawyer or to summon witnesses in their defence. The jurisdiction of the magistracy was entirely excluded. Moreover these unpredictable and arbitrary procedures gave an opportunity for the party to interfere. It was usually the party which denounced suspects, and on occasion local leaders, like Carlo Scorza in Lucca, used the mechanism of confino to deal with their personal enemies. it is true that regular imprisonment could not be inflicted by administrative order, as in some totalitarian regimes. The Special Tribunal set up to judge ‘crimes against the State’, which had the power to inflict the death penalty, preserved legal forms, even if the composition of the court made these a very slight safeguard.

Unfortunately the creation of the Police state in Italy was much assisted by the inadequacy of the guarantees for liberty provided under the parliamentary system. The Fascist regime was able to build upon established institutions and precedents. Confino itself was an inheritance from the Liberal State: though domicilio coatto, as it was then known, was originally intended for use against the Mafia, the camorra and brigandage, governments soon gave way to the temptation to use the weapon against political suspects. However under Giolitti the application of domicilio coatto had been confined to professional criminals. In other respects, too, the procedures of the Liberal state had left much room for arbitrary police action. The sweeping emergency measures of January 1925 were legitimized by the vague and undefined powers given to the Prefects under article 3 of the existing communal and provincial law. The power of fermo, or preventative arrest, had always been much abused, and the attempt of the 1912 penal code to introduce the rule of habeas corpus had not been a success; the police and other officials were in practice almost entirely immune from prosecution for excess or abuse of their powers. Even the sanctions of public opinion and parliamentary discussion, though effective in securing new political liberties after 1900, were usually powerless to check the more humdrum abuse of official authority. Nor can the trouble be traced exclusively to official attitudes, the truth is that to a vast number of the Italian people, especially in the backward rural areas, the informal exercise of power to keep the peace, based on tradition or practical intuition, appeared more comprehensible than the workings of the law, which were slow, cumbersome, and bore little relation to real needs.

This is very much, however, the kind of situation that may arise through the legislation the Tory -Lib Dem coalition signed in, which introduces secret courts. Similar legislation was also introduced, or mooted, by that famous Labour moderate and Centrist politician, Tony Blair. Under this legislation in the interests of national security you may be arrested without know the charges against you, and tried in a court from which the press and public have been excluded. You may not know who the witnesses are, and evidence may be withheld from you and your lawyers. It’s the kind of kangaroo court like the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. And very similar to the quasi-judicial proceedings the Labour party has been using to throw out those accused of anti-Semitism. That passage describing the operation of a similar judicial system in Fascist Italy shows the immense dangers in giving such vast, arbitrary power to the police and the State.

We haven’t got to that stage quite yet, but the Fascist system’s precedents in the domicilio coatto of the liberal Italian state and its acceptance by a large section of the Italian public also shows how such repressive measures can be easily introduced to a public, which has been prepared for it by a relatively free state. Just as the introduction of the secret court legislation and the hysteria whipped up by the press about the threat of terrorism could easily prepare the British public for something much closer to the police states of Fascist Italy, Nazi German and Stalinist communism later.

By introducing and supporting secret courts, Blair, the Tories and the Lib Dems have shown that they are enemies of democracy. They have to be thoroughly rejected. If we want a genuinely free and democratic Britain, the only choice is to vote for a socialist Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn. 

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.

Pareto, Liberismo, Free Trade and Conservative Fascism

April 11, 2014

Vilfredo-Pareto-Quotes-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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