Posts Tagged ‘Noel O’Sullivan’

Book on Fascism in Black American Literature Between the Two World Wars

January 20, 2021

Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature & Culture between the Wars (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

This is one of the other books I’ve been reading during the last few days. It’s a fascinating examination of a little known episode of Black American literary history when, in the 1930s and early 1940s, a number of Black American authors and activists took over elements from European Fascism to form their own version of the totalitarian creed. The blurb reads

In this provocative new book, Mark Christian Thompson addresses the startling fact that many African American intellectuals in the 1930s sympathized with fascism, seeing in its ideology a means of envisioning new modes of African American political resistance. Thompson surveys the work and thought of several authors and asserts that their sometimes positive reaction to generic European fascism, and its transformation into black fascism, is crucial to any understanding of Depression-era African American literary culture.

Taking on a subject generally ignored or denied in African American cultural and literary studies, BLACK FASCISMS seeks not only to question the prominence of the Left in the political thought of a generation of writers to change how we view African American literature in general.

Following the introduction, it has the following chapters:

  1. Black Literary Fascism
  2. The Myth of Marcus Garvey: Black Fascism and Nationalism
  3. George S. Schuyler and the God of Love: Black Fascism and Mythic Violence
  4. “In Turban and Gorgeous Robe”: Claude McKay, Black Fascism, and Labor
  5. His Rod of Power: Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fascism and Culture
  6. Richard Wright’s Jealous Rebels: Black Fascism and Philosophy

Conclusion: Historical Black Fascism, Black Arts, and Beyond

For some, this is no doubt shocking and uncomfortable reading. Thompson states that his book will be controversial, because it seems to challenge the dominance and achievements of Marxism in Black American politics and culture of the period. He does not seek to deny this, but to argue that there was a significant turn away from Communism towards Fascism at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance, and that this was no mere blip in the career of the figures discussed, as some historians and critics have claimed. It’s also remarkable, in that as victims of racism it seems to run counter to reason that Black Americans would embrace a viciously racist ideology associated with White supremacy. But by the early 1940s some Black youngsters had become so alienated from their country, that they were singing songs about how they thought they’d move to Germany because they’d be better off there. The likelihood is that these kids probably didn’t understand what Nazi Germany was really like. The Black intellectuals, who turned to Fascism, didn’t support its specific European versions. They didn’t want to become Nazis or supporters of Mussolini’s Fascists. But they took elements of generic Fascism and adapted it as a vehicle for their own nationalist aspirations and desire for pan-African racial uplift.

Defining Features of Black Fascism

Thompson considers that the main elements in this turn were a dissatisfaction with Communist multiculturalism, the expectation that Ethiopia would produce a strong, modernising leader to redeem Blacks across the world, admiration for newly independent Haiti, and anti-Semitism. Black Fascists rejected Communism, because they were afraid that its emphasis on racial collaboration and the class war would lead to Blacks’ own aspirations and needs being neglected and Blacks used instead to improve conditions for White liberals. The Communist party in turn attempted to harness Black nationalism for the general class struggle, by defining Black Americans as working class. But this also created an anti-White racism that characterised all Whites as members of the exploiting classes. Which strikes me as not at all unlike Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. The expectations of Black leadership from Ethiopia came from Psalm 68 in the Bible, which states that, after Egypt, Ethiopia will raise its hands to God. Ethiopia was the one African nation not conquered by the Europeans in the 19th century, which seemed to many Black Americans that the country was destined to lead the Black people. Coupled with this was the hope that Black Americans would return to Africa to take up positions of leadership and power in the continent, and free her from the European colonial oppressors. At the same time, the American army had just withdrawn from its occupation of Haiti. Many Black Americans admired this Caribbean nation because of the way it had thrown off French rule in the late 18th century to become a free, Black republic. At the same time, its new president, Stenio Vincent, sweeping autocratic powers dissolving the lower house and allowing him to appoint a sizable proportion of its senate. It was not a democracy in the American sense, as Zora Neale Hurston recognised, but an elected monarchy. Anti-Semitism and a hatred of Italians and Greeks among working class Blacks in Harlem was also part of the turn towards Fascism. The Black soapbox Caesar, Sufi Abdul Hamid, wished to create a separate trade union exclusively for Blacks. He was one of the leaders of a boycott against the White-owned department stores, which refused to employ Black clerks. He succeeded in getting this reversed, but his inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric – many of the stores were Jewish owned – resulted in the 1937 Harlem race riot.

Marcus Garvey and the Invasion of Ethiopia

Chapter one is a general discussion of Black American fascist aesthetics. The first of the writers and activists to be examined is Marcus Garvey, the founder and leader of the United Negro Improvement Association. This was a mass organisation, whose hierarchy was based on that of the army, with Garvey giving his followers various military ranks. Militantly nationalistic, the organisation also campaigned for a return to Africa, and Garvey was also impressed with the Italian Fascist corporatist state. Rejecting Communism, he instead supported private property. Blacks should work to acquire wealth, that they should then use to build the new Black state. However, private wealth should also be limited. Only the state should be able to hold investments over $5 or $6 million.

Of the figures discussed in the book, Garvey is the most overtly Fascist. Indeed, in a 1937 interview he claimed that Hitler and Mussolini based their movements on his. He was no fan of Mussolini, however, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which also caused him to become a bitter critic of its former emperor, Hailie Selassie. Selassie had scarpered to London following the invasion, which bitterly disappointed Garvey. He had also expected the Ethiopian emperor to modernise the country, turning it into a modern, Fascist, corporate state, which would embark on its own destiny of imperial conquest. Selassie had not done this. Garvey also sneered at him because of the Biblical lineage of the Ethiopian monarchy. This claimed descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus, Garvey attacked him because he was, by virtue of this descent from the great Israelite king, Jewish. This was in contrast to Simon of Cyrene, who was Black, and Jesus, who was mostly Black.

Schuyler’s Pulp Fiction Supervillain Black Liberator

George S. Schuyler was a Black American writer and journalist, described by the book as somewhat like H.L. Mencken. He had started off as a vague socialist, believing that Africans were innately Communistic, and pan-African. Well, he was until he visited Liberia, which left him bitterly disillusioned to the extent that he wished the US army would invade so that America could take over and improve the country. This changed again with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Schuyler, like many other Black Americans, was outraged and wanted to raise an army of Black American volunteers, who would go and fight for the African nation. Seeking advice from the American foreign department, he was told that was impossible as America wished to preserve its neutrality. Schuyler thus turned to literature to express his anger and desire for revenge, writing the pulp story Black Empire. This tells the story of Dr. Belsidus, a Black American genius, who takes over Africa with his organisation, the Black Internationale, turning it into a military superpower through able to repel the Italians and then embark on the genocidal conquest of Europe through advance Black super science. Black scientists create death rays, hydroponic farms, fax machines and hypno-robots. Hypno-robots? Yes. Belsidus creates a new religion and deity, the God of Love, whose mission is to inculcate Black Africans with belief in their noble descent from the Babylonians and Egyptians and their future greatness. The hypno-robot is a giant, 50-foot tall figure of a naked Black man representing the God of Love, which has the power to move, raising its arms and nodding its head. Its eyes light up to hypnotise the congregation, so that they will become mentally receptive to Belsidus racial doctrines. Aiding Belsidus are a series of White women, his lovers, whom he casually murders if they fail him in bed or in their tasks of bringing down European rule. Belsidus comes across as Yaphet Kotto’s villain in the Bond film, Live and Let Die, but even nastier. He’s a genocide who ruthlessly kills White men, women and children. The story’s a nasty revenge fantasy, written by Schuyler to compensate for the Italian invasion. Schuyler himself didn’t stay a Fascist, but instead became a noted Black Conservative intellectual.

McKay, Sufi Abdul Hamid and Black Labour

Claude McKay was another Black American who had started out as a Communist, but then moved away from it, converting to Roman Catholicism. In the 1930s and ’40s McKay was also concerned with building a Black labour movement for which he also adopted aspects of Fascism. He was also an admirer of Sufi Abdul Hamid, an eccentric individual who styled himself Bishop Amiru Al-Minin Sufi Abdul Hamid, an Egyptian, but whose real identity may have been Eugene Brown of Philadelphia. Hamid had founded his own cult, the Universal Temple of Tranquillity. In 1932 he led a jobs boycott in Chicago and in 1934 led a similar boycott against Blumstein’s department store in Harlem. He was not popular with the other Black intellectuals, who regarded him as a charlatan and racketeer. Before his death in the late 1930s he was trying to promote himself as a cult leader in an attempt to challenge Father Divine. Called the Black Hitler because of his virulently anti-Semitic speeches, Hamid was partly responsible for the 1937 race riot, for which he was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Jewish Minute Men. He appears as ‘Omar’ in McKay’s unfinished novel, Harlem Glory. This is partly an examination of the divided psychology of Black America. ‘Omar’ represents its Fascist side, while Father Divine, who appears as ‘Glory Savior’, and his cult, the ‘Glory Soulers’, represent religion and Communism.

Hurston, Moses and Haiti

Zora Neale Hurston is included because of her novel about Moses leading the Exodus, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in which both the greatest of the Hebrew prophets and his adversary, Pharaoh, have the nationalistic, genocidal qualities of modern Fascist dictators. Hurston also linked Moses to Haiti’s founder, Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s power was represented by the Voodoo god, Damballah, who was also Moses’ rod of power. Damballah’s a snake god, while one of the miracles Moses performed was changing his staff into a snake. This novel is strongly influenced by Hurston’s admiration for Haiti and its authoritarian leader.

Cross Damon, Fascist Murderer or Existentialist Anti-Hero

Wright was another Communist intellectual, who then went to France to hang out with Sartre. He then wrote his own existentialist novel, The Outsider, about a former postal worker, Cross Damon. After losing his job, and suffering problems from the women in his life, Damon becomes a murderer, committing a series of killings across America. The novel was widely criticised at the time for not saying anything about the condition of Black America. Thompson argues that this is untrue. The book does examine their plight, as Damon personifies the Fascist tendency within Black America through his ruthless pursuit of the power over life and death. His murder of two twins, one a Communist, the other a Fascist, shows that to Wright these political creeds were essentially the same, and that Damon is also similar to them through their murder.

The Black Arts Movement and Neo-Fascism

The Black Arts movement was a post-War phenomenon, in which Black intellectuals and artists attempted to create a distinctly Black artistic culture, in contrast and opposition to that of White America. This chapter argues that historic fascism ended with the Second World War, and that its post-War successor, neo-Fascism, is markedly different. Fascism itself is also broader than Nazism, with which it has been identified, and which has itself been reduced to murderous anti-Semitism. It is a distortion, therefore, to describe the Nation of Islam as Fascist and genocidal simply because they held a joint rally with the American Nazi party, for which the party’s Fuhrer, Lincoln Rockwell, donated $20 to them. The chapter nevertheless states that the Black Arts movement constitutes an extreme form of Black nationalism, and ends with a call for it to be examined as a form of neo-Fascism.

Belsidus’ Statue and Fascist Homosexuality

Thompson’s a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the book is less a work of political science as literary criticism. Thus it frequently refers to the works of such literary theorists as Georges Bataille, Foucault, Althusser and Guy Debord. I found some of the book’s arguments extremely convoluted, particularly in the chapter on Wright and The Outsider. There are times when he seems to be arguing for the Fascist nature of Cross Damon, from that character’s difference to or opposition to Fascism. He also follows the German writer, Ludwig Theweleit, in considering that their is a homosexual component to the Fascists’ adoration of their leaders. This causes the book to contain some bizarre passages about the significance of the penis in some of the pieces discussed. For example, he writes of the Belsidus’ 50 foot statue of a naked Black man

The statue is what Siegried Krakauer calls the “mass ornament”: a ritual object that is “an end in itself”. But even after the “ritual meaning” of such objects is discarded, “they remain the plastic formation of the erotic life which gave rise to them and determined their traits”. (146). The mass ornament is emptied of its ritual content and plenitude and re-cathected with an erotics of power that seeks to control the masses’ libidinal urges by converting them into an iconic religious outpouring. This is why Schuyler’s mass ornament is depicted as “a huge statue of a nude Negro standing with legs apart, gazing sardonically downward with arms crossed. It was all of 50 feet high and every part of the body was clearly depicted” (58). The bearer of the sardonic gaze cannot be mistaken. “Sardonic” is, after all, one of Schuyler’s favorite adjectives for the good Doctor and his notorious gaze. Also inescapable in this mammoth fifty-foot statue of a male Negro is an anatomical accuracy that surpasses the bounds of decency. If one wondered whether Dr. Belsidus’s movement followed the fascist phallocentric logic of male ego-reintegration Theweleit theorizes, the appearance of the fifty foot “God of Love” in all his anatomical glory removes all doubt. (pp. 90-1).

Black Fascism and other Forms of Dictatorship

The book acknowledges that none of the authors and activists discussed founded Fascist parties or movement, and he regards them as individual figures rather than the leaders of mass Fascist organisations. Garvey, with his militaristic nationalism and claims to have inspired the European Fascist dictators is the closest figure to European Fascism. So too is Sufi Abdul Hamid with his emphasis on labour, Black separatism and anti-Semitism. Hamid’s similar to the Nazis in another way: they also hated the department stores as an example of ‘Jewish capital’. Schuyler’s Black Empire is a revenge fantasy, whose hero – or anti-hero – would certainly qualify as a Fascist, even though Belsidus himself doesn’t appear to his followers to make speeches from the balcony. He just leaves that to his naked 50-foot robot. But this doesn’t make Schuyler himself a Fascist or mean that he is calling for a similar Fascist movement. It is questionable, however, whether Hurston’s Moses or Pharaoh are really fascist either. Political scientists have debated the difference between Fascism and other forms of authoritarianism and aggressive, intolerant nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, argues that it possesses distinct features that distinguish it from the militant, dictatorial regimes of some of the nations in Africa and the Developing World. Stenios Vincent was highly authoritarian, but it’s questionable whether his regime can be considered Fascist. This also raises the question of how far Hurston’s Moses and Pharaoh are Fascists, although they certainly act in a way which could be described as fascistic. I find the argument about Wright’s The Outsider rather less convincing. It may be that Cross Damon partakes of part of the psychology of Fascist and Communist dictators through his murders, but it seems to me to be a straightforward piece of existentialist literature rather than an examination of Black American Fascism. It reminds me of Albert Camus’ novel of the same name, about a Frenchman in Algeria who murders an Arab out of boredom. Wright’s outsider is another murderer, but is a Black American rather than French.

Conclusion

I don’t know how far the Black Arts movement could be described as neo-Fascist, but historians of post-War British Fascism have noted the radical revisions of doctrine the BNP went through under its generalissimo, Nick Griffin. But Critical Race Theory does seem very similar to the Communist party’s simplification of race relations in America to Black workers versus White exploiters. My guess is that an examination of the Black Arts movement would uncover clear parallels and influences from European neo-Fascism, as would Black Lives Matter today.

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.