Why are there no more fascist nations?
The emergence of the fascist ideology. From Sorel to Mussolini
The spiritual fathers of fascism were above all one thing: people of revolt. The 19th century was drawing to a close, and what it offered had to repel political gamblers: the economy was in full swing and, at least in Western Europe, guaranteed a secure existence for most people - and for a long time also for the working class. The price: The great economic and social upheavals expected by Marx and Engels had not materialized, and the announced "dictatorship of the proletariat" could not even be made out. On the contrary: the higher the material standards rose, the deeper the revolutionary energies sank into the cellar. And with them the scientific authority of the writers of the "Communist Manifesto" sank.
Sure: Rosa Luxemburg, Otto Bauer, Karl Rudolf Hilferding and others still awaited the political earthquake. But especially in France and Italy, doubts about Marx's political diagnoses grew. Former supporters turned his work upside down with increasing determination, read it in the mirror of their own interests and finally turned it into a key word for a completely new political philosophy: fascism.
French socialists and syndicalists such as Edouard Berth, Hubert Lagadelle and Pierre Gilbert described their reinterpretation of Marxism as "revolutionary revisionism". The most important theoretician of the revisionists, Georges Sorel, born in 1847, finally declared that the revolution announced by Marx was "nothing but an illusion", the struggle of the classes to replace that of the nations.
The historians and political scientists Zeev Sternhell, Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, who work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have now pursued the strange birth of fascism out of the spirit of a revised Marxism in a captivating analysis. They are not concerned with a further reckoning with Marxism, but with the elucidation of a philosophical-historical genealogy that has by no means been adequately clarified. Using numerous, carefully selected quotations, they reconstruct the mosaic of a totalitarian political doctrine that ultimately dictated the rhythm of the events of the first half of the 20th century.
The hermeneutical suppleness of the authors is impressive: they move very closely to their subject, avoiding any explicit criticism that would only hinder an approach. They line up the quotes closely, connecting them with text passages that literary scholars call "experienced speech": a style that reproduces the language of the protagonists almost literally, listens to their peculiar sound and thus allows one to empathize with their logic to understand them on their own.
It is perhaps a brief and casually quoted quote from Walter Benjamin that most clearly illuminates the spirit of the fascist movement. Benjamin accused the fascist-inspired poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti of practicing - quote - "aestheticization of politics". Indeed, in 1909 Marinetti published his famous "Futurist Manifesto" in Figaro, France, which summarizes the political and psychological mood of those circles in an aesthetically condensed form. So it says there:
"To this day, literature has praised immobile immobility, ecstasy and punch. We want aggressive movement, feverish insomnia, running, salto mortale, slap in the face and punch.
We want to glorify war - the only hygiene in the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive act of anarchists for whom one dies, and the contempt for women.
We want to destroy museums, libraries and academies of all kinds and fight against moralism, feminism and all cowardice based on expediency and self-interest.
Standing on the top of the world, we challenge the stars again. "
Marinetti fights the bourgeoisie on a cultural level. The fascist theorists try to undermine it politically. However: in contrast to Marx, they do not want to destroy the capitalist economic system. On the contrary, it is important to put your energies at the service of your own cause. In this way they avoid all social democratic impulses, all efforts to improve social legislation and all cooperation with the bourgeois state. The social contradictions, they teach, are to be brought to an unbearable level until they turn into uncontrollable revolts.
Marx's prophecy that capitalism will abolish itself is a mere illusion even for the fascists. But Sorel does not take it as a diagnosis, but as a program of action that can be implemented by other means. Theories, he writes, "must be treated as myths". Only then can they be realized. The social mobilization is therefore to be supplemented by a psychological one, to drive the revolution forward with "pictures". Because only the feeling, not the mind, sets the mass in motion.
A social myth is supposed to initiate the uprisings of the future, kindle a collective energy that sweeps away the force of the factual and builds the new order on top of the old. In his paper "On Violence" from 1908, Sorel outlines the psychological foundations of future fascist mobilization techniques with oppressive clarity:
"When we act, we have created a completely artificial world that is placed in front of the present one and is made up of movements that depend on us. (...) These artificial worlds generally disappear from our minds without leaving any memories ; but if masses get into passions, then one can describe a painting that represents a social myth. (...) The myth contains thought and action, it creates legends that humans live instead of living history, it allows to escape a pitiful present armed with an unshakable faith. "
Fascist theorists, however, have long since lost their belief in the proletariat. They recognize less and less in him the bearer of the coming revolution, the great destroyer of the bourgeois order. So their interest decreases continuously. In 1912 the French theorist Hubert Lagadelle wrote:
"We are only interested in the labor movement if it is the bearer of a new culture. If the proletariat wallows in demagogy and egoism, it is useless for the spirits who are looking for means to change the world."
From then on it is not far from socialism to nationalism. The working class failed in the eyes of the fascists; therefore the nation should take its place. It is the revolutionary driving force that is supposed to continue the battle against the bourgeois order and liberal democracy, or better: it is supposed to open it first. Increasingly, the fascists no longer rely on the elite of the producers, but on those of the race. The people will become the new, the only class, and this new concept, Sorel's pupil Edouard Berth hopes, will lead ...
"to the complete annihilation of the rule of gold and to the victory of heroic values over the hideous bourgeois materialism in which Europe is suffocating today. In other words, the uprising of strength and blood against that of gold (...) must go with the irrevocable collapse end of the plutocracy. "
Fascist ideas are now increasingly superimposed on socialist-syndicalist ideas. Since 1909 Sorel has sympathized with the right-wing extremist Action française, since 1911 in Italy Benito Mussolini, at that time still chief editor of the socialist magazine Lotta di classe, has replaced the proletarian class struggle with national interests. Italy, according to the future duce, is a proletarian nation that has to assert itself in the competition between states. And the theorist Paolo Orano suggests the extent of this competition:
"Can one believe in the possibility of abolishing war? Let's not dream! War is a necessity, the spring of progress. And why shouldn't progress require war between states to be preferred to war between classes?"
Soon after, this language can reap its fruits. What was intended as a great socio-cultural purification of the human being culminates in his destruction, the catastrophe of the First World War. But even that does not put an end to the fascist visions. On the contrary: in 1917 Mussolini demanded the sacrifices from the Italian nation that had previously only been made by the soldiers. He claims "discipline", and he does not leave his compatriots in the dark about the means by which this can be achieved in the future:
"Whoever says fatherland says discipline; whoever says discipline recognizes a hierarchy, of authority, of functions, of intelligences. And where this discipline is not voluntarily accepted, where one does not see its necessity, it must be imposed. If necessary, with Violence, if necessary (...) with the help of the same dictatorship that the Romans of the First Republic introduced in the critical times of their history. "
Sternhell, Snajder and Asheri portray a clearly defined historical epoch. A lot can be deduced from it. Above all this: politics must remain sober, ideologically celibate. Its abstract set of rules, as boring as it may seem at times, is better suited to the organization of mass society than missionary zeal, messianic obsession. Keeping this in mind is arguably the wisest lesson to be learned from the disastrous history of totalitarian movements.
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