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<nettime> Fascism in the USA?
Brian Holmes on Tue, 3 Jun 2003 19:57:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Fascism in the USA?

Below is a relatively brief document by a certain Gerhard Rempel 
(courtesy of Caroloa Burroughs, via Greg Sholette) which lends weight 
both to those who think fascism a historically dated term, and to 
those who think that contemporary conditions present many disquieting 
parallels. Notably replace the threat of bolshevism with the threat 
of Islamic fundamentalism, while leaving in the constant threat of 
economic crisis brought on by the very success of laissez-faire 
capitalism, and you'll see what I mean. As for the way that European 
fascism reanimated "the retreating forces of an older regime," well, 
think a little about how archaic the old-economy and communitarian 
people rallying round GW actually look in the face of an emerging 
world society.

Much could be said about the current economic crisis and the 
question, in particular, whether the housing bubble will finally 
burst in the USA, affecting the middle classes whose fear and 
ressentiment is the great chance for would-be authoritarian leaders. 
One can hardly hope for such an event... but a number of factors 
suggest the likelihood. One day when I have the time I will draw up a 
topo on this matter.

Anybody wanting a portrait of the upcoming breed of Gewaltmenschen 
(men of violence) just has to consider the figure self-portrayed in 
R.A. Hettinga's last post to nettime, the article "Come on over the 
water's lovely." Testimony of a guy who went to see what it's like. 
Currently such people can just hop a plane to Jordan, rent a Nissan 
(considered "a piece of junk" because it's Japanese), and cruise 
around Iraq glorying in the fact that it's just been 
conquered/liberated, while at the same time heaping scorn on "the 
bureaucracy" (means: any attempt to redistribute wealth, or even just 
food). The key signifier in this text is: "illegally acquired 
firearm," which, however, these people leave "in the glovebox." If 
their bank account dips further, then they'll be reduced to cruising 
around their local neighborhood with the same illegally acquired 
firearm in the glovebox of, probably, a beat-up Japanese car which 
grates on their sense of national identity. I would submit that the 
question, what they do with the firearm, and who allows them to do 
it, would then very likely become _the_ political question in the 
lands of undying patriotic freedom.

best, Brian Holmes

The Origins of Fascism

  Fascism made its appearance as a dominant force between 1922 and 
1945, with paler reflections coming before 1922 and after 1945. It 
was essentially the experience of one generation, largely European, 
but not entirely so. Its origins are plural, divergent, and imprecise.

I. Questions of Definition

Simply listing some of the movements which made their appearance in 
this time will make that point rather clearly:

1. Action Francaise (ultra-conservative, secular Catholic French nationalism)

2. Karl Lueger (pan-German, anti-semitic Catholic socialism, largely in Vienna)

3. d'Annunzio (electoral rodomontade in Trieste, influence on Mussolini)

4. military pronunciamientos in Spain

5. Mazini and his "Young Italy"

6. Frankfurt Parliament (Einheit, Freiheit, Macht)

7. Burke and Carlyle.

The latter three are more problematical than the first four examples 
of fascist ideas and movements. We could add many more examples to 
this list, and no doubt will as we go along.

Communism is an international doctrine which has gradually been 
adjusted to differing national circumstances. Fascism is the exact 
opposite: it is a series of non-intellectual, even anti-intellectual 
national reactions artificially united and transformed into an 
international doctrine by the facts of power. The history of fascism, 
as an ideology, is largely the history of this transformation.

II. International Doctrine

1. The liberal breakthrough of the mid-nineteenth century generated 
the intellectual raw material of fascism. Liberalism was largely the 
work of the educated middle classes.

2. The old elites of Europe (aristocracy, landlords, churches) nursed 
their wounds and meditated revenge on the upstart bourgeoisie.

3. Many of the fascist ideas were simply absurd archaisms, eg. the 
racist theories of Gobineau, who sought to preserve the hierarchical 
principle by associating it with a Teutonic master race.

4. No one could have predicted that the heraldic archaisms of Young 
England, the hierarchical clericalism of Pius IX, the anti-semitism 
of Gougenot de Mousseaux, the racialism of Gobineau would become part 
of a 20th century myth which would nearly conquer the world.

5. But circumstances would change. The bourgeois triumph would become 
a bourgeois retreat. That same European bourgeoisie, which had been 
liberal in its days of triumph, would, in its days of retreat, borrow 
and reanimate these phantoms generated by the retreating forces of an 
older regime.

6. Some political thinkers did indeed foresee the future:

Lord Acton predicted that the organic structure of society would 
become impatient with continuous laissez faire. Jacob Burckhardt 
believed that the liberal, democratic juggernaut was leading to 
disaster and would in the end be overtaken by very illiberal, 
undemocratic drivers who alone would be able to steer it. And these 
new masters, unlike the old ruling dynasties, would be 
Gewaltmenschen, terrible simplifiers who would "rule with utter 
brutality." Burckhardt even predicted that this brutal tyranny would 
first appear in industrial Germany.

7. In the 1890s Burckhardt seemed an unduly pessimistic Cassandra. In 
1918 the Cassandra had become a prophet - the economic foundations of 
liberalism had begun to crack.

8. In 1917 the Russian Revolution had broken out. From 1917 to 1923 
the Russian Communists preached not socialism in one country but 
world revolution. This was the catalytic force which gathered up the 
intellectual debris of the Gobineaus and the Gongenots and rearranged 
it in a new, dynamic pattern. Faced by the terrible threat of 
bolshevism, the European middle classes, recently so confident, took 

So, fascism as an effective movement was born of fear.

Each stage in the rise of European fascism can be related to a moment 
of middle-class panic caused either by economic crisis or by its 
consequences, the threat of socialist revolution.

1. The success of the socialists in the Italian elections of 1919 
made Italian fascism a political force.

2. Hitler's Munich Putsch in 1923 came in the year of the great 
inflation when the communists figured on seizing power in Berlin.

3. Hitler's rise to power in the state followed the great depression 
of 1929 to 1932.

4. The Spanish Falange was a response to Spanish anarchism. Franco's 
coup was the response to the electoral victory of the Popular Front.

European fascism, then, was a political response of the European 
bourgeoisie to the economic recession after 1918, or more directly to 
the political fear caused by that recession. So, above all, it was 
anti-communist. This anti-communism was one of the few things that 
made it international. Other than that and its social base, it was 
heterogeneous and varied widely from country to country. There were 
two basic reasons for this heterogeneity. One is historical; the 
other is structural.

Historically fascism was essentially nationalist. Structurally it was 
always something of a coalition. Italian fascism and German fascism 
were necessarily more distinct than Italian communism and German 
communism would be. Behind the vague term fscism there lie in fact 
two distinct social and political systems. These are both 
ideologically based, authoritarian, and anti-parliamentary 
liberalism. But they are different and the confusion between these 
essentially different systems is an essential factor in the history 
of fascism. These two systems can be described as clerical 
conservatism and dynamic fascism. Every fascist movement was 
compounded of these two elements in varying proportions and the 
variety of mixtures relates in some degree to the class structure of 
the society involved.

III. Clerical Conservatism

1. Clerical conservatism was a direct heir of the aristocratic 
conservatism over which the bourgeoisie triumphed in 19th century. 
The Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII (1891) gave clerical conservatism 
its charter.

2. In 1920 the Church everywhere sought to resist socialism and 
offered the alternative of an ordered, hierarchical, undemocratic, 
corporative state. This notion of a state found realization in Spain, 
Portugal, Austria, and Hungary.

3. These countries established clerical conservative states largely 
because their social structure had not changed very much since the 

4. In the highly industrialized countries the middle class was not 
only the effective ruling class but had also absorbed large sections 
of the other classes. In these countries the landed classes were 
turned into tributaries of the middle class. The middle class in 
industrialized countries also drew to itself, largely out oft he 
working class, a large "lower middle class" (artisans, shopkeepers, 
petty civil servants, skilled workers).

IV. Dynamic Fascism

The lower middle class, in fact, provided the social force of 
"dynamic fascism".

The 1890s were the incubatory period of fascism. There were at least 
three prominent philosophers who became the teachers of this new 
generation of fascists. The ideas of these teachers were, of course, 
frequently grossly perverted by their pupils:

1. Georges Sorel: illusions of progress; necessity of violence; utility of myth

2. Vilfredo Pareto: the iron law of oligarchy; perpetuation of the elite

3. Friedrich Nietzsche: idea of the superman as a law unto himself

Thus fascism proper, what we can call dynamic fascism, was a cult of 
force, contemptuous of religious and traditional ideas, the 
self-association of an inflamed lower middle class in a weakened 
industrial society. This is radically different from ideological 
conservatism, the traditional clerical conservatism of the older 
regime, now modified and brought up to date for the 20th century. 
Both are authoritarian and both are hierarchical, but that is were 
the similarity stops.

The differences were, however, confused by their common front against 
communism in the 1920s and sometimes the confusion was deliberately 
designed by the fascists themselves. For instance: Hitler, the 
fascist, posed as a conservative to get power. General Franco, the 
conservative, posed as a fascist to get power.

This confusion was exploited by the dictators Hitler and Mussolini: 
in each case the Catholic Church played a significant and positive 
role. it did so because with the conservative classes generally it 
supposed that dynamic fascism could be used as the instrument of 
clerical conservatism. In each case the calculation proved to be 
wrong. The Church by its opportunism gave itself not a tool but a 

Both in Italy and Germany the fascist party moved into power through 
a similar door. The door was held open for it by the Catholic Church. 
Like the church, the conservative classes in both Italy and Germany 
supposed that, by patronizing Mussolini and Hitler, they had enlisted 
mass support for a conservative program. These vulgar demagogues, 
they thought, could be used to destroy socialism at the grass roots, 
or rather, in the streets. Then they could be discarded. In fact the 
reverse happened. It was the conservative patrons and their ideas who 
were discarded, the vulgar demagogues that survived.

This happened because neither Hitler or Mussolini were interested in 
being conservative rulers. Both were revolutionaries who relished the 
possibility of radical power. In both Italy and Germany the fascist 
dictators saw a basis for that power - the lower middle class made 
radical by social fear. Themselves familiar with this class, its 
aspirations and fears, they believed that they could mobilize it as a 
dynamic force in the state and thereby realize ambitions unattainable 
by mere conservative support.

But how was such dynamism to be realized?

1. They could not advocate an internal redistribution of resources 
because they claimed to represent the whole nation, not just one 

2. By some improvements and greater efficiency.

3. Most specifically by internal or foreign aggression - the gospels 
of nationalism and racial superiority lent themselves to this. So we 
have the spoliation of a social outgroup (the Jews) at home and the 
conquest of inferior races abroad.

Little by little the conservative classes who had brought the fascist 
dictators to power found themselves the prisoners of that power. They 
were imprisoned because that power, in a highly industrialized 
society, had another, and wider base.

Thus the dynamism of fascism depends directly on the existence of a 
strong industrial middle class and on the malaise of that class. 
Germany was more highly industrialized than Italy and it was in 
Germany that the fascist dictatorship was most complete. In Spain 
there was no social basis for fascism. After a few fascist 
utterances, Franco allowed himself to be absorbed into conservative 
society of which he was really the champion.

Much of the fascism of the interwar period was artificial. An 
artificial odor was temporarily imposed on native conservative 
movements by the example or domination of Germany and Italy.

The extent to which international fascism was really a generalization 
of the German model by means of German power is illustrated by the 
racialism and anti-semitism which is often regarded as an essential 
feature of it. With the collapse of German power, the unifying force 
has dissolved and today it is impossible to speak any longer of 
fascism in a significant way.

    Send comments and questions to Professor Gerhard Rempel at Western 
New                           England College

      Created by MacGary's Web. All pages  1998 Ge

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