Summary — Anatomy of Fascism

I read this a while ago, maybe even before I started this blog. It doesn’t fit squarely in the theme of my blog, but I think the content is important enough to post anyway. In fact there is some discussion albeit brief of the Nazi economy.

Information is organized more by category than by chronological order. I am not including any commentary outside of adding a few extra sources that I feel bolster the information.


Fascism is complex. Mussolini originally coined the term “fascismo.”

It was a revolution of a kind never seen before, without underlying ideas, against ideas.

Mussolini was a socialist activist until he was adopted by Italy’s capitalist class.

Focus on actions not the words: Fascists attacked international finance almost as loudly as they attacked socialists.

Hitler emphasized the importance of a “worldview” shared by all, especially the young.

It’s about a feeling of dominance over inferiors. Has no intellectual underpinnings like Marx. Does not depend on the truth of its proposition. Depends on the Darwinian struggle. Identity, destiny, power. Collective domination of its enemies.

Stalin wrote endlessly to justify his actions within an ML framework. Hitler and Mussolini never bothered. Any actions taken are justified by virtue of the fact that they were the actions taken.

It brings to mind something Chomsky said when discussing the ideology of certain members of the Western foreign policy elite. “We did it therefore it’s a just cause: You can read that in the Nazi archives too.”

The idea of the fascist dictator creates a false impression that it can be understood by examining the leader alone. This practice offers an alibi for the existing institutions which allowed for it to take place.

“New fascisms would probably prefer the mainstream patriotic dress of their own place and time to alien swastikas or fasces. The British moralist George Orwell noted in the 1930s that an authentic British fascism would come reassuringly clad in sober English dress. There is no sartorial litmus test for fascism.”

Criticism of capitalism was not its exploitation, but its materialism, indifference to the nation, & its bankruptcy of meaning.

Fascism claims to be neither right nor left. As time goes on fascists can’t maintain their broad based vapid values. They have to make choices. Here you can find the true priorities and test fascist rhetoric against fascist actions. It turns out their anticapitalism is highly selective. It denies property rights to foreign or internal enemies.

“They cherished national producers. Above all it was by offering an effective remedy against socialist revolution that fascism turned out in practice to find its space.”

Anticapitalist threats are never followed through whereas threats against socialism are fulfilled wholeheartedly. Fascists banned strikes, dissolved unions, lowered purchasing power and showered money on arms industries.

5 stages of Fascism:

  1. Creation of movements,
  2. Rooting in political system,
  3. Seizure of power,
  4. Exercise of power,
  5. Long duration of either radicalization or entropy.

Most fascist movements don’t gain total power.

“Some of the European imitators of fascism in the 1930s were little more than shadow movements, like Colonel O’Duffy’s Blueshirts in Ireland… These imitations never got beyond the founding stage, and so underwent none of the transformations of the successful movements. They remained ‘pure’ — and insignificant.”

“Most of these feeble imitations showed that it was not enough to don a colored shirt, march about, and beat up some local minority to conjure up the success of a Hitler or a Mussolini. It took a comparable crisis, a comparable opening of political space, comparable skill at alliance building, and comparable cooperation from existing elites.”

Ideological Justification

Purification: The discovery of bacteria discovery by Louis Pasteur and hereditary discoveries of Gregor mendel created whole new categories of the internal community.

“The urge to purify the community medically became far stronger in Protestant northern Europe than in Catholic southern Europe. This agenda influenced liberal states, too. The United States and Sweden led the way in the forcible sterilization of habitual offenders (in the American case, especially African Americans), but Nazi Germany went beyond them in the most massive program of medical euthanasia yet known.”

Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s book, Hitler Youth, explored this in more gruesome detail. Nazi doctors made propaganda films to show how disabled patient’s lives were not worth living. They were useless eaters.” Nazis sterilized them at first but later led to mass murder.

It was only logical. Improve the Aryan race, save money, and free doctors to care for soldiers. Patients were gassed and burned, discreetly. Homosexuals were castrated, executed or both.

Scapegoats vary. Mussolini’s fascism wasn’t antisemitic until 16 years of power.

“Fascisms seek out in each national culture those themes that are best capable of mobilizing a mass movement of regeneration, unification, and purity, directed against liberal individualism and constitutionalism and against Leftists class struggle. The themes that appeal to fascists in one cultural tradition may seem simply silly to another. The foggy Norse myths that stirred Norwegians or Germans sounded ridiculous in Italy, where Fascism appealed rather to a sun-drenched classical Romanita”

Fascism was an affair of the gut more than the brain.”

“While a new fascism would necessarily diabolize some enemy, both internal and external, the enemy would not necessarily be Jews. An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, antiblack, and, since September 11, 2001, anti-Islamic.”

Anti Political politics. It’s a movement of the young. Fascist parties were seen as the embodiment of lower middle class sentiments.

“Despite their frequent talk about ‘revolution,’ fascists did not want a socioeconomic revolution. They wanted a ‘revolution of the soul,’ and a revolution in the world power position of their people. They meant to unify and invigorate and empower their decadent nation — to reassert the prestige of Romanità or the German Volk or Hungarism or other group destiny. For that purpose they believed they needed armies, productive capacity, order, and property. Force their country’s traditional productive elements into subjection, perhaps; transform them, no doubt; but not abolish them. The fascists needed the muscle of these bastions of established power to express their people’s renewed unity and vitality at home and on the world stage. Fascists wanted to revolutionize their national institutions in the sense that they wanted to pervade them with energy, unity, and willpower, but they never dreamed of abolishing property or social hierarchy.”

Allies vs Enemies

It is a popular movement against the left and against liberal individualism.

Fascism preserves the existing power structures of capitalism. Under Nazi rule communist groups either disbanded or went underground.

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. The fascisms we have known have come into power with the help of frightened ex liberals and opportunists, technocrats and ex conservatives and governed in more or less awkward tandem with them.”

“Comparison suggests that fascist success in reaching power varies less with the brilliance of fascist intellectuals and the qualities of fascist chiefs than with the depth of crisis and the desperation of potential allies.”

No dictator rules by himself. He must obtain the cooperation, or at least the acquiescence, of the decisive agencies of rule — the military, the police, the judiciary, senior civil servants — and of powerful social and economic forces. In the special case of fascism, having depended upon conservative elites to open the gates to him, the new leaders could not shunt them casually aside. Some degree, at least, of obligatory power sharing with the preexisting conservative establishment made fascist dictatorships fundamentally different in their origins, development, and practice from that of Stalin. Consequently we have never known an ideologically pure fascist regime. Indeed, the thing hardly seems possible. Each generation of scholars of fascism has noted that the regimes rested upon some kind of pact or alliance between the fascist party and powerful conservative forces. In the early 1940s the social democratic refugee Franz Neumann argued in his classic Behemoth that a “cartel” of party, industry, army, and bureaucracy ruled Nazi Germany, held together only by ‘profit, power, prestige, and especially fear.’”

“Since Nazism’s defeat in 1945, German conservatives have made much of their opposition to Hitler and of his hostility to them. As we have seen, Nazis and conservatives had authentic differences, marked by very real conservative defeats. At every crucial moment of decision, however — at each ratcheting up of anti-Jewish repression, at each new abridgment of civil liberties and infringement of legal norms, at each new aggressive move in foreign policy, at each further subordination of the economy to the needs of autarky and hasty rearmament — most German conservatives (with some honorable exceptions) swallowed their doubts about the Nazis in favor of their overriding common interests.”

“Fascism was not the first choice of most businessmen, but most of them preferred it to the alternatives that seemed likely in the special conditions of 1922 and 1933 — socialism or a dysfunctional market system. So they mostly acquiesced in the formation of a fascist regime and accommodated to its requirements of removing Jews from management and accepting onerous economic controls. In time, most German and Italian businessmen adapted well to working with fascist regimes, at least those gratified by the fruits of rearmament and labor discipline and the considerable role given to them in economic management. Mussolini’s famous corporatist economic organization, in particular, was run in practice by leading businessmen. Peter Hayes puts it succinctly: the Nazi regime and business had “converging but not identical interests.”

Gaining power

Intellectual and cultural critics do not create fascism, they create the space for it.

“We are not required to believe that fascist movements can only come to power in an exact replay of the scenario of Mussolini and Hitler. All that is required to fit our model is polarization, deadlock, mass mobilization against internal and external enemies, and complicity by existing elites.”

“The Nazi Party, by far the most successful electorally of all fascist parties, never exceeded 37 percent in a free election. The Italian Fascist Party received far fewer votes than the Nazis. Most fascist parties won little or no electoral success, and consequently had no bargaining power in the parliamentary game. What they could try to do was to discredit the parliamentary system by making orderly government impossible. But that could backfire. If the fascists seemed to be more evidently making disorder than blocking communism, they lost the support of conservatives. Most fascist movements were thus reduced to propaganda and symbolic gestures. That is how most of them remained at the margins when no space opened up.”

Fascist violence was neither random nor indiscriminate. It carried a well-calculated set of coded messages: that communist violence was rising, that the democratic state was responding to it ineptly, and that only the fascists were tough enough to save the nation from antinational terrorists. An essential step in the fascist march to acceptance and power was to persuade law-and-order conservatives and members of the middle class to tolerate fascist violence as a harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation. It helped, of course, that many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and ‘terrorists’ who deserved it.”

“Even Hitler did not become the dictator of Germany at once. At first he believed that the best device to give himself more independence from his coalition partners was one more election, hoping for the outright majority that had so far eluded him. Before the election could be held, however, a lucky break put into Hitler’s hands an excuse to carry out a virtual coup d’état from within, without a breath of opposition from right or center. That lucky break was the fire that gutted the Reichstag building in Berlin on February 28, 1933. It was long believed that the Nazis themselves set the fire and then framed a dim-witted Dutch communist youth found on the premises, Marinus van der Lubbe, in order to persuade the public to accept extreme anticommunist measures. Today most historians believe that van der Lubbe really lit the fire, and that Hitler and his associates, taken by surprise, really believed a communist coup had begun. Enough Germans shared their panic to give the Nazis almost unlimited leeway”

“Nazi assault upon the Jews developed incrementally. It grew neither entirely out of the disorderly local violence of a popular pogrom, nor entirely from the imposition from above of a murderous state policy. Both impulses ratcheted each other up in an ascending spiral, in a way appropriate to a ‘dual state.’ Local eruptions of vigilantism by party militants were encouraged by the language of Nazi leaders and the climate of toleration for violence they established.”

Death Cult

“Hitler never stopped imagining further conquests — India, the Americas — until he committed suicide in his besieged bunker in Berlin on April 30, 1945. The fascisms we know seem doomed to destroy themselves in their headlong, obsessive rush to fulfill the ‘privileged relation with history’ they promised their people.”

“Every fiber of the Nazi regime had been bent to the business of preparing Germany materially and psychologically for war, and not to use that force, sooner or later, would produce a potentially fatal loss of credibility. Mussolini was no less clearly drawn to war. “When Spain is finished, I will think of something else,” he told his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano. “The character of the Italian people must be molded by fighting.”29 He acclaimed war as the sole source of human advance. ‘War is to men as maternity is to women.’”

“While Mussolini toiled long hours at his desk, Hitler continued to indulge in the lazy bohemian dilettantism of his art-student days. When aides sought his attention for urgent matters, Hitler was often inaccessible. He spent much time at his Bavarian retreat; even in Berlin he often neglected pressing business. He subjected his dinner guests to midnight monologues, rose at midday, and devoted his afternoons to personal passions such as plans by his young protégé Albert Speer to reconstruct his hometown of Linz and the center of Berlin in a monumental style befitting the Thousand-Year Reich.”

“Contrary to wartime propaganda and to an enduring popular image, Nazi Germany was not a purring, well-oiled machine.”

Nazism vs Communism

No doubt Nazi and communist mechanisms of control had many similarities. Awaiting the knock in the night and rotting in a camp must have felt very similar to both systems’ sufferers (Jews and Gypsies apart, of course). In both regimes, law was subordinated to “higher” imperatives of race or class. Focusing upon the techniques of control, however, obscures important differences.

However similar it might feel, from the victim’s point of view, to die of typhus, malnutrition, exhaustion, or harsh questioning in one of Stalin’s Siberian camps or in, say, Hitler’s Mauthausen stone quarry, Stalin’s regime differed profoundly from Hitler’s in social dynamics as well as in aims. Stalin ruled a civil society that had been radically simplified by the Bolshevik Revolution, and thus he did not have to concern himself with autonomous concentrations of inherited social and economic power. Hitler (totally unlike Stalin) came into power with the assent and even assistance of traditional elites, and governed in strained but effective association with them. In Nazi Germany the party jostled with the state bureaucracy, industrial and agricultural proprietors, churches, and other traditional elites for power. Totalitarian theory is blind to this fundamental character of the Nazi governing system, and thus tends to fortify the elites’ postwar claim that Hitler tried to destroy them (as indeed the final cataclysm of the lost war began to do).

Hitlerism and Stalinism also differed profoundly in their declared ultimate aims — for one, the supremacy of a master race; for the other, universal equality — though Stalin’s egregious and barbarous perversions tended to make his regime converge with Hitler’s in its murderous instruments. Focusing upon central authority, the totalitarian paradigm overlooks the murderous frenzy that boiled from below in fascism. Treating Hitler and Stalin together as totalitarians often becomes an exercise in comparative moral judgment: Which monster was more monstrous? Were Stalin’s two forms of mass murder — reckless economic experiment and the paranoid persecution of “enemies” moral equivalent of Hitler’s attempt to purify his nation by exterminating the medically and racially impure?

The strongest case for equating Stalin’s terror with Hitler’s is the famine of 1931, which, it is alleged, targeted Ukrainians and thus amounted to genocide. This famine, though indeed the result of criminal negligence, affected Russians with equal severity. Opponents would note fundamental differences. Stalin killed in grossly arbitrary fashion whomever his paranoid mind decided were “class enemies” (a condition one can change), in a way that struck mostly at adult males among the dictator’s fellow citizens. Hitler, by contrast, killed “race enemies,” an irremediable condition that condemns even newborns. He wanted to liquidate entire peoples, including their tombstones and their cultural artifacts. This book acknowledges the repugnance of both terrors, but condemns even more strongly Nazi biologically racialist extermination because it admitted no salvation even for women and children.”

Political Economic Commentary & Analysis.