In the twentieth century no set of ideas has been so vilified and misunderstood as that of Fascism. Prewar Fascism has been depicted, through the machinations of the social democratic media and countless works of political comment, as a political system based on reactionary oppression and the antithesis of all that is good and necessary for human advancement. In the present day it appears that its original significance has been abandoned and it is now invariably employed as an abusive epithet for the purpose of defaming political opponents, most of whom do not qualify for being so dubbed. A degree of blame rests with the perpetual polarisation of politics into battalions of “Left” and “Right” whereby all shades of political thought are considered only in these obligatory terms.
The purpose of this article is to explore the reasons why Fascism does not conveniently fit into the spectrum of “orthodox” politics and to demolish the current misconceptions. Firstly, it is a foolish misnomer to regard authentic Fascism as reactionary or “Rightist”. In fact, the principal protagonists of the Fascist creed in the nineteen thirties, Benito Mussolini in Italy and Sir Oswald Mosley in Britain, were originally from the Socialist Left. In Spain, Jose Primo de Rivera, the Falangist leader, upon his incarceration by the Republicans before the Civil War, beckoned his supporters in the Falange Espanol not to join with the traditional conservatives and the Army. Long after Primo de Rivera’s death the Falange movement was diluted by Franco and any vestiges of the old revolutionary spirit were eradicated in order to appease the Roman Catholic Church and the military. In the post-war era, Juan Peron assumed power in Argentina almost entirely with the support of the workers who are generally considered as the hard core of the Left. Consequently, his brand of Fascism was very similar to the pure National Socialism of Gregor Strasser in that it was based on the proletariat. By and large, true Fascism had little in common with traditional conservatism and all that is encompassed by the “Right” insofar as its exponents were men committed to a new world of social and economic reform on a large scale.
To be properly understood, Fascism has to be viewed in the context of that period after the First Great War. Fascism was the product of the horror of 1914/1918. The eruption of 1914 was the consequence of a deep rooted malaise. The apparent tranquility of the civilised world was a very thin veneer over hidden, seething forces. The faith in the nineteenth century idea of “progress” had lulled European man into a false sense of security. The First Great War came as a great shock and its effects were spiritually shattering as the great age of “unending progress” was dramatically terminated. That war replaced optimism with pessimism and, in consequence, unleashed all that seethed beneath an old order on its last legs. After that nothing was certain again and the spirit of Europe was thrown into confusion. The old world had failed and the new world of social democracy offered no real certitudes. Those most betrayed by these events were the soldiers from the fighting front who had witnessed the madness of unnecessary butchery and had then returned to another world of prevaricating politicians who lacked the vision and courage to build the “land fit for heroes”. Out of the trenches Fascism was born. The soldier knew the importance of unity and action and brought this with him into the realm of revolutionary politics.
Fascism was undoubtedly revolutionary. At the same time it differed from the “Left” and, in particular, Marxism in many vital respects. It was anti-materialistic and did not involve a cataclysmic break from man’s historic past. The philosophical positions of Fascism and Marxism were the most distinctly different. As is well known, Marxism is intolerably and rigidly dogmatic. Very austere Communists are inextricably bound by the gospel of Karl Marx, the glosses of Lenin and the maxims of “economic determinism”, leaving nothing for free thought or empirical examination. On the other hand, Fascism was liberated from dogmatism and its philosophy was one of pragmatism, that is to say, it simply asked if a particular notion could be used and made to work in the interests of the nation. Fascists, like soldiers, do not permit their minds to crystallise around any formulas but simply use them as working hypotheses which, in the event that they become detrimental, are easily discarded. This dynamic pragmatism was Fascism’s hallmark and genius. With this philosophy Fascism protested a revolt against all forms of phrase worship and useless sentimentality which are all inhibitive. The theoretical abstractions of social democracy, “liberty”, “equality” and “inalienable rights”, were attacked by Fascism simply because they were abstractions. They are words without any concrete importance meaning nought. They are used as objects of worship and, therefore, prevent objectivity and creative thought. Within the Fascist context the concept of “rights” had meaning only when connected with service and duty, and so fascism emerged as a revolt against the cult of unrealities to become the force for pragmatic realism consistent with the new age of science.
The Corporate State was an attempt to unite the many factions within society for the purpose of realising the ideal of the all-embracing Organic Nation. It brought an end to sectionalism by emphasising the role of individuals and organisations within the new state machinery. The Corporate State was the catalyst for all the elements within the nation, the ultimate reconciliation of warring factions, for the worthy task of construction and the achievement of ever higher ideals. Far from being an oppression, this central theme of the Fascist faith envisaged that only when the nation was free from the internecine struggle of its various elements, class against class and capitalist against worker, could there be true freedom for all. A nation that was not free could not give freedom to the people.
Fascism was neither “Left” nor “Right” but was a synthesis of ideas above those which existed. “It combines the dynamic urge to change and progress with the authority, the discipline and the order without which nothing great can be achieved”, Mosley affirmed in “The Greater Britain”. In that phrase can be detected two sentiments which, when separate ideas, are of little consequence. The idea of progress, as Mosley explained, is regarded as belonging to the Left whereas the tradition of order is regarded as belonging to the Right. Progress can not exist without order or stability… and stability can not exist without progress and the need to adapt to a changing world. Separated they bring chaos in a world where action is needed. The Fascist synthesis, with characteristic realism, was the only alternative.
The charge that Fascism was coercive is one of those tragic misconceptions which only serves to illustrate the hatred and bitterness of those who despise the heroic and the visionary. The prattle about “dictatorship” emanates from people who prefer the cataleptic inertia of social democracy in contrast to the dynamic will to action of the Fascist temperament. The term “dictatorship” is not always synonymous with coercion. By his use of the word “dictatorship” Mosley interpreted this as “leadership” and in the nineteen thirties he explained, “Fascism is not dictatorship in the old sense of that word, which implies government against the will of the people. Fascism is dictatorship in the modern sense of the word, which implies government armed by the people with power to solve problems which the people are determined to overcome’. In order to function and work Fascism depended on the will of the people; without that will there would be no Organic Nation. In this context Fascism deviated from Left Socialism in that the essence of Fascist action was based on leadership and initiative and, in practice, was seen to be the leadership of the people with their popular consent. It had nothing to do with the stifling controls of Socialism in this respect, rather Fascism tended to lead and only intervene when any section threatened the interests of the organic whole.
The tragedy of Fascism was that it was not given a chance to blossom. A second disastrous war with all the hysteria and propaganda blurred a lot of the truth. Fascism should be remembered for its dynamism, its heroism and its vision during a time when something new was desperately needed to save man from self destruction. Fascism faced the facts of the pre-war world; and now we face the facts of a world which has changed so rapidly. What new force for the future can inspire hope in the same way that Fascism did so many years ago?