Monday, January 21, 2008

Fascism & The Political Spectrum.

Having seen a lot of blog discussions of late discussing whether groups that are frequently referred to as 'far right' actually are on the right of the political spectrum I'll throw in my penny's worth. The debate is an old one but the latest round appears to have been kicked off by Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism". As I've taken part in a couple of discussions so a summary will be useful for me to write. Several points should be made, firstly that the revolutionary regimes of Hitler and Mussolini were quite different from the reactionary regimes of Franco and the various Latin American juntas, they are only grouped together because of their anti communism. The Franco type regimes could be said to embody a certain ultra traditionalist trend that is identified with the continental right, although it has little in common with the Anglo Saxon right of conservatism and classical liberalism. Even then they weren't exclusively right wing, the Falange for example was split between a Socialist and a Traditionalist wing.

Secondly the tying liberalism to fascism only makes sense if you use the American definition of 'liberal' which includes everything from Social Democrats, to Socialists, to Communists. Liberal in the British or European sense includes a lot of strands of thought that are closer to libertarianism than anything else. That said Jorg Haider's 'Freedom Party' did for a long time belong to 'Liberal International' the grouping that our own dearly beloved Liberal Democrats are members of.

Despite those two provisos it is obvious to me that Jonah Goldberg is right in saying that Hitler and Mussolini did not represent movements of the right. Well I haven't actually read Goldberg's book but I gather from his critics that actually reading the book is unnecessary in order to understand it. Economically the Nazis were obviously left wing, their manifesto resembles that of most major socialist parties when it comes to the role of the state in society:
11 That all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished.
12 Since every war imposes on the people fearful sacrifices in blood and treasure, all personal profit arising from the war must be regarded as treason to the people. We therefore demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13 We demand the nationalization of all trusts.
14 We demand profit-sharing in large industries.
15 We demand a generous increase in old-age pensions.
16 We demand the creation and maintenance of a sound middle-class, the immediate communalisation of large stores which will be rented cheaply to small trades people, and the strongest consideration must be given to ensure that small traders shall deliver the supplies needed by the State, the provinces and municipalities.
17 We demand an agrarian reform in accordance with our national requirements, and the enactment of a law to expropriate the owners without compensation of any land needed for the common purpose. The abolition of ground rents, and the prohibition of all speculation in land.
18 We demand that ruthless war be waged against those who work to the injury of the common welfare. Traitors, usurers, profiteers, etc., are to be punished with death, regardless of creed or race.
19 We demand that Roman law, which serves a materialist ordering of the world, be replaced by German common law.
20 In order to make it possible for every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education, and thus the opportunity to reach into positions of leadership, the State must assume the responsibility of organizing thoroughly the entire cultural system of the people. The curricula of all educational establishments shall be adapted to practical life. The conception of the State Idea (science of citizenship) must be taught in the schools from the very beginning. We demand that specially talented children of poor parents, whatever their station or occupation, be educated at the expense of the State.
21 The State has the duty to help raise the standard of national health by providing maternity welfare centres, by prohibiting juvenile labour, by increasing physical fitness through the introduction of compulsory games and gymnastics, and by the greatest possible encouragement of associations concerned with the physical education of the young.
They didn't implement all of these policies, but that doesn't show that they didn't believe in them merely that Hitler's priority was war and genocide first, the economy later. In Britain we look back on the likes of British Leyland as examples of how widespread socialism was in the 1970s, yet the left like to dismiss the nationalised German car industries of the 1930s as irrelevant.

Communists are described as far left because they represent a more extreme and authoritarian version of the mainstream left, both regard the goal of equality as paramount and set about achieving it, though with much less coercion in the democratic world. Taking various right wing concepts (capitalism, stability, anti-populism) to their logical extreme does not end up with anything resembling fascism. In some ways fascism was contrary to left wing thought and was more cautious in throwing off their domestic order than communists were so whilst they aren't far right, their form of non-Marxist socialism can't simply be described as far left. If anything with the desire to be all things to all men it would be best thought of as a centrist philosophy applied with extreme ruthlessness. The far centre doesn't make geometric sense if you consider the political spectrum to be a straight line of course but that's an issue of representation.

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