I have recently come across a book called “Liberal Fascism” by Jonah Goldberg. He makes two points that really ring bells.
The first is that the widespread idea that fascism – including Hitler and Mussolini – is of the Right is totally incorrect. Of course you can get into long and unrewarding arguments about definitions. But this matters because those of us who are genuinely of the Right are tainted by any kind of an association with fascism. Any such taint is unfair and unwarranted. I cannot help thinking that the slur is, consciously or unconsciously, encouraged by those media people and teachers who very often are of the Left.
The core of what it means to be Right is surely a belief in free markets. You might add in ‘freedom of the individual’ but not all would agree.
The essence of what it is to be of the Left is a belief in government intervention, control and ownership.
The party of which Hitler was the leader was the National Socialist Party. The word “Socialist” was not a misprint. This was openly and avowedly a Left-wing party. Goldberg includes an entire translation of the 1920 Party Programme which was co-written by Hitler himself. It includes the following points (which I admit are not wholly clear to me but which certainly include plenty of government control and ownership):
“11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. …the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits [profit sharing] of heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare…
17 We demand …provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.”
Goldberg suggests that the reason we in Britain began to think of the Nazis as very different from socialists was propaganda by Stalin. Stalin called anyone who disagreed with his line a fascist. He even called Trotsky a fascist. We came to be believe that those who were enemies of Stalin could not be socialist since Stalin was a socialist. But this this was a false conclusion. Socialists are quite capable of falling out among themselves. One big theoretical difference betweeen Stalin and Hitler is shown by the name of Hitler’s party. He believed in “National” socialism. Stalin believed in “international” socialism.
The truth is, says Goldberg, that Hitler did not care that much about economics anyway. He was mainly concerned with German ‘identity politics’. But the point remains that it is not correct to suggest that Hitler was of the Right. He was not.
The Nazis borrowed whole sections from the communist playbook. Party members – male and femals – were referred to as comrades. Hitler recalls how his appeals to “class-conscious proletarians” who wanted to strike out against the “monarchist, reactionary agitation with the fists of the proletariat” were successful in drawing countless communists to their meetings….In short, the battle between the Nazis and the communists was a case of two dogs fighting for the same bone.
I cannot say that Goldberg offers an abolutely knock-down case for his argument. He says almost nothing about what the Nazis did in government as opposed to what they argued prior to reaching power. However the book provides quite a lot of evidence of the latter.
The second point that Goldberg makes is that our modern, so-called “liberal” governments behave in a way that is recognisably fascist in the sense that he defines the term. I won’t go into his full justification here. I will only mention that he bases his idea of what fascism truly means on Mussolini. He seems, basically, to liken ‘real’ fascism with totalitarianism. It is indeed not difficult – or new – to accept the idea that modern so-called ‘liberal’ democracies increasingly seek to determine every aspect of the way we live. In that sense, we increasingly live in totalitarian states.
The state is now entering areas which would have been unthinkable in the 19th century: whether or not children are smacked by their parents, whether or where we smoke cigarettes, whether we wear seat-belts or not, what is printed on food labels, what prices water companies charge, what childen are taught in schools, what we put into rubbish bins and even the exact time at which we put out our rubbish. Many of these will seem to many people to be perfectly reasonable controls on our behaviour. But the word ‘liberal’ does not seem appropriate. The word ‘totalitarian’ increasingly does.
Jonah Goldberg makes many controversial points and I am not convinced by them all. But the book is certainly worth a look.
Jonah Goldberg “Liberal Fascism” published by Doubleday (£18.99).