An Analysis of Fascism 3

Russell Haggar

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An Analysis of Fascism [3]: Fascism, Socialism, Capitalism and Elite Theories


Fascism, Socialism and Capitalism


It has been suggested that there were some ideological similarities between fascism and socialism but closer investigation points to major differences between fascist and socialist ideology. Regarding the possible similarities between fascism and socialism it has been noted that Mussolini began his political career as a socialist and wrote for the socialist newspaper Avanti [Forward]]; that the full name of Hitler’s Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party { NSDAP =Nationale Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei} ; that there were certainly individuals with “socialist” leanings in Italian Fascist Party [PNF ] and the German Nazi party and that the original political programmes of these parties were to some extent influenced by socialist ideology such that fascism has been  described as representing a so-called Third Way intermediate between communism and capitalism.


Thus some fascists criticised the self-interested materialism and social inequality associated with capitalism not least because capitalism was seen as undermining the national unity which was at the core of fascist ideology and fascists also supported limited nationalisation, state planning and corporatism although they were of course opposed to the revolutionary communism associated with the Bolsheviks, subsequently the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [CPSU] and to the German and Italian Communist parties



Prior to the First World War Mussolini described Italy as essentially a “proletarian nation” whose national interest was inhibited by the international dominance of countries such as France, the UK and the USA while according to the Nazis [and many others] the Treaty of Versailles discriminated very heavily against German interests.


In both the Italian and German cases fascists argued that they aimed for a fusion of expansionary nationalism and socialism claiming that the interests of the entire nation including its working class people could be protected only via the construction of a powerful state dominated by a powerful leader able to create a sense of national unity which would result in increased economic efficiency and higher living standards for all citizens. Furthermore national unity was also a prerequisite for the territorial expansion which was another core element of fascist ideology.


xxxSome Italian fascistsxx therefore rejected both Marxist and social democratic ideology while arguing for their own form of moderate corporate socialism. Thus whereas Marxist socialists argued that class conflict was inevitable under capitalism and that socialist parties and trade unions should use their political power to overthrow the capitalist system as a precursor to the introduction of a classless, egalitarian society and social democrats argued that socialism could be achieved gradually via a regulated mixed economy with a substantial welfare state so that the abolition of capitalism would be unnecessary fascists rejected such views.


Instead working class people and their political representatives should reject both Marxist theories based upon class conflict and social democratic theories based upon the gradual transition to socialism via the institutions of liberal democracy which also promoted conflict and political paralysis. xxx They should give up their independent political roles and instead contribute to national unity by participating as partners in the corporatist institutions set up by the state to secure social progress via national unity rather than via class conflict. Meanwhile the capitalist classes too should be prepared to make concessions to workers in accordance with the national interest as a whole and the state itself would itself introduce social reforms designed to regulate capitalism and improve the economic position of the working classes.


Thus in principle societies could move gradually to a moderate form of socialism via cooperation rather than conflict by participation in a set of corporatist institutions set up by the fascist state in order to create national unity and to humanise the capitalist system.


However closer investigation suggests that in practice fascists simply tried to incorporate some of the rhetoric of socialism into political programmes which were based primarily on expansionist nationalism and a willingness to make important concessions to capitalist interests while quietly discarding the “socialist” content of their political programmes not least because they needed capitalist and conservative support to take and retain power. When spread by talented propagandists this mixture within fascist ideology of nationalist and moderate non-revolutionary socialist elements could appear attractive to a large proportion of lower middle class and working class people while the limited practical interference with the capitalist system enabled the fascists to retain the support of the business classes.



Differences between the ideologies of fascism and socialism include the following.


Socialists argue that individuals are potentially rational, cooperative, peaceful and capable of participating personally in democratic political processes. Whereas socialists accept Enlightenment views of human rationality and progress fascists have adapted a variety of intellectual criticisms of Enlightenment rationality to emphasise the irrational elements of human behaviour.


Fascists argue that elite rule is both inevitable and desirable because of the limited political understanding of the masses which can easily be swayed by political propaganda. According to fascists only the elite can determine the national interest and the role of the masses is to accept without question the elite interpretation of the national interest.


Socialists are anti-racist and internationalist in outlook and hope for a future world based upon international cooperation and harmony. Fascists are expansionary ultra- nationalists who believe that national progress can be made only by international struggle and they seek to dominate other nations via war and conquest. Nazism is a deeply racist ideology and elements of racism were increasingly incorporated into Italian fascist ideology.


Revolutionary socialists argue that capitalist societies are unequal, exploitative and unjust: that class conflict is inevitable under capitalism and that it will result in revolution leading to the abolition f capitalism and to the eventual withering away of the state under communism.


Evolutionary socialists agree that C19th capitalism was unequal, exploitative and unjust but in the course of the C20th many moderate socialists have come to argue that socialism could be achieved via a regulated mixed economy with a substantial welfare state so that the abolition of capitalism would be unnecessary. The state would not wither away but would intervene to promote social justice and political systems would continue to be organised in line with the principles of liberal democracy.


Fascists also argued that initially capitalism was unequal, exploitative and unjust but claimed that its worst failures could be eradicated if all social classes could work together for the national interest within a corporatist political system rather than in accordance with their narrow class interest. However in practice fascist corporatism did little to promote socialist equality


In order to secure the national interest a very powerful “totalitarian” state dominated by a powerful fascist leader would be necessary; all opposition political parties would be banned; pressure groups would give up their independence as they were forced to cooperate with the totalitarian state; and the mass media would be strictly controlled by the state.


Essentially therefore the institutions of liberal democracy would disappear but fascists argued that totalitarianism in fact amounted to a higher form of democracy because it could more effectively safeguard the national interest which was in the real interests of the people even if they did not realise it. In practice of course the fascist dictators’ interpretation of the national interest that resulted in the holocaust and the mass slaughter of the 2nd World War. [We shall pursue the idea of totalitarianism in more detail in the next lesson.]



  • Fascism and Elite Theories

Although fascists have a very negative view of “the masses” they claim that there also exist a small minority of individuals who have the particular talents necessary for elite rule. It is argued that in this respect they were much influenced by the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and by the theories of the Italian Elite theorists Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca.

The following encyclopedia item provides sufficient information on Nietzsche 1844 -1990

1844–1900, German philosopher, b. Röcken, Prussia. The son of a clergyman, Nietzsche studied Greek and Latin at Bonn and Leipzig and was appointed to the chair of classical philology at Basel in 1869. In his early years he was friendly with the composer Richard Wagner, although later he was to turn against him. Nervous disturbances and eye trouble forced Nietzsche to leave Basel in 1879; he moved from place to place in a vain effort to improve his health until 1889, when he became hopelessly insaneNietzsche was not a systematic philosopher but rather a moralist who passionately rejected Western bourgeois civilization. He regarded Christian civilization as decadent, and in place of its “slave morality” he looked to the superman, the creator of a new heroic morality that would consciously affirm life and the life values. That superman would represent the highest passion and creativity and would live at a level of experience beyond the conventional standards of good and evil. His creative “will to power” would set him off from “the herd” of inferior humanity. Nietzsche’s thought had widespread influence but was of particular importance in Germany. Apologists for Nazism seized on much of his writing as a philosophical justification for their doctrines, but most scholars regard this as a perversion of Nietzsche’s thought. Among his most famous works are The Birth of Tragedy (1872, tr. 1910); Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–91, tr. 1909, 1930), and Beyond Good and Evil (1886, tr. 1907).


The classical Elite Theories of Vilfredo Pareto [1848-1923] and Gaetano Mosca [1858-1941] were, to some extent, developed as a critical response to Marxism.

Marx had suggested that capitalist societies were divided into small economically and politically dominant class [the bourgeoisie] and a large economically and politically disadvantaged subject class [the proletariat] and that social class membership depended upon ownership or non-ownership of property.

However Pareto and Mosca agreed with Marx that all societies were divided into a ruling minority or Elite and a subordinate, powerless, ruled minority or non-Elite but claimed that the basis of Elite power was not necessarily in the ownership of the means of production but could also reside in the personal qualities and the organisational abilities of the Elite group which enable it to dominate the uneducated, apathetic masses.

According to Pareto, such domination was inevitable and occurred in societies which were clearly dictatorial but also in liberal democracies for liberal democratic institutions were merely a facade which hid the rule of Elites.

Neither would socialist revolution change the situation of dominance and subordination since, in this case, a capitalist Elite would simply be replaced by a bureaucratic state socialist Elite with no real change in the situation of the masses who are seen as incapable of improving their own situation .Thus the masses or the working class are pictured altogether more pessimistically in elite theories than in the Marxist theory.

For Pareto, Elites could be described as essentially "Lions" who were able to take direct, incisive action and tended to rule by force in military dictatorships and "Foxes" who ruled by cunning as, according to Pareto in European "democracies". According to John Hoffman and Paul Graham in Introduction to Political Theory [2006] Mussolini therefore was seen by Pareto as “a politician with a lion-like character who had displaced wily fox-like politicians.

Social change would occur when one Elite is replaced by another Elite but, in each case, the "Masses" remain exploited and powerless. There is no possibility of the "Masses" coming to power as in the Marxist theory.

It is very clear that the elite theorists, beliefs in the inevitability of elite rule and the limited capacity of the masses correspond very closely with fascist attitudes to these issues