Seventy years ago today an avowedly leftist nationalist project surrendered to Allied forces in Europe, bringing to end the horrors of the Second World War in Europe.
“Fundamentally, these new means of political struggle can be traced back to the Marxists,” said one Adolph Hitler to Hermann Raushning in 1935. “I only needed to adopt and further develop them, and I essentially had what we needed. I just had to continue, with greater resolve, where the Social Democrats had failed ten times over because they insisted on trying to achieve their revolution within the framework of democracy. National Socialism is what Marxism could have been if it had freed itself from its absurd, artificial connection with the democratic system.”
If the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist, then I submit that the second greatest trick is the idea that 20th century fascism derived from right wing political or philosophical precepts. What makes the lie especially galling is that elite opinion even in the “decadent” West – the object of contempt for all collectivist ideologies of the time – expressed great affinity for the planned economies which announced themselves as the solution to the perceived failures of democratic capitalism.
The roots of British and American collectivism are found in Germany. Ironically, one can make the argument that much of the foundations for individualism, common law, and parliamentary democracy also trace back to Germany, albeit of a much earlier vintage (c. 8th or 9th century Saxon tribalism), but with respect to post-industrial modernity, Germany is the fount from which bad politics sprout. During the late-nineteenth century American elites considered it a rite of passage to spend time in Prussia observing and absorbing the wonders of the world’s first welfare state, designed and presided over by Bismarck. Though he looked askance at the Marxist socialists in his midst, Bismarck was nevertheless guided by the same general ethos that exalted the state as the ultimate engine for equality and happiness. Not only was the idea of the individual’s natural subordination to the general will already deeply embedded across the continent (and to a lesser degree in the broader Anglosphere), so too was the idea of the organic state as the ultimate arbiter of History as a proper noun. Despite being a largely dull and unoriginal philosopher who culled his ideas from Plato, Hegel was a brilliant polemicist who knew how to advance an agenda for his masters. Such was his task when he was commissioned by the Prussian state to proselytize on behalf of the mystical, metaphysical state. Hegel preached (and Marx greatly expanded on) that the state existed foremost to interpret the hidden, internal logic of History. That wars were always just for the victors since History’s logic willed it. That states rise and fall according only to a fixed arc of pre-determined events. Ah, but how to obtain this mysterious logic that explains all of History? Hegel and Marx have the answer and it’s one that understandably pleases anyone predisposed to power and control. To know the Arc of History, you see, is to trust in an enlightened clerisy who cloister in academia or administrative agencies waiting for the truth to reveal itself and relay to the masses like Moses with tablets the wisdom and reason behind the mystical forces driving the universe.
Call me cynical, but that sounds suspiciously like a religion.
Because all variants of leftism are essentially faith exercises in collective delusion designed to keep the truth hidden, it should not be news that the left lies about where fascism falls on the left-right spectrum. The lie that JFK was killed by rightwing ragers instead of by a loony Castro-inspired commie is small potatoes compared to the seventy year myth that Hitler and Mussolini carried the banner for the political right. Hitler didn’t just lead a revolutionary party called the “National Socialists,” he outright bragged that he was “a socialist, and a very different kind of socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow.” Mussolini left the Communist Party not out of disillusionment with the philosophy but because he saw in Italian Fascism and its alliance with the Nazis a more efficient and assured path to power.* At least Mussolini resisted the Jewish pogroms until the Nazis forced his hand well into the 1940s, making Benito the tallest midget in the room when it comes to dictators, I suppose. Leftists love to diagnose fascism as what happens when the state doesn’t control the means of production, the implication being that if you don’t go the Full Marx then you’re clearly just a wrecker and closet laissez-faire enthusiast. But while both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy each allowed private business nominal ownership of its plant and equipment, this was merely a facade, for both Berlin and Rome were centers of top-down central planning where private enterprise was deemed merely a cog in the collective wheel. A company’s profits in Germany or Italy were not its own because those fruits belonged to “the people,” meaning the government.
Because the Nazis and Fascists did not subscribe as fully to the tenets of revolutionary socialism as Lenin, their socialist movements did not mirror Bolshevism’s zeal to burn down everything that came before as the way towards the classless society. Instead, Germany and Italy accepted the existence of the bourgeoisie but resolved to bring them under their strict yoke. But Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were all lockstep in their agreement that bourgeois Anglo-Saxon capitalism’s characteristic exploitation was a thing of the past and, moreover, that the very concept of individualism was a quaint and outmoded relic of the “decadent” West. Why the consensus? World War I was so devastating to Europe and its collective conscience that naturally the prevailing wisdom about what caused it – an exuberant and toxic wave of “nationalism” brought about again by that decadent capitalist system – was entirely wrong and blamed it all on insufficient planning. Because science and Darwin were thick in the air, elites were giddy to deploy all kinds of newfangled approaches to social engineering and economics. Leveraging the prior hundred years of elite discomfort with the very idea of capitalism, collectivists of all stripes – progressives, socialists, pragmatists, communists – used the chaos of the first World War to ascend to intellectual fame by promising the masses that the unjust inequities of bourgeois capitalism could finally and forever be eradicated by implementing the scientific, empirical, pragmatic programs of the central planners.
The idea that Hitler or Mussolini stood against this tide is ridiculous. The social prize for being a rogue individualist in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy was nonexistent. Cultures that send their children to indoctrination camps and jail dissenters for insufficient deference to der Furher or Il Duce are not havens of capitalist opportunity that venerate the rugged entrepreneur in the popular imagination. No, these are cultures of conformity, of rigorous military ritual made mandatory in the social sphere. They stood on opposite sides of the Bolsheviks the same way a football team’s offense and defense can be said to play for different teams.
Seventy years on and still scores of useful idiots in the West have been raised to believe that the evil Nazis and Fascists were examples of what happens when rightwing extremism reaches its logical terminus. Communism, which could never be made to look rightwing no matter the effort, is offered by Western elites as the wary example of going too far to the left. And yet, throughout the Cold War and even today, it’s clear that the Left never really bought the idea that communism was anything to apologize for. It just never got implemented properly was the standard refrain up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that drove the final nail into Marxist/Leninism as a plausible system and sent the more enthusiastic communists largely underground (or into the waiting arms of the environmental left).
Today, paeans to communism are far less common, though one need not look too hard to find some moron at The Nation or Salon extolling the virtues of the Venezuelan model. Still, sometimes reality is so real that even the liars can’t change it. So there are scant few brave leftists today willing to go to bat for Bolshevism (Jacobins on the other hand?), but in practice that has meant a quiet doubling down on their conviction that fascism is of the right. It’s a neat and tidy construct that History and English professors can cope with if discussion surrounding WWII concerns the leftwing communists against the rightwing fascists, with noble and unaffiliated America and Great Britain riding to the rescue. It is a lot harder to explain how the socialist Nazis and socialist fascists came to fight such a bloody campaign against the socialist Russians. The American Civil War saw brother fight against brother while the Eastern front pitted socialist against socialist, but the latter is not something commonly taught in America.
George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language that “one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In their campaign to make the word fascism meaningless, intellectuals and elites have spent seven decades turning it into a catch-all for “thing I don’t like.” Partly motivated by a desire to impugn their opponents and partly out of self-preservation, the “fascist!” epithet is deployed against conservatives to a staggering degree.
The political right is and has always been full of problems and inconsistencies, but nothing really comes close to approaching the rank dishonesty and intentional deception that defines the left and which goes into making two of the 20th century’s most toxic manifestations of collectivism/socialism conventionally accepted as intellectual products of the right. If misrepresenting the political lineage of past totalitarian regimes is done to paint modern adherents to a certain politics as hopelessly wedded to a patrimony of extremism is what it means to “stand on the right side of History,” then who wants to be right? And why do sanctimonious lectures about being on the right side sound so familiar?
Happy VE Day.