Fascism was not left-wing !!!

John Holbo at Crooked Timber reprises a debate which raged 7 years ago when a book called Liberal Fascism was published. His take focuses on Germany but mine puts more weight on Italy. I think the issue is kind of obvious, but it’s always good to have an excuse to pontificate on matters historical.

[Edit 5/5/15: This blogpost is NOT a comment on or a critique of Jonah Goldberg’s book, which I have not read, but he has responded to me. Edit: 6 May 2015: My follow-up and response to Goldberg, “Nazi Political Economy“.]

Holbo does a good job debunking the idea that the Nazis were left-wingers, but he primarily focuses on Weimar party politics and the ideological antecedents of the Nazis. I prefer a more “revealed preference” approach, i.e., I judge by what fascist states actually did in power, and who supported them, and whom they supported.

In his long post, Holbo states :

We really do live in a world in which (largely thanks to Goldberg, I think) most US conservatives now take it for granted that the Nazis were a left-wing Marxist party of some sort.

The idea that fascism is some variant of socialism is probably held more widely than that. For many people who equate capitalism with an idealised laissez-faire, any diminution of property rights, any regulation of economic activity, places fascism, socialism, and communism at least within the same genus.

I would summarise the “fascism is left-wing” idea in the following way:

  • The original political programme advocated by Hitler and Mussolini was socialist, and their ramblings out of power provide a good guide to their “true” ideological leanings.
  • What ever their attitude to business was in practise, it was a matter of pragmatic evolution and opportunism, rather than ideological conviction.
  • Progressives admired Mussolini and even Hitler at the beginning.
  • Business activity under fascism was fundamentally state-directed, so property rights did not exist in any meaningful sense.


Since fascism was always a kind of pseudo-ideology made on the fly, without a long history of thought and debate like socialism, it’s wrong-headed to infer “what they really were” from the Italian fascists’ platform in 1919, or the fact that Hitler called his party “(National) Socialist German Workers Party”, or even from their electoral strategy.

To say that fascism is an extremism of the political right, as defined in historical terms, is reasonable for the following reasons :

  • All actually-existed fascist states practised business-friendly economic policies, even if they were not ideologically laissez-faire. They could have easily done otherwise — this was after all the 1930s, the heyday and apogee of socialism as an ideology. But no fascist in power even contemplated taking the Soviet route of destroying the capital- and land-owning classes.
  • All actually-existed fascist states repressed labour unions, socialists, and communists. Despite the worker-friendly rhetoric of fascists, they in actual power regimented labour in such a way as to please any strike-breaking capitalist of the 19th century. The Nazis, for example, forced workers into a single state-controlled trades union (DAF), which controlled wage growth and prevented striking and wage arbitration. Businesses (some, not even most), by contrast, were given incentives to consolidate into Morgan-style industrial trusts as shareholers and engage in contractual relations as monopolists or near-monopolists with other trusts and with the state.
  • Communists have a demonstrated record of erasing traditional society root and branch — exterminating aristocrats, industrialists, landowners, priests, kulaks, etc. Fascists in actual power, despite their modernist reputation, seem almost traditional in comparison. In Mussolini’s Italy, the king, the titled nobility, the church, the industrialists, the landholders, and the mafia slept soundly at night. The chief innovation of fascism was not really in political economy, but in political community.
  • Self-proclaimed fascist parties in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s pinched their votes from the middle-class and conservative parties, not primarily from the socialists and the communists to whom their traditional constituencies (urban workers) mostly remained loyal. In Germany’s election of 1932, the Social Democrats and the Communists maintained their usual proportion of the combined vote (~35%), but the other traditional parties were substantially weakened, even hollowed out, with only the Catholic Zentrum maintaining double-digit strength (~12%).
  • Big business interests either were strong supporters of the fascists once in power, or (in some countries) had backed them well before their seizure of power.
  • Fascists fetishised law & order, and made a cult out of the armed forces.
  • Amongst observers in non-fascist countries, it was conservatives and businessmen, not progressives, who were the most numerous to express admiration for the fascists. There were a few prominent socialists like H G Wells who applauded some aspects of Mussolini’s regime, but these were mostly amongst intellectual kooks, and their significance pales in comparison to the conservative reaction which varied from enthusiastic approval of a bulwark against communism to benign indifference.
  • Other self-proclaimed fascists — those who took their inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s — were unambiguously conservative in the unambiguously traditional sense, without the “modernist” touches which set Hitler and Mussolini apart. If I had to use three words to describe Franco, the best ones would be “God, Country, Property”.
  • The Nazis were sui generis and idiosyncratic, an outlier amongst fascists, and perhaps they really shouldn’t be pegged into the left-right spectrum. But if they had to be, their political economy was clearly capitalist and therefore clearly distant from revolutionary or egalitarian socialism.

Actual fascists who came to power behaved in a similarly labour-repressive, business-friendly, violently antisocialist way, albeit with national variations. Why were they so unanimous in their hysterical hatred of communists and socialists ? Could it have been that there was some “ideological space” for property and capitalism amongst fascists, albeit not well articulated theoretically ?

In the 1920s British conservatives generally approved of Mussolini, and liberals and socialists generally criticised him. I don’t mean that conservatives wanted fascism in Britain, but they thought it was an effective antidote to communism, admired fascist law & order, and found in it a healthy example of national pride. Of course Churchill was an early admirer of Mussolini and remained one until the early 1930s, and he took the nationalist side in the Spanish civil war.

There were ambivalences and exceptions on both left and right, but the general trend is of disapproval on the left and approval on the right. Moreover, appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s was, at root, motivated by conservative fears of Bolshevism and the feeling that the Nazis were the lesser of two evils.

You can find some positive things uttered about Mussolini by the left-wing British press until 1924 or so, because the nature of Italian fascism was not yet clear and some people still believed fascism was a working-class phenomenon. But 1924 is a clear dividing line, because in that year a famous Italian socialist by the name of Matteotti was murdered by Mussolini’s regime and the destruction of the Italian left was in full swing.


At least in peace time, the Nazi regime largely respected property rights (at least of those deemed Aryan enough). It did not, with one major exception, nationalise industries; nor did Nazi economic policies use brute compulsion and peremptory diktats against businesses. Rather the Nazis relied on incentives and manipulation to get what they wanted out of the private sector. From “The Role of Private Property in the Nazi Economy: The Case of Industry” :

…companies normally could refuse to engage in an investment project designed by the state – without any consequences. There are to be found quite a few instances where they did so, even after the implementation of the Four Year Plan and the beginning of war, both being considered in some of the literature as watersheds in the economic policy of the regime. And indeed, the rhetoric might sometimes have become more aggressive after 1936. But the actual behaviour of the state in relations with private enterprises appears to have not changed, because firms continued to act without any indication of fear that they could be nationalized or otherwise put under unbearable pressure.

Thus, de Wendel, a coal mining enterprise, refused to build another hydrogenation plant in 1937. In spring 1939 IG Farben declined a request by the Economics Ministry to enlarge its production of rayon for the use in tyres. It also was not prepared to invest a substantial amount in a third Buna (synthetic rubber) factory in Fürstenberg/Oder, although this was a project of high urgency for the regime. Another interesting example is the one of Froriep GmbH, a firm producing machines for the armaments and autarky-related industries which also found a ready market abroad. But in the second half of the 1930s the demand for the former purposes was so high that exports threatened to be totally crowded out. Therefore the company planned a capacity enlargement, but asked the Reich to share the risk by giving a subsidized credit and permitting exceptional depreciation charges to reduce its tax load. When the latter demand was not accepted at first, the firm reacted by refusing to invest. So in the end the state fully surrendered to the requests of the firm.

[other examples]

….the regime had to devise instruments for the inducement of firms to voluntarily provide the state with the means necessary for warfare. Very often that could be done only by shifting the financial risk connected to an investment at least partly to the Reich. For this purpose the state offered firms a whole bundle of contract options to choose from implying different degrees of risk-taking. For example, in a kind of leasing arrangement the state itself could become the owner of a plant which was then operated by a private enterprise in exchange for a secure profit. That was the one extreme option where the state paid total costs and bore the whole risk. The other extreme option, of course, was an enterprise realizing a war-related investment with no state aid at all except perhaps the permission to turn to the capital market for the necessary financial means. In between lay contracts which included a state subsidy and contracts guaranteeing sales for a fixed minimum price (Wirtschaftlichkeitsgarantievertrag)

Socialists have often argued Big Business was intimately complicit in the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and that both men were their creatures. But that is definitely not what I am arguing. In the 1980s, there was a minor (academic) scandal precisely over this question when a young left-wing historian wrote a book arguing capitalist guilt in Hitler’s rise to power. In reply an older historian replied with a thudding book, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler, which disputed that analysis of the relationship between business and Hitler.

I follow Turner. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, German business hedged their bets by giving money to many nonsocialist parties. German industrialists had been disenchanted with the Weimar Republic, which taxed them more than they liked and which also forced them into syndicalist practises — labour-capital management boards and the like which persist in German business culture today. In 1930, 1931, and 1932, when the Nazis were at their electoral apogee, many businesmen who found the Nazis’ anticommunism appealing, began to think they could coopt the Nazis and influence them away from some of their thuggish ways. But at no time did German business find Hitler an ideal choice or even wanted him in power. In fact, when Hitler was appointed chancellor, the condition of his appointment was that Franz von Papen — a traditional conservative politician who was reassuring to businessmen — would be his vice chancellor, and it was expected that Papen would be the real power behind Hitler. This was not to be.

Now, once in power, Hitler worked furiously to court the business community, and — I think this part is incontestable — German industrialists became reconciled to Hitler and found the relationship he offered a highly attractive one. At no time was Hitler a “creature of Big Business”, and business activity was conducted in the interests of the state ; but conversely at no time was German business an innocent coerced willy-nilly to do Hitler’s bidding. They profited handsomely from their relationship with the Nazi state and there is little evidence they didn’t like it.


Italian industrialists were rather more wary of the fascists precisely because of all those socialists in their ranks. But, with the exception of the highly industrialised Lombardy, Italy in 1919 was still basically an agricultural country. So unlike in Germany, the rise of Italian fascism had a big agrarian dimension, and, again unlike in Germany, there was a committed conservative backer of fascism in the Italian countryside before Mussolini’s seizure of power — landowners and agricultural employers. Their support was instrumental in the rise of Italian fascism.

From “Fascism, Industrialism, and Socialism: The Case of Italy” :

A deeper research into early Fascism reveals that a great many early recruits to Fascism were small landowners and large sharecroppers and tenants largely in and around Po Valley who had been heavily pressed by the Socialist-organized Agricultural Leagues. These Leagues had, through strikes, imposed highly undesirable labor contracts on the small and medium holders as well as on the big landowners. These contracts insured a minimum number of days of employment per year, and a minimum number of workers per hectare on all farmers in an area-both of these demands were most distasteful to all employers, the smaller even more than the larger, since the bigger could more easily make adjustments while the smaller operated much closer to the margin.3

Much of the rural middle class was rapidly recruited by the Fascist Party at the time of and immediately after the factory occupations when the Fascists began their large-scale anti-Socialist campaign with the sympathy and often the funds of the industrial elite. This class saw a movement which answered their immediate needs and apparently jumped on the bandwagon. Further, Socialist organization was stronger in the industrial areas where the working-class population was concentrated and could much easier defend itself. Finally, the middle class was a greater percentage of the population in the non-industrial regions of the Po Valley than it was in industrial regions. Thus, the Fascist Party which recruited largely from the middle class had a bigger base of recruitment in these areas…. Fascism arose in Italy primarily as a response to the Socialist movement. Its recruits were largely from the middle classes which were most pressed by the Socialist movement (Northern small and medium land holders), however, its economic and political support came largely from the economic elite, particularly large industrialists of Milan, Turin, and Genoa.4

Also from “Who Benefited from Italian Fascism: A Look at Parma’s Landowners” :

Fascism’s success in the countryside had even surprised Mussolini. Based in Milan, he had founded Fascism in March of 1919. But few joined, for the original mixture of republicanism and nationalism repelled both conservatives and Socialists. Nevertheless, Mussolini persevered. Seeing little future on the left, he became less radical after 1919 and instead emphasized Fascism’s violent hatred of socialism. A constituency was waiting. During 1920 Italian landowners had fought the worst strikes yet. But instead of congratulating themselves for surviving, they bemoaned their concessions, preferring to believe that they had been mortally wounded. The fall’s local elections increased their fears. Socialists captured most municipalities in the Po Valley, electing politicians who had promised to raise real estate taxes to confiscatory levels and to commit other assorted “mischief.”

Convinced that their wallets if not their lives were in danger, and convinced that the government was powerless, landowners turned to Fascism. Fascism could do what agrarians could never do. It could launch an anti-Socialist crusade. The reason was simple. Whereas agrarians had an extremely rigid domestic program, Fascists had close to none. They had jettisoned so much of their ideology that only a generic hatred of liberal government and socialism remained. Whether one was a republican or a monarchist, a Catholic or a Freemason, a conservative or a leftist made no difference; anyone who hated socialism was a potential Fascist. The new Fascism appeared first in Bologna. At the inauguration of the Socialist municipal council in November of 1920, Fascists provoked a riot that left ten dead. Ferrara was next. Fascists ousted its Socialist mayors and crushed unions, forcing workers to join their syndicates. After Bologna and Ferrara, Fascism spread gradually throughout rural ltaly in rough proportion to proletarian strength. It was accordingly strongest in the Po Valley and Tuscany, and weakest in Southern Italy, where few workers had been organized.45 By the summer of 1922 Fascism was penetrating southern ltaly and the big cities.

Mussolini did want to be seen as a progressive, and the way to do that in the 1930s was to market himself, to European intellectuals and to domestic workers, as a socialist. To an American audience he seems to have emphasised what American knees tend to get weak for — the practical, undogmatic, untheoretical, uncogitative man of action.

So Mussolini in power talked socialist but practised something else, and had the loyalty of the industrialists — including such big names as Agnelli (Fiat), Olivetti (typewriter), Pirelli (tyre), etc. If Mussolini was in the very depths of his soul an anticapitalist anticonservative anarchosyndicalist til his very dying days, he certainly did not show it after he gained mastery of Italy by the mid 1920s. He could have done much more than he did to reorganise the state and the economy. But he did not.

Also, the emphasis on the socialist origins of the earliest Italian fascists obscures what actually happened once they came to power. The distinctive features of what we consider Italian fascism were built not by those henchmen of the old revolutionary socialist days, but by newcomers into the state after Mussolini’s ascent.

Most revolutionary movements have internal conflicts between left and right elements. The German army’s price for supporting Hitler in 1934 was the destruction of the SA (the Brown Shirts), whose leader Ernst Röhm represented the genuinely revolutionary faction within the Nazi ranks. The SA were considered a threat both to the army and to the social order.

There is no Italian version of the Night of the Long Knives, but the Fascist state was gradually coopted by the Italian Nationalist Association (ANI : Associazione Nazionalista Italiana), which was an unambiguously conservative group. Mussolini’s was a one-party state, but it was a one-party state in which the party did not control the government. Rather, the conservatives who joined the Fascist Party managed to keep the state supreme over the party. (See the first post in the comments section where I quote at length from Alexandre de Grand on this point.)

So it’s quite irrelevant what Mussolini believed in 1918 or even what he believed in his deepest heart in 1930. What we now know as Italian fascism was created not in some 1919 platform, but in large part by conservatives who infiltrated the state and steered it away from any revolutionary tendencies it might have had (if it had really had any).

And I reiterate what I’ve said before : since there is not 150 years’ worth of fascist doctrinal literature as there is for Marxist writings, we can judge what is fascism primarily from practise. And, in practise, we have : nationalism, militarism, law-and-orderism, Church patronage, and business mercantilism. These are not practises historically associated with the left, but with the right.

[Edit: The argument in this post is about the political alignments and polarisations that actually occurred in history — who supported the fascists, whom the fascists supported, and what fascists’ attitudes were toward traditional elements in society. Therefore, ahistorical analytic concepts like the Nolan Chart, or the horeshoe theory, or the individualism-collectivism distinction, are irrelevant. It absolutely does not matter that fascists and socialists might equally be deemed ‘anti-individualistic’. The labels “left” and “right” are only used as convenient shorthands, which could be removed completely without changing the substance of the post.]

[Edit 5 May 2015: Jonah Goldberg has responded to this post. See my response: Nazi Political Economy.]

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48 Responses to Fascism was not left-wing !!!

  1. Alexander J. De Grand, The Italian Nationalist Association and the Rise of Fascism in Italy

    This study of the Italian Nationalist Association will not presume to offer a general answer to the question, “What is fascism,” but it will propose the thesis that Italian nationalism, as elaborated between 1903 and 1923, was one of the crucial ingredients in the mix which eventually became fascism and that its influence steered fascism in the direction of traditional conservative authoritarianism. Although Mussolini and many of his close associates came from the revolutionary Left and early fascism had radical currents, the conservatives in Italy were so well organized, both economically and politically, that they exercised decisive control over fascism during the 1920s, limited its radical implications, and made Italian fascism quite distinct from the Nazi variant which Hitler created in Germany after 1933.

    The absorption of the ANI by the Fascists was the first major step in the liquidation of the old Italian party structure. It was significant both for the way it was done and for the impact which it had on the PNF [the National Fascist Party]. The Nationalists emerged from the long and difficult fusion process far from being completely content. Still, close personal and political ties and the official recognition of their special status gave them much potential leverage. If Federzoni’s estimate was correct, 100,000 Nationalists were eligible to join the PNF. In the province of Rome alone, 25,000 Nationalists were set to join. Even allowing for obvious exaggeration, it would be a massive influx of conservative members. 22

    A precedent was also set for the absorption of other conservatives into the PNF. In the short run, the Fascists were able to eliminate a strong rival for political power in the south, but only at the cost of moving more-traditional clienteles into the party. Nationalist participation became a guarantee for many that the regime would not embark on any radical social and political experiments. Both Salandra and the Giornale d’Italia began to push for an alliance of conservative and Catholic forces under the umbrella of the government, an updated version of the Destra Nazionale. Of course, the inclusion of such a large number of Nationalist members made it difficult to create a new Fascist political elite. The Nationalists were rarely party men. Their loyalty went to the monarchy and to the state rather than to the regime as such. How far this potential conservative influence would expand depended on Mussolini’s ability to deal directly with the conservative establishment. As long as he could keep the Nationalists from injecting themselves as pivotal figures in the relationship between the government and the powerful institutional forces which sought to use fascism to control social unrest, Mussolini could afford to let the Nationalists come to him in their quest for political influence. Throughout 1923 and early 1924, he succeeded in minimizing the Nationalists’ role. The brutal murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti reversed the balance of power and made way for the Nationalist penetration of the Fascist regime. 23

    After January 3, 1925, the Nationalists held two key positions in Mussolini’s government. Federzoni was interior minister and controlled the police and security apparatus; Rocco was justice minister in charge of establishing the new legal framework for the dictatorship. Together they gave to fascism its statist, authoritarian structures. In sharp contrast to Germany, where the conservatives progressively lost their positions, the emergence of the two Nationalist leaders just when the dictatorship began to consolidate itself is of the greatest importance. It helps explain why the repression was carried out within the framework of the traditional state bureaucracy and why party autonomy was reduced to a minimum. There was no equivalent in Italy of the Nazi S.S., a massive security force formally dependent on the party which gradually overwhelmed the state. That this did not happen under fascism resulted, in part, from the work of Federzoni and Rocco, and, in part, from the inclination of Mussolini, who supported the more traditional option of reinforcing state rather than party power. The Matteotti crisis proved to be a crucial turning point. Unlike Hitler, who unburdened himself of the conservative and nationalist politicians in 1933, Mussolini actually increased his dependence two years after taking power.

    The greater leverage of the conservatives, just at the moment when the regime broke with the constitutional opposition and was forced to construct the apparatus of repression, influenced the outcome of the struggle between the radical Fascists of the “second wave” of the revolution and the conservatives who wished to preserve the authority and power of the traditional state institutions. Federzoni’s eighteen months at the Interior Ministry bracketed the brief secretaryship of Roberto Farinacci, who ran the PNF from February 1925 to March 1926. Farinacci, the ras, or party chief, in Cremona, assumed office as the hero of the violent faction of the party and the squads. Many of his provincial supporters hoped for a purge of the state, a major role for the party, and the creation of a new political class. In fact, Mussolini, who was a technician of power rather than a man of principle, could never afford to consider the options offered by Farinacci and the Fascist party. He chose the safer way of compromise with the conservatives. Farinacci’s authoritarian temperament was used to centralize and discipline the party, while on every important issue Mussolini bolstered the conservative position.

    Both Federzoni and Rocco took advantage of their opportunity. Of the reforms which could be considered typical of Federzoni’s contribution, both the press laws and the other reforms (which did away with elected officials in local governments and increased the power of the prefect as representative of state authority) diminished the ability of the party to undertake independent initiatives and made the state the chief instrument of repression.

    Even more important in setting the basic direction of the Fascist state was Rocco. When he defined the new state as that which “realizes the legal organization of society to the fullest extent of its power and cohesion,” he was merely restating ideas which had been set forth for years on the pages of the Idea Nazionale. He simply transferred the Nationalist conception of the state as the primary engine of political and social action into the institutional structure of fascism. Rocco believed that the liberal state was too inorganic to deal with large-scale economic and political activity, yet he was never very interested in the mass party.

    The mission of both fascism and nationalism was to restructure the state so that it could cope with modern problems without revolutionary change. To accomplish this reorganization meant reinforcing the position of the executive and removing restraints on his power to control and manipulate the bureaucracy. The Law on the Powers of the Head of Government ( 1925) effectively ended the right of parliament to control the prime minister and gave the latter authority over the other ministers. The same year, a law was passed increasing the government’s power over the bureaucracy through political tests for civil servants. In January 1926, a law granting to the government the right to issue decree laws was passed. The Law for the Defense of the State of November 1926 introduced the death penalty for attempts on the lives of major political figures, defined a new set of crimes against the regime, and established a special legal structure in the state bureaucracy to judge those crimes. The culmination of Rocco’s legislation was the Law for the Judicial Settlement of Labor disputes of 1926, which achieved the aim first set forth in the Nationalist congress of 1914. Labor organizations were brought under the control of the state by extending legal recognition and by giving them the power to make legally binding contracts. The legislation insured the monopoly of representation to the Fascist unions by granting representative powers to only one recognized professional organization in every category of production. Even more important, Rocco’s legislation made the state the primary guardian of the proletarian organizations. 1

    Rocco and Federzoni used their increased influence during the Matteotti crisis to establish a regime which emphasized the importance of the state bureaucracy over the party or the Fascist unions. They joined with conservative industrialists to thwart social and economic innovations connected with the corporative state. Culturally, the Nationalists were proponents of a traditionalist outlook which impeded efforts by younger Fascists to create a new culture for the regime. They fully understood the value for the old order of hyphenated fascism, a system which lacked a common definition of what fascism meant and allowed each person to add a modifier to the term (Catholic-Fascist, Nationalist-Fascist, Syndicalist-Fascist).

    Of equal importance was the fact that within the context of the regime the Nationalists offered a model toward which many of the most intelligent Fascists strove. Balbo and Grandi rapidly shed their early radicalism to become respectable monarchists and close friends of Federzoni. Symbols of success were not set by Farinacci or Achille Starace [old style fascists from the 1910s], but by the conservatives who still dominated the political and economic life of Fascist Italy. Even an innovative and dynamic Fascist politician like Giuseppe Bottai found Federzoni infinitely preferable to what he saw in the Fascist party leadership during the thirties.

    To this extent, the gamble of the Nationalists paid off when they accepted fusion. They found in fascism both the mass base and the instruments of social control which they had been seeking since their revolt against liberal Italy. Yet their victory had dangers. They were authoritarian modernizers whose style and rhetoric has found a recent echo in some of the Third-World dictators, like the Shah of Iran, who use violence against the Left in their own country and speak of the revolt of “the proletarian nations” of the Third World. Conservative modernization is a difficult task because it implies a certain amount of mobilization of the masses, which the conservatives abhor. Fascism offered a way around this problem, but it did so by creating a system of all-pervasive political irresponsibility under the guise of an authoritarian dictatorship. Fascism was a world of private fiefdoms (Church, industry, army, party, corporations, universities) over which Mussolini acted as mediator.
    end QUOTE


  2. Whyvert says:

    Here’s a newer theory of fascism. Fascists were:
    1. Not socialists
    2. Homosexualists – well-known fact of course, just look at their Hugo Boss outfits
    3. Feminists https://twitter.com/Billare/status/594881213652938752
    4. Against Islamophobia
    They must have been SJWs!


  3. fnn says:

    Fascism in the days before compulsory irony:

    Fascism changed dramatically between 1919 and 1922, and again changed dramatically after 1922. This is what we expect of any ideological movement which comes close to power and then attains it. Bolshevism (renamed Communism in 1920) also changed dramatically, several times over.

    Many of the older treatments of Fascism are misleading because they cobble together Fascist pronouncements, almost entirely from after 1922, reflecting the pressures on a broad and flexible political movement solidifying its rule by compromises, and suppose that by this method they can isolate the character and motivation of Fascist ideology. It is as if we were to reconstruct the ideas of Bolshevism by collecting the pronouncements of the Soviet government in 1943, which would lead us to conclude that Marxism owed a lot to Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.

    …Fascism was intellectually sophisticated. Fascist theory was more subtle and more carefully thought out than Communist doctrine. As with Communism, there was a distinction between the theory itself and the “line” designed for a broad public. Fascists drew upon such thinkers as Henri Bergson, William James, Gabriel Tarde, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Vilfredo Pareto, Gustave Le Bon, Georges Sorel, Robert Michels, Gaetano Mosca, Giuseppe Prezzolini, Filippo Marinetti, A.O. Olivetti, Sergio Panunzio, and Giovanni Gentile.

    Here we should note a difference between Marxism and Fascism. The leader of a Marxist political movement is always considered by his followers to be a master of theory and a theoretical innovator on the scale of Copernicus. Fascists were less prone to any such delusion. Mussolini was more widely-read than Lenin and a better writer, but Fascist intellectuals did not consider him a major contributor to the body of Fascist theory, more a leader of genius who could distil theory into action.


  4. Nazi Germany respected property rights? BS. They called for the dissolution of large estates and the nationalization of industries in their platform.


    • mrreco12 says:

      Check the facts again:

      “Although modern economic literature usually ignores the fact, the Nazi government in 1930sGermany undertook a wide scale privatization policy. The government sold public ownership inseveral State-owned firms in different sectors. In addition, delivery of some public servicespreviously produced by the public sector was transferred to the private sector”



    • kevinb3 says:

      Hitler was a socialist. Nazism began with state ownership of many industries including banking, steel, shipbuilding, transportation, etc. It began to return property to private hands later because it needed cash flow; its treasury was depleted during armaments buildup in the mid 30s.

      Detail and citations as follows:
      While early National Socialist programs nationalizated major industries, i.e. banking and steel, later there was reprivatization of some business, in particular between 1934-37 during increasing armaments buildup. Privatization was applied within a framework of increasing control of the state over the whole economy through regulation and political interference.

      According to The Banker (1937, p. 114), increased expenditures after 1933/34 were basically taken up by armament programs. In August 1936 Hitler issued the “Four-Year Plan Memorandum” ordering Hermann Göring to have the German economy ready for war within four years.[47][48] The “Four-Year Plan” increased state intervention in the economy and siphoned off resources from the private sector for rearmament. These are the main policies that explain the evolution of public expenditure and some of the privitization. As early as in April 1934, The Economist reported that military expenditure was forcing the Minister of Finance to look for new resources. At that time, “Railway preference shares are to be sold to the extent of Rm. 224 millions. The Reich property, which is to be ‘liquidated’ …

      The intense growth of governmental regulations on markets, which heavily restricted economic freedom, suggests that the rights inherent to private property were destroyed. As a result, privatization would be of no practical consequences since the state assumed full control of the economic system (e.g. Stolper, 1940, p. 207).

      Guillebaud (1939, p. 55) stresses that the Nazi regime wanted to leave management and risk in business in the sphere of private enterprise, subject to the general direction of the government. Thus, “the State in fact divested itself of a great deal of its previous direct participation in industry….But at the same time state control, regulation and interference in the conduct of the economy affairs was enormously extended.” Guillebaud (1939, p. 219) felt that National Socialism was opposed to state management, and saw it as a “cardinal tenet of the Party that the economic order should be based on private initiative and enterprise (in the sense of private ownership of the means of production and the individual assumption of risks) though subject to guidance and control by state.” This can be seen as the basic rationale for privatization.

      The Reich was strongly against free competition and regulation of the economy by market mechanisms (Barkai, 1990, p. 10). Hitler was an enemy of free market economies (Overy, 1994, p. 1). It is interesting to note two interviews in May and June 1931, in which Hitler explained his aims and plans to Richard Breiting, editor of the Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten, on condition of confidentiality (Calic, 1971, p. 11). With respect to his position with regard to private ownership, Hitler explained that “I want everyone to keep what he has earned subject to the principle that the good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of
      the State….The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners.” (Calic, 1971, p. 32-33).

      Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany, p. 13-17

      Also see Watson’s contemporary scholarship of the National Socialism:


  5. Bob says:

    The left-right paradigm is deceptive. You need two dimensions, not just one, to graph political preferences so that every variation gets its own place.


    Once you go too far left OR right you find yourself circling back into totalitarianism. They look the same to the people under their rule. Only the slogans change.


    • The labels “left” and “right” are not relevant except as shorthands. I could remove them entirely from the post without changing the substance. The post depends on the political alignments that actually occurred — who supported fascists, whom the fascists supported, and what their attitudes were toward traditional elements in society.


  6. pdxblh says:

    Seems to me there’s a pretty important element – even more basic than the criteria you point to – that’s missing from your analysis entirely: individualism vs. collectivism.

    That divide has to be the most significant, defining one between Right and Left (certainly in their modern application) – and to my knowledge, there’s little debate over where Fascist Italy and Germany came down on that matter.


    • The individualism-collectivism distinction is a matter of deontological ethics. If you’re interested in ideology and the philosophy of politics, then that would be relevant.

      But the only thing I am interested in is historical alignments — i.e., who supported the fascists, whom the fascists supported, and how fascists actually behaved toward traditional sectors of society.


    • kevinb3 says:

      During the republic era of Germany, most of the populace belonged to the left when combining either the SPD (Social Democratic Party) or the KPD (Communist Party of Germany); up to the great depression. It’s understandable why there’s dichotomy in trying to understand the political bent of Hitler because he expressed quite a bit of detail towards his socialistic ideals early in his reign, aka 25 point plan, speeches, interviews etc.; yet these ideals were obfuscated after armament buildup up began and leading into the war because his total focus reverted to the war effort. This is why there’s little to go only relative to his political leanings during the war, as his fascist authoritarian tyranny exponentially grew until his demise. But in the early nazi years it’s unequivocal how Hitler would have governed if in fact he had won the war. Although he hated communism, he loved Marx, his belief was that communism as it was expressed in Russia, had gotten it all wrong. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/hitler-and-the-socialist-dream-1186455.html


  7. Are there any left-wing governments? Nearly every government that’s labeled left-wing will benefit some private businesses.


    • Only because the variation in economic behaviours is much smaller today. Not many governments expropriate or collectivise the “means of production” any more. But within that narrow range currently prevailing, some policies are clearly more business-friendly than others.


  8. L.K. Samuels says:

    Italian Fascism was Marxist and revolutionary syndicalist inspired. Mussolini was an avowed Marxist for much of his early years. Mussolini also nationalized three-fourths of the Italian industry by the 1930s — a rather socialist policy. See my article at http://www.lksamuels.com/?p=156 And go to a censured Wikipedia page that the editors hated because it revealed that Mussolini wrote in “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism” (Jane Soames’s authorized translation from Italian into English, 1933) that Fascism was on the “Left.” See it at http://fascistcontroversies.weebly.com/

    The Left does not want anyone to know that Mussolini was simply a socialist competitor in efforts to gain power. Almost all of the theorists for Italian fascism were Marxists or former Marxist — like Georges Sorel (1847-1922), a German Marxist who is considered a hero to both Marxists and Fascists alike. Mussolini said he was a disciple of Sorel who he said was his inspiration for Fascism.


    • mrreco12 says:

      Those privatizing Marxists leftists…..what a joke.

      Italy’s first Fascist government applied a large-sc
      ale privatization policy between 1922 and 1925.
      The government privatized the state monopoly of mat
      ch sale, eliminated the State monopoly on life
      insurances, sold most of the State-owned telephone
      networks and services to private firms,
      reprivatized the largest metal machinery producer,
      and awarded concessions to private firms to
      build and operate motorways. These interventions re
      present one of the earliest and most decisive
      privatization episodes in the Western world. While
      ideological considerations may have had a
      certain influence, privatization was used mainly as
      a political tool to build confidence among
      industrialists and to increase support for the government and the
      Partito Nazionale FascistaPrivatization also contributed to balancing the bud
      get, which was the core objective of Fascist economic policy in its first phase.


      Mussolini was anti communist, pro capitalist and rightwing, only a delusional liar would refer to him as a leftie.


      • L.K. Samuels says:

        Nice try, but Mussolini did not become dictator of Italy until 1925. He ruled within a coalition of many other political parties. During this time period, there were very few fascist ministers in Italy’s government. For instance, after Mussolini took complete power in 1925, he fired classical liberal economist Alberto De’ Stefani from his job as Italy’s Minister of Finance, who had tried to scale back the state.

        Why does the statist Left always want to reinvent history. Oh yes, that was something that George Orwell warned about concerning both the Fascist and the Communists–that these statists are always trying to control the past (history) in order to control the future.


  9. Pingback: Nazi political economy | Pseudoerasmus

  10. mictter says:

    You won’t find this debate in Spain, where many people still remember the long Franco dictatorship. Not even the worst columnist-troll will dare to argue that Fascism is left leaning.


    • fnn says:

      Pedro Varela (from way beyond Francoism) doesn’t look too intimidated by the antifa arm-breakers:


  11. L.K. Samuels says:

    Actually, Franco was a right-wing dictatorship because he was pro-church and pro-monarchy. But many historians argue that Franco was never a Fascist. Franco never joined the Fascist party of Spain because of their rabidly anti-church and revolutionary attitudes. On the other hand, Mussolini was an avowed atheist who often threatened to abolish the Italian monarchy. Mussolini likened Roman Catholic priests to “black germs.” He said that “Religion is a species of mental disease” and that the “papacy was a malignant tumor in the body of Italy and must be rooted out once and for all,…” (English historian Denis Mack Smith has whole sections on Mussolini’s anti-church legacy).

    Remember, Mussolini stated in his “Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism” that “…it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority, a century of the Left, a century of Fascism.” See the documents at http://hipav6.wix.com/history-uncensored Mussolini admitted his movement to be Left-wing. He ran as a Leftist in 1919 under his Revolutionary Fascist Party banner. His party did poorly in that election and changed his party’s name to the National Fascist Party. He also toned down his Marxist rhetoric and made temporary alliances with liberal, socialists and conservative parties–doing and saying anything to get complete power, which he finally got in 1925.

    Also, Mussolini nationalized three-fourths of Italy’s economy by the mid 1930s. He created a huge welfare system, similar to the German National Socialists (Nazis). Mussolini even made union membership mandatory for all Italian workers (since Mussolini was a revolutionary syndicalist, along with many of his followers). What is right-wing about this?


    • “Mussolini nationalized three-fourths of Italy’s economy by the mid 1930s”

      Where on earth are you getting that figure ? The Instituto di Ricostruzione Industriale or IRI was a vehicle for taking into receivership industrial & financial assets distressed by the Great Depression. And the assets it controlled by 1936 were around 12.5% of the Italian business sector. See here from this source. That’s probably less than Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, although that doesn’t stop the Index of Economic Freedom from listing Singapore as the second freest in the world…


      • L.K. Samuels says:

        Great question. That figure comes from Mussolini himself. In May of 1934 as the Institute of Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) was taking over bank assets, Mussolini boasted, “Three-fourths of Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state.” (Gianni Toniolo, editor, “The Oxford Handbook of the Italian Economy Since Unification,” Oxford: UK, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 59; Mussolini’s speech on May 26, 1934 and Carl Schmidt, “The Corporate State in Action,” London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1939, pp. 153–76. Some historians have referred to this as “indirect nationalization.” What happen was that when a number of banks failed in Italy, the state took them over. These banks held a slew of equity in the major companies in Italy. Soon, the Fascist found themselves in ownership control of many of Italy’s industrial and agricultural base.

        That nationalization increased after the passage of the Bank Reform Act in 1936, “the Bank of Italy and most of the other major banks became public institutions.” (Alexander J. De Grand, “Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: The ‘Fascist’ Style of Rule,” second edition, New York, NY, Routledge, p. 52). One year earlier, the Fascist government ushered in a program that mandated that all banks, businesses, and private citizens had to surrender their foreign-issued stocks and bonds, and convey them to the Bank of Italy. Jeffrey Herbener, “The Vampire Economy: Italy, Germany, and the US,” Mises Institute, October 13, 2005.

        According to Patricia Knight in “Mussolini and Fascism,” a few years later in 1939, Italy withnessed the highest rate of state–owned enterprises in the entire world outside of the Soviet Union (Patricia Knight, “Mussolini and Fascism” (Questions and Analysis in History), New York: Routledge, 2003, p. 65). For instance, by 1939 the state “controlled over four-fifths of Italy’s shipping and shipbuilding, three-quarters of its pig iron production and almost half that of steel. (Martin Blink Horn, “Mussolini and Fascist Italy,” 2nd edition, New York: NY, Routledge, 1994, p. 35).

        Some of this material can be found at http://hipav6.wix.com/history-uncensored But I have a much more scholarly 20,000 word article with over 350 footnotes by major historians for my upcoming book on the political spectrum.


        • But you did not address the main point: the IRI was an emergency intervention during the Great Depression that endured because of Italy’s eventual war footing. If the IRI had been set up in 1925, the interpretation would be quite different, but it wasn’t. It emerged in the Depression.

          The IRI in 1936 owned 12.5% of Italy’s capital assets. Don’t overinterpet it.

          From “Was Italian Fascism a Developmental Dictatorship? Some Evidence to the Contrary”, Economic History Review, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 95-113


          [begin quote]
          With the creation of IRI, the state became a fully fledged participant in the private sector. In some cases, IRI was no more than a minority shareholder in what remained an essentially privately owned company; in others, it was the sole or majority participant. In all cases, IRI firms operated in the private sector, competed with private enterprises, and, for the most part, faced the same opportunities and constraints as its competitors….

          The country was confronted with a crisis that threatened to topple much of the financial system and a large chunk of industry. The commercial banks did make a last-ditch effort to unload some of their industrial assets, but to no avail. The state had essentially two choices. It could sit by and watch as the system collapsed with the hope that the private sector would dig itself out of the rubble and rebuild. In the very long run, such restraint might have produced a robust and invigorated private sector. In spite of the strong interventionist tradition of the state, this option was considered quite seriously by policy makers. It was decided, however, that the short-run economic and political costs were too great and, after an unsuccessful attempt to use the Istituto di Liquidazioni for salvage purposes, first IMI then IRI was created to handle the biggest rescue operation in the country’s history. From all that has been said, it is quite clear that IRI was not the logical fulfilment of a long-term plan but was instead an emergency measure taken to avert an economic disaster. It was equivalent to calling the fire department to put out a fire…

          All this said, it is still possible to argue that the fascists exploited the situation for their own ends. That is, while IRI may have emerged in response to a crisis, the fascists conceived and shaped it to advance their own goals. The facts, however, do not support this interpretation. Alberto Beneduce, the principal force behind IRI, was not and had never been a fascist. He was, in fact, highly suspect for his background and his views by the fascist hierarchy. None of his close associates in IRI, such as Menichella, Giordani, or Saraceno, were fascists. IRI was their creation and, for the most part, they determined its policy. Beneduce reported directly to Mussolini and, judging from the documents available, II Duce gave him a free hand, especially during the early years….

          It should be pointed out that in both conception and action, IRI remained completely independent of the national council of corporations, the administrative embodiment of that much proclaimed fascist innovation, the corporate state.37 Although this is not the place to discuss the economic content and impact (if any) of corporatism, Alberto Aquarone, author of the classic work on the organization of the totalitarian state in Italy, is probably correct in his assessment that, on the whole, the corporate state was ‘more smoke than fire’ (pii fumo che arrosto). Of direct relevance to the issue at hand, he notes that the national council of corporations was not involved in the creation of IRI but merely informed, after the fact, of its existence.38 Whatever the reasons for this independence from fascist control, the practical consequence for the directors of IRI was freedom to formulate policies not in allegiance to some preconceived ideology but on the basis of what they considered to be good economic analysis….
          [end quote]


  12. dearieme says:

    “clearly distant from revolutionary or egalitarian socialism”: yeah, but the socialism that I’m most familiar with is that of the (British) Labour party , which hasn’t been particularly revolutionary or egalitarian. More like Peron’s mob in Argentina in some ways – power to the trade unions, nationalise lots of industries, and gush sentimental tripe about the workers.


  13. L.K. Samuels says:

    To pseudoerasmus:

    I see no reference in the quote that says that the IRI owned 12.5% of Italy’s capital assets in 1936, but Italy’s economics at the time were chaotic, very bureaucratic and corrupted. Mussolini hid much of his economic operations. Trotsky doubted Mussolini’s three-fourths figure, but many historians have used the three-fourths figure by 1939, and not the 1934 date of Mussolini’s speech that made the claim. Then again, Mussolini was an admirer of Machiavelli, which means that truth had little meaning.

    For instance, Mussolini said that he had balanced many of his budgets, but according to the Italian historian, Gaetano Salvemini, Mussolini’s figures were wrong and he estimated Italy’s national debt at 148,646,000,000 lire by 1934. The New York Times put it at 405,823,000,000 lire in 1943. Most of the long-term debt was hidden from the Treasury books and the public through yearly installment plans that did not show up on the official Italy budget (John T. Flynn, “As We Go Marching,” New York: NY, Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1944, p. 50-51)

    But even if the Fascist state owned less of the private sector, there is still a slew of other facts that provided evidence that “Mussolini was a reluctant fascist because, underneath, he remained a Marxist, albeit a heretical one,” as asserted by historian Paul Johnson (Paul Johnson, “Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s,” New York: NY, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001, p. p. 101). But words are cheap. Real actions tell us more. Mussolini’s administration was the first Western nation to officially recognize the Soviet Union (1924). Would an anti-communist do that, especially after the Soviet Union invaded Poland and threatened Germany (the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921). Not only that, but Fascist Italy in 1933 signed the “Treaty of Friendship, Nonaggression, and Neutrality” with the Soviet Union, which helped to provide technical assistance and supplies to Moscow from a number of industries, including aviation, automobile and naval industries. (Donald J. Stoker Jr. and Jonathan A. Grant, editors, “Girding for Battle: The Arms Trade in a Global Perspective 1815-1940,” Westport: CT, Praeger Publishers, 2003, page 180).

    I mean I have a few dozen books on Italian Fascism, and I am just scratching the surface. There is actually very few historical facts that show Mussolini as anything other than a socialist, collectivist and blowhard statist (maybe as a “right-wring socialist” as dubbed by Murray Rothbard)–but then again, any hardcore Marxist would consider any non-Marxist as a right-winger.

    The political spectrum is confusing because the original liberals (John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine) were considered on the Left side of the political spectrum long ago. But the modern social liberals has little relationship to the classical liberalism of the American Founders. Just one quote from Mussolini shows it all. Agreeing with Keynes’ modern liberal economic theories, Mussolini wrote: “Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (l926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”(James Strachey Barnes, “Universal Aspects of Fascism,” Williams and Norgate, London: UK, 1929, pp. 113-114. This book bears the imprimatur of Benito Mussolini).


    • 12.5% is from Colli and Vasta cited earlier. I think you should read some economic and business historians of Italy, who actually study the economy and use data.

      Diplomatic behaviour is no guide to ideology, but your facts are wrong here :

      Real actions tell us more. Mussolini’s administration was the first Western nation to officially recognize the Soviet Union (1924).

      Look up the Treaty of Rapallo, in which the Weimar Republic recognised the Soviet Union.

      Your last paragraph completely ignores everything I’ve said in this post and in the latest about Nazi Germany, about how fascism should be evaluated. Classical liberals, modern liberals, the American founders, and Keynes are not relevant.


    • I guess you didn’t even look at this earlier. Click to enlarge :


      • L.K. Samuels says:

        Well, I guess someone has the data wrong. It is either Mussolini himself or his IRI state bureaucracy. But if I were to dig a little deeper, I would probably find that both are wrong, that propaganda was more important than truthful figures. Most governments, even today, usually provide official but erroneous data to the public. Just look at the government of Greece and the economic falsehoods they released in order to get into the EU. Government/state cannot survive without being deceptive; it is in their DNA. They are built in such a way to fool the public at every turn. I would be skeptical of a politician if he said the sky is blue.

        Note that the “The Oxford Handbook of the Italian Economy Since Unification” stated that by “January of 1934, IRI had acquired “48.5 percent of the share capital of Italy,” and a few months later it acquired the capital of the banks themselves. (Gianni Toniolo, editor, “The Oxford Handbook of the Italian Economy Since Unification,” Oxford: UK, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 59).

        The fact that Mussolini was overjoyed to make his announcement to the Chamber of Deputies in 1934 (that the state owned most of Italy’s industrial and agricultural sector) says a lot about his ideology. I would say that his old Marxist days were not behind him.

        The same Oxford book also noted that Mussolini’s May 26, 1934 speech was “dramatic” and “seemed to come back to the anticapitalist rhetoric of the early days of Fascism.” And in that same speech Mussolini proposed going to “state capitalism,” a term used by Lenin in the Soviet Union to describe his New Economic Policies (NEP) in 1921. The quote by Mussolini: “And if I dare to introduce to Italy state capitalism or state socialism, which is the reverse side of the medal, I will have the necessary subjective and objective conditions to do it.” So Mussolini admits his desire to introduce to Italy Lenin’s “state capitalism,” or state socialism. It does not get much better than this.

        I enjoyed this discussion and found more data for my book. Then again there is so much good material to make my point.


    • I also have the Oxford Handbook of the Italian economy, and it doesn’t give a source for that figure. Colli & Vasta show the calculation methodologies and links to their dataset.


  14. Pingback: Right vs Left: Were European fascists left wing? « An Africanist Perspective

  15. Some random person says:

    You’re right, fascism in Germany was almost certainly right wing.
    However, it had its roots in socialism, and the people who helped it come to power (You can ask Trotsky what happened next) were undeniably nationalist left wing populists. Nationalism and socialism are scary together because they reinforce the idea that no evil can come from within the party’s ranks, leading to a dissolution to some sort of authoritarianism, whether it be of Stalin’s or Mussolini’s ilk.


    • L.K. Samuels says:

      I have not yet studied German National Socialism as closely as Italian Fascism, but Hitler said in public and in private that he was a socialist. He opposed the church and the monarchy, which makes Nazism far more left-wing than right-wing. Hitler made an interesting statement in 1934 that illustrated his softness towards Bolshevism, saying:

      “It is not Germany that will turn Bolshevist but Bolshevism that will become a sort of National Socialism. Besides, there is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it…. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.” (Source: François Furet, Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, Chicago, Illinois, USA; London, England, UK: University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 191-192. Orginally comes from Hermann Rauschning The Voice of Destruction: Conversations with Hitler, G.P. Putnam’s Son, 1940, page 131. Note: Rauschning’s book was also published under the title Hitler Speaks.)


  16. Orestes says:

    @ L. K. Samuels

    Rauschning’s book is unreliable. Read up on it. It’s very improbable that he would have had such intimate contacts with Hitler as he claimed, given his rather unimportant position in the hierarchy.


    • L.K. Samuels says:

      A slew of Holocaust deniers are the ones trying to dispute Rauschning’s meetings with Hitler since Rauschning revealed Hitler’s early thoughts about what he was going to do to the Jews.


  17. Orestes says:

    No. There are genuine scholars who regard the work as valuable (from memory Joachim Fest for instance), but among the sceptics are Ian Kershaw, Richard Steigmann-Gall, and John Lukacs. Hardly “a slew of Holocaust deniers”. It’s best to simply not rely on such questionable sources.

    BTW, lately I have read your essay “Hitler and Mussolini: History’s dirty little secret”. It’s not bad as far this side of the argument goes (i. e. that Fascism is Left-wing), but you argue dishonestly in a couple of places. What am I supposed to make for example of the following? You write:

    “A few years later, Hitler did make a statement that he had regretted using the word ‘socialist’ in the party name. He said he preferred the phrase ‘social revolutionary’, which had stronger Marxist overtones.”

    This sentence is followed by a footnote, which would normally indicate that the whole information given here (including the last part about “Marxist overtones”) comes from the source citing Hitler. Yet it doesn’t. In Konrad Heiden’s “A History of National Socialism” on the cited page we read:

    “The Nazi Party had been too hasty in incorporating the word ‘Socialist’ in its title. Hitler indeed wished it to be ‘Social Revolutionary’, which may be taken to mean the maintenance of the existing economic system subject to certain practical alterations and the introduction of a system of social ethics that is militarist rather than humanitarian. But the name of the Party was already ‘National Socialist’, and therefore Hitler found himself compelled to give a new meaning to the word ‘Socialism’ which had hitherto – and not-withstanding all controversies – been customarily understood to mean the nationalization of the means of production. His definition runs:

    ‘Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation, whoever in addition has understood our great national anthem, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people and land – that man is a Socialst.’ ”

    So what Hitler essentially does is transform “Socialism” to mean simply unconditional patriotism and loyalty to the nation. This is not Socialism as understood by any actual Socialist. Let’s go further with the citation from Heiden:

    “At the beginning of 1923 this new ‘Socialism’ received more final definition. In delivering a speech of welcome to a National Socialist Party Congress on January 27, 1923, Hitler said:

    ‘Marxism propounds three horrific theories. First, a denial of the value of personality; second, denial of the right to private property; third, destruction of all human culture and of every higher form of economy (since this mus always presuppose private possession).’

    Here is a Socialist who finds the denial of the right to private property horrific! The Socialist group centered around Otto Strasser discovered in 1930 that Hitler had abandoned Socialism – a fact which shows how little trouble these sincere Socialists gave themselves to learn the opinions of the Leader.”

    Further on Heiden says Hitler regarded the existence of social classes as essential to the functioning of a nation, and cited Great Britain as a positive example of such. I would add to the evidence his speech made to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf in 1932 (I cite from “Nazi Germany Sourcebook” by Roderick Stackelberg and Sally Winkle, p. 103), where the positive view of private property is confirmed, if in a somewhat roundabout way:

    “I said that this value can be corrupted. There are, however, two other closely related
    phenomena that we can time and again trace in periods of national decline: The one is that for
    the conception of the value of personality there is substituted a levelling idea of the
    supremacy of mere numbers – democracy. The other is the negation of the value of a people,
    the denial of any difference in the inborn capacity, the achievement, etc., of individual


    And to this there must be added a third destructive factor: namely, after the denial of the
    value of personality and of the special value of a people, the view that life in this world does not
    have to be maintained through conflict. That is a conception which could perhaps be disregarded
    if it fixed itself only in the heads of individuals; yet it has appalling consequences, because
    it slowly poisons an entire people. It is not as if such general changes in people’s ideological
    beliefs remained only on the surface or were a matter merely of intellectual interest. No, in the
    course of time they exercise a profound influence and affect all manifestations of a people’s life.
    Let me cite an example: you maintain, gentlemen, that the German economy must be
    constructed on the basis of private property. Now such a conception of private property
    can only be maintained in practice if it in some way appears to have a logical foundation.
    This conception must derive its ethical justification from the insight that this is what nature
    dictates. It cannot simply be upheld by saying: “It has always been so and therefore it must
    continue to be so.” For in periods of great upheavals within states, of movements of
    peoples and changes in thought, institutions and systems cannot remain untouched merely
    because they have previously existed in this form … And then I am bound to say that
    private property can be morally and ethically justified only if I admit that men’s achievements
    are different … Thus it must be admitted that in the economic sphere people are not
    of equal value or of equal importance in all branches from the start. But once this is
    admitted it is madness to say: In the economic sphere there are undoubtedly differences in
    value, but that is not true in the political sphere. It is absurd to build up economic life on the
    ideas of achievement, of the value of personality, and therefore in practice on the authority
    of personality, but in the political sphere to deny the authority of personality and to thrust
    into its place the law of the greater number – democracy. In that case there must gradually
    arise a cleavage between the economic and the political points of view; to bridge that
    cleavage an attempt will be made to assimilate the former point of view to the latter –
    indeed the attempt has been made, for this cleavage has not remained bare pale theory.
    The conception of the equality of values has already been raised to a system, not only in
    politics but in economics. And that not merely in abstract theory: No! This economic
    system is alive in gigantic organizations – in fact it has already gained control of a state that
    today rules over immense areas.[…] ”

    One other small thing. You claim that in “Doctrine of Fascism” Mussolini originally wrote that “this century will be a century of the Left, a Fascist century”, and that this version is found in the early English translation by Joan Soames. Yet why does it seem like all available works in Italian cite the text as “century of the Right” (“un secolo di destra”)?

    Regards, Orestes.


    • L.K. Samuels says:

      It should be remembered that both German Nazism and Italian Fascism were syncretic movements. They were a hodgepodge of socialism, nationalism and syndicalism. But they were never reactionary; they were revolutionary movements of unlimited, government infused with variant left-wing socialistic polities, welfarism and central planning. Both Mussolini and Hitler admired Keynes and his state-interventionist economic policies. In fact, Mussolini wrote: “Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.” (James Strachey Barnes (1929), Universal Aspects of Fascism, Williams and Norgate, London: UK, 1929, pp. 113-114).

      Socialist, Communists and leftists use the word “Revolutionary” for their movement. The word “Reactionary” is reserved for the Church and the Monarchy. So, Hitler’s choice of “Social Revolutionary” for his party name still signifies his socialist or socialist-leaning on the Left. Look at the first political party name that Mussolini picked in 1919 — “Revolutionary Fascist Party.”

      Konrad Heiden also noted this revolutionary nature of National Socialism, writing in Der Fuehrer:

      “Rohm coined the slogan that there must be a ‘second revolution’, this time, not against the Left, but against the Right; in his diary, Goebbels agreed with him. On April 18, he maintained that this second revolution was being discussed ‘everywhere among the people’; in reality, he said, this only meant that the first one was not yet ended. ‘Now we shall soon have to settle with the reaction. The revolution must nowhere call a halt.” (p. 596.)

      The Communists was just another rival political gang competing with the National Socialists in a crowded field of collectivists politicos who want to take over the state and impose their will on the people. The real enemy of the socialists and collectivists were the “Classical Liberals.” At various times in his life, Mussolini was an avowed Marxist, Revolutionary Syndicalist, a hard-core socialist, even an atheist, but he never confessed to being a liberal that supported individualism. In the 1935 version of his “Doctrine of Fascism”, Mussolini writing: “Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State . . . . It is opposed to classical Liberalism . . . . Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual.”

      Hitler was trying to usher in more socialism for the German people. He already had a huge welfare, public works and military structure. But Germany was industrialized and had been influenced by centuries of John Lockean liberalism that favored property rights and individualism. He had to move slowly. And so he took control of the production and operations of many companies with little fanfare. The Nazis kicked out many company CEOs and replaced them with NAZI cronies. Albert Speer complained about this problem as the Minister of Armaments. Speer had warned that Germany’s war production was suffering in part due to untrained and inexperienced NAZI party members who were put in charge of major companies. In essences, the National Socialist had socialized much of Germany’s industry, but without the formality.

      See my current article at http://www.strike-the-root.com/historical-sabotage-of-italian-fascism-and-liberalism


  18. Orestes says:

    PS. Sorry for the formating of the last quote. For some reason it looked ok in the reply window.


  19. L.k. Samuels says:

    I have to disagree. Italian Fascism was not just a tactic nor just some middle road ideology that encompassed both left and right concepts. Mussolini was a well-read Marxist who developed who had developed a detailed, thought-out ideology. When Mussolini tried to gain power through his Fascist Revolutionary Party and later National Fascist Party, he played dumb to the press. But as Richard Pipes, the Harvard University professor of history noted: “Even as the Fascist leader, Mussolini never concealed his sympathy and admiration for Communism: he thought highly of Lenin’s ‘brutal energy,’ and saw nothing objectionable in Bolshevik massacres of hostages. He proudly claimed Italian Communism as his child.” Moreover, Prof. Pipes wrote: “Generically, Fascism issued from the ‘Bolshevik’ wing of Italian socialism, not from any conservative ideology or movement.” (Richard Pipes, Russia Under The Bolshevik Regime, New York: NY, Vintage Books, 1995, pp. 252-253.) I will be coming out with a book on this topic, hopefully in 2017.


  20. Douglas Knight says:

    You define “left” and “right” in the comments, but not in the post. Your definition is a who-whom definition of which individuals the party helps and hurts and, thus, who it is allied with. This is a useful scale, and it addresses questions like why were fascists allied with traditional right parties, but I don’t think it is the normal usage.

    I think that the normal usage of “left” and “right” is for political or economic systems, not political programs. If Richard kills the princes in the tower and takes the throne, you seem to label his opposition to the king as leftism, but I think most people would say that the new king is pretty much the same as the old king, neither left nor right of him. Similarly, if (hypothetically, as in Orwell) the apotheosis of fascism and communism were identical, but the fascists reached it by co-opting the old elites and the communists by replacing them, does that make the fascists right-wing?

    Well, actually, people mainly apply “left” and “right” to parties, not to systems. Perhaps I am naive to think that people care about the systems that the parties talk about, as opposed to short-term zero-sum appropriation. But if you only label parties, then you cannot label a one-party state as left or right, because there is no one to compare it to. But do want to compare states: we want to compare the full-grown USSR to Fascist Italy. We want to compare systems, even if we also want to compare nascent parties.


  21. markcancellieri says:

    I think a much more useful distinction than “left vs. right” is “individualism vs. collectivism.” As I wrote in an essay on the subject:

    “Under individualism, the individual is of primary importance, and it is the individual that government seeks to protect. Under collectivism, the group is of primary importance, and the government acts in the interest of the “common good,” even if it means sacrificing the interests of individuals.”


    The “left” has clearly been much more collectivist than the “right,” although there are notable long-standing departures from this. For example, the right does not protect the individual on “social” issues. Nor does the right always protect the individual on economic issues. As implied in your article, the right is generally “pro-business.” However, this shouldn’t be confused with being “pro-free-market.” Free market capitalism is not “pro” anything except pro-freedom and pro-individual. “Pro-business” is actually collectivist, not individualist. If I as a taxpayer have to pay a subsidy to a business, for example, that clearly doesn’t protect my individual rights. It is for the “common good.” Still, all things considered, the left is still far more collectivist than the right.

    It should be pretty clear that Nazi Germany was “collectivist,” not “individualist.” The focus was on Germany as a whole, and they were clearly willing to sacrifice the rights of individuals. In this sense, Nazi Germany was more “left” than it was “right,” but again, I think the “individualist vs. collectivist” distinction is much more useful.


    • That’s an ethical and ahistorical definition of left and right. I am not interested in truth claims of moral philosophy. I am interested in history. As I say in the follow-up to this post, Nazi Political Economy

      “…fascists [could] be judged from a classical liberal or a Hayekian perspective. I agree that’s a possible and valid way of looking at things — if you’re interested in an ahistorical ethical or ideological evaluation of fascist economics. Or if you’re interested in characterising a figure from history in terms of the current definitions of left and right.”

      “But, historically, ‘pro-business’ or ‘pro-property’ fits the definition of the right in politics much better than ‘laissez-faire’. Businesses everywhere and always want pro-business policies — not laissez-faire, unless that happens to be consistent with pro-business at that point in history.”


    • L.K. says:

      What might be clearer would be to designate the Left as a division between the “free Left” (my coinage) and the “statist Left.” It was the free left who were the original leaders of the French Revolution, known as the “Girondins” within the Jacobin Club. They were the free-market, limited government and Jeffersonian liberals and town-dwellers (bourgeoisie). The statist Left at the time were known as the “Montagnards,” who outmaneuvered the Girondins in the French assembly. The statist Left extra-judicially guillotined 22 Girondin deputies from the National Convention on October 31, 1793, which occurred near the beginning of the Reign of Terror.

      This attack was the flashpoint were the original left-wing bourgeoisie was pushed aside. The Montagnards were collectivists, nationalistic, protectionist and proto-socialists– who later inspired both the national socialist and communist movements.

      Then again, an argument can be made that communists, fascists and national socialists are actually hard-core Right-wingers since they all championed authoritarianism, statism and elitism, the same ideals upheld by those who sat on the right side of the aisle in the French assembly. Something to consider.


  22. Adik86 says:

    I believe the biggest problem rests in the definitions of Right and Left. Most people seem to take some, mostly traditional, policies and say that it’s the Right, and then take radically different, mostly progressive, policies and say it’s the Left. The reality is however, that both Right and Left are historically dynamic terms. During the French Revolution (where these terms emerged), the Left were the supporters of the liberal, bourgeoise Revolution, while the Right were the defenders of the Old Regime and supporters of conservatism. So, for the Right the main reference point is an Old Regime, while for the Left it’s a great social, policial and economic Revolution. This is the very basic point. Of course there were different clubs on the Left, with different views (some true laissez-faire, like Girondists, and some in favor of giving directives on behalf of the poor, like Montagnards), but still all favored the free market as a general rule, free from previous limitations of Old Regime mercantilism.

    However, Left and Right seem to be dynamic, so their meaning changed over time. The major turning point was the Communist Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. By that year (with the exception of the Great War) the social structure relatively resembled the pre-Revolutionary situation in France in 1789. It was a new form of an Old Regime. Socialism and Communism appealed to the generally poor public and many ideologists recognized that. So at first they sided with those alternative socialist ideologies, like syndicalism. However, they did not want to destroy the whole social structre, or the elites, like the Communists did in Russia. Instead, they saw the well-being of a nation in reinstating the general national discipline (economic, religious, military), which was, according to them, largely lost in the “belle epoque” that preceded World War I. Hence, these activists started to move away from Socialism and began to embrace, what began to be termed Fascism. While having leftist, socialist roots (and retaining some socialist policies for that matter), Fascists truly ventured into the Right. Since they did not defend the “belle epoque”, liberal-conservative Old Regime, they gave the Right a new, more menacing meaning. So this was happening in Italy. Later on some turned even more Right (like Franco), while others turned much more Left, yet still retaining their position in the Right, or even mixing Left and Right policies (most notably Hitler).


    • L.K. Samuels says:

      Adik86 is correct that it was the classical liberals, the bourgeoisie Left (Girondists faction) who instigated the French Revolution. They were the ones who originally sat on the Left side of the French Assembly. I call them the “free Left” (my term) and the Montagnards faction the “statist Left.” The question becomes this: who are the statist Left, and could they be also be clssified as the “statist Right” since they engaged nationalism, socialism and authoritarianism. Both the German National Socialist and the Russian Soviets were inspired by the second, violent half of the French Revolution.

      Whatever the exact political term used to designate them, the German National Socialists, the Italian Fascist and the Russian Soviets should be standing in the same police line. They are so closely integrated by ideology, history and tactics that they must be all on either the Left side or the Right side of the political spectrum. The real polar opposite to collectivism have always been the classical liberals. For instance, Mussolini was an avowed Marxist, socialist, atheist and Sorel-influenced Revolutionary Syndicalist, but never a liberal (individualism). Mussolini proved this in his 1935 “Doctrine of Fascism”

      “Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State . . . . It is opposed to classical Liberalism . . . . Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual.”

      The real divide is between collectivism and individualism. Since the individualists were first classified as Left-wing this would mean that the collectivist and authoritarians are on the Right. Thus, Communism should be seen as part of a far, extreme Right movement. But the problem is that the Communist keep calling themselves “Leftists.” when in fact, they have the same authoritarian characteristics of the Monarchy and the Church.

      My book will address these issues when it comes out in 2017.
      –L.K. Samuels


      • Adik86 says:

        Actually I opted for something a little different 🙂 You say that Fascists, Nazis and Communists should all be either on the Left or on the Right, while Liberals and Conservatists (that is, individualist ideologies) should be in the opposite side. But I believe that Left and Right are not so much about economy, as about societies, and moreover, about the great changes in a society, and what are the goals of those ideologies. If an ideology seeks to destroy the previous traditional society through Revolution and build a new one (or tries to implement ideological ideas associated with it in an evolutionary manner, rather than by revolution), then it is on the Left. If an ideology seeks to uphold, improve or even return to the previous traditional society, then it is on the Right. In this sense, individualistic ideologies from around the French Revolution and collectivist ideologies from around the Bolshevik Revolution, have their respective Lefts and Rights. To make it simple:
        – from around the French Revolution you have individualist ideologies: Liberalism (Left) and Conservatism (Right);
        – from around the Bolshevik Revolution you have collectivist ideologies: Communism (Left) and Fascism (Right).
        Nazis were between Left and Right, mixing ideas from both (and adding some of their own). The same goes for Napoleon.
        The fact that the most radical revolutionists in France opted for a sense of national community, made some economic regulations and used terror (the “statist Left”, as you called them), does not mean they were collectivists, because they still wanted an individualist, free market, serfdom-free society. It’s probably simply a trait of Revolution itself to build an ad hoc sense of national community, for the glory of a given ideology. Still you are right that later both Communists and Nazis admired these people. They did it however not because they admired the individualist ideology, but because they admired the harsh methods.


  23. L.K. Samuels says:

    Well, the statist Leftists who killed of the free Left, setting the stage for the second half of the French Revolution, were moving towards a violent social revolution where they demanded that every citizen had a right to “public relief.” And that the state now had to guarantee social and economic rights such as free education. They opposed the free-market and individualism. That is why they could go on the rampage. For them, limiting government only to protect individual rights would hamper the state’s ability to solve social and economic inequalities. They needed strong state power to force people to make changes, at least the ones the imposers valued.

    If one needs to be revolutionary to be “Left”, what about the Marx-Engels’ intellectual heir Eduard Bernstein? He worked closely with Marx and Engels, but came out for “Evolutionary Socialism” (also name of his book). He was one of the forerunners of the social democrat/democratic socialist movement. Bernstein also believed in class cooperation and even, like the socialist British Fabians, colonialism. He was not preaching revolutionary or pro-violent change. Would he be on the “Right?”

    Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s Sovietism are not similar just because of their totalitarian nature. Hitler was heavily influenced by Marxism and said so in “Mein Kampf ” writing that he had little to offer against Marxism without antisemitism. Plus, Hitler was slowly moving towards Marxism as he began to nationalized over 500 businesses. The situation was so bad for businessmen struggling with an anti-capitalist regime of high tax and regulations that one German businessman declared: “Some businessmen have even started studying Marxist theories, so that they will have a better understanding of the present economic system.” (Günter Reimann, “The Vampire Economy: Doing Business Under Fascism”, Mises Institute, 2014, p. 7. First published in 1939).

    Enjoyed the discussion.


    • Adik86 says:

      I also enjoyed it. I’ll just make a few comments:

      When it comes to the French Revolution, I’m trying to keep in mind, what was it about. It surely was about relieving masses of people from their misery. That’s why serfdom was abolished and peasants (at least most of them) were no longer the property of nobility, and came to truly own their houses as their own property. It was a major point in this revolution. And as I have learned, this was a crucial prerequisite to building a truly capitalist economy. More so, merchants in cities were relieved from mercantile regulations and given political rights. This also sounds like changes for building an individualist, than a collectivist state. Probably what would be called “socialist” or “communist” changes in this revolution was simply the fact, that the revolutionaries used the state itself to force all these property changes. However, their ideal was not a propertyless society, where only the state (or all people collectively) would own everything, but a society with equal economic opportunity for everyone, where small unrestrained businesses would be the norm and which would freely compete with each other. That’s why I said they opted for free market and capitalism. Of course the Radicals made some changes in the more socialist direction, such as setting the maximum for prices, but they did not overall hamper the competition between all these businesses, and actually it was only an ad hoc movement in a time of crisis, and not intellectually developed throughout the whole Enlightenment era.

      So it’s not only a question about revolutionaries taking the property from the priviledged classes, but also about what they eventually did with this property. In France they gave it to individual people, while in Russia they gave it to the state and made it collective.

      About the evolutionist Left – that’s why I wrote this: “If an ideology seeks to destroy the previous traditional society through Revolution and build a new one (or tries to implement ideological ideas associated with it in an evolutionary manner, rather than by revolution), then it is on the Left”. Notice the brackets. The Left does not necessarily have to be revolutionary, though it is associated with revolution. It may want to bring social changes, which are themselves revolutionary, through evolutionary means. So was with the Social Democrats.
      Yes, I agree that Hitler and Nazis are very much Left (though at the same time the Right, because of mixing ideas). But when it comes to Italian Fascism, I believe it was on the Right (despite its Left-wing roots), as Pseudoerasmus wrote in his article.

      Kind regards.


      • L.K. Samuels says:

        Yes. I love the way you describe society moving out of servitude within the feudal system. One way for the peasants to do that was to uproot their lives, sneak off to a town where there was more economic activity, independence and therefore more wealth and opportunities. This is why the word “bourgeoisie” actually means in Old French “town dweller.”

        Furthermore, for the early socialists before Karl Marx, it was the idea of community and helping each other that was the basis for their socialism. The Utopian socialist mostly took this position. Many did not want the government owning the means of production, nor that private property should be eliminated.


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