Fascism: What Is It? F A Ridley 1941
Modern capitalist society, like its historic prototype, the (slave) ‘capitalism’ of classical antiquity, has known successively, the three main phases of rise, meridian and decline characterised respectively by revolutionary dictatorships, by Democracy, and by ‘totalitarian’ dictatorships in its decline. Speaking generally, the era of bourgeois Democracy represented the maturity of the capitalist system, and was, as such, broadly equivalent to the nineteenth century. It began with the French Revolution (1789-94) and ended in 1914, the date of the First World (Imperialist) War, the year One of the Decline of Capitalism.
The World War revealed to the Capitalist civilisation its own doom approaching on the historic horizon. The Russian Revolution dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s of this historic warning. Whatever the subsequent betrayals blunders and crimes that we associate with the Bolshevik Revolution and with the Third International which it sponsored, it must be conceded that the Russian Revolution frightened the international bourgeoisie out of its wits: in fairness we must grant it this negative virtue, at least. (If ‘Communism’ (Russian variety) still frightens our ‘Blimps’ into apoplexy, their fear, like their outlook in general, is an echo from the past! For them 1917 is still a contemporary date!)
The classic era of Bolshevism, both national and international, dated from 1917 to 1927 – from the November Revolution to the Fall of Trotsky, the last great champion of ‘permanent’ Revolution. This decade also represented the high water-mark of bourgeois ‘democracy’ in Europe. An Indian Summer, inaugurated by the defeat of semi-feudal ‘Prussian Militarism’ in 1918. Now, sociologically speaking, Democracy expresses capitalist society in its prime; the voluntary union of the classes under the leadership of the capitalist class as the most dynamic and progressive class in the current historic era. Such a society is, by its very nature, incapable of counter-revolution, which belongs, necessarily and by its very nature, to a different social phase, to a society in decay. Hence, by an imperative social ‘law’ a democratic capitalism is incapable of learning ‘the Lessons of October’. Against a determined revolution it is helpless, once granted a genuine revolutionary situation.
A social order, however, like an individual species, does not commit suicide voluntarily. It never has done, and never will do. When it senses its approaching dissolution on the horizon of history it ‘suffers a sea-change’ from maturity to decay. It seeks for the arts of counter-revolution: it resolves itself into a society suitable for their application.
The ‘October’ Revolution led by Lenin, took place in Russia. The ‘October’ counter-revolution, led by Mussolini, took place in Italy, a backward, poverty-stricken, still largely disunited country, swindled out of its promised share of war-spoils at Versailles by its allies in the world war, England and France; and with a labour movement bitterly divided by fiercely competing rival sections of communists, anarchists, syndicalists and (parliamentary) socialists. On 30 October 1922, Mussolini staged his ‘March on Rome’ (the Blackshirts, that is, marched, whilst their Duce, like the Duke of Plaza Toro of Gilbertian fame, ‘led his army from behind’ – on the cushions of a Pullman express car!).
30 October 1922, the date when the Italian ruling classes voluntarily handed over power to the ex-socialist, to the blacksmith’s son, Benito Mussolini, may be styled the birthday of Fascism in Europe; the birthday of the European counter-revolution; the moment at which capitalist society passed consciously from its meridian to its decay.
(NB: It is not necessary for me to encroach upon my limited space in order to describe the earlier career of Mussolini and his movement. Mussolini himself an ex-socialist, originally a disciple of the revolutionary school of Georges Sorel, ‘sold out’ to the Italian bourgeoisie during the world war. He founded the Fascist Party early in 1919, but at first it made so little headway, that in the Autumn of 1920 when the Italian workers forcibly occupied the factories, Mussolini dared not oppose them: it was this event that caused the frightened Italian bourgeoisie to ‘discover’ in the Duce and his Blackshirts a corps of useful mercenaries, and it was their fear only that transformed this hitherto insignificant politician into the Italian Dictator. I may add that the name ‘Fascist’ – from the ‘Fasces’ – the lictor’s rods of Classical Antiquity – was not invented by Mussolini, but had been used in Sicily as far back as the nineteenth century.)
Thus, the first phase of the Fascist Counter-Revolution took place in Italy. Between 1922, when Fascism formed a coalition in conjunction with other parties, to 1923, when the ‘Law of Corporations’ made the Fascist regime absolute, and installed the (so-called) ‘Corporative State’, Italy was transformed into a fully-fledged one-party State. Fascism had ‘arrived’ in a major European State; which henceforth abrogated all the freedom that capitalist Democracy had won in its hard-fought struggles with the relics of medieval absolutism. Thereafter, Italy was a counter-revolutionary State: that is, a State in a permanent state of siege; governed primarily with the object of preventing revolution. For this is the generic character of any and every Fascist State.
The first phase of the World Revolution was, we repeat, constituted by the Bolshevik Revolution. The first phase of the counter-revolution, that inaugurated by Italian Fascism between 1922 and 1928, represented the political answer to this Revolution: its dialectical negative. But the precedent (dialectical) positive did not prove permanent. From 1928 on the Russian Revolution, under the leadership of Stalin, became more and more nationalistic and bureaucratic: as for the Third International, it retrogressively deteriorated into ‘the subordinate branch of the Russian Foreign Office’ that it has since become.
Consequently as the danger of revolution diminished, so did counter-revolution become increasingly unnecessary. Hence Italian Fascism remained isolated as a governmental regime: for, despite the terrified bleatings of (ex) ‘Popular Fronters’ and other pseudo-socialist ‘intellectuals’, the bourgeoisie don’t resort to Fascism, to the permanent counter-revolution, merely for the fun of the thing; nor indeed is it in their power to do so without the psychological creation for a mass basis, which the ruling class cannot conjure up at will apart from suitable conditions (see infra – next section).
Hence, as Bolshevism, the positive pole, stagnated, so, concurrently did Fascism, its negative pole. So much so in fact, that Mussolini had to make a virtue of necessity and declare publicly that ‘Fascism is not an article of export ‘! Indeed, since Fascism must always, by its very nature, be ‘counter’ something or other, the Duce, having no communists in sight to fight, was forced to stage ‘the battle of wheat’, to employ castor oil against the unyielding macaroni stalks!
From this painful dilemma and the isolation that was its compelling cause, Il Duce del Fascismo was rescued by the World Crisis of 1929-33, which, so great was its severity, may be styled as the second stage in the decline of Capitalism; as 1917 had been the first. It is a matter of common knowledge that, as Mussolini and Italian Fascism were the product of the first, so Hitler and German Fascism ('National Socialism’) were the direct outcome of the second phase in the decline of Capitalism: only this time its originating cause was the economic contradiction inherent in the outmoded system, and not (unfortunately) any actual political revolution against it. With Hitler and the advent of the Third Reich Fascism ceased to be an article unsuitable for export. The Fascist ‘Axis’ was formed, and at the moment of writing (January 1941), dominates Europe.
Nonetheless, whilst (genuine) Fascist parties exist from Bolivia to – Brixton! – yet we resolutely reject the current practice of styling anything and everything as ‘Fascist’. To date, Fascism properly so-called exists in two countries only, Italy and Germany. Spain? – a clerical-militarist dictatorship of a traditional Spanish type, bolstered up by foreign bayonets – which happen to be those of Fascist Powers. France? – the regime of the old dodderer Pétain, is not Fascism spontaneously evolved, but a decrepit military dictatorship; ‘a senile Bonapartism’, to recall the excellent definition of Trotsky in one of his last articles. Norway, Belgium, Rumania, etc, etc? thinly veiled military colonies of Germany. The Russia of Stalin? a Totalitarian State certainly, but not Fascism – (see next section) , Japan? a medieval Theocracy in form; a military dictatorship, pursuing most un-medieval policies of Imperialism, in substance. It is unnecessary to mention the ‘Democratic’ States of the West.
Hence, the investigation into the nature of Fascism that we are about to undertake is still an analysis, solely, of the German and Italian counter-revolutionary States.