Bryan Caplan  

The Faces of Janus

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While preparing my promotion packet, I came across my old review of A. James Gregor's outstanding The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century.  Highlights:

Gregor provides an elegant and thoughtful history of what one might uncharitably term the "Big Lie" of Marxism: That it is diametrically opposed to the theory and practice of fascist dictatorship.  In this work, he probably does more than anyone else to show that mutual hostility of fascist and Marxism movements has always primarily been a case of the orthodox hating the heretic more than the infidel. 

Gregor begins his account by summarizing his major findings on Mussolini's apostasy from orthodox Marxism.  As Gregor's earlier work shows, Mussolini's fascism kept much of the basic Marxist outlook intact, but fiercely rejected its internationalism.  It would be "better politics" to unite all social classes within a nation for struggle against rival nations.  In response, orthodox Marxists throughout Europe joined together not to critique Mussolini's arguments, but to impugn the integrity of any socialist wicked enough to buy into them.  As Gregor explains:

For Italian Marxists, the next step in the logic of denial was to conceive of Fascism itself, together with its Marxist "apostates," as venal and opportunistic.  The final step was to see Fascism, in its entirety, as the suborned "tool of reaction" - since only monied "reaction" could offer sufficient benefits to those who sought to profit from their apostasy. (p.21)

This initial response to fascism grew by leaps and bounds; the Communist International soon codified it.  After various refinements, Georgi Dimitroff provided the official Stalinist interpretation of fascism as "the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capitalism." (p.31)  Gregor then expertly traces the evolution of this notion under post-war Stalinism and the awkward period of de-Stalinization (when the "fascist" features of Stalin's rule became especially difficult to overlook). 

Probably the most novel aspect of this work is the fascinating history of the Sino-Soviet split, and their ideologists' mutual efforts to pin the "fascist" label on the other side.  As Gregor explains:

By the end of the 1960's, Soviet theoreticians were prepared to argue that the "Chinese leadership" had transformed itself into an "anti-Marxist, anti-socialist, chauvinistic and anti-Soviet... bourgeois-nationalistic" movement of reaction... In their account, Soviet thinkers had recourse to the same list of descriptive traits that Western academics had employed for some considerable time to identify fascist political and social systems. (p.71)

Maoists in China similarly began to describe the Soviet Union as a fascist state, and argue that the Soviet leadership had in some sense betrayed socialism in order to take the "capitalist road."  The danger of fascist subversion of socialism was omnipresent:

"[B]ourgeois" classes were to be found in both the Soviet Union and Maoist China, where private property had long been eliminated and the means of production socialized.  As long as any inequality existed anywhere, class distinctions existed by entailment.  Where there were classes, one would find fascism. (p.79)


To the modern mind, it is hard to take this fascist name-calling seriously.  But what Gregor helps tease out is not that both sides were wrong, but rather that both sides were right.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Kurbla writes:

It is true that fascism started as militant, nationalists, and moderately socialist movement. However, look at this:

    As Gregor's earlier work shows, Mussolini's fascism kept much of the basic Marxist outlook intact, but fiercely rejected its internationalism. It would be "better politics" to unite all social classes within a nation for struggle against rival nations.

This is not small difference. Marxists want class war and international collaboration, even unity, and Fascists want class collaboration and international war. This is huge difference.

But, aristocracy, capitalists, church, classical liberals do not search for a class war or victory in that war. They might find fascist ideas quite acceptable or - lesser evil - and support them. And - it really happened. The fascists supported capitalists in turn. Early Mussolini's economic policy was more free market than classical liberal policy prior to him. In Germany, Afried Krupp, the largest capitalist in Germany was the minister of war economy.

If fascists were barely heretics, and not infidels or Satanists, it would be utterly impossible that at the height of their power they elect the largest capitalist in country - arch-enemy of every Marxist - to the position of the minister of war economy. It would be as unthinkable as Libertarian party electing Bob Avakian for president.

One could speculate that, theoretically, history could turn it other way, and that fascists could gradually abandon nationalist component, strengthen socialist component and finally collaborate with Marxists, and together expropriate capitalists. Theoretically, it could happen, but it didn't happened in reality. Why? In my opinion, it is about emotions. The fascists started at the position that was emotionally closer to the pro-capitalists than to anti-capitalists of that time and place.

Randy writes:

Dueling classifications. The only classes that matter to me are those who create (producers) and those who exploit (politicians). Both productive and political behaviors are natural to human beings, but they are also a cultural choice. As a member of the productive culture, I believe that productive behavior leads to wealth and that political behavior leads to conflict.

jake writes:

what is a promotion package?

R. Richard Schweitzer writes:

An item often overlooked in such studies is the isuue of "resources available" to support the means necessary (but not deleterious) to the ends sought, as those ends took shape from amorphous theory.

Such resources included the existing historical and cultural forms of organizations, the kinds of cooperations and conflicts amongst them, etc.

The theorists tried to extract resources via destruction, displacement and replacement, where the National Socialists seemed to achieve more positive results at earlier stages by deploying existing resources in situ.

Of course, neither format was sustainable because of the nature of the ends sought.

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