In recent years, American politics has been plagued with mutual assertions on both sides of the aisle that the other party is pursuing a fascist agenda. It would therefore behoove many – especially those on the far left claiming to be fascism’s diametric opponents – to gain a greater understanding of what fascism actually entails. They might find that fascism and socialism are far from mutually exclusive.
In fact, fascism and socialism are fundamentally unified around one guiding principle: societal revolution, and the subsequent totalitarian ideological control by the state.
Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “A political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stand for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
Historian Emilio Gentile – one of the world’s foremost scholars of fascism – describes it as a political ideology with an “extra ingredient” that creates a “political religion.” Gentile contends that this ingredient – essentially, totalitarian control – is found in fascist and Bolshevik states alike.
Fascist principles are often co-opted by left-wing populism, the roots for which are based in a socialist vision for a society incorporating a more equitable distribution of resources. This is precisely what transpired in Hugo Chavez’s communist Venezuela. Chavez rose to power on a populist wave, bent on redistributing the massive oil wealth that had accumulated in the upper echelons of Venezuelan society. Much and more has been written of the failures of the Chavez regime, and can be explored elsewhere. But, in addition to utter economic ruin, these socialist reforms came to engender “a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.”
For more clear-cut links between socialism and fascism, one can examine the most infamous historical examples of fascism’s adoption throughout inter-war Europe in the years leading up to World War II. Each of fascism’s proponents was either formerly a socialist, or espoused socialist principles to a significant degree.
In France, prominent French Socialist Party member Leon Deat led the “neo-socialist” movement that became a backbone of the Nazi-allied Vichy government.
In Belgium, Deat’s socialist counterpart and close ally Hendrik de Man adopted a similar perspective, urging “a state plan based on a mixed economy, central direction of that economy, inflationary fiscal policies, and Keynesian deficit financing – the achievement of which would be brought about by an alliance between the proletariat and the middle classes.”
The Union Socialiste Republicaine (USR) represented the combined efforts of Deat and de Man, and has been described as a “fascist movement” with “left-wing goals.”
In Britain, the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was formed by Oswald Mosley and his allies. Mosley had been a strong force within the British Labour Party, and espoused Keynesian-influenced policy goals centered around centralized economic planning. Once Mosley developed enough influence, he began thinking bigger, adding elements of state-run corporatism that originated in the Italian fascist experiment.
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was the author of that experiment. Mussolini, himself a former revolutionary socialist, argued that only through centrally controlling all corporate activity could the ultimate objective of a totalitarian state be achieved. Italy in turn became the model upon which Adolf Hitler’s fascist vision for Germany was based.
Hitler – whom French historian Francois Furet has referred to as “Lenin’s younger brother”–preached socialist ideals from the outset.
One of his early speeches contends socialism to be “the final concept of duty, the ethical duty of work, not just for oneself but also for one’s fellow man’s sake, and above all the principle: Common good before own good.”
Yet another proclaims, “We must on principle free ourselves from any class standpoint…there are no such things as classes… there can only be a single people and beyond that nothing else.”
As time transpired, this socialist movement came to be riven with corporatist influence. Elaborating in 1931 on his proposed economic plan to revitalize Germany’s floundering economy, Hitler argued “The program demands the nationalization of all public companies, in other words socialization…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.”
Links to socialism are not confined to Hitler’s public orations. Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda and Hitler’s closest ally, once claimed “The future belongs to the dictatorship of the socialist idea of the state.”
Early Hitler opponent and German war minister Wilhelm Groener condemned: “There is no doubt that many members of the SA and SS were in the recent period militants of communist organization. Their goal is and remains communism.”
Upon a visit to Germany during Hitler’s rise, Simone Weil detailed, “The whole German youth, in almost every social milieu is driven…by a violent feeling of hatred towards capitalism and a burning desire for a socialist regime.”
German industrial titan Alfried Krupp stated, “They want a sort of Bolshevism with jack-boots but without a brain.” Ironically, the Krupp company would shortly thereafter be suborned by the Nazi cause, and become the primary supplier of Hitler’s Wehrmacht.
The Nazi Party – officially, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – was able to achieve its level of control by unifying disparate elements of society and eliminating all dissent. Hitler institutionalized his dogmatic agenda by allying himself with Big Business – such as Krupp, I.G. Farben, Siemens, and many others – rather than destroying it.
In summation, the primary difference between socialism and fascism is that fascism is smarter. Fascism recognizes the power potential of suborning private enterprise, and nationalizing those private enterprises in service of its unadulterated socialist objectives.
Unfortunately, the cautionary tale of Nazi Germany is increasingly ignored, as history often is.
Within the United States in particular, this is a cautionary tale that is manifesting before our eyes, illustrated by the ever-increasing clamor for socialist policy initiatives to combat predatory capitalism, the monopolization of Big Tech, and the mainstream media’s naked censorship of those who diverge from their proscribed ideology.
Yet, it is the leftist alliance with Wall Street and corporate stakeholders, as evidenced by the advent of ESG scores and the institutionalization of corporate social responsibility, that provides the greatest cause for concern. It is eerily reminiscent of the corporatism inherent to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
In the aggregate, this alliance represents nothing less than a centralization of power from all corners of society, on a scale similar to, yet greater than, that perpetrated by the Nazis 80 years ago. This overarching cohesion is working to create a totalitarian political religion, one that is bent on destroying economic freedom and individual liberty.
Italian political sociologist Luciano Pellicani convincingly concludes: “Fascism and capitalism are two antithetical realities. If the principles of the first prevail, the principles of the second – full property rights, absolute freedom to buy and sell according to the laws of the market, the logic of profit and competition, etc. – are inevitably seriously restricted, if not annihilated altogether.”
In conclusion: socialism, fascism, it makes no difference. The latter is, and has always been, simply a more sophisticated extension of the former. That sophistication is what makes fascism so much more dangerous. That sophistication is why it took the combined might of the entire free world to combat fascism in history’s most devastating war.
So, if you were interested in societal control, which of these would you pick? Which has the better track record of success?
Which seems reminiscent of what is occurring in America today?
You tell me.
Jack McPherrin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is research editor at The Heartland Institute.