1 March 2012
Martin Durham has written extensively about Right-wing politics. However, his interpretations of history are not as well thought out as he asserts. The trickiest problem is the definition of "fascism" which Durham avoids by stating the study is not intended as a discussion of the boundaries of generic fascism. He argues that German National Socialism, Italian Fascism and the British Union of Fascists were all examples of fascism and rejects the argument that National Socialism is too fundamentally different to be seen as a form of fascism. Durham's assertion is unconvincing, for while Fascism and Nazism held similar doctrines, the latter never accepted being called "fascist". They regarded the term as propaganda which was not worth refuting because it originated with the Judeo-Bolshevik Soviet Union. Comparisons based on the evocation of the past, the nationalism of the present and authoritarian leadership fail because they existed on the surface rather than in the psyche of the two regimes. Lumping them together is a fundamental error of judgement.
Fascism was a revolt against materialism, individualism, liberal democracy, positivism and rationalism. According to Mussolini and Gentile, "The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State." Its economic and social philosophy was that of corporatism. Mussolini seized political power in what was, in practical terms, a coup d'etat. Although opposed to Christianity he was politically astute in resolving the Roman Question by signing the Lateran Pact. Mussolini's policy was to unite all ethnic Italians under Fascist control but his foreign policy was imperialistic not ideological. He was dismissive of German ideas of racial categorisation and it was not until 1938, under pressure from the Nazis, that laws discriminating against Jews were introduced. The laws were unpopular with Italians generally. Mussolini was deposed in 1943 by the Head of State, Victor Emmanuel 111. The Italian state continued without him concluding an armistice with the Allies less than fifty days after his dismissal. By contrast the death of the Furher removed the sole source of authority in the Nazi State which collapsed a few days later.
Nazism was a different product from Fascism. Its predecessor, The German Workers' Party, was a combination of traditional folk ideas and vigorous anti-Marxism in defence of the German nation against the Weimar Republic, demanding the repeal of the Treaty of Versailles and an end to reparations. Their ideology was anti-Semitism which, they contended, lay at the heart of the Communist threat. The initial coup d'etats against the Weimar government in 1919 and 1923 came from the Communists not Hitler. When Hitler later tried that route he was defeated and served a year in prison where he dictated "Mein Kampf." In 1928 the Comintern declared social democracy and fascism were twins opposed to Marxism. Trotsky dismissed this as Stalinist dogma. He defined "fascism" in loose sociological terms attempting to prove an intimate connection between Italian and German authoritarianism while regarding both as a "capitalist reaction". He concluded " from the point of view of the proletariat, the difference between divers types of capitalist reaction are meaningless." Trotsky's claim that fascism represented "capitalist reaction" was a grotesque and nonsensical over-simplification of the complexities of inter-war politics.
Durham is aware of that complexity, identifying fascism as "a body of ideas" including elitism, nationalism, racial superiority, futurism and opposition to socialism. He is also aware of the political violence that characterised fascist tactics but, in his haste to link Fascism and Nazism, attaches too little importance to differences in the primary motivation of each ideology. He acknowledges the Nazis in power moved more quickly than Mussolini to eliminate opposition both inside and outside the Party but ignores the reasonable conclusion that this was caused by differences in the nature of their respective regimes rather than common sociological and political factors. He is aware of it commenting that "if Italian Fascism had not started as an anti-feminist movement, by the late 1920s it had become one." It was opposed to abortion, contraception and women at work. In 1938 Fredinando Loffredo wrote, "Women must return under the absolute subjection of man - father or husband." Although the Nazis advocated similar policies, Hitler was more concerned with eugenics and the "purity" of his mythical ideal Aryan race against "Jewish" decadence.
Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) considered sexual matters to be outside the role of the State. The British Fascisti was founded by Rotha Lintorn-Orman in 1923 in the wake of Mussolini's "March On Rome". Its focus was anti-Communism. After 1931 it openly supported Italian Fascism. Its membership included many from the upper class who later supported the BUF. Durham considers studying the role of women in the BUF would lead to greater understanding of fascism itself. Given the egotistical nature of Mosley's politics and lack of electoral impact, Durham attaches too much importance to his claim that studying BUF female membership would add any significant knowledge about British Fascism.
Durham concludes organisations such as the "(French) Front National, the (German) Republikaner and the (British) National Front "are direct descendants of classical fascism." In respect of the latter he is, in my view, mistaken. The National Front and other P J Proby extremist organisations (so called because they inevitably produced splits) were headed by nonentities such as Colin Jordan and John Tyndall. Unlike Mosley, who despised the masses, they recruited from amongst the working-classes for whom immigration was too important to be ignored by the major parties. He concluded he no longer believed "that fascism is to be seen as by definition a masculine movement pursuing a misogynist agenda." The narrowness of the subject makes this a book for aficionados of fascism not the general reader. Four stars.