But “fascism” as it originated, and came to power, in Europe is gone, and there is no sign of contemporary revival. There has never been a viable fascist movement or party in the United States (any more than there has been a viable socialist party or movement).
Fascism was a revolutionary mass movement that originated in Italy after the First World War. Why revolutionary? Because, unlike the 19th century right-wing movements, it did not aim at the reestablishment of traditional monarchies. Nor was it class-bound; it acted in the name of the war-winning fighters (Italy), or the fighters betrayed by the political class (Germany) and the Jews. Thus the claim of fascist leaders to act in the name of “the nation.”
America has patriotism, not nationalism. Our loyalty, and our passions, are to a set of ideas, not to a country whose citizens share a common ethnic identity or religion, which is what nationalism is all about.
The fascist movements were part of a broad-based revolt against the liberal democratic state; revolts and then revolutions succeeded in Italy, Germany and Russia. First came the Russian revolution, then Italian fascism, then Hitler’s failed revolution, which triumphed a decade later.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of fascism was its enormous popularity. By the time Hitler became German chancellor, had enormous mass appeal, both in Italy and beyond. In both Germany and Italy, there was no sign of an effective opposition or resistance. Had they not lost the war, the two tyrants could have looked forward to many years of stable rule.
There is, and has been, no comparable movement in the United States. Racist reactionaries on the right, or violent anti-capitalist groups on the left, are both miniscule. Both claim to speak in the name of failed movements and regimes, ranging from communism to racial slavery. Real fascism was revolutionary and claimed to represent a “new man.” Today’s violent Americans have no such concept.
The most politically interesting and potentially significant aspect in the current tumult is that both sides call the other “fascist.” That testifies to the sometimes perplexing success of “progressive” dogma in the Western left following the fall of the Soviet Union. You might have expected Western intellectuals to acknowledge communism’s failure, but instead “fascism” became the primary, at times seemingly the only, legitimate label for political evil. This practice started right after the Second World War, and was a major weapon in the Soviets’ campaign to bring communists to power in the West. The West European communists asserted that they alone were entitled to determine if a given person was “fascist” or “antifascist.” Post-war Italy, with Europe’s most powerful Communist party, was the classic example. This produced all manner of political blackmail, as many real fascists were recycled as “antifascists.” It all went well for them for two generations. It wasn’t until the end of the century that famous writers and scholars confessed to their dark past.
Something similar is happening today, in the United States. As the left dominates the selection of faculty, curricula and recommended or required reading material, intellectuals who want to survive and flourish have to pretend to be loyal leftists. They tell themselves that eventually they will come out of their ideological closet, but as the European examples show, that can be quite a long time, if indeed it ever happens.
The first step toward fixing the mess is to stop using “fascist” whenever you disagree with someone. Use it correctly: the name of a West European movement between the two world wars of the last century. That’s it.
George Weisman at the Mises Institute offers
My purpose today is to make just two main points: (1) To show why Nazi Germany was a socialist state, not a capitalist one. And (2) to show why socialism, understood as an economic system based on government ownership of the means of production, positively requires a totalitarian dictatorship.
The identification of Nazi Germany as a socialist state was one of the many great contributions of Ludwig von Mises.
Or, in Mises’ own words, Part Six: The Hampered Market Economy > Chapter XXVII. The Government and the Market
There are two patterns for the realization of socialism.
The second pattern (we may call it the Hindenburg or German pattern) nominally and seemingly preserves private ownership of the means of production and keeps the appearance of ordinary markets, prices, wages, and interest rates. There are, however, no longer entrepreneurs, but only shop managers (Betriebsführer in the terminology of the Nazi legislation). These shop managers are seemingly instrumental in the conduct of the enterprises entrusted to them; they buy and sell, hire and discharge workers and remunerate their services, contract debts and pay interest and amortization. But in all their activities they are bound to obey unconditionally the orders issued by the government’s supreme office of production management. This office (The Reichswirtschaftsministerium in Nazi Germany) tells the shop managers what and how to produce, at what prices and from [p. 718] whom to buy, at what prices and to whom to sell. It assigns every worker to his job and fixes his wages. It decrees to whom and on what terms the capitalists must entrust their funds. Market exchange is merely a sham. All the wages, prices, and interest rates are fixed by the government; they are wages, prices, and interest rates in appearance only; in fact they are merely quantitative terms in the government’s orders determining each citizen’s job, income, consumption, and standard of living. The government directs all production activities. The shop managers are subject to the government, not the consumers’ demand and the market’s price structure. This is socialism under the outward guise of the terminology of capitalism. Some labels of the capitalistic market economy are retained, but they signify something entirely different from what they mean in the market economy.