Originally published in 1980.
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Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship
By A. James Gregor
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1979 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
THE AMBIGUOUS LEGACY
Political theory throughout history has shown itself to be a treacherous guide to political conduct. For centuries great thinkers have written about the origins, the nature, and the essence of life lived in common. They have written in an equally profound way about the political institutions that animate that life. They have sought to uncover the conditions governing the political organization of associated life, have speculated upon the trends and laws inherent in political combination, and have anticipated political futures and issued injunctions and proscriptions. They have advocated reform and revolution and have sought to justify their entire enterprise with appeals to the putative logic of history, divine imperatives, the identification of individual moral instincts, collective material interests and/or universal human dispositions. Out of all this, practical men were expected to tease out directives that might govern the specifics of individual and collective political behavior. Inevitably, such directives rely upon one of an immense variety of interpretations of oft-times enormously complex and obscure political theory. Unhappily, more frequently than not there have been as many interpretations of any given theory as there have been interpreters.
We all know that men have rummaged, for example, through the pages of Holy Scripture to put together justificatory arguments for almost every conceivable piece of political behavior, almost every form of political system or rule-governed interpersonal association. At one time or another, some thinker has contrived a "Christian" rationale for slavery, war, absolute or constitutional monarchy, anarchy, reformist socialism, revolutionary socialism, or fascism.
Somehow, we are all prepared to recognize the protean and effervescent quality of religious thought. And yet political theory shares some of the same features. The recognition of just these similarities has provided either grist for the cynic's mill or the substance of many a treatise on the sociology of knowledge.
In our own time and more to our present purpose, we have seen the theory associated with the name of Karl Marx invoked to justify those behaviors characteristic of both reformist social democracy and mass-mobilizing revolutionary movements. Marxism has been pressed into the service of that conduct which has led to the decimation of entire categories of unfortunates, or the instauration of vast labor camps in Stalin's Russia. Marxism has been understood to provide the rationale for the charismatic and hierarchical government in Castro's Cuba, the religious reverence accorded the thought of Chairman Mao, the postadolescent radicalism of middle-class student movements, the terrorism of urban or national-liberation guerrillas, and authoritarian regimes of every imaginable style. The rationale for each and every such posture has its own Marxist theoretician or group of Marxist theoreticans, often as much opposed to each other as they are opposed to the theoreticians of their "class enemies." There seem to be as many interpretations of Marxism as there are interpretations of Sacred Scripture. And there is little wonder.
If the Christian Gospels, for all their brevity, could be father to that vast array of interpretations mustered to the support of an indeterminate number of social and political behaviors, what might one expect from a body of theoretical literature that includes thousands and thousands of pages written over the course of half a hundred years? The new German edition of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels runs into two score volumes, most of them over six hundred pages in length. Out of this enormous mass of materials men have attempted to fashion an interpretation that might provide one sure guide to political conduct. The majority of those who have undertaken the task have sought to deliver a faithful rendering of the thought of Marx. They have sought to express what Marx really meant, and what such orthodox meaning implied for political behavior.
That contemporary men have become increasingly skeptical about all such claims of orthodoxy is readily understood. We are not surprised that there continue to be those who believe they have discovered the true meaning of Marx, but we lament the fact that others should credit them with the accomplishment. There is so much in the writings of Marx and Engels that even the most minor talent can put together a plausible interpretation that seems, for all the world, to exclude alternative interpretations, which, on inspection, turn out to be equally plausible.
The writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are filled with profound insights, trenchant asides, heuristic suggestions, putative laws, empirical assessments, injunctions to behave, invocations, half-articulated predictions, unargued assumptions, vague generalizations, evident untruths, bits of foolishness, simple carping, question-begging, and sometimes circular reasoning. With judicious selection, anyone can contrive an account that, to one degree or another, might justify libertarian democracy, parliamentary government, peasant revolution, pacificism, internationalism, nationalism, charismatic government, and/or guerrilla warfare — all in the name of Marx.
As long as Marx or Engels was alive, each such interpretation remained subject to preemptive scrutiny. Thus Marx could pass damning judgment on socialist anarchism. Engels could dismiss socialist anti-Semitism, or peasant populism, or communist revolutions in preindustrialist environments. But after the death of Engels in 1895, no one remained to serve as the final arbiter in instances of contending interpretations. Upon his death, Marxism became father to a host of interpretations, some frankly revisionist, some claiming the mantle of orthodoxy, but all conceiving themselves to be faithful to the letter and/or spirit of Karl Marx's thought.
The situation in our own time is not fundamentally different than it was at the turn of the century when intellectual crisis first disturbed classical Marxism. Not only do Marxist theoreticians still generate a compelling number of mutually exclusive interpretations, but many of the issues around which these interpretations revolve are remarkably similar to those that agitated the Marxist theoreticians at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Crisis of Classical Marxism
In point of fact, at no time during the second half of the nineteenth century could it be said that there was a single group of political thinkers who could be identified, without qualification, as orthodox Marxists. Classical Marxism, the product of the intellectual efforts of Marx and Engels, was apparently forever beset by misinterpretation. Both Marx and Engels regularly found themselves involved in acrimonious dispute with those who would debase their thought. Ferdinand Lassalle and Michael Bakunin — to mention only the most prominent — were considered by both Marx and Engels to have misconceived and distorted the most elementary insights of their theory. The record indicates that Marx and Engels spared few of the Marxists of their time. Josef Dietzgen for instance — the worker-intellectual whom Marx credited at one time with being the "one reader who really understood 'Capital'" — finally revealed himself to be little more than a "deviationist." And the faithful Wilhelm Liebknecht, Marx's representative among the Social Democrats of Germany, lacked, in Marx's judgment, "the dimmest idea of revolutionary politics."
Short of Friedrich Engels (and there is reason to believe that Marx's confidence may have been misplaced) it would appear that Karl Marx failed to find a single contemporary who he felt could correctly interpret his ideas. At one point, Marx was so disappointed in the views that were being circulated in his name, that he insisted he "was not a Marxist." In effect, even before the death of Engels, there was little that could pass as an orthodox interpretation of Marxism. It is quite clear that Marx had confidence only in Engels, and for twelve years after Marx's death it was Engels who continued to represent whatever Marxist orthodoxy there was.
In his turn, Engels bequeathed the responsibility for Marxist orthodoxy to Eduard Bernstein in whom he apparently had confidence. Bernstein was a talented intellectual and a dedicated Marxist. There appeared to be every reason to believe that Bernstein would represent the integrity of Marxist thought as well as anyone.
As it turned out, less than a year after the death of Engels, Bernstein began a searching review of Marxism as a scientific theory. In a series of articles entitled Probleme des Sozialismus, published in Die Neue Zeit, Bernstein began a systematic review of the philosophical presuppositions, theoretical components, empirical generalizations, and research methodology of classical Marxism. In 1899 Bernstein published a volume in which his criticisms were made explicit. The disputes that had already been provoked by his articles in Die Neue Zeit, were inflamed by the appearance of his Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie.
The fact is that although Bernstein's critique brought the issue of Marxism's theoretical integrity to the surface, others had already questioned it. The German Social Democratic party, even when it appeared most orthodox with the adoption of a Marxist program at the Erfurt congress in 1891, was nevertheless beset with grave theoretical misgivings. Theoreticians like Georg von Vollmar, for example, had already raised questions about the internal consistency, comprehensibility, and defensibility of some critical Marxist generalizations. Bernstein, himself, could refer his audience to Engels' introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France as evidence of Engels' own moves in the direction of a significant reinterpretation of what might have been considered a rigid orthodoxy.
Until the years of overt intellectual crisis, many Marxists (whatever Marx and Engels may have thought of their efforts) had conceived Marxism to be a rigorously scientific theory of social dynamics, embodying "laws" that afforded insight into inevitable and ineluctable historic processes. These laws were understood to certify the immanent and violent collapse of the capitalist system. The proletariat — afflicted by grievous misery and constituting the vast majority of the population — would inevitably rise up against its tormentors and strike down the entire system. The outcome could be predicted with mathematical certainty.
There was much, of course, in the literature produced by Marx and Engels that made such estimations eminently plausible. Bernstein, on the other hand, argued that Marxism was composed of intellectual elements open to other interpretations, and, further, that Engels had given clear indication that whatever Marxism may have been at one time it had undergone significant changes in the immediate past.
Bernstein indicated that Engels, in his introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France, had admitted that during their youth both he and Marx had been under "the spell of previous historical experience, particularly that of France." Engels went on to say that history had shown them to have been wrong, that their point of view of that time had been an illusion. Both he and Marx, for example, had believed a proletarian revolution to have been a real possibility at the time of the struggles of 1848 and 1850. They had then imagined that the revolution — precipitated by a small group of declassed intellectuals who would appeal to the real, but latent, interests of the masses — would inaugurate a socialist government. But it had later become obvious, Engels continued, that the "state of economic development on the Continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production."
Engels argued that only comprehensively mature economic conditions, and the attendant appearance of a "genuine bourgeoisie and a genuine large-scale industrial proletariat," made socialist revolution a real historical possibility. Not only was Europe not prepared for socialist revolution in 1848-50, she could not be ready until a measure of social peace and national harmony could create the conditions under which the prerequisites of revolution could ripen and mature. Marx and Engels had been mistaken in making an appeal to social revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. Engels had come to understand, Bernstein argued, that only complete economic maturity, the fruit of peaceful industrial development, could create the conditions necessary for the advent of socialism. Only in an environment characterized by extensive industrial development could the proletariat emerge as an effective revolutionary class. Only after the unification of Germany, after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, did industry begin to flourish in the Reich. Only with that development did the German working class organize itself into the "strongest, best disciplined and most rapidly growing Socialist Party" in the world. The strength of that party, and of the class it represented, Engels indicated, was revealed in the party's ability to attract votes. The working class had exploited what Engels identified as the newest and sharpest weapon in the socialist arsenal: universal suffrage. In his judgment, the use of the franchise constituted a "model to the workers of all countries." As a consequence, "rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, was to a considerable extent obsolete."
Bernstein understood the Engels of 1895 to be saying that socialist revolution involved winning the electoral confidence of the masses, the vast majority of class-conscious proletarians, products of massive industrial development. Such a mass would increasingly collect around the Socialist party in industrially mature environments "spontaneously," "steadily," and "irresistibly," and "at the same time as tranquilly as a natural process." More than that, under such circumstances, Engels argued, the proletariat would attract "the middle strata of society, petty bourgeois and small peasants" in what resembled a democratic, multi-class coalition of popular forces capable of winning electoral victories that would be the preamble to socialism. "The irony of world history," Engels argued "turns everything upside down. We the 'revolutionists,' the 'overthrowers' — we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow."
Bernstein read all this as a significant change in the Marxist theory of revolution. His own long association with both Marx and Engels, his intimacy with Engels for the last five years of Engels' life, suggested to him that he had correctly interpreted the new perspectives. Socialism was to depend essentially on parliamentary and electoral strategies. Its victory was assured by the industrial development and the political democracy of the advanced capitalist states.
In Bernstein's judgment, Marx had left no precise theory of proletarian revolution. It seemed clear to him that, whatever the Marxist theory of revolution might have been, it had undergone significant changes in the course of half a century. Bernstein considered Engels' introduction to Marx's Class Struggles in France, written a few months before Engels' death, to be a definitive statement of the most contemporary Marxist view of socialist strategy and tactics, a reflection of the employment of what Engels called a "materialist analysis," which seeks to "trace political events back to effects of what [are], in the final analysis, economic causes."
While it is clear that Engels did not foreclose the possibility, even the probability, of an ultimately violent confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the vast majority organized by the proletariat, it was evident that he urged socialists to be very circumspect in their use of violence in order not to impede the natural process of socialist succession.
Excerpted from Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship by A. James Gregor. Copyright © 1979 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- FrontMatter, pg. i
- Contents, pg. vii
- Preface, pg. ix
- One. The Ambiguous Legacy, pg. 1
- Two. The First Revolutionary Socialist Heresy, pg. 32
- Three. The First National Socialism, pg. 64
- Four. The Program Of Fascism, pg. 96
- Five. The Political Economy Of Fascism, pg. 127
- Six. The Labor Policy Of Fascism, pg. 172
- Seven. The Orchestration Of Consensus, pg. 214
- Eight. The Social Policies Of Fascism, pg. 254
- Nine. Fascism And Development In Comparative Perspective, pg. 300