The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics

The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics

by A. James Gregor


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How valid are the assertions of contemporary radicals who insist that they are "Marxists"? A. James Gregor measures the distance that separates today's radicals from the belief system of Marx and Engels. He finds that the characteristic qualities of modern mass-mobilizing movements bear more impressive similarities to the paradigmatic Fascism of Benito Mussolini than to "classical Marxism." Thus he offers a new conceptual framework for the analysis of contemporary totalitarian movements and established regimes.

Originally published in 1974.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691618531
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2015
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1457
Pages: 488
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 3.50(d)

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The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics

By A. James Gregor


Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07556-3


Revolution, Radicalism, and the Twentieth Century

... When one considers both the various theories which call themselves Marxist, and the realities of the world today, it would seem that the only alternative lies in a choice between a scholastic Marxism which has nothing to do with revolution and a revolution which has nothing in common with Marxism. Never, in the course of the past century, has the name of Marx been so widely invoked; never has this name served to justify so many ideas and actions totally foreign to the genius of Marx.

Stuart Schram

The twentieth century is obviously a time of troubles. Not a year has gone by since the turn of the century that modern man has not been beset by revolutions and wars — and rumors of revolutions and wars. So traumatic has the entire experience been — so dislocating the irrepressible violence — that we have not yet succeeded in attaining an adequate understanding of what has been, and is, transpiring. We are living through a century in which one-third of mankind now finds itself involved in political systems self-characterized as "socialist," and another third in political systems that are clearly dominated by the military. The prospects for liberal and pluralistic political democracy seem dim.

For some time it was considered sophisticated to suggest that we were passing through a transitional period between the "bourgeois democratic" and the "socialist" eras. This conviction produced a disposition to read the events of the interwar years as a conflict between the forces of "historical reaction" and those of historical inevitability. The Soviet Union was advertised as the "socialist vanguard"; and generic fascism, the fascism that manifested itself in southern, central, and eastern Europe during those years, was characterized as the last resistance of "bourgeois dictatorship in decay," of "monopoly" or "finance capital," or of "privilege, irrationality and hatred" against "equality, reason and brotherhood."

The defeat of the Axis powers, the embodiment of "reaction," did not, however, usher in the era of "socialism, progress and amity." The period after the conclusion of the Second World War marked the commencement of the protracted "cold war" and the tortuous conflict not only between the "bourgeois democratic" and "socialist" states but eventually between the "socialist" states themselves. The Sino-Soviet dispute confounded what used to be considered the inevitable march of history. Not only did China and the Soviet Union begin to level charges of "reactionary" and "anti-progressive" against each other, but both began to assume military postures along the long Sino-Soviet border. China denounced the Soviet Union as a reactionary and fascist regime. The Soviet Union decried the "irrationalism," the "adventurism" and the "cult of personality" that characterized the "peasant Utopian" and "anti-Marxist" regime of Chairman Mao. Since the end of the Second World War the "progressive" forces in the contemporary world, the "Marxists" and "socialists," have undergone startling changes. The "socialist" and "revolutionary" powers have begun to take on characteristics that are, to say the least, singular. Only in the immediate past has it been conceivable that a "Marxist" and "humanist" radical could say: "War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions ...," and "All wars that are progressive are just ...," "Every Communist must grasp the truth, 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,'" and "[We] are advocates of the omnipotence of revolutionary war; that is good ... it is Marxist." Only in the immediate past has it become conceivable for a "Marxist humanist" to announce that "hatred is an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine."

The "Marxism" that has manifested itself after the termination of the Second World War has come to understand revolution in terms of underprivileged or underdeveloped countries as opposed to "privileged" or "capitalist" countries in what Lin Piao described as the rural areas of the world aligned against the cities of the world. The contest is one in which "politics is the commander, politics is the soul of everything" — and the principal tool in the conflict is the military, for "without a people's army the people have nothing."

Radicalism has surely undergone a startling transmogrification. The original Marxist emphasis on economic determinants in historical development has succumbed to voluntarism and activism — and an emphasis on violence, sacrifice, and dedication. The Marxian emphasis on internationalist and class determinants has succumbed to war conducted by "national and multiclass liberation movements." The revolution Marx anticipated in the industrially most advanced communities is heralded in the most backward economic systems. The revolution that Marx had foreseen manifesting itself without violence in England, the United States, and Holland is now understood to ride in behind full-scale regular or irregular military operations. Entire societies are militarized in Marx's name, and the humanism that constituted the ethical substance of the Marxist Weltanschauung has given way to the invocation of hatred, bloodshed, and sustained violence in order to conjure up the good society.

The magnitude of the change that has overtaken radicalism has only now become apparent. Incremental changes that within the context of an elaborate ideological corpus passed unnoticed have accumulated to the point where they can no longer be ignored. It is no longer possible to neglect the full measure of transformation. "Marxists" themselves have simply pronounced it; they have applauded the "creative developments" classical Marxism has suffered at the hands of such gifted theoreticians as Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and Fidel Castro.

The fact is that contemporary radical thought bears remarkably little resemblance to the thought of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Many of the foremost contemporary radicals who advertise themselves as "Marxists" became Marxists, in fact, before being exposed to the writings of Marx and/or Engels. When Mao became a "Marxist," for example, very little of the Marxist corpus had been translated into Chinese, the only language he could read. Castro, in turn, in proclaiming his "Marxism-Leninism" admitted that he had read no further than the first few chapters of the first volume of Das Kapital — only to throw it aside and insist that only "life" and "revolution" can make one a "true Marxist-Leninist."

In effect, the "Marxism" of contemporary radicals has become increasingly diaphanous. As more and more of the constituents of classical Marxism are jettisoned, the space vacated is filled with alternate substance.

Why this should be the case is not difficult to divine. The problems that afflict the most revolutionary of contemporary societies bear very little resemblance to the problems with which Marx and Engels occupied themselves. The first, and perhaps foremost, problem that weighs on many contemporary societies is, for instance, underdevelopment — delayed or thwarted industrial development. As a consequence of underdevelopment, a colonial heritage, inadequate population or material resources, or one or another disability, many communities suffer collective threat and serious status deprivation. The enhancement of national prestige, the mobilization of natural and human resources in the service of that end, the insistence upon individual sacrifice in the furtherance of collective well-being, the commitment to personalist leadership and a one-party state, are features that have become more and more prominent in the thought of contemporary radicals.

These are evidently not exclusively the species traits of "left-wing" or "Marxist-Leninist" political systems. The same or similar features have appeared in the non-Marxist "socialism" of Nasser and Nkrumah, and in the "guided democracy" of Sukarno. "Radical" or "revolutionary" political systems during the second half of the twentieth century, whether "Marxist" or not, have begun to share identifiable traits that suggest they are all members of the same political genus.

Less and less frequently have contemporary radicals in the underdeveloped countries spoken, for example, of a "withering away of the state," or of "universal suffrage," or "referendum and recall" — much less of the industrial self-management and voluntary, productive communes that characterized Karl Marx's vision of the postrevolutionary society. More and more frequently the talk is of "centralized," "directed," and "planned economies," of a unitary vanguard party that "brings consciousness" to the "working masses" that gradually comes to include not only the peasantry, urban and rural "proletariat," but the "national bourgeoisie," and even "progressive gentry and nobility" as well. Nationalism has become the principal mobilizing strategy, and not a few contemporary radicals have entertained injunctions such as "The Fatherland or Death!" All of which makes very curious "Marxism" indeed.

Recently Mary Matossian has spoken of a class of mobilizing belief systems she identified as "ideologies of delayed industrialization," a class that includes "Marxism-Leninism, Shintoism, Italian Fascism, Kemalism, Gandhism, the current Egyptian Philosophy of the Revolution, Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People, the Indonesian Pantjasila and many others." Among the "many others" she suggested that Hitler's National Socialism might be included. The ideologies to which she refers seem to constitute a class of mass-mobilizing belief systems generated to organize human energies behind a program of national rehabilitation, intensive development and/or aggrandizement. Where this does not necessarily mean the augmentation of per capita production in primary, secondary, and tertiary productive activities and the transfer of manpower from agricultural to industrial pursuits, it involves the expansion of special industries (armaments, for example) and/ or the mobilization of human beings for protracted defense or aggression.

If radicalism, as a political persuasion, evinces a constellation of traits, those traits seem to be characteristically, but not exclusively, the response to a set of circumstances that have become increasingly commonplace in the world of the twentieth century. Most of the radical movements of our time have appeared and matured in environments best identified as those produced by delayed or thwarted industrialization. In an environment where the bulk of the population is involved in agricultural production — characteristically conducted with labor intensive methods — in which per capita productivity is low and the ratio of savings to consumption is low, one expects not only a pervasive sense of inadequacy, frustration, and free-floating hostility but a disposition to anticipate and favor change as well.

In such an environment one reads a history of humiliation. A community that remains at the level of preindustrialization, or which is only partially industrialized, finds itself suffering low competitive potential. More advanced economies "oppress" and "exploit" it. It suffers national humiliation. Such a community is manifestly disadvantaged and disposed to favor radical change.

Often, within such communities, a small nucleus of declassed intellectuals — frequently the offspring of traditional or interstitial elites who receive their educations in more advanced economies or whose educations make increasingly manifest the backwardness of their homeland — begins to agitate for massive change. When their homelands are destabilized by war, economic dislocation, or population pressures, such elements can act as catalyzing agents, nuclei around which dissidents collect. Under "revolutionary" circumstances, such elements and the dissidents that collect around them can effect rapid or phased change in order to begin or accelerate the process of industrial development and modernization. Industrialization and modernization are clearly perceived as necessary antecedents to obtaining a "place" in the modern world.

Since the end of the Second World War the process that carries a nation from the level of an agricultural and pre-industrial stage to that of advanced industrialization has been the object of protracted and somewhat detailed study. The works of W. W. Rostow typify the literature devoted to the study of this process. It is a literature that attempts to identify the various stages of economic growth and to specify some of the preconditions and conditions governing the process.

Rostow has attempted to schematize the preconditions for what he terms "industrial take-off." One necessary precondition is "nation building," a development of a sense of political community without which resources cannot be mobilized, local industries cannot be insulated from foreign competition, and local integrity cannot be defended. Moreover, since the preconditions necessarily involve a considerable reallocation of limited resources to "social overhead" — provision of an economic infrastructure requisite to development, the construction of an adequate road and rail system, the systematic instruction in skills necessary for competent utilization of potential enterprisory and organizational talents — a whole series of dislocating political decisions must be made. Potential financial and investment resources must be released from "nonproductive" uses and differentially employed. Often this entails the elimination of large incomes unproductively dissipated in the traditional or landlord sectors of the economy. This suggests extensive agrarian reform or "class" expropriation, but can be accomplished in a variety of fashions. If "take-off" is to be successful, there must be a rise in the rate of capital investment that outstrips population growth. Prior to the twentieth century, all this could have been undertaken at a relatively leisurely pace and without the massive political and social dislocations that characterize the transition between stages of economic growth in the contemporary world. Under the competitive conditions that obtain in the twentieth century, the transition from one to another level of economic maturity seems to require radical changes in social and economic conditions. If nations negotiated passage from underdevelopment to economic maturity under the auspices of "liberal" and "parliamentary" regimes in the nineteenth century, the transition in the twentieth has regularly been made under the tutelage of a "totalitarian" political system. "Modernizers," in the twentieth century, are ill-disposed toward liberalism. They are, more frequently than not, "radicals" — advocates of a strong, one-party state that is charged with a mass-mobilizing and renovating mission.

Whether the "mission" assumed by radicals in the twentieth century is to create the conditions for take-off, to direct take-off, or to drive their communities to industrial maturity and modernization, they must address themselves to a related set of problems and employ a related set of political strategies and institutions. Men must be mobilized to collective purpose. Energy must be directed and opposition suppressed. During take-off, capital must be collected to underwrite the costs of building a necessary economy infrastructure for modernization and growth. During the drive to maturity, capital must be accumulated to support industrial expansion and agricultural modernization. If foreign sources of capital are excluded by necessity or political choice, take-off and industrial maturity can only be purchased by extracting investment potential from the available net national product — that is to say, at the cost of overall consumption. Under such circumstances one would expect modernizers to attempt to control consumption so that the process of modernization and industrialization can continue as rapidly as possible. The success of such a program is governed by a variety of factors — population size, the institutions available for effective control of mass consumption, the availability of natural resources, the degree of insulation from foreign influences that may affect the disposition of the population to submit to protracted (and sometimes onerous) austerity, the availability of human talents, and the political security of the modernizing party, among the most significant.


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Table of Contents

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. vii
  • Preface, pg. ix
  • Chapter One. Revolution, Radicalism, and the Twentieth Century, pg. 1
  • Chapter Two. The First Marxism, pg. 24
  • Chapter Three. Classical Marxism as a Mature System, pg. 58
  • Chapter Four. The Twentieth Century and the Crisis of Classical Marxism, pg. 86
  • Chapter Five. The Fascist Persuasion: Prototypic New Radicalism, pg. 139
  • Chapter Six. The New Radicalism: The Asian Variant, pg. 189
  • Chapter Seven. The New Radicalism: The Caribbean Variant, pg. 260
  • Chapter Eight. Nonregime Radicalism: The Student and Black Variants, pg. 322
  • Chapter Nine. Conclusions, pg. 394
  • A Selected Bibliography, pg. 435
  • Index, pg. 451

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