Why is fascism considered a movement of the right?
The picture we are often confronted with is that of the the right wing fascists battling the left wing communists. And perhaps, at the end of the day, that is the only, completely superficial and un-sophisticated reason for the classification of the fascism (Mussolini, the Nazi’s) as right wing. They opposed the international communists whom we call left wing, therefore they must be right-wing in this one-dimensional spectrum.
The problem is the intellectual slight of hand that always happens. In the modern western context, rightly or wrongly, we associate ‘right-wing’ with individualism and free markets to a varying degree on the social and economic fronts. So if fascism is ‘right wing’, in the modern west, the left can attack classical liberal economic ideas and ideas of individualism as “right wing” and by association therefore fascist and therefore “You’re a NAZI!”
The foundations (and practical implementations) of fascist ideas were explicitly communists/anti-capitalist. Mussolini was an ardent socialist (communist) going into World War I. He came out perhaps disillusioned with the international socialists, but not disillusioned with socialism. He wanted to harness socialism to strengthen the Italian state and build it’s industrial power and independence (echos of industrialization of agriculture in the Soviet Union and the Great Leap forward in China). Fascism was the ‘third way’ a way to do communism with a national flavor, hence national socialism. The subordination of the individual to the state was still there, in spades. The distaste of laissez-faire was still there. All individual activity, including economic, was to be directed to the interests of the state. To me that’s no different than the subordination of the individual to the more nebulous class collective. In practice, they are are essentially impossible to distinguish. The conflict between fascism and communism that is often cited as ‘proof’ that fascism is right-wing is simply the result of a disagreement about what collective the individual must be subordinate too, the nation state or the more nebulous class-consciousness that might extend across national borders. If you’re concern is about individual liberty, this is a distinction without a difference.Similarly for the Nazi party. We often say “it’s right there in the name!” And while that might be easily dismissed (“you can call yourself whatever you want”), the Nazi platform is explicitly anti-free market and anti-individualist. Much of the speechifying of the Nazi’s in the early 30’s would be right at home at a Bernie rally today (One wonders if the the Lindsay, Pluckrose, Boghossian Grievance Studies Affair could be extended to an economic essay – they did it with “Mien Kampf” and feminism – I think it would be even easier with Nazi doctrine and modern western left-wing economics). The party platform in the 20’s included things like
- “all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished”
- “We demand the extensive development of insurance for old age.”
- “enactment of a law to expropriate the owners without compensation of any land needed for the common purpose”
- “We demand that the State shall make it its primary duty to provide a livelihood for its citizens.”
- “The activities of the individual must not clash with the general interest, but must proceed within the framework of the community and be for the general good.”
- “We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been formed into corporations”
- “We demand legal warfare on deliberate political mendacity and its dissemination in the press.”
- “The publishing of papers which are not conducive to the national welfare must be forbidden.”
And these ideas were repeated in speeches and policies throughout the Reich. Not sure how any of this can qualify as right-wing in the modern western context. Much of it is explicitly left-wing in that context.
So why is fascism right-wing? I’ve seen Jordan Peterson say things like “We know when the right goes to far, when they start using racial classifications.” OK – but that just seems to assume the conclusion. Nearly everything in the program is left-wing vis-a-vis economic and social policy, but once we see a racial aspect expressed, the ‘right-wing’ has gone too far. There is certainly a racial aspect to at least the Nazi expression of fascism, if not fascism generally, but I’ve never seen a justification for why that’s right-wing. Rather it seems to be post-hoc reasoning. “We see a racial component to this particular expression of authoritarianism, therefore this is right wing authoritarianism that has gone too far.”
Fascism is often associated with nationalism. So that is often cited as the defining characteristic; the Nazi glorification of the Volk and restriction of civil society to Germans; the Italian drive to strengthen Italian industry and agriculture. But essentially all communist revolutions and movement have the same elements. The national pride of the Soviets in forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization, the Chinese Great Leap Forward to bring China out of it’s backwardness and into it’s rightful place among nations. Nationalism is simply not unique to the Fascist ideology, but finds expression in nearly all systems, including movements traditionally though of as from the left.
Right = nationalist, racist authoritarianism is fine – at some level it’s definitional. The problem is that, in the west, or at the very least, the United States, in the political realm, the ‘right’ is associated with ideas of western liberalism, in the Lockean tradition. Individuals rights, autonomy, free markets, capitalism. Nothing fascist or racist about these ideas. But we end up, by virtue of our brains categorization and compartmentalization, associating these things since they are called the same thing. Hence we implicitly smear individualism, capitalism, autonomy, with fascism and racism. It provides an easy means to dismiss certain ideas without actually engaging them. “You’re proposing to do X. But we’ve classified you as right wing. Therefore, you are a fascist and a racists. Ergo X is racist. Get CNN on the line, we’ve got another one!”