Monday, June 18, 2018

Reading notes - Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

Chapter 7: The real fascist doctrine

....Fascism no longer needs to hide its real face, and in fact it finds it useful to legitimize its rule with a "doctrine." This doctrine, to be sure, was not elaborated for the first time after the conquest of power. Long before that, it could be found in the writings and speeches of the leaders, though submerged in "anti-capitalist" phraseology. Now demagogy retires to the background, yielding the spotlight to ideological justification of the dictatorship. And at last we see clearly that fascist doctrine is an old acquaintance; it is a twin of reactionary philosophy, the philosophy of feudalism, of absolutism.

....This was precisely the philosophy that the bourgeoisie had to combat so bitterly at the dawn of its rule in order to achieve its own liberation. To the pessimistic dogma of the fall of man, the bourgeoisie opposed the idea of unlimited progress; to the "aristocratic principle" and the "Moloch-State," government by the masses and democracy; to brute force, human "rights."

....But the day came when the bourgeoisie perceived "that all the weapons which it had forged against feudalism turned their points against itself, that all the means of education which it had produced rebelled against its own civilization, that all the gods which it had created had fallen away from it" -when it understood that "all the so-called bourgeois liberties and organs of progress attacked and menaced its class rule .... " Shaken to its foundations by the crisis of capitalism, able to save its threatened profits only by destroying democratic institutions and brutally exterminating the proletarian organizations, the bourgeoisie rejects the ideology that once helped it triumph over absolutism. Indeed, it dresses itself up in the ideology of that self-same absolutism-it denies progress, attacks reason, refuses the masses the right of self-government, tramples on democracy, invokes the "aristocratic principle" and "reasons of State," rehabilitates violence. There is nothing astonishing about finding reactionary thinkers who attacked with hatred the ideas of the French Revolution, democracy and liberalism, suddenly becoming great men. From these "masters of counterrevolution"  fascism borrows its doctrines. "We represent the antithesis ... of all that world of the 'immoral principles' of 1789,"  a reaction against the "movement of the eighteenth-century visionaries and Encyclopedists," exclaim the Italian fascists. And the National Socialists say: "The year 1789 will be erased from history .... " "We wish to destroy the immoral ideology of the French Revolution."

....The bourgeoisie used the idea of progress to batter down the bastilles of absolutism. Antiquity and the Middle Ages lived on the idea of the corruption and decadence of the human race, on the dogma of the fall of man: humanity, come perfect from the hands of God, was through original sin plunged into evil. Man is born wicked and is not perfectible-and similarly his political, economic, and social system. Man must accept it as imposed by God, without discussion and without hope of improvement. To this pessimistic doctrine, so convenient for the justification of tyranny and the legitimization of poverty, the bourgeoisie, eager to be freed, opposed the idea of infinite progress at the beginning of its domination. The golden age is not in the past but before us; humanity is perfectible and is continually rising from poverty to material well-being, from ignorance to knowledge, from barbarism to civilization. The great discoveries of the second half of the eighteenth century, the birth of the machine age and modern industry, gave new confirmation to the idea of progress. The young industrial bourgeoisie was sure the new means of production invented by it were capable of infinitely improving the lot of humanity. From this came the blissful optimism of the Saint-Simonian businessmen like Michel Chevalier.

....But a day comes when the idea of progress is turned against the bourgeoisie. The productive forces, as they develop at a dizzy rate of speed, come into conflict with the social system. Capitalist society ceases to be progressive, and, far from holding out to humanity a prospect of well-being, it offers only poverty and unemployment. Then suddenly the bourgeoisie stops believing in progress. The opponents of progress become its ideological masters.

Another weapon of the conquering bourgeoisie was reason. For revealed knowledge, it substituted the free exercise of intelligence, the supremacy of common sense. But today that weapon is being turned against it. The employment of reason and scientific analysis can no longer serve except to undermine the foundations of its rule and condemn the capitalist system of production; only a resorting to the "irrational" can permit it to prolong its reign. Let man renounce domination of the world and subject himself to it as to a "mystic phenomenon" (the expression is from Edouard Berth, another of Sorel's disciples);  let his intelligence be ready to abdicate before all the instinctive forces and be carried away by any "movement" whatever; let him be ready to follow the first charlatan who comes along, the first maker of miracles or myths; let him be ready to trust, not to reasoned actions but to blind faith in a Duce or a Fuehrer in seeking a way out from his sufferings.

....Once absolutism was conquered, the bourgeoisie instituted the form of government that best corresponded to its historic mission. Free competition, "laisserjaire," and free trade were the very conditions for capitalist expansion. Economic liberalism was extended to political liberalism, to parliamentary democracy. But a day comes when liberty and democracy are incompatible with bourgeois rule. The era of free competition is succeeded by that of monopoly capitalism. We have seen that in order to save their profits, threatened by crisis, the capitalist magnates need the support of the state. They have to substitute for the democratic state the authoritarian state (Chapter 1). Then the bourgeoisie tramples with rage on its old idols, and the reactionary theoreticians of anti-democracy become its ideological masters.

....At the dawn of its rule, the capitalist bourgeoisie demanded that the state call as little attention to its existence as possible, and it victoriously refuted the "barbarous" concept of the Moloch-State. But today, it needs the strong state. Hence it adopts the philosophers of absolutism and takes as its own, Hobbes' State, "a real mortal god"; Hegel's State, which is its own end, and for which the individual is nothing; and Treitschke's State, which "does not need to ask the people to consent but only to obey."

....In the early days of its power, the bourgeoisie denied the legitimacy of violence and the "right of the strongest" as old barbaric notions deriving from the first ages of man upon which feudal and absolutist society still rested. Instead of force, the eighteenth-century philosophers championed human "rights." Relations between men should be no longer settled by force but determined by contracts; Rousseau refuted the "alleged" right of the strongest and declared that "might does not make right."

In fact, with the appearance of "right," the bourgeoisie, once it was the dominant class, ruled by force. But, not needing to display force too openly, it preferred to rule through the fiction of "law." But a time comes when the bourgeoisie can save its threatened profits only by exterminating the proletarian organizations and governing through terror. Then it digs up the old notions of barbaric epochs; it rehabilitates violence and adopts reactionary apologists of violence as its authorities.

These apologists transfer the discoveries of Darwin from the domain of biology to the field of sociology, distorting them in the process.

From: Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

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