A friend got into an argument with somebody who claimed only the “far-right” could be fascist, and that, of course, the “far-left” is the opposite of the far right.
This is indeed the version that was successfully peddled when I was growing up in Europe. After all, communists were internationalist, fascists and Nazis were nationalist, the far-left was anticlerical or outright anti-religious while right-authoritarian regimes typically paid lip service to the church when not outright in bed with it, and… “far-left” and “far-right” were on opposite sides in WW II.
Except… when they were not. The inconvenient fact of the Non-Aggression Pact (and Molotow and ‘von’ Ribbentrop merrily dividing up Poland between their empires) is either forgotten or glossed over, as “a maneuver to gain time” (after Stalin butchered 90% of his generals and 50% of his colonels during the Great Purges). And there is the inconvenient fact that the full name of the Nazi party is “National Socialist German Workers Party” (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP, for which “Nazi” is a typical German-style nickname). Also, let me quote some program points of self-styled US socialist Bernie Sanders:
* Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of debt (interest)-slavery.
* […] personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore, we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
* We demand the nationalisation of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
* We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
* We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
* […] immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.
* […] Benefit for the community goes before benefit for the individual [*]
Oops, my bad, these are actually from the “immutable” 25-Point Program of the NSDAP. There was even a hardcore economic-left faction inside the NSDAP, led by the party’s #2 man, Gregor Strasser, and his brother Otto Strasser. Otto fled abroad in 1930: Gregor was among those liquidated in the 1934 Night Of The Long Knives, in which potential and imaginary contenders for Hitler’s [y”sh] throne were liquidated and old scores settled, and which cemented the primacy of the SS over the SA (the “Brownshirts”). Strasserism was later to be influential in postwar European far-“right” circles, and gave rise to a spinoff movement that called itself “National Bolshevism” [sic].
Of course, those of us who have read Isaac Asimov’s “Second Foundation” remember that a circle has no beginning and no end. “Les extrèmes se touchent” (the extremes touch each other), as the French expression goes. And indeed, especially among the older generation of Europeans, there is a sense that the political left-right division isn’t so much on a linear scale as on a circle, and that far-“left” and far-“right” have much more in common with each other than with the temperate zone of politics. This notion gained currency during the 1950s, at the height of the cold war, and is perhaps most eloquently expressed in Hannah Arendt’s 1951 book “The Origins of Totalitarianism“.
What is totalitarianism, indeed? Unlike ‘merely’ authoritarian regimes (like the Tsars of old), totalitarian ones are not content to control the actions of their subject — they want the whole person, control their thoughts as well as their actions.
In contemporary American political discourse, the “left” (both moderate and radical) stresses the state and the collective, while the “right” emphasizes private or local initiative and the individual. In other words, the left-right axis is not internationalist vs. nationalist like in Europe, but collectivist vs. individualist. It corresponds (with the arrows reversed) to the horizontal axis on the Pournelle Chart. On this spectrum, both Communism and National Socialism are firmly on the same side, as are Socialism and classical Fascism. [**]
For the above, I submit that “Socialism and Fascism”, or indeed communists and Nazis, are opposites only in the same sense that an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy are opposites, or that macOS and Windows are opposites. They are merely two competing brands of the same basic product.
The product, in this case, is totalitarian collectivism.
For all the heated (and at times hysterical) rhetoric of their partisans, one would think that macOS and Windows are polar opposites. The same is true of iPhones and their Android competitors. Instead, what we have is the same basic product (a smartphone, a computer operating system) with different implementation philosophies. As they compete with each other (in largely the same market space) and copy or otherwise absorb each other’s most popular features, their interfaces even start to resemble each other.
Likewise with the classical “opposites”. They carefully studied each other’s propaganda, going back to even Hitler [y”sh] himself. They even recruited among the same ‘customer base’: entire Sturmbannen (battalions) of the SA (the “brownshirt” militia [**]) in urban areas with a large working class were known among the Nazi top as “beefsteak battalions” — brown on the outside, red on the inside. Furthermore: the degree to which the NSDAP regime availed itself in its propaganda of what we now call ‘social justice’ rhetoric (‘social justice’ for Aryans only, naturally), and the extent to which the construction of a fairly elaborate welfare state was bankrolled by the expropriation of Jewish capital, has been documented at book length by the German journalist and Holocaust historian Götz Aly (himself a former far-left activist).
The main “difference” between mass murderers like Hitler on one hand, and Stalin or Mao on the other hand, is not so much the degree to which they demanded submission of the individual to the state (where they were in broad agreement), but the specific distinctions which they leveraged for power: ethnic origins vs. class. And this has persisted to this day: increasingly, one reads and hears shrill rhetoric on the post-Marxist, multiculti, intersectional left where one only needs to change the labels to get something indistinguishable from a totalitarian collectivist screed from the nominally “opposite” side.
Too many people on the left think that, while electrocution is bad, it can be solved by reversing the polarity of the current. This makes them competitors of what they claim to oppose, not opponents. Opponents are the ones who want to cut the power (such as small-government conservatives) — and of course get called names for doing so, as they are a threat to the political and cultural hegemony of the “left”.
UPDATE: welcome Instapundit readers!
[*] Sounds better in the original German: Gemeinnütz vor Eigennütz.
[**] Of course, in most political discourse, “fascist” no longer seems to have another stable meaning than as a generic insult, like “poopyhead”. Already in 1992, Robert Hughes was decrying this in “The Culture of Complaint“.
[***] The Brownshirts were a key factor in Hitler’s rise to power, but were emasculated during the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. They continued to exist but had become a shadow of themselves. Henceforth, the SS — originally a mere protection squad for the leader (hence the name, Schutzstaffeln) — was the real power behind the throne.