In recent decades, there has been a deep discussion about the ideological roots of fascism and, above all, a great misunderstanding about the collectivist principles that this authoritarian movement defended. To better understand this ideology, it is necessary to know in depth the life, beliefs and principles of both its political leaders (such as Benito Mussolini) and its philosophical leaders (such as Giovanni Gentile).
Mussolini was an Italian military, journalist and politician who was a member of the Italian Socialist Party for 14 years. In 22, he was appointed editor of the weekly La Lotta di Classe (The class struggle) and, in the year next, he published an essay entitled “The Trentino Seen by a Socialist”. His journalism and political activism landed him in prison, but shortly after his release, the Italian Socialist Party — growing stronger and having won an important victory at the Reggio Emilia Congress — placed him at the head of the Milanese newspaper Avanti!.
This intense political activism was followed by the First World War, which marked a turning point in Mussolini’s life. At first, the leader of the Socialist Party was part of an anti-interventionist movement, which opposed Italy’s participation in the First World War. However, he later joined the interventionist group, which earned him the expulsion of the Socialist Party.
Mussolini participated in the war and began to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of the Italian people, for the few benefits obtained with the Treaty of Versailles. He then blamed his former Socialist Party comrades for this, and it was then that he began the formation of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, which would later become the Italian Fascist Party.
With strong foundation in the nationalist sentiments that flourished as a result of the fighting, Mussolini came to power through the hand of violence, fighting the traditional socialists and shielding himself in the famous black shirt squad. Only then did the ideological complex of fascism begin to take shape.
Who is the ideological father of fascism?
Practically everyone knows that Karl Marx is the ideological father of communism and socialism and that Adam Smith is the father of capitalism and economic liberalism. Do you know, in contrast, who is the mind behind fascism? Most likely not, and I can tell you in advance that the philosopher behind fascism was also an avowed socialist.
Giovanni Gentile, a neo-Hegelian philosopher, was the intellectual author of “ doctrine of fascism”, which he wrote together with Benito Mussolini. Gentile’s sources of inspiration were thinkers such as Hegel, Nietzsche and also Karl Marx.
Gentile even declared that “Fascism is a form of socialism; in fact, it’s its most viable form.” One of the most common reflections on this is that fascism is itself a socialism based on national identity.
Gentile believed that all private action should be oriented towards serving society. He was against individualism, for him there was no distinction between private and public interest. In his economic postulates, he advocated compulsory state corporatism, wanting to impose an autarchic state (basically the same recipe that Hitler would use years later).
A basic aspect of Gentile’s logic is that of liberal democracy it was harmful because it was focused on the individual, which led to selfishness. He defended “true democracy”, in which the individual must be subordinate to the State. In this sense, he promoted planned economies in which the government determined what, how much and how to produce.
Gentile and another group of philosophers created the myth of socialist nationalism, in which a well-run country by a superior group it could subsist without international trade, as long as all individuals submitted to the government’s wishes. The aim was to create a corporate state. It must be remembered that Mussolini came from the traditional Italian Socialist Party, but due to the break with this traditional Marxist movement, and due to the strong nationalist feeling that prevailed at the time, the bases for the creation of the new “nationalist socialism”, which they called fascism , were created.
Fascism nationalized the arms industry, however, unlike traditional socialism, it did not consider that the State should possess all the means of production, but that it should dominate them. The owners of industries could “keep” their businesses, as long as they met the guidelines of the State. These entrepreneurs were supervised by civil servants and paid high taxes. Essentially, “private property” was no longer a thing. It also established the capital tax, confiscation of property from religious congregations and the abolition of episcopal income. Statism was the key to everything, thanks to the nationalist and collectivist discourse, all citizens’ efforts should be in favor of the state.
Fascism: the antithesis of liberalism and capitalism
Fascism claimed to oppose liberal capitalism, but also international socialism, hence the concept of a “third way”, the same position that would be held by Argentine Peronism years later. This opposition to international socialism and communism is precisely what caused so much confusion in the ideological location of fascism, Nazism, and also Peronism. Opposing the traditional internationalist Marxist left, these were attributed to the current of ultra-right movements, when the truth is that, as demonstrated, their centralized economic policies obeyed collectivist and socialist principles, openly opposing capitalism and the free market. , favoring nationalism and autarchy.
In this sense, as established by the philosopher who created the fascist ideology, Giovanni Gentile, fascism is another form of socialism, so it was not a battle of left against right, but a struggle between different left ideologies, one internationalist and one nationalist.
In fact, in 22, Benito Mussolini promoted the “socialization of economy”, also known as fascist socialization; for this process Mussolini sought the advice of the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Nicola Bombacci; the communist was the main intellectual author of the “Manifesto of Verona”, the historic declaration with which fascism promoted this process of economic “socialization” to deepen anti-capitalism and autarchism, and in which Italy became known as the ” Italian Social Republic”.
On 22 April 1945 on Milan, the fascist leader would declare the following:
“Our programs are definitely equal to our revolutionary ideas and belong to what in the democratic regime is called the “left”; our institutions are a direct result of our programs and our ideal is the Labor State. In that case, there can be no doubt: we are the working class fighting for life or death, against capitalism. We are the revolutionaries in search of a new order. If so, to invoke the help of the bourgeoisie by waving the red danger is absurd. The real scarecrow, the real danger, the threat we are relentlessly fighting, comes from the right. It is not in our interest to have the capitalist bourgeoisie as an ally against the threat of red danger, even if it is at best an unfaithful ally, trying to make us serve its ends, as it has done more than once with some success . I will save words as it is totally superfluous. In fact, it’s harmful, because it makes us confuse genuine revolutionary types of any hue with the reactionary man who sometimes uses our own language.”
Six days after these statements, Benito Mussolini would be captured and shot.
*Emmanuel Rincón is a lawyer, writer, novelist and essayist. He has won several international literary awards. He is the general editor of the El American
©2021 Foundation for Economic Education. Published with permission. Original in English