Turns out Mussolini and liberals have more in common than they thought.
“You’re a fascist!” Today this is a label as commonly hurled as it is poorly understood. President Donald Trump, that progressive New York guy, is a fascist, we’re told. Then there’s the Antifa (“anti-fascist action”) movement, which “fights” the F-threat by committing violence in the streets like Brownshirts. Well played.
The Online Etymology Dictionary, generally sober in its rendering of information, amusingly writes of “fascism” that it was applied to certain groups’ ideology from 1923 and has been “applied to everyone since the internet.” In reality, however, the term’s misapplication didn’t start with the virtual world but with virtual history. Yet since I’m fairly sure at least a few of us aren’t fascists, let’s examine what the ideology is, starting with what it isn’t.
Authentic fascism never had, contrary to popular belief, a racial agenda. Its primary founding father, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, said in 1932, “Race? It is a feeling, not a reality. Ninety-five percent, at least. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today… National pride has no need of the delirium of race.”
The fascists considered racialism destructive of one of their chief aims: national unity. In fact, when Mussolini deferred to Adolf Hitler and enacted some anti-Jewish laws (strictly speaking, these weren’t “racial” laws, but reflected their spirit) just prior to WWII, they were often decried as anti-fascist.
A Creature of the Right?
Mussolini had always been a socialist. He’d actually been the chief editor of the Italian Socialist Party’s newspaper Avanti! (in Italian, “Forward!” which, interestingly, became one of Barack Obama’s slogans). He was expelled at WWI’s start—but not for rejecting socialist dogma. Rather, while the party opposed the war, Mussolini was among a group of dissident leftists who wanted to fight Germany and Austria-Hungary to, you might say, “make the world safe for socialism.”
While a spurned child of the ideology, one of its progeny he remained. At the 1914 Milan Socialist Party meeting where his expulsion was announced, he shouted, “You cannot get rid of me because I am and always will be a socialist. You hate me because you still love me.” And he perhaps had a point. Vladimir Lenin said before a delegation of Italian socialists in 1922, “What a waste that we lost Mussolini. He is a first-rate man who would have led our party to power in Italy.”
Writer George Bernard Shaw, a Fabian Society socialist, might have seconded this endorsement. He once said of the dictator, “Mussolini was further to the left in his political opinions than any of his socialist rivals.” UC Berkeley Professor of Political Science Emeritus Anthony James Gregor, known for research on fascism and Marxism, has called Mussolini “a Marxist ‘heretic.’”
Having said this, there’s debate and confusion over whether Mussolini (and Hitler) was left or right largely because the terms themselves are confusing—and relative. Originating with the French Revolution in 1789, the designations were born because monarchists sat on the right side in the National Assembly, while republicans (that is, those endeavoring to create a republic) occupied the left. Of course, rightists today don’t espouse monarchism, and American leftists fight republicans—at least the capital “R” variety.
Noting that “right” and “left” correspond with “conservative” and “liberal,” also consider that while 1950s American conservatives were staunchly anti-communist, a [ … ]