excerpted from the book

International Fascism 1920-1945

by Walter Laqueur and George Mosse

Harper Torchbooks, 1966, paper



Fascism Right and Left

All fascist movements combine ... in varying proportions, a reactionary ideology and a modern mass organization. Their leaders, when in opposition, extol traditional values, but they appeal for support to the masses, and exploit any form of mass discontent that is available. In their original ideas they often closely resemble old-fashioned conservatives, but their methods of struggle, indeed their whole notion of political organization, belong not to the idealized past but to the modern age. Their outlook may be nostalgic, and it is certainly elitist, but as a political force they are more democratic than oligarchic.

...The word 'reactionary', perhaps even more than the word 'fascist', has become a term of abuse in political propaganda. Yet the word has a perfectly clear and legitimate meaning. A reactionary is one who wishes to resurrect the past, and reactionary ideologies are based on visions of the past, usually more mythical than real, which are intended to inspire political action in the present. A conservative, by contrast, should be one whose aim is not so much to resurrect the past as to conserve what he believes to be valuable in the traditions and institutions which still exist. In practice the difference between reactionaries and conservatives has been blurred. Reactionaries have usually called themselves conservatives. The Right in most European countries has had a reactionary wing, in some cases forming a distinct faction, in others operating within a larger conservative group.

Those ideas derived from the European Right which have been important in the intellectual formation of the leaders of fascism have been essentially nostalgic and reactionary.

... It must also be noted that everywhere in western Europe capitalism and industry were defeating the pre-capitalist ruling class. The capitalists became rich, and acquired social and political power. They were now a large part of the ruling class. But essentially they were conservatives, not reactionaries. They wanted to preserve and secure their own power, not to restore the past. The social program of the reactionaries was different - to limit or even reverse industrialization, and to build on the solid foundations of the peasant class, allegedly the heir to the best moral and spiritual values. An important distinction should be made here. In the countries of southern and eastern Europe whose economy was still agrarian, and the bulk of whose population lived in villages, the peasant problem was the problem of the masses, and peasant discontent was the main potential force of social revolution. But in the industrial countries the advocacy by intellectuals of the simple virtues of peasant society was reactionary utopianism. It was not of much importance in England, to whose problems it was demonstrably irrelevant, or even in the three western Latin countries, where the cultural tradition was overwhelmingly urban. But it was a factor of great importance in Germany.

... Reactionary ideologies and political programs, varied mixtures of religious intolerance, historical myth, social utopia, nationalism and anti-semitism, were present in most European countries around I914. But fascism is more than a reactionary ideology: it is a movement, based on substantial mass support. The significant fascist movements all started in opposition to existing regimes. All had to struggle for power, and some were severely persecuted. All regarded their victories (some of which were of brief duration) as triumphs of a revolutionary idea. None aimed at restoring the past. Their ideologies were essentially reactionary, but they cannot correctly be described as 'counter-revolutionary', for they did not seek to replace something overthrown by a previous revolution. They were essentially revolutionary movements.

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