As We Go Blogging

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John T. Flynn's 1944 book As We Go Marching is one of those libertarian classics that gets cited much more frequently than it gets read. Hopefully it will attract a few more readers now that the full text is online.

I don't agree with everything in the book, but it's a stimulating, contrarian analysis of the origins of fascism—in Italy, in Germany, and, Flynn feared, in the United States. For Flynn, the movement emerged

from among those erstwhile socialists who, wearying of the struggle, have turned first to syndicalism and then to being the saviors of capitalism, by adapting the devices of socialism and syndicalism to the capitalist state. The industrialists and nationalists joined up only when the fascist squadrons had produced that disorder and confusion in which they found themselves lost. Then they supposed they perceived dimly at first and then more clearly, in the preachments of the fascists, the germs of an economic corporativism that they could control, or they saw in the fascist squadrons the only effective enemy for the time being against communism.

Somewhere in the boxes behind my desk, there's a paper I wrote as an undergraduate comparing the treatment of fascism in As We Go Marching and in Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. I'd dig out an excerpt from that too, but I have my pride.

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  1. He more or less hit the nail on the head.

  2. The difference between Fascism and Communism?

    The first works, the second doesn’t. Oh, and the first has cooler uniforms.

  3. Mussolini was a communist before he put his finger to the wind and became a fascist. While pretty valid points, I don’t consider Flynn’s points to be that contrarian.

    I agree, except that Flynn’s view might have been considered contrarian for his time.

    On the other hand, the ‘talking points’ left in this country would probably still consider this a highly contrarian view… so…

  4. “On the other hand, the ‘talking points’ left in this country would probably still consider this a highly contrarian view… so… ”

    True enough. I meant to make that very point but couldn’t think of a good way of describing the people I was talking about. “Talking points left” about sums it up. Also, Flynn was a contrarian for his time. I didn’t think of it that way, but it is true.

  5. On the other hand, Hitler was a devoted nationalist and anti-semite right from the beginning, who despised internationalism, denied that economics was the driving force of history (placing race and the power of “great men’s” wills in their stead), and abhorred any acknowledgement that different economic classes in the same nation could have conflicting, or even different, motivations.

    So in other words, when Mussolini became a fascist, he abandoned virtually all of his leftist principles, whereas when Hitler and Franco came to power, they were operating according to beliefs that they were consistent with those they had adhered to since they first became politically aware.

    That facsism and communism have some things in common – mainly opposition to liberalism and democracy – does not make them identical.

    As far as the changing beliefs of individuals, what should we conclude from the fact that Whittaker Chambers went from a Communist Party member to writing for National Review? I say, not a whole hell of a lot.

  6. “John T. Flynn’s 1944 book As We Go Marching is one of those libertarian classics that gets cited much more frequently than it gets read.”

    That may be because, although his writing style is pretty good, the book’s content is annoyingly repetitious enough to put off some readers.

    Since reading it, though, I’ve come to see that Flynn’s characteriz’n of what systems including fascist ones have in common does not fairly define fascism. The only fair way to learn about fascism is from its own partisans, and then you learn about distinctions between fascism, Nazism, etc. Of course, those distinctions may not have much importance to us!

  7. What about the treatment of fascism in America in an earlier literary work, Sinclair Lewis’ It’s Can’t Happen Here?

  8. Fascism isn’t an economic model, it’s theme is about political order. Thus communism seeks to impose a collective economic system through fascistic means…obedience to authority. In that sense, all political systems of government are fascistic.

  9. All that said, the style of leftism that’s central to As We Go Marching isn’t communism. It’s syndicalism.

  10. Paul,

    “They are philosopies which have similar goals and use slightly different ways of achieving such goals.” That is not even remotely true.

    Communism sought to create an egalitarian world without distinctions between nations, races, or economic classes. Fascism sought to create exactly the opposite – a world of heirarchy, in which the lower orders knew – even embraced – their place, and the natural masters were enjoyed the authority they are entitled to.

    Fascism sought to eliminate class-based conflict, and defined the struggle between races and nations as the driving force of history. Fascists believe that class conflict was artificial, drummed up by agents of foriegn nations for the purpose of dividing the people, and that the natural state was harmony among the different classes within a nation alongside eternal struggle between different nations. Communism sought to eliminate national and racial conflict, and defined the struggle between economic classes the driving force of history. Communists believed that nationalist and racial conflicts were artificial, and were drummed up by “enemies of the people” for the purpose of dividing the international proletariat, and that the natural state was harmony among the workes of the world, alongside eternal struggle between classes.

    Fascism presupposed that historical events were driven by Great Men, and that the volk acted in accordance with their will. Communism presupposed that historical events were driven by mass movements, and that leaders were merely the vanguard of these movements.

    Fascism posits that imbalances in power are the result of the natural superiority of some men above others, and that egalitarianism was an unnatural state brought about by malignant interference by the enemies of the people. Communism posits that imbalances in power are am unnatural state brought about by malignant interferences in the natural order by the enemies of the people, and that egalitarianism is the result of the natural interactions of free people.

    Your statement gets it exactly backwards: fascism and communism sought to produce diametrically opposed worlds, based on diametrically opposed understandings of how the world operates. It was only their totalitarian methods that bear any resemblance.

    Yes, they were both collectivist, as opposed to individualist, ideologies, but that is not the only, nor even the most significant, distinction one needs to look at when seeking to understand political ideology.

    I’ll leave you with one last point: Hitler declarred that employers were the natural fuhrers of their workplaces. Speaking about unions, he said that business owners in unionized Germany had for too long been forced to “call for the Master of the House.” Henceforth, he declared, the business owner would be the master of his house. Whether you care to admit it or not, there was quite a bit more to the pro-capital, pro-industrialist bent in fascist politics than pragmatic courting of allies.

  11. Gene Berkman,

    Although it can be taken too far, there is some truth to the statement that there were, if not fascist, at least corporatist elements to the New Deal. It was not just an alliance between government and industry, or between government and labor, that the term “New Deal” referred to, but an alliance between the traditionally antagonistic tribes of Labor and Capital, just like in truly fascist Europe.

    And, of course, throughout it all, FDR, the old candidate of Wall Street (literally, the Governor of New York who was beloved by Wall Street) proclaimed himself to be the savior of capitalism.

  12. That facsism and communism have some things in common – mainly opposition to liberalism and democracy – does not make them identical.

    True enough. But from a libertarian perspective there’s only one thing that matters: the bulk leaning of Western intelligensia (especially academic) has, for about the past 200 years, agreed on one and only one thing: that individual liberty and capitalism have to go.

  13. Paul,

    I’ve said it before: Modern corporations don’t want economic liberty, corporations want economic protection. Fascism provides this venue.

    Ah so. I shall never forget the example of JP Morgan, who didn’t want a true capitalist system because, in a free market, he couldn’t predict his profits.

    He wasn’t the only one.

  14. Gosh, all I was writing as an undergraduate were really bad Conan-pastiche heroic fantasy stories. (But then, I majored in ‘Communications.’)

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