A Revisionist "History Lesson"


Andrew Sullivan links to this blog post by science fiction writer John Scalzi as a "history lesson" for Jonah Goldberg. Now I haven't read Jonah's book, and I'll abide by Ross Douthat's wise council to refrain from commenting until I have, but Scalzi's "history lesson" amounts to, it seems, a few minutes of googling to determine that Benito Mussolini was "happily right-wing and not a socialist." Scalzi quotes Mussolini declaring Italian fascism as a movement of the right ("We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the 'right', a Fascist century") and concludes, therefore, that fascism was "anti-socialist and right-wing." Well, no. Italian fascism is a complicated animal, as evidenced from the hundreds of books attempting to define it. Scalzi could have just as easily proved that Mussolini's movement was distinctly left-wing by quoting another passage in Dottrina del fascismo: "This is the century of the collective, and hence the century of the state."

Rather than googling "Mussolini" and "right-wing," Scalzi might want to consult the works of UC Berkeley professor A. James Gregor, the preeminent American scholar of Italian fascism. As Gregor ably demonstrates, the Marxist critique of fascism, which argued that its opponents were "bourgeois" and, by its own definition, creatures of the right, has long obscured the movement's left-leaning ideology and radical socialist origins. "Italian fascism was more anti-Leninist," Gregor observers in Faces of Janus (Yale University Press, 2000), "in its insistent anti-nationalism, than it was specifically anti-Marxist."

Indeed, the document linked by Scalzi was ghostwritten by fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, a neo-Hegelian intellectual schooled in Marxism and, according to Gregor, who wrote a biography of Gentile, a man whose writings "won the admiration of Lenin himself." This is hardly surprising, as Italian fascism's roots are a mishmash of left-wing ideology (socialism and Marxism) and right-wing nationalism (Futurism). Gregor convincingly argues that "fascism's most direct ideological inspiration came from the collateral influence of Italy's most radical "subversives"-the Marxists of revolutionary syndicalism."

After a New Economic Policy-like period of laissez-faire economics (the market-based economics of the 1920s Italy, historian Stanley Payne writes, was "considered by radical Fascists but a transitory phase"), Italian fascism shifted to corporativism by 1933, which required, Mussolini proclaimed, the "complete and organic and totalitarian regulation of production with a view to the expansion of the wealth, political power and well-being of the Italian people." This wasn't, it should be mentioned, limited to Italian fascism (I previously wrote about the German variation of corporativism and the Nazi welfare state here). Indeed, Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, argued that real "economic freedom" could only be produced under a fascist government, and that "real freedom means good wages, short hours, security in employment, good houses, opportunity for leisure and recreation with family and friends." In other words, garden variety socialism.