Luigi Fabbri – Reflections on Fascism

As fascist, neo-nazi, white supremacist and right-wing paramilitary groups continue to pursue their agenda in the United States with relative impunity, egged on by a racist and authoritarian President, one can only think of how fascists in the past have used the same sort of demagoguery, violence and terrorism to claw their way to power. But always behind them are very powerful interests who benefit from what the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri, described as the fascist “preventative counter-revolution.” Capitalists will always hang the threat of fascism over ordinary people’s heads in order to keep them in line and to stop them from impeding the ruling classes’ own agendas. Here, I reproduce Fabbri’s introduction to his ground breaking analysis of fascism, Fascism: The Preventative Counter-Revolution. I included lengthier excerpts in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Even then (1921), Fabbri was able to identify the elements of a racist fascism in the United States.

Reflections on Fascism

In spite of all the good intentions to the contrary which I brought to this essay, I have in fact failed, in examining the dark issue of fascism, to stand “above the fray”.

Many a time I have tried to suppress the pain and outrage that stirred my hand, but immediately thereafter wounded feelings surged back to offer me counsel in tune with a disturbed and aggravated state of mind. The fact is that I do not really stand above the fray. If only for personal reasons, as a matter of temperament and custom and, to a slight extent – confined to the climate in which I live – out of a professional obligation, I stand slightly apart from the active, militant movement, which is to say that my involvement in the bitter social struggle is all too slight and almost exclusively confined to my writing, even though I too am in this fight with all of my heart and mind.

For around thirty years now I have been an anarchist and revolutionary and I regard myself as another obscure soldier in the proletarian army fighting the old world: and whereas this was something in which I took pride, when fortune was smiling upon us and the working class looked, after victory upon victory, to be on the verge of the ultimate victory, I was all the more proud to feel that I was one of its own come the grey and yellow hour of disappointment and defeat. And I cherished the hope of fairly imminent revenge, since, while troops easily enthused about the prospect of imminent excitement were disappointed, I stood firm in my belief in the inevitable victory of an egalitarian, libertarian justice for all.

Maybe we needed this harsh lesson from reality. For some time past too much detritus had been building up along the way, too many thoughtless things had been said and done and unduly easy successes had attracted to our side insincere and self-seeking persons out to turn our ideal into a cloak or a kiosk. And upstarts eager to use it for self-advancement. Maybe it was good luck that made many of them less kindly and less fair, or overly complacent and indulgent of the onset of the sort of degeneration that always besets movements that look to be the strongest and on the verge of success. And, when the storm struck, and the gale swept away the detritus and all the trivia, it also swept away the insincere self-seekers. We may well lament the fact that the lightning also struck the old sturdy, fruitful tree that had borne good crops, but on the other hand, the soil will have become more fertile under the plough of pain and the whirlwind will have left the air purer and fresher.

However, while it is true that it is an ill wind that blows no good, evil is always evil and as such, must be resisted. To resist it we need to look it in the face and take the measure of it. And the modest pages that follow may prove of service to that end. They make no claim to the prize of impartiality and the most Olympian serenity, for I too am parti pris, committed to the ranks in which I march and I identify profoundly with all the oppressed, whatever their particular political background, against those who beat, murder, torch and destroy in such cavalier fashion and with such impunity today. But, however much passion may have prompted me to speak thus, I hope that I have not done any injury to the truth.

What I have written here is not a history of fascism; I have merely made the occasional reference to certain specific facts, more in support of my thesis than with any real narrative intent. So many of my assertions may appear unduly absolute and axiomatic. However, not one of those assertions does not have precise corresponding facts, many specific facts with which the newspapers have been replete for the past year or so; and I do not mean just the subversive press. One can draw up the harshest and most violent indictment of fascism on foot of documentation drawn from the conservative papers most well-disposed towards fascism and from the fascist press proper.

Moreover, the fascist phenomenon is not peculiar to Italy. It has surfaced in even more serious form in Spain and has raised its head in Germany, Hungary, the Americas and elsewhere. Nor were persecution and unlawful reaction mounted by private citizens unknown prior to the World War. In certain respects, they had precedents in the pogroms in Russia and the lynchings in the United States. What is more, the United States has always had a sort of private police in the service of the capitalists, acting in cahoots with the official police, but independently of government, in troubled times and during strikes.

Italian fascism has its own characteristics, motley origins, positions, etc. In some instances it is an improvement upon its brothers or precursors beyond the mountains or across the seas, and in some cases worse than these. But it is not entirely a novelty. From a detailed reading of Italian history from 1795 and 1860, we might well be able to trace its historical ancestry. Take, for example, the Sanfedisti: in the context of the secret societies, these seem to have begun as a patriotic, reform-minded sect, albeit sui generis; but later they turned reactionary and pro-Austrian establishment against the “red” conspirators from the Carbonari and Young Italy.

Especially in the Papal States, in Faenza, Ravenna, etc., the Sanfedisti warred with the Carbonari: but the government heaped all the blame exclusively upon the Carbonari. De Castro (Mondo Secreto, Vol. VIII) recounts: “An armed, bloodthirsty rabble wrought havoc and looted throughout the city and countryside of Frosinone in the name of defending the throne and hunted down liberals: and the government dispatched the liberals to the gallows and acquitted the brigands.”

There is nothing really new under the sun, or so it seems! And if, in the past, the most violent conspiracies against freedom and against the people proved unable to fend off new ideas, prevent the downfall of old institutions and the emergence of new ones, then today too, they will not succeed and they will not succeed in the future.

The living step into the shoes of the dead,
Hope follows mourning,
The army is unleashed and goes marching
Blithely lashing out at the vanquished.

Luigi Fabbri

Bologna, 15 October 1921

 

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Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution

The Fascist Counter-Revolution

The Fascist Counter-Revolution

Returning to my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in this section I discuss anarchist responses to and analyses of fascism. Despite common misconceptions in “ultra-leftist” circles, the anarchists did not fail to develop a response to fascism, nor to set forth a critical analysis of the spread of fascism in Europe. In fact, one of the first and best analyses of fascism, Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution, was written by the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri, in 1921-1922,  just as the Fascists were seizing power in Italy. Not being tied to a Marxist theory of historical materialism, which had difficulty explaining the appeal of fascism to many workers, anarchists drew on the emerging ideas of radical psychoanalysis to help explain the popularity of fascism, while keeping fascism’s counter-revolutionary role in the service of capitalism at the forefront of their analysis. Most of the material cited in this section can be found in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology.

Luigi Fabbri Memorial Plaque

Luigi Fabbri Memorial Plaque

Fascism: The Preventive Counter-Revolution

Those anarchists who were not seduced by the seeming “success” of the Bolsheviks in Russia were faced with an equally formidable opponent in the various fascist movements that arose in the aftermath of the First World War. As with the Communists, the Fascists championed centralized command and technology, and did not hesitate to use the most brutal methods to suppress and annihilate their opponents. One of the first and most perceptive critics of fascism was the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri (1877-1935), who aptly described it as “the preventive counter-revolution.” For him, fascism constituted “a sort of militia and rallying point” for the “conservative forces in society,” “the organization and agent of the violent armed defence of the ruling class against the proletariat.” Fascism arose from the militarization of European societies during the First World War, which the ruling classes had hoped would decapitate “a working class that had become overly strong, [by] defusing popular resistance through blood-letting on a vast scale” (Volume One, Selection 113).

Fascism put the lie to the notion of a “democratic” state, with the Italian judiciary, police and military turning a blind eye to fascist violence while prosecuting and imprisoning those who sought to defend themselves against it. Consequently, Fabbri regarded a narrow “anti-fascist” approach as being completely inadequate. Seeing the fascists as the only enemy “would be like stripping the branches from a poisonous tree while leaving the trunk intact… The fight against fascism can only be waged effectively if it is struck through the political and economic institutions of which it is an outgrowth and from which it draws sustenance,” namely “capitalism and the state.” While “capitalism uses fascism to blackmail the state, the state itself uses fascism to blackmail the proletariat,” dangling fascism “over the heads of the working classes” like “some sword of Damocles,” leaving the working class “forever fearful of its rights being violated by some unforeseen and arbitrary violence” (Volume One, Selection 113).

The anarchist pacifist Bart de Ligt regarded fascism as “a politico-economic state where the ruling class of each country behaves towards its own people as for several centuries it has behaved to the colonial peoples under its heel,” an inverted imperialism “turned against its own people.” Yet fascism was not based on violence alone and enjoyed popular support. As de Ligt noted, fascism “takes advantage of the people’s increasing misery to seduce them by a new Messianism: belief in the Strong Man, the Duce, the Führer” (Volume One, Selection 120).

The veteran anarcho-syndicalist, Rudolf Rocker (1873-1958), argued that fascism was the combined result of the capitalists’ urge to dominate workers, nations and the natural world, the anonymity and powerlessness of “mass man,” the development of modern mass technology and production techniques, mass propaganda and the substitution of bureaucratic state control over every aspect of social life for personal responsibility and communal self-regulation, resulting in the dissolution of “society into its separate parts” and their incorporation “as lifeless accessories into the gears of the political machine.” The reduction of the individual to a mere cog in the machine, together with the constant “tutelage of our acting and thinking,” make us “weak and irresponsible,” Rocker wrote, “hence, the continued cry for the strong man who is to put an end to our distress” (Volume One, Selection 121). Drawing on Freud, Herbert Read argued that it is the “obsessive fear of the father which is the psychological basis of tyranny” and “at the same time the weakness of which the tyrant takes advantage” (Volume One, Selection 130).

Rocker Nationalism and Culture

The Triumph of the Irrational

Rocker noted how in Germany fascism had assumed a brutally racist character, with German capitalists citing Nazi doctrines of racial superiority to justify their own domination and to dismiss human equality, and therefore socialism, as biological impossibilities. Writing in 1937, Rocker foresaw the genocidal atrocities which were to follow, citing this comment by the Nazi ideologue, Ernst Mann: “Suicide is the one heroic deed available to invalids and weaklings” (Volume One, Selection 121).

The Italian anarchist, Camillo Berneri (1897-1937), described fascism as “the triumph of the irrational.” He documented and dissected the noxious racial doctrines of the Nazis, which, on the one hand, portrayed the “Aryan” and “Nordic” German people as a superior race, but then, in order to justify rule by an elite, had to argue that the “ruling strata” were of purer blood (Berneri, 1935). As Rocker observed, “every class that has thus far attained to power has felt the need of stamping their rulership with the mark of the unalterable and predestined.” The idea that the ruling class is a “special breed,” Rocker pointed out, originated among the Spanish nobility, whose “blue blood” was supposed to distinguish them from those they ruled (Volume One, Selection 121). It was in Spain that the conflict between the “blue bloods,” capitalists and fascists, on the one hand, and the anarchists, socialists and republicans, on the other, was to reach a bloody crescendo when revolution and civil war broke out there in July 1936.

The CNT fights fascism in Spain

The CNT fights fascism in Spain