Home > Uncategorized > Friendly Fascism (Part Two of Three)

Friendly Fascism (Part Two of Three)

Excerpts from the book Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1980)

by Bertram Gross






Page 11

Between the two world wars, fascist movements developed in many parts of the world.

In the most industrially advanced capitalist countries – the United States, Britain, France, Holland, and Belgium – they made waves but did not engulf the constitutional regimes. In the most backward capitalist countries – Albania, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Spain, and Yugoslavia – there came to power authoritarian or dictatorial regimes that boastfully called themselves “fascist” or, as the term soon came to be an all-purpose nasty word, were branded “fascist” by their opponents. The most genuine and vigorous fascist movements arose in three countries – Italy, Germany, and Japan – which, while trailing behind the capitalist leaders in industrialization and empire, were well ahead of the laggards.






In Milan on March 23 1919, in a hall offered by a businessmen’s club, former socialist Benito Mussolini transformed a collection of black-shirted roughnecks into the Italian Fascist party. His word “fascism” came from the Latin fasces for a bundle of rods with an axe, the symbol of State power carried ahead of the consuls in ancient Rome. Mussolini and his comrades censured old-fashioned conservatives for not being more militant in opposing the socialist and communist movements that arose, in response to the depression, after World War One. At the same time, they borrowed rhetorical slogans from their socialist and communist foes and strengthened their support among workers and peasants.

In their early days, these groups had tough going. The more respectable elements in the Establishment tended to be shocked by their rowdy, untrustworthy nature. Campaign contributions from businessmen came in slowly and sporadically. When they entered electoral contests, the Fascists did badly. Thus, in their very first year of life, the Italian Fascists suffered a staggering defeat by the Socialists.

In 1920 the left-wing power seemed to grow. Hundreds of factories were seized by striking workers in Milan, Turin, and other industrial areas. Peasant unrest became stronger, and many large estates were seized. The Socialists campaigned under the slogan of “all power to the proletariat”.

For Mussolini, this situation was an opportunity to be exploited. He countered with a nationwide wave of terror that went far beyond ordinary strikebreaking. Mussolini directed his forces at destroying all sources of proletarian or peasant leadership. The Fascist squadristi raided the offices of Socialist or Communist mayors, trade unions, cooperatives and leftwing newspapers, beating up their occupants and burning down the buildings. They rounded up outspoken anti-Fascists, clubbed them, and forced them to drink large doses of castor oil. They enjoyed the passive acquiescence – and at times the direct support – of the police, the army, and the church. Above all, business groups supplied Mussolini with an increasing amount of funds. In turn, Mussolini responded by toning down the syndicalism and radical rhetoric of his followers, and, while still promising to “do something for the workers”, began to extol the merits of private enterprise.

On October 26 1922, as his Fascist columns started their so-called March on Rome, Mussolini met with a group of industrial leaders to assure them that “the aim of the impending Fascist movement was to reestablish discipline within the factories and that no outlandish experiments … would be carried out”. On October 28 and 29 he convinced the leaders of the Italian Association of Manufacturers “to use their influence to get him appointed premier”. In the evening of October 29, he received a telegram from the King inviting him to become premier. He took the sleeping train to Rome and by the end of the next day formed a coalition cabinet. In 1924, in an election characterized by open violence and intimidation, the Fascist-led coalition won a clear majority.

If Mussolini did not actually march on Rome in 1922, during the next seven years he did march into the hearts of important leaders in other countries. He won the friendship, support, or qualified approval of Richard Childs (the American ambassador), Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas Lamont, many newspaper and magazine publishers, the majority of business journals, and quite a sprinkling of liberals, including some associated with both The Nation and The New Republic. “Whatever the dangers of fascism”, wrote Herbert Croly, in 1927, “it has, at any rate, substituted movement for stagnation, purposive behavior for drifting, and visions of great future for collective pettiness and discouragements”. These same years, as paeans of praise for Mussolini arose throughout Western capitalism, Mussolini consolidated his rule, purging anti-Fascists from the government service, winning decree power from the legislature, and passing election laws favorable to himself and his conservative, liberal, and Catholic allies.

Only a few days after the march on Rome, a close associate of Hitler, Herman Esser, proclaimed in Munich among tumultuous applause: “What has been done in Italy by a handful of courageous men is not impossible here. In Bavaria too we have Italy’s Mussolini. His name is Adolf Hitler …”

In January 1919, in Munich, a small group of anti-Semitic crackpot extremists founded the German Workers Party. Later that year the German Army’s district commander ordered one of his agents, a demobilized corporal, to investigate it. The Army’s agent, Adolf Hitler, instead joined the party and became its most powerful orator against Slavs, Jews, Marxism, liberalism, and the Versailles treaty. A few months later, under Hitler’s leadership, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and organized a bunch of dislocated war veterans into brown-shirted strong-arm squads or storm troopers (in German, SA for Sturmabteilung). The party’s symbol, designed by Hitler himself, became a black swastika in a white circle on a flag with a red background.

On November 8 1923, in the garden of a large Munich beer hall, Adolf Hitler and his storm troopers started what he thought would be a quick march to Berlin. With the support of General Erich Ludendorff, he tried to take over the Bavarian government. But neither the police nor the army supported the Putsch. Instead of winning power in Munich, Hitler was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, but confined in luxurious quarters and paroled after only nine months, the gestational period needed to produce the first volume of Mein Kampf. His release from prison coincided with an upward turn in the fortunes of the Weimar Republic, as the postwar inflation abated and an influx of British and American capital sparked a wave of prosperity from 1925 to 1929. “These, the relatively fat years of the Weimar Republic, were correspondingly lean years for the Nazis”.

Weimar’s “fat years” ended in 1929. If postwar disruption and class conflict brought the Fascists to power in Italy and nurtured similar movements in Germany, Japan, and other nations. The Great Depression opened the second stage in the rise of the fascist powers.

In Germany, where all classes were demoralized by the crash, Hitler recruited jobless youth into the SA, renewed his earlier promises to rebuild the German army, and expanded his attacks on Jews, Bolshevism, the Versailles treaty, liberalism, and constitutional government. In September 1930, to the surprise of most observers (and probably Hitler himself), the Nazis made an unprecedented electoral breakthrough, becoming the second largest party in the country. A coalition of conservative parties, without the Nazis, then took over under General Kurt von Schleicher, guiding genius of the army. With aged Field Marshal von Hindenberg serving as a figurehead president, three successive cabinets – headed by Heinrich Bruening, Franz von Papen, and then von Schleicher himself – cemented greater unity between big business and big government (both civilian and military), while stripping the Reichstag of considerable power. They nonetheless failed miserably in their efforts to liquidate the Depression. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler, the only right-wing nationalist with a mass following, was publicly promising full employment and prosperity. Privately meeting with the largest industrialists he warned, “Private enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy”. On January 30 1933, he was invited to serve as chancellor of a coalition cabinet. “We’ve hired Hitler!” a conservative leader reported to a business magnate.

A few weeks later, using the SA to terrorize left-wing opposition and the Reichstag fire to conjure up the specter of conspiratorial Bolshevism, Hitler won 44 percent of the total vote in a national election. With the Support of the Conservative and Center parties, he then pushed through legislation that abolished the independent functioning of both the Reichstag and the German states, liquidated all parties other than the Nazis, and established concentrated power in his own hands. He also purged the SA of its semi-socialist leadership and vastly expanded the size and power of his personal army of Blackshirts.

Through this rapid process of streamlining, Hitler was able to make immediate payments on his debts to big business by wiping out independent trade unions. abolishing overtime pay, decreasing compulsory cartelization decrees (like similar regulations promulgated earlier in Japan and Italy), and giving fat contracts for public works and fatter contracts for arms production. By initiating an official pogrom against the Jews, he gave Nazi activists a chance to loot Jewish shops and family possessions, take over Jewish enterprises, or occupy jobs previously held by German Jews.

Above all, he kept his promise to the unemployed; he put them back to work, while at the same time using price control to prevent a recurrence of inflation. As Shirer demonstrates in his masterful The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), Hitler also won considerable support among German workers, who did not seem desperately concerned with the loss of political freedom and even of their trade unions as long as they were employed full time. “In the past, for so many, for as many as six million men and their families, such rights of free men in Germany had been overshadowed as he [Hitler] said, by the freedom to starve. In taking away that last freedom”, Shirer reports, “Hitler assured himself of the support of the working class, probably the most skillful and industrious and disciplined in the Western world”.

Also in 1919, Kita Ikki, later known as “the ideological father of Japanese fascism”, set up the “Society of Those Who Yet Remain”.

His General Outline of Measures for the Reconstruction of Japan, the Mein Kampf of this association, set forth a program for the construction of a revolutionized Japan, the coordination of reform movements, and the emancipation of the Asian peoples under Japanese leadership.

In Japan, where organized labor and proletarian movements had been smashed many years earlier and where an oligarchic structure was already firmly in control, the transition to full-fledged fascism was – paradoxically – both simpler than in Italy and Germany and stretched out over a longer period. In the mid-1920s hired bullies smashed labor unions and liberal newspapers as the government campaigned against “dangerous thoughts” and used a Peace Preservation Law to incarcerate anyone who joined any organization that tried to limit private property rights. The worldwide depression struck hard in Japan, particularly at the small landholders whose sons had tried to escape rural poverty through military careers. The secret military societies expanded their activities to establish a Japanese “Monroe Doctrine for Asia”. In 1931 they provoked an incident, quickly seized all of Manchuria, and early in 1932 established the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

At home, the Japanese premier was assassinated and replaced by an admiral, as the armed forces pressed forward for still more rapid expansion on the continent and support for armament industries. As the frontiers of Manchukuo were extended, a split developed between two rival military factions. In February 1936, the Imperial Way faction attempted a fascist coup from below. Crushing the rebels, the Control faction of higher-ranking officers ushered in fascism from above. “The interests of business groups and the military drew nearer, and a ‘close embrace’ structure of Japanese fascism came to completion”, writes Masao Maruyama. “The fascist movement from below was completely absorbed into a totalitarian transformation from above”. Into this respectable embrace came both the bureaucracy and the established political parties, absorbed into the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. And although there was no charismatic dictator or party leader, the Emperor was the super charismatic symbol of Japanese society as a nation of families. By 1937, with well-shaped support at home, the Japanese army seized Nanking and started its long war with China.






Before fascism, the establishments in Italy, Japan, and Germany each consisted of a loose working alliance between big business, the military, the older landed aristocracy, and various political leaders. The origin of these alliances could be traced to the consolidation of government and industry during World War One.

“Manufacturing and finance”, writes Roland Sarti about World War One in Italy (but in terms applicable to many other countries also), “drew even closer than they had been before the war to form the giant combines necessary to sustain the war effort. Industrialists and government officials sat side by side in the same planning agencies, where they learned to appreciate the advantages of economic planning and cooperation. Never before had the industrialists been so close to the center of political power, so deeply involved in the decision-making process”.

United in the desire to renew the campaigns of conquest that had been dashed by the war and its aftermath, the establishments in these countries were nonetheless seriously divided by conflicting interests and divergent views on national policy. As Sarti points out, big-business leaders were confronted by “economically conservative and politically influential agricultural interests, aggressive labor unions, strong political parties ideologically committed to the liquidation of capitalism, and governments responsive to a variety of pressures”. Despite the development of capitalist planning, coping with inflation and depression demanded more operations through the Nation-State than many banking and industrial leaders could easily accept, more government planning than most governments were capable of undertaking, and more international cooperation among imperial interests than was conceivable in that period.

The establishment faced other grave difficulties in the form of widespread social discontent amidst the uncertain and eventually catastrophic economic conditions of the postwar world. One of the challenges came from the fascists, who seemed to attack every element in the existing regimes. They criticized businessmen for putting profits above patriotism and for lacking the dynamism needed for imperial expansion. They tore at those elements in the military forces who were reluctant to break with constitutional government. They vilified the aristocracy as snobbish remnants of a decadent past. They branded liberals as socialists, socialists as communists, communists as traitors to the country, and parliamentary operations in general as an outmoded system run by degenerate babblers. They criticized the bureaucrats for sloth and branded intellectuals as self-proclaimed “great minds” (in Hitler’s phrasing) who knew nothing about the real world. They damned the Old Order as an oligarchy of tired old men, demanding a New Order of young people and new faces. In Japan, the young blood was represented mainly by junior officers in the armed forces. In Italy and Germany the hoped-for infusion of new dynamism was to come from the “little men”, the “common people”, the “lost generation”, the “outsiders”, and the “uprooted” or the “rootless”. Although some of these were gangsters, thugs, and pimps, most were white-collar workers, lower-level civil servants, or declassed artisans and small businessmen.

But the fascist challenge did not threaten the jugular vein. Unlike the communists, the fascists were not out to destroy the old power structure or to create an entirely new one. Rather, they were heretics seeking to revive the old faith by concentrating on the fundamentals of imperial expansion, militarism, repression, and racism. They had the courage of the old-time establishment’s convictions. If they at times sounded like violent revolutionaries, the purpose was not merely to pick up popular support from among the discontented and alienated, but to mobilize and channel the violence-prone. If at the outset they tolerated anti-capitalist currents among their followers, the effect was to enlarge the following for policies that strengthened capitalism. Above all, the fascists “wanted in”.

In turn, at a time of crisis, leaders in the old establishment wanted them in as junior partners. These leaders operated on the principle that “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. Ultimately, the marriage of the fascist elements with the old order was one of convenience. In Italy and Japan, the fascists won substantial control of international and domestic politics, were the dominant ideological force, and controlled the police. The old upper-class structure remained in control of the armed forces and the economy. In Japan, the upper-class military was successfully converted to fascism, but there were difficulties in winning over Japan’s family conglomerates, the zaibatsu.

Thus, while much of the old order was done away with, the genuinely anti-capitalist and socialist elements that provided much of the strength in the fascist rise to power were suppressed. The existing social system in each country was actually preserved, although in a changed form.






From the start, fascism had been nationalist and militarist, exploiting the bitterness felt in Italy, Germany, and Japan over the postwar settlements. Italians, denied territories secretly promised them as an enticement for entering the war, felt cheated of the fruits of victory. Japanese leaders chafed at the rise of American and British resistance to Japanese expansion in China and resented the Allies’ refusal to include a statement of racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Germans were outraged by the Versailles treaty; in addition to depriving Germany of thirteen percent of its European territories and population, the treaty split wide open two of Germany’s three major industrial areas and gave French and Polish industrialists nineteen percent of Germany’s coke, seventeen percent of its blast furnaces, sixty percent of its zinc foundries, and 75 percent of its iron ore.

Furthermore, each of the fascist nations could ground their expansion in national tradition. As far back as 1898, Ito Hirobumi, one of the founders of the “new” Japan after the Meiji restoration of 1868, had gone into great detail on Japan’s opportunities for exploiting China’s vast resources. While the late-nineteenth-century Italians and Germans were pushing into Africa, the Japanese had seized Korea as a stepping-stone to China and started eyeing Manchuria for the same purpose. Mussolini’s imperial expansion in Africa was rooted, if not in the Roman empire, then in late nineteenth-century experience and, more specifically, in the “ignominy” of the 1896 Italian defeat by ill-armed Ethiopian forces in Aduwa. Hitler’s expansionism harked back to an imperialist drive nearly a century old, at least.

Now, while Japan was seizing Manchuria, Mussolini responded to the crash by moving toward armaments and war. He used foreign aid to establish economic control over Albania, consolidating this position through naval action in 1934. In 1935 he launched a larger military thrust into Ethiopia and Eritrea.

By that time, the Nazi-led establishment in Germany was ready to plunge into the European heartland itself. In 1935, Hitler took over the Saarland through a peaceful plebiscite, formally repudiating the Versailles treaty. In 1936 he occupied the Rhineland and announced the formation of a Berlin-Rome Axis and the signing of a German-Japanese Pact. Hitler and Mussolini then actively intervened in the Spanish Civil War, sending “volunteers” and equipment to support General Franco’s rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected left-wing republic.

The timetable accelerated: in 1938, the occupation of Austria in March and of Czechoslovakia in September; in 1939, the swallowing up of more parts of Czechoslovakia and, after the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August, the invasion of Poland. At this point, England and France declared war on Germany and World War Two began. Japan joined Italy and Germany in a ten-year pact “for the creation of conditions which would promote the prosperity of their peoples”. As a signal of its good intentions, Japan began to occupy Indochina as well as China. Germany did even better. By 1941 the Germans had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. They had thrown the British army into the sea at Dunkirk and had invaded Rumania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. A new world order seemed to be in the making.

For Japan, it was the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”, and for Italy a new Roman Empire to include “the Mediterranean for the Mediterraneans”. And, for Germany, the new order was the “Thousand Year Reich” bestriding the Euro-Slavic-Asian land mass.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: