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

Friendly Fascism (Part Three of Three)

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

by Bertram Gross






Page 21

The essence of the new fascist order was an exploitative combination of imperial expansion, domestic repression, militarism, and racism. Each of these elements had a logic of its own and a clear relation to the others.

Imperial expansion brought in the raw materials and markets needed for more profitable economic activity. By absorbing surplus energies as well as surplus capital, it diverted attention from domestic problems and brought in a flood of consumer goods that could, at least for a while, provide greater satisfactions for the masses.

Domestic repression in each of the three countries was essential to eliminate any serious opposition to imperialism, militarism, or racism. It was used to destroy the bargaining power of unions and the political power not only of communists, socialists, and liberals but of smaller enterprises. It helped hold down wages and social benefits and channel more money and power into the hands of big business and its political allies.

Militarism, in turn, helped each of the Axis countries escape from the depression, while also providing the indispensable power needed for both imperial ventures and domestic pacification.

All of the other elements were invigorated by racism, which served as a substitute for class struggle and a justification of any and all brutalities committed by members of the Master Race (whether Japanese, German, or Italian) against “inferior” beings. This may not have been the most efficient of all possible formulae for exploitation, but it was theirs.

No one of these elements, of course, was either new or unique. None of the “haves” among the capitalist powers, as the fascists pointed out, again and again, had built their positions without imperialism, militarism, repression, and racism. The new leaders of the three “have nots”, as the fascists pointed out, were merely expanding on the same methods. “Let these ‘well-bred’ gentry learn”, proclaimed Hitler, “that we do with a clear conscience the things they secretly do with a guilty one”. There was nothing particularly new in Mussolini’s imperialism and militarism.

His critics at the League of Nations in 1935, when a weak anti-Italian embargo was voted on, may have seemed shocked by his use of poison gas against Ethiopian troops, but he did nothing that French, British, English, and Dutch forces had not done earlier in many other countries. The Japanese and Germans, however, were a little more original. In China and other parts of Asia, the Japanese invaders used against Koreans, Chinese, Burmese, Malayans, and other Asians even harsher methods than those previously used by white invaders. Similarly, up to a certain point, the Nazi war crimes consisted largely of inflicting on white Europeans levels of brutality that had previously been reserved only for Asians, Africans, and the native populations of North, Central, and South America.

In open violation of the so-called “laws of war”, German, Japanese, and Italian officials – to the consternation of old-style officers from the upper class “gentry” – ordered the massacre of prisoners. All three regimes engaged in large-scale plunder and looting.

Since German-occupied Europe was richer than any of the areas invaded by the Japanese or Italians, the Nazi record of exploitation is more impressive. “Whenever you come across anything that may be needed by the German people”, ordered Reichsmarshall Goering, “you must be after it like a bloodhound …” The Nazi bloodhounds snatched all gold and foreign holdings from the national banks of seized countries, levied huge occupation costs, fines and forced loans, and snatched away tons of raw materials, finished goods, art treasures, machines, and factory installations.

In addition to this unprecedented volume of looting, the Nazis revived the ancient practice of using conquered people as slaves. In doing so, they went far beyond most previous practices of imperial exploitation. By 1944, “some seven and a half million civilian foreigners were toiling for the Third Reich … In addition, two million prisoners of war were added to the foreign labor force”. Under these conditions, German industrialists competed for their fair share of slaves. As key contributors to the “Hitler Fund”, the Krupps did very well. “Besides obtaining thousands of slave laborers, both civilians and prisoners of war, for its factories in Germany, the Krupp firm also built a large fuse factory at the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where Jews were worked to exhaustion and then gassed to death”.

Domestic repression by the fascists was directed at both working-class movements and any other sources of potential opposition. In all three countries the fascists destroyed the very liberties which industrialization had brought into being; if more was destroyed in Germany than in Italy and more in Italy than in Japan, it was because there was more there to destroy.

All three regimes succeeded in reducing real wages (except for the significant increments which the unemployed attained when put to work by the armaments boom), shifting resources from private consumption to private and public investment and from smaller enterprises to organized big business and channeling income from wages to profits. As these activities tended to “de-class” small entrepreneurs and small landowners, this added to the pool of uprooted people available for repressive activities, if not for the armed services directly. Moreover, each of the three regimes attained substantial control over education at all levels, cultural and scientific activities, and the media of communication.

In Germany, however, domestic repression probably exceeded that of any other dictatorial regime in world history. An interesting, although little-known example is provided by Aktion t 4. In this personally signed decree, Hitler ordered mercy killing for hospital patients judged incurable, insane or otherwise useless to the war effort, thereby freeing hospital beds for wounded soldiers. At first, the patients were “herded into prisons and abandoned castles and allowed to die of starvation”. Since this was too slow, the Nazis then used “a primitive gas chamber fed by exhaust fumes from internal combustion engines”. Later they used larger gas chambers where “ducts shaped like shower nozzles fed coal gas through the ceiling … Afterward, the gold teeth were torn out and the bodies cremated”. Two years later, after about ten thousand Germans were killed in this manner, a Catholic bishop made a public protest and the extermination campaign was called off.

By this time, however, Aktion t 4 had been replaced by Aktion f 14, “an adaptation of the same principles to the concentration camps, where the secret police kept their prisoners – socialists, communists, Jews and anti-state elements”. By the time he declared war on the United States in December 1941, Hitler extended Aktion f 14 to all conquered territories in his “Night and Fog” (Nacht und Nebel) Decree, through which millions of people were spirited away with no information given their families or friends. This was an expansion of the lettres de cachet system previously used by French monarchs and the tsar’s police against important state prisoners. Under this method, untold thousands vanished into the night and fog never to be heard of again.

Each of the three regimes, moreover, developed an extra-virulent form of racism to justify its aggressive drive for more and more “living space” (in German, the infamous Lebensraum). Italian racism was directed mainly against the Africans – although, by the time Italy became a virtual satellite of Nazi Germany, Mussolini started a massive anti-Jewish campaign. Japanese racism was directed mainly against the Chinese, the Indochinese, and in fact, all other Asiatic people and served to justify, in Japanese eyes, the arrogance and brutality of the Japanese troops. The largest target of Nazi racism was the Slavs, who inhabited all of the Eastern regions destined to provide Lebensraum for the Master Race.

And during World War Two more Slavs were killed than any other group of war victims in previous history.

But Nazi racism went still deeper in its fanatic anti-Semitism. Hitler, of course, did not invent anti-Semitism, which ran as a strand through most significant ideologies of the previous century. While a strong strain of anti-Semitism has usually characterized the Catholic church, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, went further in urging that Jewish “synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed”. Nazi anti-Semitism brought all these strands together into a concentrated form of racism that started with looting, deprived the German Jews (about a quarter of a million at that time) of their citizenship and economic rights under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and then – following Martin Luther’s advice with a vengeance – led to the arson, widespread looting, and violence of the Kristolnacht (“The Night of the Broken Glass”) of November 1938. Early in 1939, Hitler declared, in a Reichstag speech, that if a world war should ensue, “the result will be … the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe”, a threat and near-prophecy that he kept on repeating in his public statements. A few weeks after the Nazi invasion of Russia he started to make it a reality with a decree calling for a “total solution” (Gesamtlosung) or “final solution” (Endlosung) of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe which were under German influence. The “final solution” went through various stages: at first simply working Jews to death, then gassing them in the old-style chambers used under Aktion t 4, then using still larger gas chambers capable of gassing six thousand prisoners a day – to the lilting music of The Merry Widow – through the use of hydrogen cyanide.

While business firms competed for the privilege of building the gas chambers and crematoria and supplying the cyanide, recycling enterprises also developed. The gold teeth were “melted down and shipped along with other valuables snatched from the condemned Jews to the Reichsbank … With its vaults filled to overflowing as early as 1942, the bank’s profit-minded directors sought to turn the holdings into cold cash by disposing of them through the municipal pawnshops”. Other recycling operations included using the hair for furniture stuffing, human fat for making soap, and ashes from the crematoria for fertilizer. While a small number of cadavers were used for anatomical research or skeleton collections, a much larger number of live persons – including Slavs as well as Jews – were used in experimental medical research for the German Air Force on the effects on the human body of simulated high-altitude conditions and immersion in freezing water. All in all, of an estimated eleven million Jews in Europe, between five and six million, were killed in the destruction chambers (and work gangs or medical laboratories) at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belsen, Sobibor, and Chelmno, as well as minor camps that used such old-fashioned methods as mere shooting.






Page 25

Centrally controlled propaganda was a major instrument for winning the hearts of the German, Japanese, and Italian people. The growth of the control apparatus coincided with the flowering during the 1920s and 1930s of new instruments of propagandistic technology particularly the radio and the cinema, with major forward steps in the arts of capitalist advertising. “Hitler’s dictatorship”, according to Albert Speer, “was the first dictatorship of an industrial state in this age of technology, a dictatorship which employed to perfection the instruments of technology to dominate its own people”. Apart from technology, each of the Axis powers used marching as an instrument of dominating minds. In discussing this method of domination, one of Hitler’s early colleagues, Hermann Rauschning, has given us this explanation:



Marching diverts men’s thoughts. Marching kills thought. Marching makes an end of individuality. Marching is the indispensable magic stroke performed in order to accustom the people to a mechanic, quasi-ritualistic activity until it becomes second nature.



The content of fascist propaganda. however, was more significant than its forms or methodology. In essence, this content was a justification of imperial conquest, rampant militarism, brutal repression, and unmitigated racism. Many fascist theorists and intellectuals spun high-flown ideologies to present each of these elements in fascist exploitation in the garb of glory, honor, justice, and scientific necessity. The mass propagandists, however (including not only Hitler, Mussolini, and their closest associates, but also the flaming “radicals” of the Japanese ultra-right), wove all these glittering abstractions into the super-pageantry of a cosmic struggle between Good and Evil, between the Master Race which is the fount of all culture, art, beauty, and genius and the inferior beings (non-Aryans, non-Romans, non-Japanese) who were the enemies of all civilization. As the stars and the planets gazed down upon this apocalyptic struggle, the true defenders of civilization against Bolshevism and racial impurity must descend to the level of the enemies of culture and for the sake of mankind’s future, do whatever may be necessary in the grim struggle for survival. Thus, bloodletting and blood sacrifice became a spiritual imperative for the people, an imperative transcending mere materialism.

This holy-war psychology was backed up by the indiscriminate use of any concept, any idea, theory, or anti-theory that was useful at a particular time or place. Liberalism and monarchism, individualism and collectivism, hierarchic leadership and egalitarianism, scientific management and organic spontaneity, private enterprise, and socialism, religion, and atheism – all were drawn upon as the condition warranted – to polish the image of the nation’s leader and play upon the emotions of both establishment and masses. No human interest, drive, or aspiration was safe from exploitation. To help in organizing support of specific groups, promises were made to workers as well as businessmen, peasants as well as landowners, rural folk as well as urbanites, the old nobility as well as the “common man”, the old as well as the young, women as well as men.

Page 28

One of the great successes of the classic fascists was to concoct misleading pronouncements on their purposes and practices. Anti-fascists have often accepted some of these self-descriptions or added part-truths of their own. The result has been a vast structure of apparently indestructible myths. Today, these myths still obscure the nature of classic fascism and of present tendencies toward new forms of the old horror. Although the classic fascists openly subverted constitutional democracy and flaunted their militarism, they took great pains to conceal Big Capital-Big Government partnership. One device for doing this was the myth of “corporatism” or the “corporate state”. In place of geographically elected parliaments, the Italians and the Germans set up elaborate systems whereby every interest in the country – including labor – was to be “functionally” represented. In fact, the main function was to provide facades behind which the decisions were made by intricate networks of business cartels working closely with military officers and their own people in civilian government.

Page 29

There is no doubt that in all three countries the consolidation of the fascist establishment was supported by a psychological malaise that had hit the lower middle classes harder than anyone else. But if one examines the support base of classic fascism, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fascists had multi-class support. Many workers joined the fascist ranks – even former socialist and communist leaders. To the unemployed workers not represented by trade unions or the socialist movement, fascism offered jobs and security and delivered on this promise. Although the older aristocrats were somewhat divided on the subject, many highly respectable members of the landed aristocracy and nobility joined the fascist ranks. The great bulk of civil service bureaucrats was won over. Most leaders of organized religion (despite some heroic exceptions in Germany and some foot-dragging in Italy) either tacitly or openly supported the new regimes. Leading academicians, intellectuals, writers, and artists toed the line; the dissident minority who broke away or left the country made the articulation of support by the majority all the more important. Hitler enjoyed intellectual support, if not adulation, from the leading academicians in German universities. In Japan, the Showa Research Association brought many of the country’s leading intellectuals together to help the imperial leaders formulate the …

Page 30

… instead of operating directly, big capital under fascism operated indirectly through an uneasy partnership with the fascist politicos, the military leaders, and the large landowners. If the privileged classes won many advantages as a result of the indispensable support they gave to the fascist regimes in Italy, Japan, and Germany, they also paid a high price. In addition to being subjected to various forms of political plunder, they lost control of many essential elements of policy, particularly the direction and tempo of imperial expansion. Second, the shift from constitutional to fascist capitalism meant structural changes, not merely the removal of a fig leaf. The fascists suppressed independent trade unions and working-class parties and consolidated big capital at the expense of small business. They destroyed the democratic institutions that capitalism had itself brought into being. They wiped out pro-capitalist liberation and old-fashioned conservatism as vital political forces. Third, while classic fascism was terroristic, it was also beneficent. The fascists provided jobs for the unemployed and upward mobility for large numbers of lower and middle-class people. Although real wage rates were held down, these two factors alone – in addition to domestic political plunder and war booty – improved the material standard of living for a substantial number, until the whole picture was changed by wartime losses.

Page 31

… for thousands of years, hundreds of governments have been fiercely brutal – sometimes on conquered people only, often on their own people also. If we stick by this terminology, then many of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, the old Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Indian, and Chinese empires, the Huns, the Aztecs, and the tsars who ruled Russia were also fascist. Some of these, let me add, also exercised total control over almost all aspects of human life. Indeed, “force, fraud and violence”, as Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski have pointed out, “have always been features of organized government and they do not constitute by themselves the distinctively totalitarian operation”. But concentrated capital, modern-style government, and constitutional democracy are relatively new features of human history – as is also the kind of Big Business-Government alliance that subverts constitutional democracy. Anyone has the constitutional right to pin the label “fascist” or “fascistic” on the brutalities of a Stalin or his heirs in various “Marxist-Leninist” countries, or on the bloodbath inflicted by American firepower on Indochina for a full decade, or even on the latest case of police brutality in a black or Latin ghetto of New York City. This may be a forceful way of protesting brutality. It is much less than a serious examination of the realities of classic fascism or the accumulating tendencies toward new forms of fascism toward the end of the twentieth century.


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