Il Duce’s Long Shadow
On Oct 28, 1922 some 25,000 black-uniformed followers of Benito Mussolini gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of the government and the appointment of a new, Fascist administration. The Italian state collapsed. Mussolini was asked to become prime minister. Thus commenced the first Fascist regime.
Now, one hundred years later almost to the day, the Brothers of Italy has become the largest party in the newly elected Italian parliament. It’s leader, Giorgia Meloni, will likely become Italy’s prime minister, the first woman to hold that position. The Brothers of Italy has its roots in older Fascist parties, starting with Mussolini’s Fascist movement.
In 1919, Mussolini’s new Fascist Party issued a manifesto with demands for change in Italy favoring the working class. Among the demands were calls for:
- Universal suffrage
- Voting for women;
- Representation at government level of newly created national councils by economic sector;
- The abolition of the Italian Senate
- The formation of a national council of experts for labor, for industry, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made of professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a general commission with ministerial powers.
- an eight-hour workday
- A minimum wage;
- The participation of workers' representatives in industry commissions;
- Reduction of the retirement age from 65 to 55.
- A progressive tax on capital assets
Mussolini’s alternative to both free market capitalism and class-conscious socialism was corporatism -- the organization of a national society into sectors of activity under the overall superintendence of the government. Corporatism sought cooperation between classes, not conflict. With corporatism, a nation would reach its maximum efficiency through harmony among all its working sub-sectors -- business, agriculture, finance, family, and religion.
Mussolini also followed the teachings of Georges Sorel, whose program for replacing bourgeois society was summarized in his book Reflections on Violence. Roughly, Sorel advocated a combination of myth and violence to frighten the bourgeoisie and thus bring about their craven submission to new rulers of the state.
Sorel’s introduction of myth as fundamental to syndicalist rule opened the door for Hitler to promote ethnic Aryan supremacy expressed in the right of the German people to build for themselves an Aryan volksgemeinschaft. Mussolini turned to mythic memories of Rome to inspire the Italian people and mobilize them behind his party and administration. Ethnic identities thus produced the volk, or the “national,” component in “National Socialism.”
Putin’s Russia Channels Mussolini
Today, Putin’s Russia rather nicely fits the volksgemeinschaft paradigm started by Mussolini. For example, when incorporating Ukrainian territory into Russia, Putin said:
The West is ready to step over everything in order to preserve the neo-colonial system that allows it to parasitize, in fact, to plunder the world at the expense of the power of the dollar and technological dictates, to collect real tribute from humanity, to extract the main source of unearned prosperity, the rent of the hegemon…. That is why total desovereignization is in their interests.
I want to emphasize once again: it is precisely in greed, in the intention to maintain its unlimited power, that there are the real reasons for the hybrid war that the “collective West” is waging against Russia… They want to see us not as a free society, but as a crowd of soulless slaves.
And I want to end my speech with the words of a true patriot Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin: “If I consider Russia my Motherland, then this means that I love in Russian, contemplate and think, sing and speak Russian; that I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. His spirit is my spirit; his fate is my fate; his suffering is my grief; its flowering is my joy.”
Behind us is the truth, behind us is Russia!
Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church has called on the Russian people to support the war against Ukraine. That Church promulgated a social doctrine in 2000 in a long statement which insists that:
In all times the Church has called upon her children to love their homeland on earth and not to spare their lives to protect it if it was threatened…
Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. This love is one of the ways of fulfilling God’s commandment of love to one’s neighbour which includes love to one’s family, fellow-tribesmen and fellow-citizens.
The patriotism of the Orthodox Christian should be active. It is manifested when he defends his fatherland against an enemy, works for the good of the motherland, cares for the good order of people’s life through, among other things, participation in the affairs of government. The Christian is called to preserve and develop national culture and people’s self-awareness. (emphasis in the original)
Xi Jinping’s China also Channels Mussolini
Xi Jinping’s China, with its economy, education, and personal lives (the social credit system of punishment and reward) managed according to “Chinese characteristics” by a political party, with a government and security services subordinate to its diktat, is more corporatist than Communist. Its ruling elite is not proletarian but bureaucratic, disciplined, highly educated, and wealthy.
On July 1, 2021, China’s President Xi said on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party:
The Chinese nation is a great nation… To realize national rejuvenation, the Party has united and led the Chinese people in pursuing a great struggle, a great project, a great cause, and a great dream through a spirit of self-confidence, self-reliance, and innovation, achieving great success for socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
We must unite and lead the Chinese people in working ceaselessly for a better life. This country is its people; the people are the country.
The United States: to be determined
To be uncomfortably frank, Mussolini’s precedent is not without its application in the United States.
In her 2016 campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton provided socially constructed criteria to distinguish between those who deserved to be included in the American “volk” and those who deserved to be excluded:
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
On October 4, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland signed a memorandum “directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.” This coordination was proposed as a response to parents of public-school students complaining about the teaching of Critical Race Theory in such government schools.
On April 27, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security established a Disinformation Governance Board to monitor open-source communications in the public domain to discover what government officials would consider to be threats to domestic security. Responding to very adverse public criticism, the Board was disbanded on August 24, 2022.
Then, in his speech of September 1, 2022, President Biden distinguished between “good “Americans who follow their “better angels” and “bad” Americans who follow their “worst instincts.”
According to President Biden, only the former deserve to be part of the rightful “American” community and receive the blessings of God, saying “And may God protect all those who stand watch over our democracy”.
Those who do not deserve God’s blessing were, President Biden pointedly suggested, to be “canceled’, ostracized, and effectively expunged from all polite American society. Thus did Biden insisted that the American “volk” consist only of some citizens and not all:
Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic…
MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair. They spread fear and lies -- lies told for profit and power…
Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t be pro-ex- -- pro-ex- -- pro-insurrectionist and pro-American. They’re incompatible…
And here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people…
MAGA forces… promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country…
This is inflammatory. It’s dangerous. It’s against the rule of law. And we, the people, must say: This is not who we are…
Given the current polarization among Americans, it would not stretch our imaginations too much to predict that those who identify themselves with the Make America Great Again movement association with former President Trump could easily decide to evict from their American “volk” those they disagreed with. Those nominated for eviction from that “volk” of traditionalists would likely be champions of Critical Race Theory, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion discriminations, gender fluidity, very permissive acceptance of abortions, free college education and health care, drastic elimination of fossil fuels, an end to toxic masculinity, and other identity badges of progressive points of view.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Frances Fukuyama proposed that the “end of history” had arrived in that for the future liberal regimes privileging constitutional governance and capitalism would prevail in the various nations of our world. Today, that proposition has not been substantiated by events. Nationalist populism -- Mussolini’s legacy -- is touted as the coming trend in many countries.
How might our global community keep this mighty legacy from reviving Fascist illiberalism, oppression, and conflicts whereby the person is subordinated to the collective and individual rights are a half-forgotten myth?
By seeking balance and equilibrium, which create space for universal values of humane individualism, and by not allowing our religions and our ethnicities, in which we rightly take pride and from which we gain moral sustenance, to turn us against others.
Image: Silvio Galimberti