Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Wed Sep 20 01:41:29 MDT 1995

I have now finished what I said I would do, and read both Zeev
Sternhell's _The Birth of Fascist Ideology_ and Laclau's _Problems in
Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism_.  I remain intrigued by
both, and very briefly want to outline some reasons why, and hope others
jump in at some point.

I should also mention that I began reading these in the context of trying
to figure out Deleuze and Guattari's analyses of fascism.  Not that that
necessarily matters...

Sternhell and Laclau have very different tasks at hand.  Most obviously,
I think, S wants to explain the intellectual attraction of fascism in the
period 1900(ish) to 1939.  L, on the other hand, wants to analyze its
popular attraction--he sees fascism as a variant of populism (in fact as
a populism of the dominant classes).

In all the chapters bar the last, S could be a very orthodox marxist (at
several points I suspected he was).  He traces the genealogy of fascism
(and NB by this he effectively means Italian fascism; anti-semitism
hardly enters his picture) from Sorel's anti-materialist and
anti-rationalist revision of marxism.  Sorel (apparently) begins with a
(filched, it would seem) critique of marxist economics, and ends up
extracting only the sense of class war (of moral revolt, as S has it),
legitimated and generated by the myth (important word, this) of the
general strike.  Hence revolutionary syndicalism.

Sorel plays with some of the following steps, but for S they are general
taken up by Italian followers...

What next goes wrong is the failure of belief in the proletariat.  This
follows the failure of attempted general strikes in c. 1905 in France
(and later, in Italy, is accentuated by the disappointing experience of
the 1918-19 unrest).  What is called into replace the proletariat as
agent of revolution is the nation.

Hence national socialism, strictly conceived.

Then the failure of belief in anti-capitalism (which had always been
juggling around at various points).  However, even by 1919 and the
establishment of the fascist party in Italy, many from the Left are still
involved, and still essentially socialist.  But once these people are
superseded by other tendencies, we hit corporativist fascism in its
pretty much fully fledged incarnation.

Fascism is able to gain support because of a weak state, and, most
importantly, the tacit connivance of the intelligentsia, who are pretty
much imbued by these ideas that have been floating around for the
previous 20 years.  There is a roll call of such passive intellectuals,
from Heidegger to Croce, to Lewis and Pound etc., but S by no means
singles out the usual suspects.  Pretty much he wants to denigrate an
intellectual generation.

Indeed, it is very important to him to state that all the elements of the
fascist synthesis are present more or less fully formed *before* WWI.

All this could, as I say, have been presented as the consequence of left
deviationism (in the first chapter there's also discussion of Bernstein
et. al., though mainly to explain why the French and Italians weren't so
charmed by those debates).  However, instead he ends with a call for
universalism and rationalism, more or less because though not perfect
they're not fascist.

Anyway, I won't go on too much further.  If this elicits interest, we'll
call this no. 1 in a series.  A point to ponder, however: the trajectory
Sternhell traces is, it seems to me, very similar to the trajectory run
by Laclau (and with him others, for their own reasons), but Laclau is
arguing explicitly on the basis of self-conscious *anti*-fascism.

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu

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