The Left and mainstream political science identify Italian fascism and German national socialism as a right-wing ideology. Their motivation is clear — they do not want to be associated with regimes that brought civilization the horror and suffering of an unprecedented scale. The Left traditionally substantiates their point of view with two theoretical propositions. First of all, fascism and Nazism do not belong to the Left because those regimes did not institute total collective ownership on means of production as Marx prescribed. Secondly, nationalism and racism have traditionally been features of the Right, whereas the Left is perceived to be internationalist in nature.
Private Ownership in Name Only
Let us consider the first postulate about the failure of these regimes to carry out total socialization of private property. Thus, Stalin pointed out in his interview to American journalist Roy Howard, “The foundation of the [socialism] society is public property: state, i.e., national, and co-operative, collective farm property. Neither Italian fascism nor German National-‘socialism’ has anything in common with such a society. Primarily, this is because the private ownership of the factories and works, of the land, the banks, transport, etc. has remained intact, and, therefore, capitalism remains in full force in Germany and Italy.” That has been the notorious argument of Marxian socialists.
The great Ludwig von Mises attacked logical inferences of the Left by pointing out that in non-Marxian socialist regimes the private property was de jure allowed, but de facto the state was the principal owner of the means of production. “If the State takes the power of disposal from the owner piecemeal, by extending its influence over production; if its power to determine what direction production shall be, is increased, then the owner is left at last with nothing except the empty name of ownership, and property has passed into the hands of the State”, wrote Mises in Socialism.
Indisputably, his arguments authentically describe real economic affairs under these regimes. Indeed, entrepreneurs were deprived of the free commodity market, labor market, and international money market; the state established wage and price controls, and overall influenced all stages of production, distribution, and consumption. However, it should be recognized that Mises’s arguments do not find the proper understanding and effect in modern realities.
The thing is, the twentieth century was cracked by two bloody World Wars and the prolonged Cold War. Only a state can wage World Wars as it can gather and manage the necessary financial, economic, and people resources. Thus, for the last century, the state had been very firmly fixed in the economic sphere of society, and it reluctantly gave up its position. After all, many generations of people live in conditions where the state dictates the conditions of the economy. They do not even suspect that the state and the economy may have different relations. Contemporary industrial countries are guilty of conducting policies that resemble ones from the cookbooks of Italian and German governments. Indeed, the state has put in place various regulations that adversely affect the business and economy as a whole, including, among other things, control over the minimum wage, the establishment of social programs that are fueled by the substantial redistribution of wealth, and many other measures.
Mises pointed out that the state controlled the economic life, conducting various measures of coercion. He is undoubtedly right; however, the socialist regimes have utilized both methods: coercion and persuasion, and the latter occupied even more prominent importance. In contemporary settings, the outright collectivist indoctrinations in educational institutions became a primary form of persuasion.
Humans are the most adaptive species and easily affected by a skillful conviction. The majority of the corresponding population almost effortlessly accepted national ideas of fascists and Nazis. Gotz Aly mentioned in Hitler’s Beneficiaries that The Third Reich was not a dictatorship maintained by force. He gave a vivid example that in 1937, Gestapo had just over 7,000 employees, which sufficed to keep tabs on more than 60 million people. The vast majority of the population voluntarily subdues their thoughts toward ideas of the ruling party. Consequently, the population that underwent collectivization of mind eagerly supported any policies, including economic measures proposed by the government. German entrepreneurs were an integral part of the nationalist movement and did not mind accepting new game rules and enthusiastically took part in the social experiment.
As far as the “de jure-de facto possession” argument put forward by Mises, it is necessary to supplement it with the following propositions. If one owns the property, one should be able to control it. The reverse is also true: if one controls private property, one de facto owns it. It is easier and more effective to manage the property if one also possesses this property. Therefore, it was quite natural, that the fascist and Nazis states developed a tendency to become real owners, not only de facto but also de jure. The property ownership dichotomy “one owns, but deprived of full control – another one controls, but not owns” could not be considered as a stable paradigm. This construct had to collapse and be rested in the stable position – “one owns, one controls.” An ambiguity inherent in the “de facto and de jure possessions” would be inevitably resolved in favor of a stronger counterpart – a state. The history shows that the Fascist state was developing along this path. By 1939, Fascist Italy attained the highest rate of state ownership in the world other than the Soviet Union.
Therefore, the first argument put forward by the Left should be rebuffed along with the following reasoning. First of all, Italian Fascism and National Socialism belong to the Left as they are incarnations of the non-Marxian socialism that utilized collectivization of consciousness rather than the socialization of private property as the primary path toward socialism. Secondly, state control over the economy will ultimately lead to the socialization of private property, which will make the state de jure owner.
Nationalism Is Not Unique to the Right
The supposed exclusive nationalism and racism of the Right is a political myth propelled by the vicious leftist propaganda. It is known that the founders of Marxism were xenophobes that adhered to the Hegelian division of nations to historical and non-historical. The founder of revolutionary syndicalism Sorel was an ardent anti-Semite. Some currents of socialism preached outright chauvinism; others used internationalist rhetoric in order to gain political benefits. Moreover, nationalism was not a factor that divided the political spectrum into the Left-Right wings at the beginning of the 20th century. Instead, it was the attitude to property rights (or antagonism between capital and labor, in Marxian terms) that divided the political spectrum. Therefore, nationalism might be inherent in various political philosophies, in both the defenders of capital and the proponents of labor. No firm historical facts suggest that nationalism is a particular characteristic of the Right. On the contrary, as proponents of the free market, the Right promote an international division of labor and trade. At the same time, institutionalized regimes of the Left, including Italian Fascism and German National-Socialism, implemented an economy of national autarky.
Italian Fascism and German Nazism constitute anti-materialist, anti-positivist current of the socialist movement, which was extremely hostile toward ideas of Marxism and democratic socialism. Nevertheless, they shared a continuum bench of the socialist team. Communists occupy the extreme left, followed by the Social Democrats; the right flank belongs to fascists and Nazis — they are the right wing of the Left.
About the Author
Allen Gindler is an author with the Mises Institute.