Monday, March 06, 2017

Gregor on Marxist/Fascist Morality

I thought I would pull a few quotes from Gregor's book just to show how important morality and metaphysics were for the early Marxist theoreticians.  Left Marxists and Right Marxists may have differed on many questions but in the end they were all socialists.

It will he surprising to some—though certainly not everyone—that among the first issues engaged by the revolutionary thinkers at the turn of the twentieth century were those having to do with choice and determinism, with morality and ethics, with nationalism, with leadership, with the mobilization of masses, and how revolution was to be understood in the broad expanse of history. They are questions that continue to shape the revolutionary thought of our time.
Morals and ethics lie at the core of revolutionary commitment. As such, moral and immoral behavior, sustained or abjured by appropriate ethical assessment, becomes critical to any revolutionary enterprise. That enterprise is inextricably associated with the advocacy of, or resistance to, violence. At some stage in the process it becomes necessary to systematically address ethical and moral questions. At the very least, the proponents of revolution must justify to themselves or others their endorsement of real or potential violence. As early as his first efforts at revolutionary analysis, Karl Marx extended what could only be characterized as a slack interpretation of morals and ethics—as well as a singular account of human conceptual life in general. In The Communist Manifesto  of 1848, he simply dismissed the notion that there were "eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc.;" or that any such ideas should independently influence the course of human conduct. He argued, instead, that such ideas, other than eternal, were relative, a function of the time, place, and circumstances in which they find expression—and whatever influence they exercise, as we shall see, was to be understood to be the derivative result of objective factors that, taken together, he identified as time-specific "modes of production?'
Those were the convictions that shaped Marx's view that it would soon be the case that the "mass" of contemporary revolutionaries, the proletariat, would no longer entertain archaic notions about religion and the whole attendant "learned" nonsense about a transcendent morality emanating from the "realm of God", Marx informed the revolutionaries of his time that the morality of the proletariat would represent the "interests" of the emerging productive forces—the productive forces of the future—and as such would represent the only defensible morality for rational actors.
For all the efforts made to distinguish Marxism from fascism in any of its real or fancied forms, there is a lingering suspicion that the two ideological systems arc somehow related. The similarities were noted even before Italian Fascism had reached political maturity. Many Marxists were there at the birth of Fascism. However strenuously resisted by some, the relationship was recognized in totalitarianism. During the tenure of the regime, it was acknowledged by some of Fascism's major theoreticians. And after the passing of Leninist communism, its relationship to fascism, in general, was acknowledged by many of its erstwhile practitioners.

The difficulty that many have had with all that is the consequence of political science folk wisdom that has made fascism the unqualified opposite of any term of Marxism. So fixed has that notion become in the study of comparative politics that the suggestion of any affinities between the two is generally dismissed. And yet, some contemporary comparativists recognize that there was an unmistakable "essential ideological kindredncss" shared by fascism and Leninism. It was equally clear that at "certain pivotal ideational junctures, les extremes se touchent. (extremes come together)". It is important to try to understand how that could be possible. In answering that, one has a foothold on how one might explain the concept "totalitarianism”—that has fascism and the variants of Marxism as its referents. Attempting to begin to explain the relationship is part of the story of revolutionary thought at the turn of the twentieth century.
Italian Fascism was not Hitler's National Socialism, and it was not Lenin's Bolshevism—but all three shared some sort of affinity, however minimal. For the purpose of the present exposition, the relationship between Mussolini's Fascism and Lenin's Bolshevism is of central concern. It speaks to the ideological relationship shared by Italian Fascism and one or another variant of Marxism, and helps us understand why relevant similarities regularly resurface in any study dealing with modern revolutionary political systems. It is a story that covers almost half a century of European radical thought—and involves some of the major intellectuals of the first quarter of the twentieth century.

While it is only a thread in the complex tapestry of revolution in our time, it is an important and interesting concern. It deals with revolutionary morality and the ethical system that sustains it. It addresses the issue of how the revolutionary theorists at the beginning of our time attempted to understand human choice and political decisions. It deals with revolution and its motives, and violence and its uses.

In the course of time; all these concerns were addressed by self-selected Marxist revolutionaries at the end of the nineteenth century; some of whom were to become the leaders of revolutionary movements in the twentieth. History was to subsequently identify some as "Marxists" and others as "fascists." Those with whom we shall concern ourselves were all Marxists of one or another persuasion. The most interesting, for our purposes, were to ultimately be identified as "Mussoliniani;' intellectual leaders of Italian Fascism.

The reactor core of any political movement are the ideas that motivate it, but these ideas are themselves supported by a metaphysical structure which in turn shapes their nature. Old Europe starts dying when it rejects its Christian heritage and embraces the materialism of the Positivists. Those of the Alt-Right who are positivists/materialists are simply the Left dressed in right wing garb.


Chris B said...

It is really interesting watching you head through the same thought process I did when reading Gregor. See here:

and on Gentile:

Nulle Terre Sans Seigneur said...

Gregor went into this in greater depth in both "Young Mussolini" and "The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics".

What he pointed out, and what really stuck with me - is that most 20th century Marxists owed far more to Mussolini and Sorel than they did to Marx, even if it was not a direct influence. The Castroists, the Maoists, the Arab socialists and the many student and minority movements of the 60s and 70s all completely gutted the economic and historical materialism of classical Marxism in favor of a vitalist cult of heroic action, charismatic leadership, military-like discipline, an undying belief in the political myth as a source of action, and thus to copious amounts of mass propaganda.

Marxism stopped being Marxist a long time ago. Mussolini had the last laugh, even as both fascism and classical Marxism died.

Chris B said...

@Anonymous Nulle Terre Sans Seigneur
You will find that with any political movement that seeks to attain power. The relative position of the actor, their goals, and as such, the political system as a whole has a definitive effect on the world view of the thinkers in question. Mussolini went from materialist to anti-materialist. I have no doubt with enough time, he would have reverted back to materialism to consolidate his rule. Stalin did. Stalin I believe went through this transition, and then when in power, actively suppressed Lenin's work which did not correspond to strict materialism, or rather, the world historical inevitability of his dictatorship of the Proletariat or whatever.

The problem with Marxism, is that there is so much confusion surrounding it, especially due to the cold war and the massive effort to differentiate if from liberalism, to which it is far more closely related than Fascism. In effect, what Marxs simply did, and this gets lost under the tsunami of crap, is place liberal political economy within a history. He didn't reject it.

So whereas the liberal of all persuasions will stupidly work on the premise of the timelessness of economics (capitalism ala Adam Smith) Marx noted that this was not correct, and it is the result of historical outcomes, then extrapolated. That his conclusions were wrong says more to his credulity of political economics and dumb philosophy derived from Medieval voluntarism than to his placing of it in a narrative.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Chris B.

I didn't know you were Reactionary Future! Thanks for dropping by. BTW, I really liked the art you used on your blogposts (Italian futurism?) And thanks for the links. Very good. You might want to read one of my very early blogposts.

BTW, I would now rename that post as Fundamentals of Christian Realism. I was conflating Christian Realism with European Conservatism. Big mistake.


is that most 20th century Marxists owed far more to Mussolini and Sorel than they did to Marx, even if it was not a direct influence.

Yes. All had to bend the knee, at least to some degree, to proletarian "nationalism", i.e. human nature, if their movements were to have any real traction.

Mussolini went from materialist to anti-materialist.

Yes and no. What really becomes apparent in reading Gregor's account is the problems many socialists had with the implicit mechanism of Marx's theory of human action. Biological determinism really disturbed a lot of people and they weren't prepared to accept the notion, searching for some other source of non deterministic "human will". Griffin called it the "flight from Positivism". This is where I want to add my two cents to the debate.

What they flew to was "intuitism" i.e. Romanticism. They turned into themselves. Hence the strong "anti-rational" component of a lot of Fascist thought. I'll elaborate on this later but it appears to me that the role of idealist philosophers such as Gentile, in this environment, was to provide an convincing apology for the "intuitive feels" many people, especially the proletarians, had. The sense of national identity is "intuitive for many people, as it the dislike of foreigners and the admiration for strength and power.

One of the real problems that primitive Positivism had was taking into account the response of human intuitive behaviour. Men aren't more more frequently intuitive rather than rational. Orwell understood this phenomenon very well. He understood that mass political movements were powered by the "bellyfeels".

Chris B said...

@The Social Pathologist - You should read MacIntyre. I keep telling people to do so, and maybe after reading Gregor's book you will note some of the same issues at work in his attacks on liberalism. "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" would be the one to go into. The epistemolgy issue is one he trains his guns on very well. His conception of tradition is actually derived from the scientific epistemology of Polanyi.

What you have to understand about empiricism, is that it is grotesquely deranged and isn't worth intellectual attention. It is predicated on the human agent being able to understand sense "datum" immediately. This is so wrong it has to raise alarm bells as to why it was not laughed out immediately and why it has continued to churn along for hundreds of years. I mean, even now, you can test this with people who regain their sight after being blind their whole lives- they need to learn colors! Whats even worse, is that effectively empiricism is at odds with science and you have to go into all sorts of equivocations to save face. For example, how can I use a telescope? I have to rely on the theory behind optics to observe. That messes up empiricism right there. "Oh but... blah blah unprincipled exception blah blah that's not what empiricism means blah blah...Etc."

Epistemolgy really has serious ramifications for politics. This is what I have been going on about with regard to De Jouvenel, like I did here:

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for the recommendation. I've keep hearing about MacIntyre's After Virtue but have not gotten around to it yet. I'll give your recommendation a go.

There is Empiricism and there is Empiricism. I suppose I'm a "common sense" Empiricist rather than a strict one.

I agree Epistemology is very important.

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