Again and again people are throwing a few Mussolini quotes at me where he talks about being on “the Right” and therefore — case closed — he was on the “Right.” (One thing I like is that several of these emailers also told me a couple days ago that I was too eager to believe Italian Fascist propaganda, but now they say I’m a fool for not taking Mussolini at his word).
This is a complicated subject but I’ll try to be both clear and brief. In the era that we’re talking about the great question on the Left was between different kinds of socialism: International Socialism or National Socialism. Does the future belong to “Lenin or Mussolini?” was the question bandied about in American leftist journals. Now there are caveats and exceptions to be made, but in essence this was a conversation held completely within the left’s camp.* Remember, the people we might call conservatives or rightwingers today, were not necessarily part of the “Right” that Mussolini was invoking. They were the reactionaries. Monarchists, Manchester Liberals, Catholic traditionalists, et al. These groups wanted to restore the past. The “Right” in the language of the socialists — and that is the language Mussolini was raised in and spoke in until his dying days — were the national socialists who rejected international socialism and global class solidarity in favor of trans-class national solidarity.
This is why even today nationalism is still viewed by many as a rightwing phenomenon, even though that is not warranted by the intellectual history of nationalism.
(Besides, as I’ve said a million times, nationalism and socialism are almost always synonymous terms. Hugo Chavez is a nationalist who is nationalizing his country’s industry. Or you could say he’s a socialist who is socializing his country’s industry. The two words are interchangeable: socialized medicine is nationalized medicine.)
Eventually, the word “right” — much like the word fascist — became synonymous for pretty much any kind of socialist doctrine heretical to Kremlin. Indeed, Stalin eventually skipped caring about doctrines at all. The totalitarian inquisition called the Soviet show trials simply used the word “right” or “rightist” to tar anyone who needed killing. The merit of the charges against the “right deviationists” mattered almost not at all except insofar as it offered some dramatic plausibility to the theatrical nature of the show trials. What mattered is that Stalin had proclaimed that “the Right deviation now represents the central danger” to Communism and therefore anyone he called a rightist needed to go. Unless of course you believe that, say, Bukharin actually was a rightwinger. And even if he was, he was a rightwinger only in the sense that he came from the arbitrarily labeled “rightist” faction of the most leftwing party on Earth.
Something similar was at word with Mussolini. He was not claiming to speak for the reactionaries of classical liberalism or for the reactionaries of tradition and monarchy, when he said he was of the Right. No, he was speaking for the Nietzschean right of will, action and national power.
And, if you can get beyond my critics cherry-picked quotations from texts and speeches they never read until last week, and look instead at the anatomy of fascism, it becomes most clearly part and parcel of the collectivist, leftist tide during the first half of the 20th century.
* One caveat would be that there were indeed businessmen in America who looked fondly on the efficiencies of the Fascist regime, particularly in the early years when Mussolini encouraged trade (and cracked communist skulls). But it must be noted these businessmen were not laissez faire, free market capitalists. These were men who bought into the Crolyite fad of business-government collusion. What label we should apply to them is an interesting question, but they were not the free market types liberals often call fascists.