Sunday, February 08, 2009

Totalitarianism, Fascism, Dictatorship, Left and Right

Readers of this blog may be familiar with the writings I did several years ago analyzing Fascism and the social conditions that seem to favor it. I expanded the idea to a general one of Totalitarianism that included both Stalinism and Naziism in the same category, both as examples of the total State. The totalitarian idea that I worked from resembled more the work of people like Claude Lefort and Castoriadis than people like Hannah Arendt and the various neo-conservatives who latched onto the concept during the Cold War. In truth, in actuality I guess, the idea of totalitarianism that I went from came more from anti-civilization oriented anarchists like Freddy Perlman, author of "Against His-Story, against Leviathan", John Zerzan, and maybe David Watson, author of "Against the Megamachine" and associated with "The FIfth Estate", now that I think of it. Be that as it may, I took the ideas in different directions than they did. Well, I've come to some more conclusions on the subject, and those conclusions change some of the previous ones and affirm others.

Basically, I think that Totalitarianism is a 20th century concept, something historically bound to societies that had the peculiar features of Stalinism and Naziism, and that it has no independent existence, sort of. Instead, I think that the societies called Totalitarian can be collapsed into Fascism, with Fascism being the bigger concept that Totalitarianism is a part of, rather than the other way around. People have usually thought of Fascism as being a form of Totalitarianism; I think that Totalitarianism is a least common denominator between different varieties of Fascism. If you look at Stalinism in its flowering, i.e. after 1929 when Stalin fully played his hand and introduced forced collectivization as well as mass imprisonment, it seems like he's drawing on right wing Russian traditions that praised the peasantry for his general ethics. Right wing Socialist Revolutionary doctrine, which praises the conservative features of peasant society while advocating a kind of equality within them. One may ask how it is that the interests of Russian peasants could be the thing that Stalin was concerned with because of the forced collectivization, but there were actually two phases to that: first, the relatively rich peasants, called by the term 'kulak', were arrested, stripped of their land, and sent to gulags in Siberia, second, after the rich peasants were gone private property was forcefully abolished. That the suffering of the peasantry through increased requisitions of grain and vegetables for the cities increased quite a bit is something that doesn't seem to have been balanced by more rights and privileges for workers in the cities. They were under the same sort of discipline, and the same sort of fundamental anti-liberalism that Stalin instituted was present their too. The sort of freedom that regular Bolsheviks advocated, which fit in with the schema of socialism as being an extension of liberty via the French Revolution instead of the negation of it, was quashed when Stalin assumed total power.

It's for that reason that I see Stalin's regime as being a kind of Russian pseudo-Fascism, that in fact had large right wing components, that was Totalitarian rather than a left wing regime that was totalitarian. Fascism itself is necessarily Totalitarian; Mussolini came up with the term itself, declaring that the Fascist State in Italy was going to be a Total State, with all sections of society integrated into it. Dictatorships in general may integrate some sections of society into the State but do not necessarily integrate all of it into it. The definition that totalitarian states care about what you think while dictatorships just care if you obey applies to this as well. Not only was every section of society tied into a kind of monolith, but the monolith intruded into people's lives even if outwardly they seemed to agree with the society they were a part of. Not enough to just on the surface appear to be pro-Fascist or pro-Stalinist, as many people unfortunately found out. Dictatorship is a continuum of which Fascism is a part, of course, and these things run into each other. I think, though, that although there can be left-wing dictatorships that Fascist dictatorships are necessarily right wing, or at the very, very, least, have origins in right wing thought--even if they've adopted some forms of leftism.

The truth is that Left Wing dictatorship is not Fascist and while it may have some features in common with Totalitarianism, in general it respects liberal principles, even if those principles are denied in practice, while Totalitarian state justify their invasion into the lives of their citizens through the wholesale rejection of liberal principles both on the surface and in practice, for example in Stalin's references to bourgeois liberty as opposed to socialist liberty, which served as a put down to the validity of a whole class of freedoms rather than just a partial criticism of them, which was what both Marxist and socialist writers usually meant when attacking it.

All this is tentative and needs lots of evidence to back it up but that's the basic idea. Now, what about Fascism in what leads to it? It may be an oversimplification, but in Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and Mussolini's Italy it seems that the combination of a sudden increase in social liberty with economic dislocation caused a conservative revolt that sought a solution to the economic problems and a reversal of the new liberties through the installation of authoritarian regimes. The regime that I need to know more about is Italy in that if this is true it would be an indicator of the failure of the new, unified, Italian State that lead to the rise of Mussolini. Putting the question of left wing dictatorship back out of the realm of Fascism and into that of the conflict between liberty and social freedom changes the question considerably.

Democracy and Liberty don't necessarily always go together, and neither do Democracy, Liberty, and Socialist liberties, but just because they might not always be present together does not mean that the countries are Totalitarian as I've defined it, or Fascist.

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