What is Fascism?
I see that there is a concerted effort by revisionists and reactionaries today to paint Hitler as a “man of the left” and to characterise fascism as a left-wing movement. Where it is not just ignorance, it is likely a diversionary and propaganda tactic to deflect attention from their own predilections towards fascism — an old subterfuge and propaganda trick called “direction by indirection”.
Let’s clear this nonsense up by examining what we might call “classical” fascism as it developed in the Axis Powers — Germany, Italy, and Japan — and what these different flavours of fascism actually had in common.
Now, I’m less familiar with the Italian and Japanese fascist propaganda systems than with the German one. I know German. I studied in Germany. And I studied the Nazi propaganda system as it developed during the interwar years and the effects it had upon the German language, culture, and consciousness. I also won an award for my research in that area. I have had to rely on the original research of others in the case of Japanese fascist propaganda, but the pattern was the same.
Hitler actually admired the German communists (the KLP) because they were violent and effective streetfighters. (They also gave Hitler the fascist martyr he wanted — Horst Wessel). But he despised completely the German Socialists (the SPD) because there were three things about and socialist left that he and the Nazis detested: internationalism, egalitarianism, and pacifism. These are the three pillars of democratic socialism.
Fascism wanted to be the complete and absolute antithesis to this, so the propaganda system worked to persuade the public that the antitheses to all these were true and natural. Extreme nationalism was superior to internationalism; elitism (racial or otherwise) was superior to egalitarianism; and violence and war more natural than peace. These might be said to be the three pillars of fascism which distinguish it in absolute terms from socialism, despite the appropriation by the Nazis of the word “socialist” and the pretense of being a “Workers Party” (which it never was). It was strictly the party of reactionary nationalism, and whatever left-leaning element was represented in the Nazi Party — the Strasserist Faction — was purged in the Night of the Long Knives (also called “Operation Hummingbird”).
The co-optation of the name “Socialist” by the German fascists was also done in Japan in the case of what was called “National Buddhism” or “Imperial Way Buddhism”. Japanese Buddhism was in a minority position in comparison to Shintoism, and when the Japanese fascists came to power, the patriotism and loyalties of the Buddhists fell under suspicion and for the same reasons. Buddhism, following the example of the Buddha, was universalist, egalitarian, and pacifist, and the Japanese Buddhists, fearing for their position as a minority in fascist Japan, pretty much voluntarily turned Buddhism on its head by denying its own foundations in something that has an uncanny resemblance to Peter’s “three acts of denial” of Christ.
Japanese Buddhism’s shame here was documented by Brian Victoria in his eye-popping book Zen At War. Victoria was also very surprised at how little resistance the Japanese Buddhists offered to their own co-optation by Japanese fascism except in a couple of notable heroic instances he documents.
This perhaps should not be found as too surprising since many of the German and Italian Churches and religious also allowed themselves to be co-opted by fascism (in the German case, Hitler called it “Positive Christianity” by which he meant a Christianity not in contradiction with his will or which did not contradict the three pillars of fascism. That basically meant that German Christianity had to deny itself). The history of that particular co-optation is related in a book by Karlheinz Deschner entitled God And the Fascists.
It seems rather remarkable that I would even have to write up something about all this. And I probably wouldn’t were it not for the problem of “post-historic man” who has no collective memory. The fascists were not socialists, and Hitler had only one objective: preparing the German public for the resumption of the war and the imperial expansion of the Third Reich, which Hitler had believed Germany had lost only because of a “stab in the back” by Jews and Socialists (which, for him, were pretty much the same thing — Marx having been Jewish Lutheran after all).
The “stab in the back” was largely a face-saving fiction. But why it could gain traction among reactionary nationalists was because workers were striking for peace in Germany even while the soldiers were fighting in the trenches for what was already a lost cause because of the incompetence of the German General Staff. Whatever Hitler did was always with an eye towards resuming the war for “Lebensraum” — especially an expansion into the fertile lands of Eastern Europe, its ruthless “ethnic cleansing” as depopulation (which the Nazis became ruthlessly efficient at), and the replacement of its indigenous population by German colonists. So, a big aspect of the fascist propaganda system was to habituate the mind of the populace to think of the populations to be exterminated as “inhuman” or “subhuman”, and without guilt or remorse about it.
“National Buddhism” (or “Imperial Way Buddhism”) pulled off the same trick, having persuaded itself and justified fascism to itself because, although the Chinese Buddhists were brethren, Chinese Buddhism was degenerate, needed to be cleansed away, and taken under the tutelage of true Japanese Buddhism!
So, yes. It’s possible to pervert anything.