Nehru’s Word: Fascism as the tool of capitalist class

The fascist method consists in creating a popular mass movement, with some slogans which appeal to the crowd, meant for the protection of the owning capitalist class

Nehru’s Word: Fascism as the tool of capitalist class
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Mridula Mukherjee

We are witnessing a rise of right-wing and authoritarian tendencies and a weakening of democratic forces across the world. A similar trend was visible following the First World War. Jawaharlal Nehru, an acute observer of the international scene, analysed this phenomenon in June 1933 in a letter he wrote to his daughter which is published in ‘Glimpses of World History’. We bring to you this week the second part of this letter in which he discusses at length the phenomenon of fascism, pointing out that it is intensely nationalistic and “makes of the State a god at whose altar all individual freedom and rights must be sacrificed.”.

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Let us look a little more deeply into fascism and try to find out what it is. It glories in violence and hates pacifism. Mussolini, writing in the Enciclopedia Italiana, says: “Fascism does not believe in the necessity or utility of perpetual peace. Therefore, it repudiates pacifism, which conceals a refusal to struggle and an essential cowardice — in face of sacrifice. War, and war only, raises human energies to the maximum of tension and seals with its nobility the peoples who have the courage to accept it. All other trials are substitutes; they do not place the individual before the choice of life and death.”

Fascism is intensely nationalistic, while communism is international. Fascism actually opposes internationalism. It makes of the State a god on whose altar individual freedom and rights must be sacrificed; all other countries are alien and almost like enemies. Jews, being considered as foreign elements, are ill-treated. In spite of certain anti-capitalist slogans and a revolutionary technique, fascism is allied with property-owning and reactionary elements.

These are some odd aspects of fascism. The philosophy underlying it, if it has any, is difficult to grasp. It began, as we have seen, with the simple desire for power. When success came, an attempt was made to build up a philosophy around it. Just to give you an idea of how very involved this is and to puzzle you, I shall give you an extract from the writings of an eminent fascist philosopher.

His name is Giovanni Gentile, and he is considered the official philosopher of fascism; he has also been a fascist minister in the government. Gentile says that people should not seek self-realisation through their personality or individual selves, as in democracy, but, according to fascism, through the acts of the transcendental ego as the world’s self-consciousness (whatever this may mean — it is wholly beyond me). Thus, in this view there is no room for individual liberty and personality, for the true reality and freedom of the individual is that which he gains by losing himself in something else — the State.

“My personality is not suppressed, but uplifted, strengthened, enlarged by being merged and restored in that of the family, the State, the spirit.” Again Gentile says: “Every force is moral force in so far as capable of influencing the will, whatever be the argument applied, the sermon or the cudgel.”

So now we know what a lot of moral force the British Government in India uses up whenever it indulges in a lathi charge!

All these are subsequent attempts to justify or explain a thing that has happened. It is also said that fascism aims at a “Corporative State”, in which I suppose everybody pulls together for the common good. But no such State has so far appeared in Italy or elsewhere. Capitalism functions in Italy more or less in the same way as in other capitalist countries, though some restrictions have been introduced.

As fascism has spread in other countries, it has become clear that it is not a peculiar Italian phenomenon, but that it is something which appears when certain social and economic conditions prevail in a country. Whenever the workers become powerful and actually threaten the capitalistic State, the capitalist class naturally tries to save itself. Usually such a threat from the workers comes in times of violent economic crisis.

If the owning and ruling class cannot put down the workers in the ordinary democratic way by using the police and army, then it adopts the fascist method. This consists in creating a popular mass movement, with some slogans which appeal to the crowd, meant for the protection of the owning capitalist class. The backbone for this movement comes from the lower-middle class, most of them suffering from unemployment, and many of the politically backward and unorganised workers and peasants are also attracted to it by the slogans and hopes of bettering their position.

Such a movement is financially helped by the big bourgeoisie who hope to profit by it, and although it makes violence a creed and a daily practice, the capitalist government of the country tolerates it to a large extent because it fights the common enemy — socialist labour. As a party, and much more so if it becomes the government in a country, it destroys the workers’ organisations and terrorises all opponents.

Fascism thus appears when the class conflicts between an advancing socialism and an entrenched capitalism become bitter and critical….The owning class has no intention of giving up what it has got, and so the conflict becomes intense. So long as capitalism can use the machinery of democratic institutions to hold power and keep down labour, democracy is allowed to flourish. When this is not possible, then capitalism discards democracy and adopts the open fascist method of violence and terror….

But fascism, apart from its other aspects, does not even offer to solve the economic troubles that afflict the world. By its intense and aggressive nationalism, it goes against the world tendency towards inter-dependence, aggravates the problems that the decline of capitalism has created, and adds to national friction which often leads to war.

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library).

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