NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
February 22, 2014 4:00 AM
Fascism and Socialism: Still Not Opposites
The Eurasian movement of Putin and his allies draws from both Nazism and Stalinism.
By Jonah Goldberg
Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (Including the trenchcoat-wearing FCC minister with breath like he’s been sucking a urinal cake looking over my shoulder, tapping his BIC pen on his glass eye, and sighing every time I write something he doesn’t like),
I’ve got to bang out this “news”letter pretty quickly. I’m sitting in a too-small fake wicker chair at the coffee shop at the Broadmoor (one of my favorite hotels, btw). The time difference here puts me two hours behind at six in the morning. Plus, I don’t want the housekeeping staff to find the body in my room. If I didn’t need coffee so badly I would have taken care of that already. But one must prioritize. I think the high altitude here is making my brain itch.
Timothy Snyder has written the best piece I’ve seen on what’s going on in Kiev. It’s worth reading just as a primer. But it’s also interesting in other ways. I had not read a lot about the “Eurasian Union,” a proposed counterweight to the European Union, in much the same way the Legion of Doom is a counterweight to the Justice League. Putin and a band of avowed “National Bolshevik” intellectuals are in effect trying to put the band back together. Snyder writers:
The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.
The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.
The point man for Eurasian and Ukrainian policy in the Kremlin is Sergei Glazyev, an economist who like Dugin tends to combine radical nationalism with nostalgia for Bolshevism. He was a member of the Communist Party and a Communist deputy in the Russian parliament before cofounding a far-right party called Rodina, or Motherland. In 2005 some of its deputies signed a petition to the Russian prosecutor general asking that all Jewish organizations be banned from Russia.
Some of this was news to me. I was familiar with the National Bolshevism of the early Nazi years. Thinkers like the Ukrainian Bolshevik Karl Radek and the Nazi Otto Strasser dabbled with the idea of merging Bolshevik and Nazi ideology. After all, if you’re already a National Socialist it’s not that long a trip to being a National Bolshevik, now is it? Some left-wing members of the Nazi military described themselves as National Bolsheviks as well. But ultimately, National Bolshevism as an intellectual movement died in the crib. Or so I thought.
What I did not know is that National Bolshevism is making such a comeback. And while, it’s evil and a national-security threat and all that, I can’t help but smile.
The Opposite of Opposites
National Bolshevism must strike some on the left as quite perplexing. After all, Bolshevism and Nazism — like fascism and socialism — are opposites, right?
If you read my book, you’d know I consider this the greatest myth and/or lie of the 20th century (coming in a distant second: the idea that there is a difference between good flan and bad flan).
Funny enough, the Eurasianists are counting on this myth for their propaganda campaign. They insist that the protesters in Kiev are trying to stage a “brown revolution” or fascist coup. In other words the de facto fascists are calling the anti-fascists “fascists.” And apparently lots of folks are falling for it. Snyder again:
Why exactly do people with such views think they can call other people fascists? And why does anyone on the Western left take them seriously? One line of reasoning seems to run like this: the Russians won World War II, and therefore can be trusted to spot Nazis. Much is wrong with this. . . .
The other source of purported Eurasian moral legitimacy seems to be this: since the representatives of the Putin regime only very selectively distanced themselves from Stalinism, they are therefore reliable inheritors of Soviet history, and should be seen as the automatic opposite of Nazis, and therefore to be trusted to oppose the far right.
Again, much is wrong about this. . . .
Snyder’s rebuttals are good (I’ve trimmed them mostly for space). But they don’t cut to the heart of it.
First, let’s clear some underbrush. The idea that Communism and Nazism are opposites is more of a utilitarian idea than a core conviction for the Left. It is a rationalization that allows the Left to cut around the historical tumor of Nazism and fascism and say, That has nothing to do with us.
But the simple fact is that the hard Left has always endorsed or at least sympathized with national-socialist countries. What do you think Cuba is? It’s nationalistic and it’s socialistic. Venezuela under Chávez and now Maduro is nationalist and socialist. Nicaragua in the 1980s, etc., etc. Read a speech by any socialist dictator and swap out the word “socialize” for “nationalize”: The meaning of the sentences doesn’t change one iota. Nationalized health care is socialized medicine. Even Obama’s weak-tea socialistic rhetoric is usually dolled up in the rhetoric of nationalism, even militaristic nationalism. Let’s all be like SEAL Team Six! Let’s make this a “Sputnik Moment.”
Most of the Left in the U.S. didn’t really hate the German national-socialists until Stalin told them to. That the useful idiots thought Stalin’s command to turn on his one-time Nazi ally was rooted in deep ideological conviction just proves the depths of their idiocy.
After all, it’s not like the Left suddenly turned on Stalin when he embraced nationalism wholeheartedly and talked of fighting the Nazis as part of the “Great Patriotic War for Mother Russia.” But, hey, maybe I’m missing the deep Marxist themes in the phrase “Great Patriotic War for Mother Russia.”
North Korea by Another Name
If you think this is all semantic faculty-lounge argy-bargy, consider the fact that North Korea is in many ways as “Nazi” as the Nazis were. It’s a nationalist country that subscribes to eugenic theories that it uses to justify the industrial torture and slaughter of its own citizens. In fact, North Korea’s eugenics is crazier than Nazi Germany’s was. I’m not trying to minimize the evil of the Holocaust, but “Jew” is a real category of human being and eugenics generally weren’t discredited in the 1930s. Eighty years later, North Korea believes that the political views of people are genetically heritable for generations. So you can get sent to a death camp if your great uncle said something nice about America or if your second cousin lives in South Korea.
But because of the emotional and political investment in the idea that Nazism has nothing to do with Communism, North Korea is put in a category of lesser evil. If the Kims just described themselves as Nazis — but kept all of the same policies — it would be vastly easier to rally public opinion against their decades of murder. But when you talk about the evil of Communist regimes, a lot of people idiotically roll their eyes. Everyone is a brave anti-Nazi now that they’re all gone, but many are afraid to devote a fraction of that passion when it comes to the heirs, imitators, and competitors of Nazism.
Heresies of Heresies
Richard Pipes had the best pithy summation of the difference between Nazism and Bolshevism. They aren’t opposites, he argued, they’re both “heresies of socialism.”
I agree with this entirely, but step back from that a bit. Socialism itself is a heresy — a heresy of tribalism. Socialism is simply an attempt to gussy up ancient tribal tendencies in modern garb. Nazism was tribalism of one race. Communism is tribalism of one class. Italian fascism was tribalism of one nation.
There are of course, better and worse forms of tribalism. And, I would argue that a little tribalism, like a little nationalism, is a healthy thing, insofar as communities aren’t held together by reason alone. They’re held together by a complex set of sentiments, and a politics that doesn’t take account of that will necessarily fail. As Edmund Burke writes, “politics ought to be adjusted not to human reasonings but to human nature, of which the reason is but a part, and by no means the greatest part.”
But here is the important point. Looking back on the long history of humanity, tribalism — simple or complex — was the norm for 99 percent of our time on Earth. It wasn’t until 200-300 years ago that a different path emerged. (Yes, Christianity was a big leap forward in advancing a universal conception of humanity, in principle. But in practice it was often coopted by tribalism in one form or another. We can talk about that more another time.) The different path emerged largely in England and spread from there. This different path recognized the sovereignty of the individual, the necessity of the rule of law, democratic legitimacy, and private property, and the inherent dignity of bourgeois labor.
As I’ve written before, what makes America special is that we took England’s culture of liberty and broadened it out into a virtual tribe of liberty. I say virtual because we took the ethnic and racial components out of it (and, no, we didn’t do it overnight). You can be a progressive or a liberal or a social democrat and still believe in all of the things that define the tribe of liberty. You can also be a nationalist, a patriot, or a traditionalist and believe in all of these things. But go too far in either direction and you can fall off the path. Perhaps path is the wrong word. Bridge might make more sense. After all there’s a left side and a right side of the road. But if you fall off a bridge, all you do is fall down.
Seen from this perspective the differences between Bolshevism, Nazism, Maoism, Italian Fascism, North Korean Juche, et al may be interesting or meaningful (the differences between football and rugby are interesting and meaningful, but at the end of the day they’re both just games). But seen from the broadest perspective, they’re simply different ways to fall off the bridge and back into the wilderness below.