When Fascism Was On the Left


by Keith Preston
http://attackthesystem.com/?p=12717

The conventional left/right model of the political spectrum holds Fascism and Marxism to be polar opposites of one another. Marxism is regarded as an ideology of the extreme Left while Fascism supposedly represents an outlook that is about as far to the Right as one can go. A title recently translated into English by Portugal’s Finis Mundi Press, Eric Norling’s Revolutionary Fascism, does much to call the perception of Fascism, conceived of as it was by Mussolini and his cohorts, as an ideology of the extreme Right into question.

This work was originally published in 2001 and author Norling, a historian and lawyer, is a native Swede who now resides in Spain. Norling observes that throughout the entirety of his early life, from childhood until World War One, Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left as contemporaries such as Eugene V. Debs. He was what would later come to be known as a “red diaper baby” (meaning the child of revolutionary socialist parents). As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist, fervently anticlerical, went to Switzerland to evade compulsory military service, and was arrested and imprisoned for inciting militant strikes. Eventually, he became a leader in Italy’s Socialist Party and he was imprisoned once again in 1911 for his antiwar activities related to Italy’s invasion of Libya. Mussolini was so prominent a socialist at this point in his career that he won the praise of Lenin who considered him to be the rightful head of a future Italian socialist state.

When World War One began in 1914, Mussolini initially held to the Italian Socialist Party’s antiwar position, but in the ensuing months switched to a pro-war position which earned him an expulsion from the party. He then enlisted in the Italian army and was wounded in combat. The reasons for Mussolini’s shift to a pro-war position are essential to understanding the true origins and nature of fascism and its place within the context of twentieth century political and intellectual history. Mussolini came to see the war as an anti-imperialist struggle against the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria-Hungary. Further, he regarded the war as an anti-monarchist struggle against conservative forces such as the Hapsburgs, the Ottoman Turks, and the Hohenzollern’s of Germany and attacked these regimes as reactionary enemies who had repressed socialism. Mussolini also prophetically believed that Russia’s participation in the war would weaken that nation to the point where it was susceptible to socialist revolution (which is precisely what happened). In other words, Mussolini regarded the war as an opportunity to advance leftist revolutionary struggles in Italy and elsewhere.

When the Italian Fascist movement was founded in 1919, most of its leaders and theoreticians were, like Mussolini himself, former Marxists and other radical leftists such as proponents of the revolutionary syndicalist doctrines of Georges Sorel. The official programs issued by the Fascists, translations of which are included in Norling’s book, reflected a standard mixture of republican and socialist ideas that would have been common to any European leftist group of the era. If indeed the evidence is overwhelming that Fascism has its roots on the far Left, then from where does Fascism’s reputation as a rightist ideology originate?

The answer appears to be a combination of three primary factors: Marxist propaganda that has regrettably found its way into the mainstream historiography, the revision of leftist revolutionary doctrine itself by Fascist leaders, and the inevitable compromises and accommodations made by Fascism upon the achievement of actual state power. Regarding the first these, David Ramsay Steele described the standard Marxist interpretation of Fascism in an important article on Fascism’s history:

In the 1930s, the perception of “fascism”in the English-speaking world morphed from an exotic, even chic, Italian novelty into an all-purpose symbol of evil. Under the influence of leftist writers, a view of fascism was disseminated which has remained dominant among intellectuals until today. It goes as follows:

Fascism is capitalism with the mask off. It’s a tool of Big Business, which rules through democracy until it feels mortally threatened, then unleashes fascism. Mussolini and Hitler were put into power by Big Business, because Big Business was challenged by the revolutionary working class. We naturally have to explain, then, how fascism can be a mass movement, and one that is neither led nor organized by Big Business. The explanation is that Fascism does it by fiendishly clever use of ritual and symbol. Fascism as an intellectual doctrine is empty of serious content, or alternatively, its content is an incoherent hodge-podge. Fascism’s appeal is a matter of emotions rather than ideas. It relies on hymn-singing, flag-waving, and other mummery, which are nothing more than irrational devices employed by the Fascist leaders who have been paid by Big Business to manipulate the masses.

This perception continues to be the standard leftist “analysis” of Fascism even in present times, and goes a long way towards explaining why, for instance, American political movements or figures that have absolutely nothing to do with historic Fascism, such as the Tea Party or the neocon mouthpieces of FOX News or “conservative” talk radio, continue to be recipients of the “fascist” label by atavistic liberals and leftists.

The reality of Fascism’s origins was quite different. Its creators were an assortment of leftist intellectuals and political figures whose common reference point was their realization that Marxism was a failed ideology. As Steele observed:

Fascism began as a revision of Marxism by Marxists, a revision which developed in successive stages, so that these Marxists gradually stopped thinking of themselves as Marxists, and eventually stopped thinking of themselves as socialists. They never stopped thinking of themselves as anti-liberal revolutionaries.

The Crisis of Marxism occurred in the 1890s. Marxist intellectuals could claim to speak for mass socialist movements across continental Europe, yet it became clear in those years that Marxism had survived into a world which Marx had believed could not possibly exist. The workers were becoming richer, the working class was fragmented into sections with different interests, technological advance was accelerating rather than meeting a roadblock, the “rate of profit” was not falling, the number of wealthy investors (“magnates of capital”) was not falling but increasing, industrial concentration was not increasing, and in all countries the workers were putting their country above their class.

The early Fascists were former Marxists who had come to doubt the revolutionary potential of class struggle, but had simultaneously come to regard revolutionary nationalism as showing considerable promise. As Mussolini remarked in a speech on December 5, 1914:

The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that the concept was totally without substance. Instead we see the nation arise as a palpitating reality before us!…Class cannot destroy the nation. Class reveals itself as a collection of interests—but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, and race. Class can become an integral part of the nation, but the one cannot eclipse the other. The class struggle is a vain formula, with effect and consequence wherever one finds a people that has not integrated itself into its proper linguistic and racial confines—where the national problem has not been definitely resolved. In such circumstances the class movement finds itself impaired by an inauspicious historic climate.

Fascism subsequently abandoned class struggle for a revolutionary nationalist outlook that stood for class collaboration under the leadership of a strong state that was capable of unifying the nation and accelerating industrial development. Indeed, Steele made an interesting observation concerning the similarities between Italian and Third World Marxist “national liberation” movements of the second half of the twentieth century:

The logic underlying their shifting position was that there was unfortunately going to be no working-class revolution, either in the advanced countries, or in less developed countries like Italy. Italy was on its own, and Italy‘s problem was low industrial output. Italy was an exploited proletarian nation, while the richer countries were bloated bourgeois nations. The nation was the myth which could unite the productive classes behind a drive to expand output. These ideas foreshadowed the Third World propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s, in which aspiring elites in economically backward countries represented their own less than scrupulously humane rule as “progressive” because it would accelerate Third World development. From Nkrumah to Castro, Third World dictators would walk in Mussolini’s footsteps. Fascism was a full dress rehearsal for post-war Third Worldism.

During its twenty-three years in power, Mussolini’s regime certainly made considerable concessions to traditionally conservative interests such as the monarchy, big business, and the Catholic Church. These pragmatic accommodations borne of political necessity are among the evidences typically offered by leftists as indications of Fascism’s rightist nature. Yet there is abundant evidence that Mussolini essentially remained a socialist throughout the entirety of his political life. By 1935, thirteen years after Mussolini seized power in the March on Rome, seventy-five percent of Italian industry had either been nationalized outright or brought under intensive state control. Indeed, it was towards the end of both his life and the life of his regime that Mussolini’s economic policies were at their most leftist.

After briefly losing power for a couple of months during the summer of 1943, Mussolini returned as Italy’s head of state with German assistance and set up what came to be called the Italian Social Republic. The regime subsequently nationalized all companies employing more than a hundred workers, redistributed housing that was formerly privately owned to its worker occupants, engaged in land redistribution, and witnessed a number of prominent Marxists joining the Mussolini government, including Nicola Bombacci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party and a personal friend of Lenin. These events are described in considerable detail in Norling’s work.

It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left. This should come as no particular surprise given the penchant of radical leftist groupings for sectarian blood feuds. Indeed, it might be plausibly argued that leftist ”anti-fascism” is rooted in jealously of a more successful relative as much as anything else. As Steele noted:

Mussolini believed that Fascism was an international movement. He expected that both decadent bourgeois democracy and dogmatic Marxism-Leninism would everywhere give way to Fascism, that the twentieth century would be a century of Fascism. Like his leftist contemporaries, he underestimated the resilience of both democracy and free-market liberalism. But in substance Mussolini’s prediction was fulfilled: most of the world’s people in the second half of the twentieth century were ruled by governments which were closer in practice to Fascism than they were either to liberalism or to Marxism-Leninism. The twentieth century was indeed the Fascist century.

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15 responses to “When Fascism Was On the Left

  1. Yes, fascism is clearly a collectivist, coercive ideology with more in common with socialism than with conservative individualism.
    David Ramsey-Steele also addresses this at: http://www.la-articles.org.uk/fascism.htm

  2. First let me say unequivocally Fascism and Nazism are clearly of the Left. Mussolini said, “It may be expected that this will be a century of authority, a century of the Left, a century of Fascism. [I]t may be expected that this will be a century of collectivism, .and hence the century of the State…. For Fascism, the growth of Empire, that is to say, the expansion of the nation…” see Benito Mussolini, “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism,” in Fascism: An Anthology, Nathanael Greene, ed. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968), pp. 41, 43–44.

    This attitude about the left, collectivism and statism was not arrived at by happenstance, in 1904 in Zurich Switzerland, Mussolini supposedly met Lenin, and through Lenin, he met and fell in love with Angelica Balabanoff, a Ukrainian communist. She introduced Mussolini into greater prominence among the communists. He became a member of the Italian Socialist Party’s Central Committee and, in 1912, he became the editor of the principal socialist publication, the daily newspaper Avanti, and a full-time communist agitator. In the years to come, Mussolini became a highly visible political editor and journalist working successively for non-intervention in “the great war” as the means to achieve solidarity among the international communists.

    Then Mussolini, with a taste of power, and a lust for much more, saw two problems with the International Socialist Movement of Lenin. Mussolini felt that a Lenin style revolution was impossible in Italy for two very good reasons. First, there were powerfully strong feelings of nationalism in Italy not faced by Lenin in Russia. Secondly, Italy had a modernized and organized industrial complex, that would not have tolerated an outright nationalization of major industries. Therefore, Mussolini broke with the International Communists movement, and in November of 1921 created for all practical purposes a Nationalist Communist Movement The name he gave the movement was the Fascist Party. Any deviation from Marx’s plan was heresy. Mussolini, because of his deviation was immediately labeled a “right wing revisionist” a “right wing reactionary”, and a target for “mud slinging”. From Communist the world over. And the international press went along with the mud slinging. Mussolini was branded forever( however wrongly) a “right wing” revisionist.

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  4. As Hayek held in The Road To Serfdom (1944) the elitist Fabian Society named pristine Tory ideas left wing and called them “socialist” in the 1890s, despite the protectionist ideas way better fitting the pristine protectionist right wing of the French Assembly in 1789, with free trade on the left. Ever since then the wings have been confused as the newly so-called left still upholds personal liberty a bit better that the new right and the newly so called right economic liberty a bit better than the new [or rather 1890s onwards] left. But as Hayek repeatedly protested till his final days that we cannot coherently split liberty like that and the LA never has. Mises, repeatedly, made similar points. The LA upholds complete liberty. It has dropped “liberal” for the longer “Libertarian” in its name to make clear that it stands for pristine liberalism, that the media today call neo-liberalism! The real new Liberalism arose against Gladstone around Joseph Chamberlain in the 1880s Liberal Party and it was retained after he rightly joined the Tories in 1886. They favoured the welfare state instead of free trade. Anyway, both oppose complete liberty since the 1890s. That is why the LA opposes both the confused conformists to the Fabian 1890s whimsy.

    Marxism is a collectivism that rejects pristine liberalism. Fascism is clearly protectionist and against free trade.

    It would seem that the reason we call Fascism left today is only owing to it being opposed to the Bolsheviks, which following the Fabian, are called left. What is opposed to the left is therefore right. But as Mises says, people often oppose each other as they are after the same thing; in particular, he said, both Hitler and Stalin wanted to rule the Ukraine.

    My “A” level economics tutor called Hayek a fascist in the 1970s. He thought that Keynes was left, so Hayek must be right wing. The so-called left think the state is soft and protectionist thus anyone who opposes it are harsh and thus fascist! The reality is that free trade makes it way easier for one and all. The state, by contrast, causes wars and economic slumps. Thomas Hobbes got it exactly wrong, it is the state that can make life nasty brutish and short, especially when it invades rival state’s domains. Anarchy has no such incentives to invade or to cause wars.

    D.R. Steele is right that Marxism survived into an environment that had implicitly refuted it. In the 1960s, when we were both Marxists propagandists, he and I had a friend, Bill Mack, then in his 60s, who used to read Marx’s 1867 book every night and who spouted it off the Socialist Party of Great Britain [SPGB] rostrum in the local public forums of the West Midlands of the UK [i.e. of Birmingham and Coventry] every weekend. Bill thought that the then student, D.R. Steele, and myself, as a worker not yet on full pay, needed feeding, and he often did feed us, mainly because he thought nearly all the workers needed feeding, for he spoke as if he thought that Marx was right that wages were being pushed down. If Marx had been right then Bill would not have been able to feed us. However, even Marx might have seen for himself that his outlook on ever increasingly depressed wages was not even correct during his own lifetime. It was a very bold idea. By the 1960s it looked completely ridiculous. Many even openly laughed at what Bill said to them. We two never aped Bill’s speeches off the rostrum. Instead we put the ideas over in a better, or at least a more modern sounding, guise. However, Bill taught us something about modern propaganda, if not immediately about Marxism itself.

    The nation always meant something to people but class never meant much, if anything at all. There were no objective interests as Marx imagined. That is why no major working class movement arose and what Marxist called the by that name were not particularly pro-worker. As early as the 1830s, Robert Owen rightly condemned the Trades Unions as anti-working class for the blacklegs and scabs that the unionists beat up were workers not managers or bosses of any sort.

    D.R. Steele might have added that Lenin’s book on Imperialism (1916) also fitted this outlook of the backward lands that needed to catch up. Lenin also followed Mussolini.

    According to Chuck McGlawn even Mussolini adopted the Fabian whimsy of calling protectionism left. I think they were ironically right to call Mussolini right wing just as Cobden and Bright were clearly left wing.

  5. David McDonagh said,”According to Chuck McGlawn even Mussolini adopted the Fabian whimsy of calling protectionism left. I think they were ironically right to call Mussolini right wing just as Cobden and Bright were clearly left wing.”

    I reread my statement, what I said. I thought I made Mussolini connections to Lenin fairly clear. Mussolini was a Communist. So when he said, “It may be expected that this will be a century of authority, a century of the Left, a century of Fascism. [I]t may be expected that this will be a century of collectivism, .and hence the century of the State…. For Fascism, the growth of Empire, that is to say, the expansion of the nation…” see Benito Mussolini, “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism,” in Fascism: An Anthology, Nathanael Greene, ed. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968), pp. 41, 43–44. It sounds to me exactly like an ex-Marxist overflowing with power, and literally the tail wagging the dog.

    And please how do you document that Cobden and Bright were clearly left wing??

  6. I must confess, that I have drank the Kool-Aid, that Rightist are advocates of less government, and Leftist are advocates of more government. However, I drank that Kool-Aid in the 1960s. Could someone step me through the process that makes the Libertarian Alliance Left Wing?

  7. I don’t really think the left/right labels are too much help.

    While we may think that we all know what they mean, and therefore they are useful, their meaningfulness is somewhat in the realms of prejudice rather than sense.
    Whatever their history they now bring conflation.

    Collectivist and individividualist are somewhat better (although the actual menace of collectivism is the individual using the collective to ram through a personal agenda and thus it is still inaccurate).
    Is politics always doomed to be about prejudice rather than common sense?

    Rather simply go back to that which is is preferable – individual freedom and individual responsibility – and do not waste too much time trying to label contraventions of this common sense?

    • Hello John B.,
      You said, “I don’t really think the left/right labels are too much help.” Let me ask, would you agree that an altimeter would not be “much help” if you wanted to know the temperature? Would you agree that a Pressure Gage would not be “much help” if you wanted to know the relative humidity? However, if you needed to cut a piece of wood exactly 18 inches would a tape measure be more helpful than a light meter?
      Let me repeat, you said, “I don’t really think… Have you ever given any thought to what the single plane left/right political spectrum was CREATED to measure? Give this some thought right now. What is the Left Right Political Spectrum Supposed to Measure?

      I wrote an article entitled, What is the Left Right Political Spectrum Supposed to Measure? Please read it at http://libertyviews.blogspot.com/2011/07/v-behaviorurldefaultvml-o.html

  8. I just noticed you called it left/right, “labels” as if were just one thing Left/Right is a spectrum. Please read the article.

  9. The left was one side of the French Assembly in 1789 & the right were the other side. The left stood for free trade & the right for protectionism. The LA stands for free trade. Thus the LA is the pristine left. They are just labels.

    See Hayek’s 1944 book.

    • David Mc said, The left was one side of the French Assembly in 1789 & the right were the other side. The left stood for free trade & the right for protectionism. The LA stands for free trade. Thus the LA is the pristine left.
      I defy you to draw a direct historical line from the seating arrangement in the French National Assembly 1789 to Left as meaning free trade. The seating arrangement was based on respect for the attending bodies. See below.

      “How the left and right got their names and meanings.”
      Let us go back to find out how left and right got their names and meanings, and no, gentle reader, it will not be necessary to revisit the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly Circa 1789. Even thought it is true that the Clergy (the First Estate) and the landed nobility (the Second Estate) sat on the right hand of the King. This positioning arose solely from the respect the King was showing for those two very powerful and respected groups. The honored guests always sat on the right hand of the King. The positioning had nothing to do with their support of or opposition to Louie the XVI, the King of France.

      On the left side of room, were the “cheap seats”, occupied by the (Third Estate) that being everyone else. The Third Estate included the middle class the working class and if you will the begging class.
      It also included some very unsavory characters. Here the SPIN BEGINS. The Jacobins sat on the left hand of the king. If you are a “Left is Good” advocate then you spin this FACT into, “The Jacobins were the radicals, and were trying to dismantle the power of the King.” However if you are of the “Right is Good” crowd your spin goes, The Jacobins are considered to be the prototype for communism, and speculate that “Left” got its name from that connection.

      I have read that Fredrick Bastiat was on the left side of the room (Giving rise to “Left” as the free market wing.). Bastiat was not born until eleven years later. [You have Cobdin and Bright, and they did their work in England

      Think about it, neither the occupants on the right nor the occupants on the left were voting blocks, that somehow passed their philosophy along to future generations of leftist or rightist. It was not because of any support of or opposition to the King. All of these groups were their seeking favor. Seeking to lobby the King, to protect what they had,and or to improve their position.
      The whole fiction that thef Left/Right having its roots in the National Assembly seating arrangement is a Twentieth Century construct. The Single Plane Left Right Political Spectrum was not brought into use until much much later. I do not find any reference to a spectrum until the early 20th Century. Contemporary writers have used the facts surrounding the of the French National Assembly to designate the significance of the seating arrangement. [And by the way, your side didn’t win. ]
      If you would like “my spin” on how right come to mean mean an advocate of less government. And my spin is no more conclusive than any of the others. In the 1840s Marx began calling his movement a “movement of the left” it may have had something to do with whom he viewed as his enemy. You will recall the landed nobility, were the exploiters of labor, and that “Religion is the opiate of the proletariat”, and that is the two factions that sat on the RIGHT. Remember, it is just an opinion.
      Regardless of why Marx chose the LEFT designation. Lenin and Trotsky continued to refer to Communism as a movement of the left. “Lenin’s last major work, addressed to the supporters of the Russian Revolution in the West, was entitled “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder – a critique of the “left-ism”. See Encyclopedia of Marxism. “During the 1920s and onwards, Trotsky criticized (sic) the Soviet Union in some cases for being too far left (e.g. forced collectivization).” See Encyclopedia of Marxism) The name caught on and has been used ever since to describe Communism, Socialism and totalitarianism.
      Over the years the name spread to describe governments that were totalitarian, including the National Socialism of Hitler and Fascism of Mussolini. In the early 20th Century it included people who advocated a move toward more government. The “Right” got its name and meaning the same way Pre-Minsrtal Syndrom got the name PMS. It is because the name “Mad Cow Desease was already taken. The Right is the right by default, it was all that was left, opps I mean it was the only other choice. .

      Now, stay with me here, if advocating more government (as Communism did) is “Left” and 100% government is the “extreme left”, then the advocacy of less government would have to be “Right” and 0% government would be the “extreme Right”, on the single plane political spectrum. Conveniently, the English Language, has words that substantiates this assertion. Please note, that 100% government and 0% government respectively are Totalitarianism (Note the word “total in totalitarian.), and Anarchy derived from the Greek meaning “no rule”.
      This is not just conjecture; gentle reader, nor is it just my opinion. An advocate of more government is not a communist but is calling for a move toward 100% government on the left. An advocate of less government is not an anarchist but is calling for a move toward 0% government on the right.
      Confirmation of this hypothesis can be found in two articles by Murray Rothbard. (and many others that preceded him) In The Transformation of the American Right First published in Continuum, Summer 1964, pp. 220–231. Murray Rothbard correctly observed,
      The modern American Right began, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as a reaction against the New Deal and the Roosevelt Revolution, and specifically as an opposition to the critical increase of statism and state intervention… (Emphasis added)
      According to Dr. Rothbard, the left/right political spectrum measures the increases in governmental power, especially the power to intervene into the daily lives of individuals and businesses.
      A reinforcement of this concept is found in “Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal” published in 1969, Rothbard further observed: “…we adopted the standard view, (Emphasis added) let me repeat that “…we adopted the standard view, (Emphasis added) of the political spectrum: “left,” meant socialism, or total power of the state; the further ‘right’ one went the less government one favored. Hence, we called ourselves “extreme rightists.”
      .
      Additional confirmation, farther along in that same article Rothbard said, “Originally, our historical heroes were such men as [Thomas] Jefferson, [Thomas] Paine, [John] Cobden and [Richard] Bright and [Herbert] Spencer. As our views became purer and more consistent, we eagerly embraced such near-anarchists as the voluntarist, Auberon Herbert, and the American individualist-anarchists, Lysander Spooner and Benjamin R. Tucker.”
      In other words as they became “purer” and more “consistent” in their Libertarian thinking, there heroes were chosen from men that were closer to anarchy and 0% government on the right end of the Political Spectrum, that Dr. Rothbard called it the standard view.

      Read the FULL ARTICLE at http://libertyviews.blogspot.com/2010/07/recapturing-single-plane-leftright_01.html

  10. Why do you doubt that Coben & Bright were left wingers, Chuck?

    Collectivism is the pristine right & individualism is the pristine left.

    I note a few errors in what I wrote the other day. I did put left early on when I should have put right!

    The influence of the early Fabian Society was massive, as Hayek rightly said in his 1944 book.

    • David Mc said, “Why do you doubt that Coben & Bright were left wingers, Chuck?

      David, the title of this whole thread is,”When Fascism was Left” We agree, Cobdin and Bright were free traders. They worked to kill the Corn Laws that were keeping England starving. We do not agree that they were Left. Remember it is only a title.

      The influence of the early Fabian Society was massive, as Hayek rightly said in his 1944 book.

      I am familiar with the Fabian’ Society I had never known of them as free traders. I had always known of them as being Left, like Communism. But even if I am wrong, draw me, draw me an unbroken historical from the late 1700s in France to the late 1800s in England.

      In order to arrive at, Collectivism is the pristine right & individualism is the pristine left.” We have to ignore the roll played by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mussolini, Hitler, Castro, and dozen others. and . We must ignore the roll played by John T Flynn, Frank Chodorvf, Albert Jay Nock, H.L. Mencken etc And a dozen more.
      Perhaps you have a way around those?

  11. As I have read many times in different books, the left of the French Assembly were for free trade and the right were for protection.

    In any case, up till the 1890s, the Liberals were left and the Tories right and that is the way they even stand today, notwithstanding the management and statist stance of Joseph Chamberlain in the Liberal Party that favoured the welfare state over free trade and the Fabian lead by his old sweetheart, Mrs Webb, backing him up.

    The liberal authors up to the 1880s were called left, the protectionists were called right but things got mixed up in the 1880s. Since then we have had a division on liberty that Hayek repeatedly moaned about viz. that social liberty could be anything other than economic liberty. It was the Fabian who said that the old Tory protectionist ideas under the heading of “socialism” be called left. They are on what was up till the 1880s called the right.

    Not that this lazy classification matters much anyway for the very idea that it matters “where we are coming from” is irrelevant to any fact. So I would not favour either the right is the good line or even the left is good line. Nor would I favour any “them and us” line at all. I just note from when the shuffled up confusion that Hayek moaned about sprung from and I note that what we now call by the longer word of Libertarianism was the left rather than the right as it is called today. Thus the Fascists were always right but the Bolsheviks were right wing too.

    Yes, I am on about England. It took the labels from France. But it applied them to free trade as left and protectionism as right. Cobden influenced Bastiat of course. I am saying that it was the labels were thus taken up rather that the actual seating arrangements in 1789 that mattered, but it should not matter very much. Prior to the 1880s the usage was roughly consistent but since it has been split in the way that Hayek saw was inconsistent. The LA is pristine left i.e. like the left before the 1880s; read Hayek’s 1944 book.

    What you are referring to when you say that my side did not win is not clear to me, Chuck.

    Lenin was as much influenced by the Fabian as he was by Marx and Marx was more influenced by the Tory Blue books than he was by Hegel. The right never were for free trade but the love of management. They took over the younger generation of the Liberal Party of the UK from the 1880s made it more even more Tory than the Tories, though Herbert Spencer noticed the beginnings of this as early as the 1860s. The likes of J.A. Hobson continues the drift away from free trade to state regulation into the new century.

    The labels left/right caught on in the eighteenth century. They might have become even more tribal since 1945. They have been incoherent since the 1880s.

    It was Richard Cobden and John Bright by the bye. Is that error in Rothbard? Anyway, they were called left and they still are. Oddly, free trade is still called left wing. But, to save the 1880s confusion, laissez faire, which was free trade, is now said only to apply domestically and they now say it is right wing; though they will admit that historically it was left wing.

    Yes, Rothbard adopts the Fabian in calling collectivism left and individualism right. Presumably he never adopted the confusion of a big distinction between the social and economic that Hayek was irritated by that has been adopted by the actual standard view since 1890, or so. It is odd that you fail to find early references to left/right dichotomy before the 1930s, Chuck.

    The Fabian Society was not for free trader, but protectionist. They wanted to call themselves left, as left was in the 1880s the fashion. For them, socialism was still more left that was free trade. Socialism was a word for old Tory paternalist ideas, of course.

    No, we do not have to ignore those authors that you list, as they [if we cut off Marx – maybe the Fabian got this from Marx too but I think Radical Joe Chamberlain was the bigger influence] just followed the Fabian Society on the use of the terms. Thus they are as confused as Hayek says they are in his The Road To Serfdom (1944).

    However, the whole idea of left/right is sheer Romantic bunkum and alien to the pristine liberal enlightenment outlook that could not care less where people came from or what assumptions that they want to make, for any assumption at all will do to make a beginning with. We can then proceed to sort out any error that arises in discussion.

    The need is to get the lazy habit of left/right dropped rather than to clarify it. It is an excuse not to think.

    You follow up the idea that it was not used much in the early twentieths century with the idea that Marx used it in the 1840s.

    I see no need for the idea of left/ terminology at all. It encourages backwardness. It attempts to give an excuse not to debate ideas over; it is an attempt as a defensive ploy, as Ray Percival might say in his new book The Myth of the Closed Mind (2012).

    To classify some people as the enemy is crass. It is the Romantic outlook at its worst. The idea of pristine liberalism is not to oppose Tories as an end in itself but to win them over from protectionism to free trade.

    The Liberal Party of the UK always was call left but it stood for laissez faire up to the 1880s that meant the same as free trade. Joseph Chamberlain changed that in the 1880s. It became protectionist within the nation but could not quite shed free trade with other countries, though Chamberlain went for Empire Free Trade a decade or so after he joined the Conservative Party in 1886. In the backward colleges they came up with a distinction between free trade and laissez faire so that they might think it coherent to reject the latter whilst retaining the former. The Liberal Party still tend to favour external free trade.

    In USA most of all, the true neo-liberalism of the 1880s, the liberalism that favoured socialism instead of laissez faire, caught on but the current use of neo-liberalism for classical liberalism is ironic wherever it is used. It never was the case that the neo-liberals abandoned a sort of liberalism in social affairs but only in money matters but Hayek was right to repeatedly say that the “two” are linked such that to try to separate them out was bound to be incoherent.

    Liberalism might one day become completely conservative if liberalism ever becomes the status quo.

    It is simply silly to think that the left/right can be important. That can only be the case if one wants deadheads to have an excuse to get out of debate. The truth is that the distinction deserves some contempt, even if coherent as it was before the 1880s for it is an attempt to nurture mindlessness and quasi-tribalism. Since the 1880s it has been incoherent in the way that Hayek said. .

    Yes, the current conservatives want protectionism; they want the state to conserve the status quo. What would anyone expect of conservatives?

    Why should anyone bother whether they are labelled left or right? It is not a very powerful tool but rather an excuse to stop thinking. And as you have it, it carries the additional folly of being wrong about the left/right usage for most of the past, Chuck. The more I read your article the more clearly silly the left/right folly appears to me. On your one to ten points scale then either one or zero seems apt for every section that you want your readers to score. Read it over again yourself. I cannot believe that you will not agree with me on the low marks that are required.

    Will three E-mails clear your errors up, Chuck? I tend to doubt it.

  12. Thank you David for even reading my article, and I have read and reread your reply.
    David this whole Thread began with “When Fascism Was On The Left” by Keith Preston. In his opening Preston took a shot at the current confusion by saying, “The conventional left/right model of the political spectrum holds Fascism and Marxism to be polar opposites of one another. Marxism is regarded as an ideology of the extreme Left while Fascism supposedly represents an outlook that is about as far to the Right as one can go.” He then goes on to speak of a book Eric Norling’s Revolutionary Fascism, that confirmed, “Mussolini was every bit as much as man of the Left… As a young man, Mussolini himself was a Marxist…”
    My own readings of the times were slightly different, although easily meshed into Norling’s description. That read,” It would appear that the historic bitter rivalry between Marxists and Fascists is less a conflict between the Left and the Right, and more of a conflict between erstwhile siblings on the Left.”
    John B chimed in with, “Yes, fascism is clearly a collectivist, coercive ideology with more in common with socialism than with conservative individualism.”

    Then I shared the conclusions of my readings of the times by saying, “Mussolini broke with the International Communists movement, and in November of 1921 created for all practical purposes a Nationalist Communist Movement. The name he gave the movement was the Fascist Party. Any deviation from Marx’s plan was heresy. Mussolini, because of his deviation was immediately labeled a “right wing revisionist” a “right wing reactionary”, and a target for “mud slinging”. From Communist the world over. And the international press went along with the mud slinging. Mussolini was branded forever( however wrongly) a “right wing” revisionist.
    That is when you enter the discussion you said left gets its name from the seating arrangements of the , French Assembly in 1789, with free trades on the left. Ending with, “According to Chuck McGlawn even Mussolini adopted the Fabian whimsy of calling protectionism left.” I do not know where you got that, there was nothing whimsical about Mussoini’s calling Fascism left. He called it left because he was a Marxist, and Marx called Communism a movement of the left.
    I raised three challenges, first I said, “I defy you to draw a direct historical line from the seating arrangement in the French National Assembly 1789 to Left as meaning free trade.” Second I asked,” document that Cobden and Bright were clearly left wing.” And Last, “ step me through the process that makes the Libertarian Alliance Left Wing.”
    That brings us to right now. You started your comment with, “As I have read many times in different books, the left of the French Assembly were for free trade and the right were for protection.” What books, written by whom, and when? I am trying to clear up THE CONFUSION. If you transplant confusion from 1890 to the political thinking of recent history, then nothing is clarified.
    You wrote, “In any case, up till the 1890s, the Liberals were left and the Tories right and that is the way they even stand today, notwithstanding the management and statist stance of Joseph Chamberlain in the Liberal Party that favoured the welfare state over free trade and the Fabian lead by his old sweetheart, Mrs Webb, backing him up.” I do not understand that paragraph. Tories??? Chamberlin???
    You wrote, “The liberal authors up to the 1880s were called left…” What authors? Are you saying Marx was liberal”? You continued with, “the protectionists were called right” but things got mixed up in the 1880s. Since then we have had a division on liberty that Hayek repeatedly moaned about viz. that social liberty could be anything other than economic liberty. It was the Fabian who said that the old Tory protectionist ideas under the heading of “socialism” be called left. They are on what was up till the 1880s called the right.”
    Well David, I have done much research in this area, and I have never read how the term “right” was used in direct opposition left. The left being defined by Marx, and Marx alone. I have not read of the term “right” being used as a description of a political movement until the 1930s. Perhaps you have, can you give me some examples of the term “right” being used to describe a political movement.
    I am aware of a paradigm shift that was taking place near the end of the 19th Century. The Progressive Movement 9started before the Civil War) began to get traction when they started championing the cause of people displaced by the advances brought on by the Industrial Revolution. By 1896 it had spawned a political party called the Populist Party, calling itself the “party of the people”. The Populist party platform of 1896 called for a graduated (progressive) income tax, postal [or national] savings banks be established by the Government, nationalization of the railroads and the telegraph in the interest of the people. These planks were straight out of the Communist Manifesto.
    More specifically, the “populist” or “progressive”, clearly leftist, were calling for the government intervention to solve the problems caused by the migration of the displaced farm labor to the big cities brought on by the increased efficiency of agriculture.
    As the ____________ (please insert “free market” or “small government” or less government of “rightism”) solved these problems through a combination of 1. The increase in the demand for factory labor, brought on by the growing demand for US manufactured goods pouring into the world markets. 2. That, in concert with the reduced prices of agricultural goods brought on by the increased efficiency of farming that had reduced the demand for farm labor in the first place.
    In other words the populist’s and progressives’ call for ____________ (please insert “a controlled economy”, or “government intervention” or “more government of leftism”) to solve the problems was completely discredited. By 1920, the labels “Populist” and “Progressive” had become pejoratives in the political lexicon. Therefore, the “Populist” and “Progressive” needed a new name to identify themselves, so they could continue their leftist work of collectivization of the American people. The name they took was “liberal Beginning in the 1920s the terms liberal and left-wing became almost synonyms.
    You wrote, “Not that this lazy classification matters much anyway for the very idea that it matters “where we are coming from” is irrelevant to any fact. So I would not favour either the right is the good line or even the left is good line. Nor would I favour any “them and us” line at all.” With all due respect, David, the Libertarian Alliance does call itself the Libertarian left.
    You said,
    I just note from when the shuffled up confusion that Hayek moaned about…, … read Hayek’s 1944 book.
    Hayek was no more or no less confused then, than you are today. I just want to stop transplanting that confusion to future generations.
    You said, “Yes, I am on about England. It took the labels from France. But it applied them to free trade as left and protectionism as right. Cobden influenced Bastiat of course. I am saying that it was the labels were thus taken up rather that the actual seating arrangements in 1789 that mattered, but it should not matter very much.” Please show me that line. Where occupants on the left called themselves leftist, or where the occupants on the right call themselves rightist. Show me where Bastiat or Cobden called himself a rightist.
    When I said, “ your side did not win”, I meant Marx called his movement a movement of the Left, and you call the LA a movement of the Left, Marx won.

    And no, three e-mails will not sway me. Will three e-mils clear up your errors?