Fascism or fascism?

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By SERGIO SCHARGEL*

Considerations about the interpretative divergences about the historical concept

With almost 100 years of historiography and critical fortune, there are several interpretive currents on fascism, either as a concept or as Mussolini's movement. Some are contradictory to each other, but others are contaminated, they have points of consensus. Among the main opposing currents, it is worth calling attention to two in particular: hermetic fascism and malleable fascism.

The name itself already indicates what to expect. A current that interprets fascism as a movement limited to its Italian manifestation with Mussolini (or, if anything, interwar Europe), the other that understands it as a broader concept, subject to displacement in time-space. That is, one fascism x several fascisms. Does the movement form from the concept, or does the concept form from the movement? Like the chicken and egg dilemma, transposed into political theory.

For adherents of hermetic fascism, fascism must be frozen in its Italian version, and any subsequent movement, however similar it may be, will not be recognized within the same concept. That is, the concept should not absorb new features. As similar as it is, it is something new. Or, as Michael Mann says, “Interwar fascism is not a generic phenomenon, but a specific period in Europe. Its legacy survives today mainly in a different type of social movement: the ethnonationalists”. Michael Mann ignores, however, that fascism has always been precisely a form of ethnonationalism, a mass populist nationalism.

This current also conveniently ignores a key aspect: any political concept rebuilds itself. Is Brazilian democracy the same in 2022 as it was in 2002? Or is US democracy the same as French democracy in 2022? Certainly not. The concept is the same, but the adjectives about democracy border on infinite: procedural, liberal, agonistic, minimalist… laissez-faire Frenchmen would look in horror at Americans who call themselves liberals, and yet the concept is the same. If we talk about different democracies, different authoritarianisms, different nationalisms, different populisms, different conservatisms, why don't we talk about different fascisms? Either we accept fascism as an elastic concept, or we will have to employ consecutive adjectives whenever we refer to democracies, conservatisms, and other political notions.

Another point: how can we talk about fascism or Fascism, when there were many fascisms? Let's remember that Mussolini's Fascism survived for more than 20 years, and it certainly wasn't watertight. There were many movements, within a matrix. Italian fascism reinvented itself, went through different stages, evolved, receded at times, intensified at others. It had a liberal experience, in the beginning, it emerged as a dissidence of the Italian Socialist Party (and in its first moments it still maintained similar social concerns), a period of declared dictatorship after the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the colonial campaigns in the 1930s and the institutionalization attempt with the publication of the Doctrine, and, finally, the merger with Nazism during the War. How to say, then, that Mussolini's movement was one? What fascism are we referring to when we talk about Mussolini?

If we take Robert Paxton's interpretation of an "elastic" or "stepist" fascism, then there is nothing about the concept that prevents it from spreading beyond Italy or Europe between 1919 and 1945. equivalents of the same period, such as Integralism, could be considered fascist. It is evident that when moving a concept from Europe to Brazil, significant differences will appear. However, basic points of consensus remain, such that they allow us to call a Brazilian version of liberalism as such, and the same with fascism. In other words, it is necessary to work on the points of consensus and dissent, when dealing with comparative politics, in order to apprehend these reconstructions.

Given these arguments, what would prevent fascism from appearing in the contemporary world? If Integralism was a version of Brazilian fascism, for example, why couldn't Bolsonarism be? The economic policy argument is insufficient, considering that Mussolini's own fascism pervaded a liberal period. As Paxton suggests in his book, it is necessary to rescue the concept from the misuse it has suffered since the Third International, when it was expanded to the point of classifying social democrats as “social-fascists”, but not discarding it completely. For a concept is needed that is capable of encompassing the unprecedented form of politics that emerges at the dawn of the XNUMXth century, a mass, populist, reactionary, authoritarian and deeply nationalist politics, different from anything seen until then. A movement that mixes simultaneous characteristics, condensed within these other concepts, such as messianism, rejection of agonistic democracy, desire to return to an idealized past, objective enemies dehumanized for having imposed supposed degeneracy on the nation, paranoid conspiracy and mass base. For lack of a better concept, fascism is used.

In an article without translation into Portuguese, but later condensed in his book, Paxton highlights that all fascism obeys a logic guided by five stages, ranging from the creation of movements to entropy or radicalization. What prevents us from seeing new Hitlers and Mussolinis appearing every day, in the same way that prevented fascism from reaching the Federal Executive in Brazil in 1938, is not a miracle, but the combination of variables such as democratic resilience, political culture, willingness of the establishment in embracing the movement, the feeling of crisis, among others. Most fascisms, as the author points out, die in the first or second stage, without managing to acquire sufficient political relevance. Some, like Integralism or Falangism, go further and come to power. But they fail in the third stage, as they arrive as secondary participants, forced to obey a parallel protagonist movement such as Francoism or Varguism.

It is important to always remember, however, that concepts such as reactionary and authoritarianism obviously exist independently, not necessarily being fascism. But when they appear simultaneously, the aroma grows.

*Sergio Scargel is a doctoral candidate in political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author of Eternal fascism, in fiction and in reality (bestiary).

 

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