Lessons on fascism and anti-fascism

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Presentation of the book Gianni Fresu

The book that Gianni Fresu dedicates to the study of fascism, entitled In the Trenches of the West: Lessons on Fascism and Anti-Fascism, represents a good contribution to the deepening of knowledge on the subject in at least two domains. They are the historiography on fascism, which the author explores with a keen critical sense, showing the advances and problems of different interpretations, and that of Gramscian studies, especially favored by the ability that the author demonstrates in relating the theme to the historical context in that Antonio Gramsci forged his rich conceptual heritage.

In fact, as the subtitle of the work indicates, it is really the Gramscian approach that allows organizing the different historiographical interpretations, most often of a liberal nature, operating in them a kind of dialectical overcoming. As Gianni Fresu points out, liberal interpretations, leaning towards a strongly reactionary reading, sought to present fascism as a simple parenthesis of European history (thesis of Benedetto Croce, but with many echoes outside Italy), always insisting on the loss of consciousness and in the moral crisis provoked by the First War, or even in the mass mobilizations and in the victory of Bolshevism (thesis supported in German historiography by Ernest Nolte).

Antonio Gramsci, on the other hand, without neglecting the ideological elements revealed by the moral crisis of the European bourgeoisie, once supported by historical materialism, first emphasizes the relationships of these elements with those of an economic and social background. It would be appropriate, therefore, to pay attention to institutional devices such as the Albertine Statute, the most complete expression of a passive revolution and the problems of transformism – that is to say, the weaknesses of the Italian ruling class –, so well studied by Gramsci in the prison notebooks.

By this ingenuity, a parliamentary order was forged which, resulting in a strong union between the King and the Legislature, ended up granting the former broad powers, as in the example of the appointment of ministers and even the dissolution of Parliament. Remember that, after the staging of the March on Rome, it was Victor Emmanuel III who appointed Benito Mussolini head of government.

Always in confrontation with Gramsci's theses, it is also the liberal reading of Benedetto Croce that is targeted to highlight another central element of fascism. While Benedetto Croce maintains that Mussolini's regime is not the expression of a single class, rather appearing in all classes, Gianni Fresu recovers Antonio Gramsci's emphasis on the middle strata - a point, it should be noted, that links the Italian regime to that led by Hitler.

It is here that the author opens space to explore the great contribution of the Sardinian communist, namely, the interpretation of fascism not only as a regime of coercion, but that simultaneously relies on consensus, the two central cores of the concept of hegemony. It is from this angle that one can understand the efforts of fascism to absorb a whole layer of unadapted students, war officials with no social function, petty bourgeoisie in the process of proletarianization – generally using the myth of the “mutilated victory” enunciated by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, who explored the refusal of the United States to Italian aspirations in the Balkan Peninsula and in Africa after the end of World War I.

The true initial leader of interventionism, emphasizes Gianni Fresu, is from D'Annunzio that the Duce it takes rhetoric, theatrical poses, funeral and military liturgies, iconography and finally the slogans, all means to mobilize and discipline the regime's consensus base. And here are the relations between consensus and militarism, the latter being the central axis of fascism and the existence of the party itself, but also its true point of arrival, namely, an aggressive geopolitics, inscribed in an openly imperialist foreign policy.

Certainly, the consensus also served to absorb the working class into the bourgeois state, especially through the assimilation of civil society organizations forged by it, such as corporate institutions – structures of economic and social association developed as early as the 1920s. Gianni Fresu invites us to critically reflect on the sectarian interpretations prevalent in the Communist International (CI) in the period 1928-1934 – they originated from the theses of the German Communist Party, then under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann. These interpretations tended to present fascism as a simple anti-proletarian reaction and, from there, condemned social democracy as mere social fascism.

In fact, reading Gianni Fresu's text allows us to conclude that fascism contained a much more complex picture. He presented himself as an “ideology without ideology” and, in this sense, it is not surprising that he gathered the most different doctrines. Not just D'Annunzio and the readiness for war, but also nationalist economists and their emphasis on corporations as a means of overcoming social conflict; Marinetti's irrationalism and futurism, with its seemingly innovative nihilism, the creator of a weak liberal program; and also the nationalism of Enrico Corradini and the thesis of the struggle between proletarian and capitalist nations, the premise for the use of the tragic theory of Living Space, or “living space”. A formulation, as we know, matured by the pen of the geographer Friedrich Ratzel in Bismarckian Germany, the same Ratzel who served as an inspiration both for the vulgarized Marxism of the Second International – capable of sustaining war and colonialism – and for the school of geopolitics German, expansionist and racist.

If we said earlier that it is in the development of fascism that many of Gramsci's categories make sense, it must be said that the anti-fascist struggle cannot be well understood without knowing the texts of the Sardinian communist. Undoubtedly, as Gianni Fresu demonstrates, the entire liberation struggle and the very role played by the Italian Communist Party (PCI) developed in close relationship with Gramsci's reflections. A fact, incidentally, that calls into question the theses that seek to establish a discontinuity between Gramsci's pre- and post-imprisonment phases, and this despite the universality of his categorical contribution - always to be read by the criterion of translatability, that is to say, in order to avoid “mechanistic abstractionisms”.

Illustrative, in this sense, the demonstration of the developments that followed the case of deputy Giacomo Matteoti, leader of the Socialist Party who, when denouncing the fraud and violence that involved Mussolini's victory in the 1924 elections, was barbarously murdered by the regime. Faced with a wide reaction from the middle classes and even from the leadership of the industrial and banking world, the PCI launches the proposal of a general strike and an alternative parliament, however not accepted by the set of liberals and Catholics, who wanted a purely moral opposition. to fascism. The resulting demobilization of the masses allowed Mussolini to open a second phase of the regime, installing from October 1926 an open dictatorship, which outlawed all his opponents, including Gramsci and several communists, led to prison.

And it is in the climate of growing tension following the assassination of Matteoti that the famous Congress of Lyon was held at the PCI (January 1926), opposing the lines of Bordiga and Gramsci, and, as we know, with a victorious outcome for the second. As Gianni Fresu demonstrates, the Bordigian current had nothing to offer the Resistance that was organized from the 1930s onwards. Sticking to the dominant theses of the Communist International, it was inclined to point to reformism, and not fascism, as the enemy to be fought. defeat, including what he called “intermediate fascism”, a grouping of constitutionalists, democrats and also social democrats.

On the other hand, Antonio Gramsci's current, valuing the debate around the United Fronts, held at the III and IV Congresses of the Communist International (1921 and 1922, respectively), was open to the victorious Leninist idea in the years of the NEP, that is, the idea alliances and the peasant issue as a strategic issue. After all, a way to avoid neglecting the differences between democratic and reactionary contexts (or democracy and fascism). Victorious in Lyon, the PCI's new position was crucial for the change of assessment in the Communist International itself from 1934 onwards, with Palmiro Togliatti playing an important role there - although even he clung to a kind of revolutionary impatience in the early 1930s. XNUMX, accepting the thesis of the end of the relative stabilization phase of capitalism, a position perhaps understandable in light of the context of isolation of the communists and of the Soviet Union itself.

In fact, returning to the line held by other leaders (Angelo Tasca, Umberto Terracini and Gramsci himself), it is Palmiro Togliatti who will open criticism of the Communist International with regard to the absence of a policy to attract the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie , and even the neglect of the importance of defending democratic freedoms in free nations and fascist countries. And it is in this sense, emphasizes Fresu, that in Italy still dominated by Mussolini, the same Palmiro Togliatti will support the insertion in the fascist unions as a means of advancing the mass struggle, even imposing the task of investigating the new economic policy of the regime , forwarded in 1927 with the Labor Charter and corporatism – elements, given its demands for a mass base and passive consensus, to distinguish it from traditional authoritarian regimes.

Here are described the roots of the United Front policy, capable of bringing together communists, socialists and republicans. It experienced itself in the more than 500 partisan formations that, at the end of the war, and faced with the slowness of the Allied forces, took into their own hands the task of liquidating the remnants of Nazi-fascism, forming a unitary structure that corresponded to the “great democratic and political bloc”. of the anti-fascist parties”, to which the PCI should be integrated, according to Palmiro Togliatti. Strictly speaking, the same block that was at the base of the construction of post-1948 Italian social democracy, a democracy that, rooted in the popular struggle of the Resistance, leads to overcoming the limitations of the Albertine Statute through a post-liberal synthesis between the conceptions formal and substantial justice – respectively based on the equality of citizens before the law and on overcoming economic and social differences.

As can be seen, Gianni Fresu's book leads us to a broad and at the same time rigorous overview not only of the history of fascism and of the largest communist party in the West, but also of the international communist movement itself and the harsh context in which broad legions of militants.

When, in Brazil today, and despite the particularities of the time, socialists and communists are once again the target of obscurantist movements; when, in this same social formation, the little social state that was trying to organize is targeted by a wide range of regressive policies in the most different fields of social life, nothing better than visiting a work like this, endowed with high theoretical and historiographical rigor, but also, of course, a superior social and historical commitment.

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva is a professor at the Department of Geosciences at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


Gianni Fresu. In the Trenches of the West: Lessons on Fascism and Anti-Fascism. Ponta Grossa, Editora UEPG, 2017, 256 pages.

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