by Robin McMeeking
Experiments With Utopia
In this section we will look at three nations that replaced despotic monarchical regimes with enlightened forms of government based on the latest in political & economic philosophy; Russia, Italy, and Germany. We will follow that up by examining concurrent events in America. First, however, I want to define some terms that will be used in these discussions ; Progressivism, Liberalism, Fascism, and Nazism. We have already defined Communism as Marx foresaw it.
In the 1700s liberalism referred to individual liberty and freedom from government intrusion. Today that is called “classical liberalism”, Conservatism, or Libertarianism, meanwhile liberalism has acquired a new meaning.
The “progressive” label is back in vogue; politicians of the Left routinely use it to describe themselves, hoping to avoid the radical connotations associated with being “liberal” in the post-Reagan era. The irony in this is manifold, especially because the aim of the movement to which the name refers, the late-19th- and early-20th-century progressive movement, was anything but moderate.
If the progressive label seems less radical today, it is only because progressivism is less well known than its liberal progeny. It was initially an academic phenomenon far removed from American politics. Particularly in the post–Civil War American university, professors — many of whom had obtained their graduate training in German universities, and whose thought reflected the “intoxicating effect of the undiluted Hegelian philosophy upon the American mind,” as progressive Charles Merriam once put it — articulated a critique of America that was as deep as it was wide. It began with a conscious rejection of the natural-rights principles of the American founding and the promotion of a new understanding of freedom, history, and the state in their stead. From this foundation, the progressives then criticized virtually every aspect of our traditional way of life, recommending reforms or “social reorganization” on a sweeping scale, the primary engine of which was to be a new, “positive” role for the state. As the progressives’ influence in the academy increased, and growing numbers of their students sallied forth into all aspects of endeavor, this intellectual transformation gradually began to reshape the broader American mind, and, in time, American political practice. “A new regime in thought,” as Eldon Eisenach writes, “began to become a new regime in power.”
While many progressive academics helped effect this philosophical transformation, few, if any, were as influential as Dewey. Through an immense and wide-ranging body of work, vigorous activism, and his many students, Dewey’s mark was deep and enduring. Part of the reason for this was that he enjoyed an unusually long and prolific academic career. In 1884, Dewey received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, that seedbed of progressive academia where — as Jonah Goldberg explains elsewhere in this issue — Richard T. Ely taught economics and helped cultivate future reformers like Woodrow Wilson, John R. Commons, and Frederic Howe. Over the course of his subsequent half-century career, Dewey taught mainly at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, where he held appointments in both philosophy and education, and published over 40 books and several hundred articles. In 1914, moreover, Dewey became a regular contributor to Herbert Croly’s New Republic, the flagship journal of progressivism; he also played a more or less important role in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Federation of Teachers. During the New Deal, Dewey and his students helped shape the character of various programs, including the fine-arts program of the Works Progress Administration and the flagrantly socialist community-building program undertaken by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads. Dewey’s social theory continued to influence major political events even after his death in 1952.
How did the Progressives plan to bring about this level of influence? In actual practice the structure that has been devised to do this is a series of federal agencies that are able to make “rules” that have the full weight of law with only limited legislative oversight.
I was torn here between using today’s generally accepted definition of Fascism and a more historically accurate definition. In the early 1900’s various socialist groups were competing with each other for followers. There were several sub-groups of communists intent on establishing international revolution but disagreeing on tactics. And then there were similar groups of socialists with their differences. The two most successful were the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy and they were luring followers away from communism. For propaganda purposes the communists began lumping these two under the name of fascism. I’ve read two conflicting theories about why the communists did this, but they did and the western press went along with it, so one definition equates fascism with any tyrannical nationalistic ideology.
But in its early days, fascism had substantial differences with Naziism. There was no talk of antisemitism or ethnic purity. Mussolini was the person who really defined term, and he was referring to his own policies and practices. You can find his full definition here (from Modern History Sourcebook):
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State [referring to classical liberalism] is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State….
…The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone…
Fascism is a form of socialism in which corporations were privately owned, but government controlled. More on this a little later.
Nazi is an abbreviation for the German “National Socialism” (NAtionale soZIalist ). The National Socialist Party in Germany originated as the German Workers Party. They advocated socialism, and were anti-communist. National Socialism is focused on one nation, in this case, Germany.
The National Socialists had been around for some time before Adolph Hitler happened to attend one of their meetings (as a spy for the army). Hitler wound up arguing with one of the speakers at that meeting, and his forceful speaking abilities attracted attention from the party leaders. One thing led to another and Hitler wound up running the party. From that point the party aims were subordinated to Hitler’s aims. Their stated objectives :(from Modern History Sourcebook)
The Party Program of the NSDAP was proclaimed on the 24 February 1920 by Adolf Hitler at the first large Party gathering in Munich and since that day has remained unaltered. Within the national socialist philosophy is summarized in 25 points:
1. We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples.
2. We demand equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations; abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.
3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the sustenance of our people, and colonization for our surplus population.
4. Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.
5. Whoever has no citizenship is to be able to live in Germany only as a guest, and must be under the authority of legislation for foreigners.
6. The right to determine matters concerning administration and law belongs only to the citizen. Therefore we demand that every public office, of any sort whatsoever, whether in the Reich, the county or municipality, be filled only by citizens. We combat the corrupting parliamentary economy, office-holding only according to party inclinations without consideration of character or abilities.
7. We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations (non-citizens) are to be expelled from the Reich.
8. Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans, who have immigrated to Germany since the 2 August 1914, be forced immediately to leave the Reich.
9. All citizens must have equal rights and obligations.
10. The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of the universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all Consequently we demand:
11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
16. We demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.
17. We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.
18. We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest. Common national criminals, usurers, Schieber and so forth are to be punished with death, without consideration of confession or race.
19. We demand substitution of a German common law in place of the Roman Law serving a materialistic world-order.
20. The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions. The plans of instruction of all educational institutions are to conform with the experiences of practical life. The comprehension of the concept of the State must be striven for by the school [Staatsbuergerkunde] as early as the beginning of understanding. We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding intellectually gifted children of poor parents without consideration of position or profession.
21. The State is to care for the elevating national health by protecting the mother and child, by outlawing child-labor, by the encouragement of physical fitness, by means of the legal establishment of a gymnastic and sport obligation, by the utmost support of all organizations concerned with the physical instruction of the young.
22. We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army.
23. We demand legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press. In order to enable the provision of a German press, we demand, that: a. All writers and employees of the newspapers appearing in the German language be members of the race: b. Non-German newspapers be required to have the express permission of the State to be published. They may not be printed in the German language: c. Non-Germans are forbidden by law any financial interest in German publications, or any influence on them, and as punishment for violations the closing of such a publication as well as the immediate expulsion from the Reich of the non-German concerned. Publications which are counter to the general good are to be forbidden. We demand legal prosecution of artistic and literary forms which exert a destructive influence on our national life, and the closure of organizations opposing the above made demands.
24. We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.
25. For the execution of all of this we demand the formation of a strong central power in the Reich. Unlimited authority of the central parliament over the whole Reich and its organizations in general. The forming of state and profession chambers for the execution of the laws made by the Reich within the various states of the confederation. The leaders of the Party promise, if necessary by sacrificing their own lives, to support by the execution of the points set forth above without consideration.
Fascism and Nazism are about as reviled today as any historical movements ever have been, at least in the popular consciousness. That hasn’t always been the case; in America prior to WW II many in the press and some prominent individuals spoke favorably of Nazism and Fascism. Communism has also had its supporters and apologists even during the Cold War.
The Soviet Union
As mentioned above, Russian Tsarist government was toppled in 1917 in the midst of WW I, first by a relatively peaceful transfer of power when the Tsar abdicated and conferred power on the Duma (the Russian parliament). A few months later, in October, the Bolshevik revolution completed the transfer to the communists, with Vladimir Lenin at the top. The term Soviet refers to local workers assemblies that enforced policies and had some autonomy in making local rules. Many Soviets had been in place since a 1905 abortive attempt at revolution.
Some historians treat Lenin as an intellectual leader dedicated to economic planning and governing strategy, assigning the brutality of the Soviet Union to Joseph Stalin. As we will see, there was sufficient brutality in both men.
At first there were only a few thousand committed Bolsheviks. They feared losing control. They were opposed by socialists, loyalists to the Tsar, and others. Lenin, on advice from Joseph Stalin (Lenin’s right-hand-man), decided to implement the “Red Terror”, a program that dwarfed the events of the French Revolution. He formed a secret police, the Cheka, and instructed them to “apply the terror – shooting on the spot…”. His targets, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, were “homeowners, high-school teachers, parish councils, choirs, priests, monks and nuns, Tolstoyan pacifists, and officials of trade unions.” Official records of the Cheka place the number of executions in two years above 20,000. The actual number is much larger, with estimates ranging from 50,000 and up. [Cheka 1; Cheka 2]
Civil war ensued between the Reds (communists) and the Whites (an opposition consortium with some foreign support from Great Britain, France, U.S.A, and Japan). World War I was still going on and the allies wanted Russia back in the conflict. In 1918 the Tsar and his family were put to death. The civil war dragged on until 1923. During this time Lenin worked at organizing a government and devising economic plans. He had no idea how the socialist economy should run. Marx had described capitalism in detail, but of the new order he only said that once “all elements of production” were in the hands … “of the proletariat … productive forces would reach their peak and the sources of wealth flow in full abundance.” Lenin set up bureaucratic committees of party members to to direct each segment of industry with instructions to set quotas and get lots of statistics.
He was even more uncertain how to deal with agriculture. Russian farming was done by peasants. Until 1861 Russian peasants lived on land owned by aristocrats who did not participate in working the land. The peasants grew and marketed crops and paid the landowner rent that was set to to prevent the peasant from accumulating any wealth. The 1861 emancipation allowed them to buy land from the landowner. By 1917 most peasants owned their land but were still indigent. A few, however, had managed to achieve some prosperity. These were called kulaks.
With the civil war going on Lenin had introduced an economic plan called “War Communism” which for industry meant forced labor, and for the peasants meant confiscation of crops. The peasants resisted by withholding produce for personal use or to sell on the black market. Lenin tried armed force and other coercive measures, but by 1921 he relented and introduced a New Economic Plan that again allowed peasants to market their crops. Unfortunately, drought hit that year and famine ensued.
Lenin was severely wounded in a failed assignation attempt in 1918. He suffered three strokes in 1923 and died in ’24. Although he had considered Stalin to be his protege, he had a late change of heart and wanted Leon Trotsky to succeed him.
Stalin proved to be a particularly shrewd manipulator of people and was determined to be top dog in the Soviet Union. By this time he was the General Secretary of the Communist Party. There were other members of the party who had aspirations to lead, but Stalin managed to split them into groups opposing each other, got them to make false accusations, getting each other expelled from the party. Stalin finally charged his remaining opposition with creating dissension in the party. He was the last man standing. For a more thorough description of the events click here.
Food shortages continued to plague Russia which economically depended heavily on grain exports. In 1928 Stalin began his own efforts to resolve the agricultural problems. 30,000 armed party workers were sent out to confiscate grain for export. The peasants responded by planting less and the following year the shortages were even more severe. Russia’s need for foreign cash was so great that millions of dollars in art from the Hermitage Museum was secretly sold abroad. Stalin blamed the kulaks for the troubles saying “we must break down the resistance of that class in open battle.” He decided on collectivization which required relocating millions of peasants onto giant farms. Some peasants resisted by burning grain, destroying farm machinery, slaughtering 18 million horses and 30 million cattle. Peasants that resisted were shot or sent to concentration camps. Stalin later bragged to Churchill that “ten millions of peasants were dealt with.” The result was a famine that lasted until 1933. Millions starved to death.
Information about this famine was getting out of Russia, and it was being reported in some of the press. The New York Times had a Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent in Moscow, one Walter Duranty who was under the spell of communism. The following is an article from Time Magazine (April 10, 1933) in which an eye witness account of the famine is disputed by Duranty:
Gareth Jones, a serious young man with glasses, arrived in Berlin last week after a three-week tour of the Ukraine. He had a dreadful tale to tell, and Berlin correspondents listened politely because serious Mr. Jones was once a private secretary to David Lloyd George, and before making his trip to the Ukraine he spent many a long hour learning to speak Russian—far more fluently than most Russian correspondents. Said he:
“I walked through the country visiting villages and investigating twelve collective farms. Everywhere I heard the cry: ‘There is no bread, we are dying!’ This cry is rising from all parts of Russia; from the Volga district, from Siberia, from White Russia, from Central Asia and from the Ukraine black dirt country.
“Most officials deny any famine exists, but a few minutes following one such denial in a train I chanced to throw away a stale piece of my private supply of bread. Like a shot a peasant dived to the floor, grabbed the crust and devoured it. The same performance was repeated later with an orange peel. Even transport and G.P.U. officers warned me against traveling over the countryside at night because of the numbers of starving, desperate men. . . . A foreign expert who returned from Kazakhstan told me that 1,000,000 of the 5,000,000 of inhabitants there have died of hunger.
“After Dictator Josef V. Stalin, the starving Russians most hate George Bernard Shaw for his accounts of their plentiful food. . . . There is insufficient feed and many peasants are too weak to work on the land and the future prospect seems blacker than the present. The peasants no longer trust their government and the change in the taxation policy came too late.”
A rebuttal was promptly presented by Walter Duranty, a U.S. correspondent long in Soviet good graces, but it was a rebuttal of much mildness:
“The number of times foreigners, especially Britons, have shaken rueful heads as they composed the Soviet Union’s epitaph can scarcely be computed. . . . This not to mention a more regrettable incident of three years ago when an American correspondent discovered half the Ukraine flaming with rebellion and proved it by authentic documents eagerly proffered by Rumanians. . . .
“Since I talked with Mr. Jones I have made exhaustive inquiries about this alleged famine situation. . . . There is serious food shortage throughout the country with occasional cases of well-managed state or collective farms. The big cities and the army are adequately supplied with food. There is no actual starvation or death from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition. . . . In every Russian village food conditions will improve henceforth, but that will not answer one really vital question—What about the coming grain crop? Upon that depends not the future of the Soviet power, which cannot and will not be smashed, but the future policy of the Kremlin.”
Previous reporting by Duranty on the subject:
“There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” –New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1
“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” –New York Times, August 23, 1933
“Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin’s program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding.” –New York Times, December 9, 1932, page 6
By the end of World War II more reliable information was available. The following assessment of communism is from an article in Time from Feb. 23, 1948. In this article “The Machine” references the automated factories of the Industrial Revolution.
In countries truer to Marx, where control of The Machine has actually been taken away from the capitalist, the most extraordinary growth occurred in the meaning of “control.” Control of production by “the state,” in place of ownership by private people, turned out to need bolstering up. It meant control of speech, thought and personal life. It was not the freed worker who replaced the capitalist; it was the cop, the spy, the bureaucrat.
Old Prince Otto von Bismarck saw what was implicit in Marx more clearly than Marx himself did. He noted the reluctance of Marxists to discuss the nature of the society for which they struggled. Said Bismarck in 1878: “If only I could find out what the future [Marxist] state . . . is like. We can only catch glimpses of it through the cracks. . . . If every man has to have his share allotted to him from above, we arrive at a kind of prison existence where everyone is at the mercy of the warders. And in our modern prisons the warder is at any rate a recognized official, against whom one can lodge a complaint. But who will be the warders in the general socialist prison? There will be no question of lodging complaints against them; they will be the most merciless tyrants ever seen, and the rest will be the slaves of these tyrants.”
Benito Mussolini 1883-1945
We’ll pick up Mussolini in 1902. He had emigrated to Switzerland from Italy, possibly to avoid military service. He began his political activism here after failing to find permanent work. He started writing for a socialist paper. He was a prolific and effective writer and was secretary of an Italian workers’ union. He got into trouble with the police (a common characteristic of many activists) and was able to return to Italy to serve in the army in 1905 & 06. He continued to move around, spending time in Austria-Hungary again as a labor union secretary, and eventually landed in his home town of Forli, Italy as editor of The Class Struggle. He wound up back in jail after participating in a socialist sponsored riot opposing the Italian war in Libya. Back out of jail he became editor of the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti! Under his leadership, its circulation soon rose from 20,000 to 100,000.
He enlisted in the army when WW I began. You may recall that the communists opposed the war while the socialists favored it. He was wounded and discharged in 1917. He returned to editing but was beginning to feel disenchanted with socialism. In March 1919, Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio as the “Fasci Italiani di Combattimento” (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members. After that his rise to power was fairly steady. By means of intimidation with street demonstrations, and election victories, his party grew until an October 1922 March on Rome ousted Prime Minister Luigi Facta. King Victor Emmanuel III handed power over to Mussolini. He remained in power until Italy fell to the Allies in WW II.
He ruled firmly. His government was totalitarian, meaning that it there was no aspect of business, religion, or personal life that was not subject to its dictates. In spite of that, he was generally popular with the Italian public. He made international agreements with and against most other European countries before he finally allied with Germany.
A Time magazine article from 1934 describes the event as Mussolini was completing his establishment of Italy’s government structure. He was replacing a General Assembly composed of regional representatives with one composed of representatives of various industries.
Last week on the frowning Capitoline Hill, a site as ancient as Rome itself, Il Duce convened the first General Assembly of the Corporative State in the Hall of Julius Caesar… “This is the most imposing event in the history of Italy,” said her 20th Century Caesar. “Indeed it is unprecedented in any history.”
Most emphatically Il Duce is not yet ready to turn over Italy to some 800 Deputies or Delegates of this new sort who make up the General Assembly of his Corporative State. Before convening them last week, the Dictator appointed by absolute fiat a Vice President to each of the 22 Fascist Corporations. The Assembly then elected him President of each & every Corporation.
Thus Benito Mussolini, for the time being, is the President from Agriculture, the President from Banking, the President from Metallurgy, etc. To his enemies, naturally, the Corporative State is therefore just Benito Mussolini and a laugh. To the Italian people it is a new world of thought grooves and action grooves along which they must move.
At this point, although fascism was not getting a lot of good press in America, things in Italy seem clearly preferable to Russia. The communists were losing members to fascism. I have mentioned that a good definition of fascism is hard to find. The communists were well aware of fascism and wanted to combat its popularity, so they developed their own definition of fascism. During World War II this communist definition gained general acceptance.
Hitler and the Nazis
As mentioned above, the Versailles treaty that ended WW I is often credited with setting the stage for WW II. After President Wilson made his “fourteen points” speech it was carefully examined by the Germans. A few months later, when it became clear to them that defeat was imminent, they agreed to a armistice and accepted the fourteen points as the basis for a treaty. The French and British, however, had more ambitious objectives and ultimately dictated harsh reparations on Germany. At the time of the truce, the German populace had been under the impression that Germany had achieved it war aims. Russia had ceded significant Territory to Germany at the time they withdrew from the conflict, parts of France were still occupied by Germany, and so on. The treaty returned land to Russia and France and required Germany to pay reparations to France. The details of the Versailles treaty came as a shock and humiliation. The new German government mandated by the treaty was a parliamentary system called the Weimar Republic. Although accepted at first it came to be despised as an imposition of the allies. An influx of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Russia fueled an already growing antisemitism.
The situation was ripe for activist groups to foment trouble and struggle for popular support. One such group was called the “National Sozialistiche Deutsch Arbeiten Partei” (National Socialist Workers Party) or Nazi Party. Adolph Hitler served with distinction in the German Army during WW I. He was in the hospital recovering from effects of a poison gas attack when the armistice was declared in late 1918. In 1919 he attended a meeting of the Nazi party as a spy for the army. He was incensed by one of the speakers and proceeded to debate him. His rhetoric impressed the party officials who asked him to join. He quickly became the main speaker at party events and was drawing large crowds. He organized a group of thugs, the first “brown-shirts”, to deal with disruptions at party meetings. By 1921 he was the sole leader of the party and was given dictatorial powers.
Hitler’s rise to power is well documented elsewhere, and his ideology has had little impact on American political views, so I will not spend much time on him. Hitler’s utopian vision was of a Teutonic German empire encompassing much of Europe. It was to be peopled by a race of “supermen” developed by racial purification or “eugenics” (selective breeding).
Of course, before he could fully engage in it he had to achieve the level of power necessary to the task, and dominion over a vast territory. He played on the existing antisemitism and amplified it to a level never seen before. While in power he embarked on the first phase of his utopian vision, extermination of the Jews.
In 1939 he was “Man of the Year” in Time magazine. Time has repeatedly stressed that this title is not intended to praise an individual, merely to indicate the person’s influence on world events. His economic policy was described thus:
Most cruel joke of all, however, has been played by Hitler & Co. on those German capitalists and small businessmen who once backed National Socialism as a means of saving Germany’s bourgeois economic structure from radicalism. The Nazi credo that the individual belongs to the state also applies to business. Some businesses have been confiscated outright, on others what amounts to a capital tax has been levied. Profits have been strictly controlled. Some idea of the increasing Governmental control and interference in business could be deduced from the fact that 80% of all building and 50% of all industrial orders in Germany originated last year with the Government. Hard-pressed for foodstuffs as well as funds, the Nazi regime has taken over large estates and in many instances collectivized agriculture, a procedure fundamentally similar to Russian Communism.