Fascism and Violence – Part 1

Modern American fascists seek to emulate the physical intimidation tactics of 20th century fascist movements

This series will describe the use of violence as a political tool by Fascists. Part 1 introduces the historic development of the relationship between fascism and violence while Part 2 will discuss contemporary fascists and what can be done to stop them.

When I discuss the need for physical confrontation with Nazis, I get a lot of negative feedback from liberals. One of the most cogently written responses I’ve received was from a Reddit user going by Sportsinghard:

The fact that you don’t fight fire with fire resonates to me. Anti-fascist violence is still violence, and as a left leaning person, it upsets me. I’m sure there could come a time when violence is totally called for, but we are not at that time. Fascism is a minuscule problem in today’s society, a minority emboldened by the current political climate, but a minority nonetheless. There are so many more effective strategies that are more likely to win over the hearts and minds of moderates than balaclava clad violence, and those hearts and minds are the influence that needs to be won. Antifa type behavior increases the divide, isolates moderates, and provides a rallying point for right leaning folks. If we look at the fascist problem in the West objectively, Antifa is not the answer…

This Reddit comment perfectly summarizes the liberal case against anti-fascist violence — far better than Trevor Noah’s recent hit piece on Antifa. Unfortunately, it is built upon a gross misunderstanding of the fascist relationship with violence.

So, let’s delve deeper into the fascist conception of violence to see if it’s really necessary to “fight fire with fire” when it comes to Nazi violence.

I’ve previously discussed how fascists use middle class abhorrence of violence to influence liberals and seize power. But how did this reliance on political violence come about?

Nazi street violence is calculated political theater.

It’s easy to think of fascist violence as brutally irrational and cruelly spontaneous. When we imagine Nazis, we often imagine jackbooted thugs who are violent for the sake of being violent – heartless beasts who smash skulls just for the fun of it.

In reality, fascists pursue violence as a reasoned choice. Fascist streetbrawls are not animalistic crimes of passion, but philosophically determined political acts. To understand how this willful and intellectual adoption of violence came about, let’s examine the foundation of fascism.

Adolf Hitler takes much of the spotlight as an architect of fascism, but it was Benito Mussolini who built the first fascist state in 1922, nearly a decade before Hitler seized any real political power in Germany. Mussolini and his cohorts were the pioneers of fascism, developing the roadmap to political power that would later be utilized by Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, and so many other reactionary dictators of the 20th century.

Mussolini built his first fascist “Combat Squad” of 200 streetbrawling blackshirts in 1919. Mussolini used nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-communist rhetoric to recruit more blackshirts. The fascists fought communists and leftists in the streets. By 1922 he lead an army of blackshirts to march on the government of Italy and demand the resignation of the liberal prime minister, Luigi Facta.

The Italian military at that time was loyally devoted to Italy’s king, Victor Emanuel III. As Mussolini’s blackshirts threatened to attack, Emanuel had an important decision to make: he could order the military to face the blackshirts or he could surrender to Mussolini’s demands.

Emanuel was told in certain terms by commanding general Pietro Badoglio that the Italian military could route Mussolini’s private army. Indeed, the commander of the Blackshirts himself, Cesare Maria De Vecchi, told Mussolini that he would not act against the wishes of the monarch. But the threat of violence was enough to push Emanuel to yield to Mussolini, paving the way for the first fascist state in history.

There are two important take-aways from this story:

  1. Fascists have a demonstrated ability to take power with dizzying rapidity. Mussolini grew his private army of blackshirts from 200 men to 30,000 in just three years. Between 1919 and 1923, Hitler’s Nazi Party membership increased from a couple hundred to 20,000. By scapegoating and otherizing immigrants and minority groups and tapping into nationalist sentiments, fascists are able to build their numbers very quickly, especially in times of socio-economic trouble.
  2. Mussolini relied exclusively on physical intimidation to seize power. He did not need to win any elections or convince anyone through discourse that he should take power. He built an army, fought in the streets, and seized power through the threat of violence alone. Hitler followed the same course of action in the 1920s by sending his stormtroopers into the streets and throwing Germany into violence and threatening civil war, which influenced nervous liberals such as Karl von Hindenburg to assist in handing the reins of power over to the Nazi party.

Blood alone moves the wheels of history.
–Benito Mussolini

Mussolini’s greatest influence: leftist philosopher Georges Sorel

Where did Mussolini get his ideas about the effectiveness of violence in seizing power from liberals? Surprisingly, just a few years before he took power, Mussolini was a radical leftist. Even as he veered to the far right, he held on to many of the lessons he learned from leftist thought. He considered his primary influence to be a 19th century Marxist philosopher named Georges Sorel:

I owe most to Georges Sorel. This master of syndicalism by his rough theories of revolutionary tactics has contributed most to form the discipline, energy and power of the fascist cohorts.
–Benito Mussolini

These days Sorel’s name is seldom mentioned, but his works had tremendous influence across the spectrum of late 19th and early 20th century thought, inspiring everyone from Marxists to anarchists to fascists like Mussolini. Sorel made a rational case for political violence as the only effective method of overpowering the liberal bourgeois elite. He knew that liberals loathed violence:

It is very difficult to understand proletarian violence as long as we try to think in terms of the ideas disseminated by bourgeois philosophy; according to this philosophy, violence is a relic of barbarism which is bound to disappear under the progress of enlightenment. . .

. . . [Liberals]* cannot understand the ends pursued by the new school . . . “Do you wish to revive civil war?” they ask. To our great statesmen that seems mad . . .

. . . It is here that the role of violence in history appears to us as singularly great, for it can, in an indirect manner, so operate on the middle class as to awaken them to a sense of their own class sentiment.

– Georges Sorel

Mussolini and his blackshirts seize power in the streets in 1922.

These words were written in 1915, just three years before Mussolini began building his fascist combat squad, and there is no doubt that they must have been on Mussolini’s mind as he was designing a plan to seize political power. Indeed, if Mussolini really followed the writings of Sorel, as he claimed, then the influence violence has on the liberal middle class would have been central to his strategy. Hitler and all the other fascist leaders who followed would have seen Mussolini’s early success as evidence that Sorel’s description of the political influence of violence was a perfect match for reactionary far-right ideology.

In part 2 of this series I will describe how modern fascists have evolved and adapted these strategies to manipulate centrists, outline my predictions for how they plan to use violence to seize power, and discuss what can be done to stop the rise of fascism in America.

Continue to Part 2: how modern fascists are manipulating us with violence.

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*Author’s note: Sorel actually used the term “parliamentary socialists,” similar in definition to what Marx called “bourgeois socialists.” He is specifically responding to Jean Jaurès, an early Socialist Democrat. In modern leftist terminology “parliamentary socialism,” “bourgeois socialism” and “socialist democracy” would all be generally considered as archaic terms for liberalism.

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