Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism

Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism

Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism

Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism

Synopsis

This work traces the changes in classical Marxism (the Marxism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) that took place after the death of its founders. It outlines the variants that appeared around the turn of the twentieth century- one of which was to be of influence among the followers of Adolf Hitler, another of which was to shape the ideology of Benito Mussolini, and still another of which provided the doctrinal rationale for V. I. Lenin's Bolshevism and Joseph Stalin's communism. This account differs from many others by rejecting a traditional left/right distinction- a distinction that makes it difficult to understand how totalitarian political institutions could arise out of presumably diametrically opposed political ideologies. Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism thus helps to explain the common features of "left-wing" and "right-wing" regimes in the twentieth century.

Excerpt

The present work constitutes an effort to better understand the origins of the major revolutionary ideologies of the twentieth century. It attempts to reconstruct the evolution of those ideologies from their initial source in the heritage left by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—to the rationale for totalitarianism they were to become. Basically, it seeks to track that evolution into Leninism and Italian Fascism.

Some years ago, Zeev Sternhell traced the Fascist ideas of Benito Mussolini to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century revolutionary ideas in France. At the same time, he made allusion to sources in the specifically Marxist tradition—and spoke of a “second main component” of Fascist ideology as a peculiar “revision” of the Marxism it inherited.*

The present study attempts to trace the influences that shaped that revision—for it will be argued that much, if not all, revolutionary thought in the twentieth century was shaped by just such revisions of traditional Marxism. The tracing is often difficult. There are innumerable asides amidst the attempts by authors, in the revolutionary traditions of Europe at the time, to address and resolve a clutch of critical questions that turned on complex epistemological, normative, and scientific concerns left unresolved by the founders of “historical materialism.”

It was left to Marxism's intellectual heirs to address the question of how materialism, as ontology and epistemology, was to be understood. There was the notion of “inevitabilities” and the “logic” of history—and the question of just how human choice might function in a deterministic universe.

*Zeev Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From
Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 12.

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