Review: Joao Bernardo. Labirintos do Fascismo. Na Encruzilhada da Ordem e da Revolta.
Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, 2003.
 

By Loren Goldner

“The victory of the fascist parties cannot be understood without discussing and analyzing the ties, through shocks and convergences, of a considerable number of working-class milieus and sources,  with the radical right…Wiping out leftist leaders and leading masses was only possible because of leftist echoes in the slogans of the new leaders”.

The Portuguese Marxist  and prolific writer Joao Bernardo remains virtually unknown in the Anglophone world, a situation hopefully to be remedied soon by an English translation of his three-volume masterpiece on the Middle Ages, Poder e Dinheiro. Now, only a year after the appearance of the final volume of that book, he has published another sprawling 900-page work, Labyrinths of Fascism: At the Crossroads of Order and Revolt. 

This book, however interesting, in my view ultimately disappoints. It is filled with brilliant and original material and connections, but upon reflection they seem like bright flashes that never add up to a lightning bolt. The argument, which gives most attention (for reasons which will shortly become obvious) to Germany and Russia, often seems made allusively, and is rarely satisfactorily nailed down. But let us first see what those flashes of brilliance are. 

This book purports to be neither a history nor a theory of fascism, but rather an attempt to bring out aspects of fascism that have been largely or wholly hidden from view by much of the writing about it, whether liberal or conservative or Marxist. In that goal, it certainly succeeds. The review format is barely adequate to deal with a book of so many strands and original assertions, so I will highlight some of its more controversial ones,  while attempting to present its broad outlines. 

Bernardo presents four major poles among which each fascism, in its specific national context,  oscillated: the army,  conservatism, the church and—most interesting, in my opinion—“radical fascism”, what in German are generally called “linke Leute von rechts” (“leftists of the right”), the Gregor Strassers, the “red-brown” elements who see themselves as (and are) more genuinely anti-capitalist than the Hitlers and Mussolinis, within a nationalist framework.  Bernardo critiques most of the standard Marxist interpretations (such as those of Guerin or Trotsky) which tend to overlook or minimize the impact of this fourth element. In Portugal, the conservative element represented by Salazar crushed the “radical fascists” early on; in Rumania, the conservative element around King Carol and the radical wing represented by the Iron Guard effectively destroyed each other; in Germany, the radical, “red-brown” element was also crushed in the “Night of the Long Knives”. Fascism for Bernardo is “a problem still to be resolved today”, “the neuralgic point of the contradictions of the workers’ movement”, and he uses the metaphor of the labyrinth because labyrinths are places where “those who began as enemies lost themselves”. 

Fascism for Bernardo is “rebellion within order”,  a revolt based on a “desire for social ascendancy which does not question the prevailing structures” of the status quo.  In the various national cases he examines, beginning with Italy (where fascism first seized state power), fascism emerges following the failure of a working-class upsurge. After the factory occupations of 1919-1920, an approximation of the “class-for-itself” (in which, however,  the union leadership had never really lost the initiative, namely one of containing the workers), the fascist squadristi rushed into the breach. Once the ebb has set in, fascism eliminates the most combative elements and further transforms the relapsed class (the working class “in itself”) into a mass of manipulable, atomized individuals. Bernardo calls the latter, in contrast to autonomous working-class self-organization, the “hetero-organization” of society. “Small, extremely cohesive minorities can intimidate an incomparably more numerous enemy if the latter is socially dispersed.”. For Bernardo, Leninist organization (such as that adopted by the Third International parties after 1919) is another form of hetero-organization: “In revolutionary processes authoritarianism and centralism are always a symptom of ebb, not of progress, justified when the base has become incapable of assuming victory”. The last gasp of the Italian working class, just before the March on Rome, was the August 1922 failed general strike, which in essence defended those same liberal institutions which had launched repression against the workers from 1919 onward. Fascism draws on populism, “admitting the existence of the poor while rejecting the legitimacy of the concept of the working class” thereby converting “the economic antagonism between exploiters and exploited into a moral opposition between parasites and useful people”.  Liberalism was closer to fascism than the organic conservatism imputed to the ancien regime,  by its reduction of people to masses. “It was the liberal model of the citizen—the individual consumer in economics and the individual elector in politics—which informed the fascist notion of masses”.

Bernardo also draws out the complicity of liberalism in the rise of fascism: in 1921 in Italy, the long-standing liberal stalwart Giolitti gave the fascist squadristi legal cover for their violent attacks on working-class institutions; the 1924 fascist electoral list included many ex-liberals, and as a result some fascists accused Mussolini of betrayal, whereas, in Bernardo’s view, fascism had simply emptied liberalism of its content.  At that same time, as in the Portuguese case, the elimination of the radical fascists (in Portugal, the National Syndicalists) showed “the impossibility of grounding fascism in the institutions it founded”  and its need to fall back on traditional conservative institutions, confirming its nature as “revolt within order”. As Hitler said, “We never thought of revolting against the army. It was WITH it that we believed we had to win”.

In attempting to define the “historical moment” of fascism, Bernardo argues that “fascist parties only came to power when the convergence of their radical and institutional-conservative axes existed in a framework of blocked economic development”. Fascism, in this view, grew where capitalism “could not develop relative surplus-value”, i.e. the intensive phase of increased labor productivity through technological innovation. Imperialism was also a component of fascism, and the weaker capitalisms had to resort to war to participate in it.

But an understanding and critique of fascism, in Bernardo’s view, requires both a critique of capitalism and a self-critique of the workers’ movement. Liberal histories of fascism have tended to use it as a pretext for giving liberalism a  new “surface innocence”,  papering over the complicity of liberal elitism in spawning fascism and the role of liberals in helping fascism to power or keeping it in power. Above all, in Bernardo’s view, it is rare for historians on the left to focus on the significant sections of the revolutionary movement that went over to fascism or the “circulation of great numbers of people between the two opposed camps”, stemming for Bernardo from the “profound ambiguity of Jacobinism”. The elitist-authoritarian elements in St-Simonism were filtered through positivism into the work of Renan, Mosca and Pareto; both fascism and Marxism, in Bernardo’s view, drew on romantic sources, but through the Hegelian inspiration of Marxism these elements became “an object of reason”,  and thus quite different from fascist irrationalism. Fascism, for Bernardo, transforms the class struggle into a voluntarism of elites, reduces antagonism to physical force, and sees intellectual dynamism as irrationalism.

After World War II, capitalism “was able to repair its virginity”, hiding its own forms of totalitarianism and its complicity in it. Already in May 1920, the French government was organizing militias against the railway strikes then underway. In many cases (as in Weimar Germany) laws originally passed to contain the extreme right wound up being used against the left and far-left. The fascist successes in crushing the workers’ movements of Europe won the confidence of the liberal democracies. In 1939, the French government put refugees from the Spanish Republic in concentration camps. As Bernardo says, “With what comical ingenuity scholars of politics discover things that the fascists never denied and which they are, at the same time, incapable of detecting under the fine façade of parliamentiarism!”.

It is when Bernardo turns to the leftist theories of fascism that he is most provocative, and also ultimately unconvincing., as I shall try to show. In Bernardo’s view, “the economy did not play the determining role in the Third Reich that Marxists attribute to it in all cases….We cannot make the critique of fascism in general if we do not recognize it as as a nationalism with a proletarian base. Nor can we critically study Hitlerian fascism if we do not approach it as the most consequential of racisms”.

Bernardo’s discussion of the political economy of fascism is provocative but raises a lot of questions without really answering them satisfactorily. He says: “It is very difficult to analyze the economic history of fascism, because it was abruptly terminated by a defeat solely of a military and political character”.  He points out that fascist ideology, with roots in Mosca, Pareto and Michels, substitutes a theory of elites for that of social class and that both fascism and Stirnerian anarchism have in common a critique of the bourgeoisie separate from economic relations. Bernardo introduces a distinction between the “restricted state” (Estado Restrito), essentially classical political institutions, and the “extended state” (Estado Amplo) of capitalist firms, suggesting that the fusion to some degree of these two aspects of the state was characteristic of fascism, citing the Italian Alfredo Rocco who already in March of 1919 proposed a corporate organization of the state involving both unions and employers’ associations. Fascist unions never gained much ground in competition with socialist or communist unions. In 1926, legislation separated labor and employers associations, and in 1927 the Carta di Lavoro gave full power over enterprises to the employers. Bernardo argues that, nonetheless, opportunities for competition among capitalists were extremely limited, and cites Mussolini, in an October 1937, saying that “in fascist Italy capital is at the orders of the state”. Giuseppi Bottai, one of the major theoreticians of the Italian corporative state, said that “in the National Council of Corporations the fusion between economics and politics, which constitutes an integral part of the unitary conception of the fascist state, is realized and concretized”. In November 1933, Mussolini said that fascist corporativism would not only supercede economic liberalism but capitalism itself, while also superceding socialism. In a series of measures in March 1936, Mussolini announced the reorganization of industrial firms , which had earlier been saved by massive loans,  into larger entities,  and Bernardo doubts that “following this speech the private character of the management of such firms remained intact”. He sees a similar dynamic in Nazi Germany with the creation of the Hermann Goering Reichswerke. He points out that the “world crisis which began in 1929 brought about a contraction of foreign trade and of international investments and provoked a situation of relative autarchy”

Bernardo sees the “mystical-technocratic” SS as being the fusion, in Germany, of the Restricted State and the Extended State”.   Bernardo sees the demands of workers as the motor of capitalist economic development, spurring capitalists to intensify production to obtain relative surplus-value, whereas fascism, by seeming to suppress or submerge class demands, cripples that development; the historian Tim Mason argued that the destruction of the German workers’ movement made the capitalists lose a sense of their common interests.

Bernardo presents German National Socialism as a “metacapitalism”. Fascist ideology had long distinguished between productive capital and speculative capital,  and in Germany in particular, in Bernardo’s view, a racial program was substituted for an economic program, expressed first of all in Hitler’s absolute indifference to the economic aspects of his state. Through the elimination of the Jews and the enslavement of the Slavs, Hitler planned to build his New Order in the eastern Europe and in Russia. Even with the severe labor shortages of World War II, Hitler was reluctant to allow German women to work,  for ideological reasons.  Slave labor camps were built right next to factories. “How to explain,” asks Bernardo, “that the capitalists of the Reich happily participated in the destruction of the productivity of labor power?”. “If in Marxist terms’, he continues, “which are generally mine as well—this contradiction represents an insuperable paradox…too bad for theory, but this does not turn me away from the facts. Just because we can’t explain something doesn’t make it less real.” Bernardo argues that incompatibility of state slavery with the extraction of surplus value meant that Hitler’s racial policies would destroy capitalism or replace it with a new economic regime”.

We shall return to these questions momentarily.

In discussing the question of fascism and the economy, Bernardo returns to a theme that has run through his writing for 30 years or more: “os gestores”, the managers. He presents interesting material from the 1930’s on the ideas of Anton Ciliga and Lucien Laurat about the Soviet Union (Laurat had concluded by 1931 that the Russian Revolution had produced a “new exploiting class” which was not capitalist). But whereas Laurat’s theory only dealt with the Russian case, the ex-Trotskyist Bruno Rizzi, in his 1939 book The Bureaucratization of the World, came to world-historical conclusions about “bureaucratic collectivism”, a new class system of exploitation that was not capitalist and not socialist. While Bernardo ultimately rejects the theory of bureaucratic collectivism for Russia (seeing it rather as state capitalist),  he sees it as a more valid characterization of the Nazi economy. He provides an extended discussion of state slavery in the Soviet Union. Later, the Nazis sent teams of technical experts to study the Soviet “concentrationary system”. Here is how Bernardo puts it:

“The defeat of Nazism did not wipe out its past. And state slavery, if it ceased to exist, did not lose its historical reality because Hitler and Himmler committed suicide and the Soviet labor camps were emptied out. The question remains entirely to be resolved. The Fuehrer and the regime he led, uninterested in the mechanisms of the economy and being content to leave the world of business to the capitalists, ultimately brought about an extremely far-reaching economic remodeling. In eastern Europe, they destroyed capital’s forms of functioning and installed a new economic and social regime, which was apparently a new mode of production. They did this in the framework of an exclusively racist policy, and in spite of this the economic results were similar, in some of its decisive elements, to the results at which the Soviet Union arrived strictly through a class policy. This paradox, and the role of the managers in this circumvolution of history, are the crucial problem of the Third Reich.”

Bernardo thus turns, for perspective,  to the various regimes that developed in the interwar period. In the Western democracies that embraced Keynesianism, the bourgeoisie was left intact while their role was “remodeled”. Fascism, on the other hand, “respected the framework of order, maintained by the alliance of the managers with the bourgeoisie, but introduced an element of revolt, echoes of the proletarian mobilization”, resulting in the schema

Managers + Bourgeoisie + Proletariat. Already in 1920 Mussolini had called for “driving out the unproductive bourgeoisie”, and under him the rentiers were allowed to survive if they accepted their marginalization. “Here”, writes Bernardo, “we have the secret of revolt inside order, and we see that the managerial class played the central role in all this”. In Spain, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera called for “avoiding communism by destroying capitalism”, advocated the nationalization of credit and the cancellation of rural rents. After 1936, the Falange organized the technocrats.  In Portugal, the Estado Novo made possible the growth of a class of managers from almost nothing. In France, the technocrats of the grandes ecoles came to the fore, led by the brilliant figure of Bichelonne, and Bernardo sees in Bichelonne’s close ties to his Nazi counterpart Albert Speer an anticipation of the Franco-German axis of the contemporary European Union. Following historians of Vichy such as Robert Paxton, Bernardo sees a post-1945 continuity of power of the managers and businessmen, while the fascist demagogues and journalists were sacrificed. Under the Marshall plan, with “parliaments and parties in their accustomed place”, the technocrats and bureaucrats could return to “their shadowy and efficacious vocation”. Finally, Bernardo sees as an illustration of the “activities of the managers as a class” the wartime meetings at the Basel-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the “central bank of central banks” where the financial technicians of the U.S., Britain and Germany discussed the future world monetary order throughout the war, through the mediation of future IMF director Per Jacobsson.

Provocative and over-arching as this analysis is, I find it unconvincing. Bernardo writes: “The facts seem to confirm the theoreticians who affirmed the post-capitalist character of the managerial class and its ability to usher in a new mode of production.

Already the last example mentioned raises one’s eyebrow: for whom were these financial technicians of the BIS working,  if not their respective central banks and, behind them, the bankers who influenced the central banks? And since when is finance capital, whether in private or state hands, “post-capitalist”? A mere survey of post-1945 financial and monetary history, particularly since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973, shows the technicians of central banks and of international institutions such as the BIS or IMF to be servants of the movement of capital, and not some technocratic elite.

Second, Bernardo does not say anything of substance about Hjalmar Schacht’s reflation of the German economy from 1933 to 1938 (he does call it in passing a “financial miracle”) The latter was based on the (in)famous Metallforschungsgesellschaft (Mefo) which issued Mefo-bills at a ratio of 4000:1 of paid-in capital of 100,000 Reichsmarks to finance German rearmament, setting in motion inflationary forces that were the backdrop to Schacht’s 1938 meeting with the Fuehrer,  in which he said containment of the pyramid of debt placed Germany before the choice of curtailing armaments for consumer goods or going to war. The Fuehrer made his choice; Bernardo does not mention this episode either.  (He does indicate that Schacht had lost out to the technocrats around Goering.) The Schachtian reflation was one of the “Wirtschaftswunders” of the 1930’s, winning the admiration of capitalist opinion worldwide, best captured in Keynes’s preface to the 1936 German translation of the General Theory, in which he said in essence that his ideas were being tested in Germany.

Bernardo rejects the theory of  bureaucratic collectivism for the Soviet Union, preferring (correctly) to call the latter state capitalism, but considers it plausible for Nazi Germany. In my opinion, there is no more bureaucratic collectivism in one country than there is socialism in one country; both theories presume the abolition of the capitalist law of value locally while it continues to prevail internationally. Quite missing from Bernardo’s analysis of fascist economics is any serious attempt to portray the world conjuncture, which after 1929 was deflationary and autarchic in the extreme. Similarly missing is the situation of fascism in the larger 1914-1945 “Thirty Years’ War” of transition between British and U.S. world hegemony (exactly the issue, before the elimination of Germany as a contender, that Bernardo’s technicians were puzzling over at the BIS). Seen in the latter context, as well as in the context of  the “late-comer” Germany’s  loss of colonies in World War I (in contrast to the victorious Allies), one can better understand that many of the techniques of state management used in extreme form by the Nazis were used in all major countries to one extent or another, and were relaxed or dismantled with the beginning of a new expansion after 1945.

Bernardo asks how the capitalists of the Reich could have happily participated in the destruction of the productivity of labor power through slave labor, as part of his bureaucratic collectivist argument.  Indeed, what kind of capitalist is that?  He never seems to entertain the idea, following Marx and Luxemburg’s notion of “socialism or barbarism”, that a national capital, hemmed in as Germany was by the exactions of the Versailles Treaty and its lack of colonial outlets in a period of deflation and autarchy, would turn to the cannibalization of its own assets, starting with the “asset” labor power, to produce an adequate rate of profit. That is precisely what the Schachtian reflation accomplished, and when that (combining with a significant running down of Germany’s capital plant which was one factor in the later military defeat) began to attenuate, it was necessary, as Schacht told Hitler, to seize some more assets to loot.

The preceding brief précis may be erroneous, but Bernardo’s attempt to portray Nazi Germany as plausibly bureaucratic collectivist would be much stronger if he took account of, or even mentioned that alternative analysis.

But with this testing of the bureaucratic collectivist theory against the realities of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Bernardo has only begun to excavate the subterranean links between the radical left and the radical right. He turns to the genesis of the concept of the “proletarian nation”. Bernardo rightly argues that Marxism itself originated in both bourgeois rationalism and the “irrationalism of the counter-revolutionary romantics”, after Hegel synthesized “Jacobin rationalism and counter-revolutionary irrationalism”. Bernardo offers a long discussion of Georg Lukacs’ 1952 (Stalinist) work The Destruction of Reason, comparing it unfavorably to Karl Mannheim’s Conservatism. “Lukacs’s attack on the destruction of reason can be read as an attempt to carry out, in the history of modern philosophy, an absolute divide between, on one hand, the dialectic of Hegel and its supercession by the materialist dialectic founded by Marx and Engels and, on the other hand,the other currents, relegated to the camp of irrationalism.”. Mannheim is less schematic; he “used the dialectic to show how in the proletarian critique of capitalism it was possible to find themes and forms of thought which had originated in the aristocratic critique of the bourgeoisie. Where Lukacs claimed to make a rigorous delimitation, Mannheim observed shocks and interferences, assimilations and transformations”.

There follows an exhaustive examination of Marx and Engels of the national question in their period, in which Bernardo argues that “Marx and Engels transposed the class struggle to the struggle between nations”.  Most of Bernardo’s focus is on some of the founders’ unfortunate assertions about most Slavs (with the exception of Poles) as “peoples without history” who would do well to accept the light of civilization from Germany. He also underscores Marx’s well-known Russophobia, ranging from a belief that a successful bourgeois revolution in Germany in 1848 would have to wage war against Russia to his support for the Ottoman Empire in stopping Russian expansionism. (This Russophobia was markedly curtailed with Marx’s discovery, in the late 1870’s, of the Russian peasant commune, which by 1882 he said could be a point of departure for communism.) It was certainly true that many of Marx and Engels’ Russophobic utterances on international politics later provided ammunition for the German Social Democrats in their capitulation to national chauvinism during World War I. Bernardo plausibly sees the mainstream of the Second International also extending the logic of the founders’ attitudes toward the “peoples without history” (as Marx and Engels called most Slavs) to Social Democratic support for European colonialism as a “humanitarian” force.

From this problematic legacy on the national question, in Bernardo’s view, it was only a logical next step for the Italian nationalist Enrico Corradini, in 1910, to develop the concept of Italy as a “proletarian nation”. Such a concept might have fallen through the cracks “if at the same time, and not only in Italy, there had not been a convergence of a certain extreme left with the nationalist and authoritarian extreme right. At least initially, the most dramatic of these convergences was between Georges Sorel, the revolutionary syndicalists he influenced, and the Action Francaise of Maurras. The transformation was completed in Mussolini’s evolution during and after World War I from the far-left wing of the Italian Socialist Party to the first fascist seizure of power in 1922.

There is no question that Marx and Engels’ writings on the Slavs make painful reading today. But Bernardo presents them as an argument that Marx and Engels “shifted the class struggle to the struggle between nations”. This strikes me as excessive. Flawed as the founders’ writings on international relations from  1848 to 1895 may be, lamentable as their excessive faith in the civilizing role of Germany sounds after the 20th century, their attention to these questions flowed from what they had said in the Manifesto: that communists try in every situation to unify the international proletariat. One may quarrel today Marx and Engels’ hostility to Czech independence from the Habsburgs or their support for the Ottoman empire as a prop against Tsarist Russia, but the fact remains that they made these judgements in the context of international working-class strategy.

Further, Bernardo, as part of his self-critique of the workers’ movement, is implying that there exists some slight thread of continuity between Marx and Engels’ German national chauvinism and Hitler’s view of the Slavs as Untermenschen. There is no question that their excessive Germanophilia percolated through the German SPD and helped set the stage for August 1914. But Bernardo does not so much as mention the acrimonious debates on the national question that went on for 20 years prior to World War I, with the viewpoints of Rosa Luxemburg, the Austro-Marxists (above all Adler and Bauer), Lenin and Kautsky (to name a few) all disputing the nature of the relationship between nationalism and socialism. Bernardo almost seems to think that anyone who asks the question strategically is somehow on a slippery slope to the ultra-nationalism linked to a socialist program he sees as essential to fascism. This is much too facile. I agree with Luxemburg against Kautsky and Lenin on the Polish question ca. 1908, but it would never occur to me to see Lenin as a proto-fascist for arguing that the workers of the oppressor nations had a responsibility to break with their bourgeoisie to show good faith to the workers of oppressed nations.

Rarely has a book on fascism devoted such extensive attention to the fate of the Russian Revolution. The link is in the concept of “National Bolshevism”.   Here,   Bernardo enters into the most original, controversial and problematic assertions of his book. His main point seems to be that the striking similarities between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany at the height of Stalinism in the late 1930’s are fundamental for an understanding of the latter (as shown in his consideration of the bureaucratic collectivist hypothesis).

Bernardo argues that within months the initial internationalist impulse of the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks had begun to be entwined with the interests of a nation state. In the weeks leading up to the revolution and thereafter, there had been extensive fraternization between Russian and German troops. But with the Bolshevik acceptance of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, this changed.. In criticizing the signing of the treaty by the Bolsheviks, Bernardo does not merely echo the calls of figures such as Bukharin, who also opposed it and argued for a revolutionary war against Europe; Bernardo argues that Brest-Litovsk “set the stage for the way in which the (Russian) civil war was waged” and helped to retard or abort the German Revolution. Bernardo argues that Soviet Russia could have supported guerrilla warfare against the German and Austrian armies in the Ukraine during the nine crucial months leading up to the German Revolution, an hypothesis supported by the successful guerrilla warfare waged by Makhno’s forces in the civil war shortly thereafter. (He later makes a similar point about the impact of the bureaucratic approach, precluding use of guerrilla warfare against Franco, by the Spanish Republic.) The loss of the Ukraine during those months and the German repression carried out against the revolutionary movement, and later the popular hostility to extreme Bolshevik requisitions to alleviate famine in Russia,  were factors in preventing the Red Army from linking up with the postwar revolutionary movements in Rumania and Hungary in 1919.  While these are highly pertinent criticisms, Bernardo’s characterization of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (which was after all a gamble on a German defeat that paid off) as a direct precursor of the Stalin-Hitler Pact of 1939 seems to me excessive; a better precedent is the Rapallo Treaty of 1922, after the ebb of world-revolutionary potential, above all in Germany. (That treaty formalized clandestine maneuvers by the  German army in the Ukraine, which had been going on since 1920.)

But this was hardly the only case where national power-political considerations trumped an internationalist revolutionary strategy. In June 1920, Trotsky (as People’s Commissar of War) sent a secret note to Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders: “All information on the situation in Khiva, in Persia, in Bukhara and in Afghanistan confirm the fact that a Soviet revolution in these countries is going to cause us major difficulties at the present time…Until the situation in the West is stabilized and until our industries and transport systems have improved,  a Soviet expansion in the east could prove to be no less dangerous than a war in the West…a potential Soviet revolution in the east is today to our advantage principally as an important element in diplomatic relations with England. From this I conclude that: 1) in the east we should devote ourselves to political and educational work…and at the same time advise all possible caution in actions calculated to require our military support, or which might require it; 2) we have to continue by all possible channels at our disposal to arrive at an understanding with England about the east.” This perspective came to fruition in spring 1920 in the Republic of Gilan, in northern Persia, which the Soviet government initially supported as an independent soviet republic. By the fall of 1920, however, Soviet relations with the government of Tehran had improved and the Soviets were advising the Persian Communist Party to limit its activities and that socialist revolution would have to await the completion of the bourgeois revolution. In the same period, the Bolsheviks signed a commercial treaty with Turkey (March 1921) after Kemal Pasha had wiped out the entire central committee of the Turkish Communist Party in 1920. After Brest-Litovsk, in Bernardo’s view, “the Soviet rulers pursued a nationalist policy which sought international support, and not a policy subordinating national interests to an internationalist strategy”.

Bernardo situates these developments in a long and interesting discussion of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. He recognizes the uniqueness of Trotsky’s (and Parvus’s) assessment, against all Bolsheviks and Mensheviks from 1905 to 1917, that the bourgeois revolution in Russia would spill over into the proletarian revolution, a view first confirmed by the events of 1905 and then embraced by Lenin in the “April Theses” in 1917, also against the virtual entirety of the Bolshevik party, schooled in the “two-stage” theory.  For Bernardo, Trotsky was arguing that “social relationships” could in such a development take precedence over the “relations of production”. After 1917, however, Bernardo sees Trotsky as relapsing to an application of permanent revolution to the productive forces in the Soviet Union themselves, no longer asserting the centrality of the action of the working class. However, at no point does Bernardo seem to acknowledge that Trotsky’s analysis, before or after 1917,  was predicated on the idea of a successful working-class revolution in western Europe, principally in Germany.  Bernardo may be right in showing how the Bolsheviks cut the ground from under their own feet by their policies, and further right in saying that those policies flowed from their distrust of autonomous action by the base, but Lenin and Trotsky did say a thousand times that without revolution in the West the Bolsheviks were lost.

Nevertheless, the story of National Bolshevism is far from complete. 1921 finds Antonio Gramsci seeking collaboration with Gabriele d’Annunzio, the proto-fascist poet-adventurer whose seizure of Fiume in 1919 was a direct anticipation of Mussolini’s 1922 coup. But far and away the most important episode of National Bolshevism took place in Germany. (Bernardo never mentions that Lenin, at least, called National Bolshevik “eine himmelschreiende Absurditaet”, a monstrous absurdity.) National Bolshevism emerged as a current in the soviets and workers’ councils in the Hamburg- Bremen region under the influence of Laufenberg and Wolffheim, two former IWW militants. National Bolshevism meant essentially a nationalist revolution by the working class.  The term was first used by Bela Kun, head of the short-lived Communist government in Hungary in 1919, and cropped up in some statements of Karl Radek, the Communist revolutionary who conducted Comintern business from his prison cell in Berlin in the same year, meeting with members of the German business  and military elite as well as with the German radical left. (He also laid the foundation for Russia’s commercial treaty with Attaturk in 1921, mentioned earlier. In 1923, the German CP undertook the brief “Schlageter turn” of several months during which it worked with the Nazis in a campaign against the Versailles Treaty, staging rallies and sharing podiums from which Radek denounced “Jewish bankers” in a way sometimes difficult to distinguish from fascist rhetoric. The Rapallo Treaty was one major fruit of Radek’s efforts.

Bernardo details the impact of National Bolshevism on different figures and currents of the German extreme right from 1918 to 1933, including Ernst Niekisch and Gregor Strasser, who emerged as the most prominent figure of the “red-brown” current in the Nazi Party itself. He also provides material on the above-mentioned secret collaboration between the Reichswehr and the Red Army in the Ukraine from 1920 onward.

Perhaps Bernardo’s most striking example of “National Bolshevism” is the notorious 1922 episode of the South African mass insurrection, (with some ties to the Komintern) summed up in the grotesque slogan “Workers of the World Unite For a White South Africa!”. This little-known episode is also “flagrantly contemporary”. He also details the left-to-right trajectories of French figures of the 1930’s and 1940’s as Marcel Deat, Jacques Doriot and Gaston Bergery.

Finally, special mention must be made of Bernardo’s treatment of the Spanish revolution and civil war, unlike almost anything I have ever read on the subject, in which oscillations between the far left and the far right abound with as much complexity as in the rise of German fascism. The parallels he cites between the failures to fully exploit guerrilla warfare in Russian and Spanish revolutions have already been mentioned. But even more interesting is his analysis of the role of the Falange ideologue Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, who (prior to his execution in 1936) argued for outreach to both the anarcho-syndicalists of the CNT-FAI and and the moderate wing of the socialist PSOE, an outreach not without results, as the Falange was able to recruit significant numbers of anarchists in Nationalist territory. After the defeat in the streets in Barcelona in May 1937, more bureaucratic elements of the CNT took over and in the final weeks of the war made a bizarre peace offer to Franco. After the war, the Franco regime was able to recruit some of these bureaucratic CNT elements to staff its vertical trade unions, both from jails in Spain and exile in France.

Having completed this panorama of the social history and political typology of fascism, Bernardo turns to the realm of ideology. “The only revolutions are racial revolutions”, proclaimed Hitler in 1930, and Bernardo traces out how profoundly race theory influenced the ideology and practice of Nazism. This in itself is not terribly new, but Bernardo counterposes it to all other Marxist interpretations and seeks to tie it closely to shortcomings of the left as well.    He covers the fairly well-known ground of Wagner, Gobineau,  the exaltation of the Nordic race, Aryan physics, Himmler’s “new paganism”, the linguistic racism of German romanticism, the cult of folklore, the geopolitics of Mackinder and Haushofer, and eugenics. More provocative is his discussion of precursors in the practice of Western democracies, such as racism in the U.S. during World War II, the British role in the Bengal famine of 1943, or the internment camps in South Africa during the Boer War. “The method employed by Himmler…reproduced on an intensive scale the form in which the imperialist democracies had administered the peoples of the colonies.” This leads into a discussion of Zionism, where the ideas of the “revisionist” (i.e. fascist) Jabotinsky percolated through the whole movement and “the Labour Party implemented the program of the revisionists”.

Rather more original than his discussion of ideology is Bernardo’s section on fascist aesthetics: “fascist leaders were dandies of a new type”, and fascist ideology was less a politics than an aesthetics. “…(fascism’s) consistency results, above all, in the supreme incoherence between action and words.” “The heroic false practice, which had no other substance than the ritualization of ideology, served to hide, or to obliviate the desolate banality of the real practice”.  Mussolini fancied himself a poet, with the masses as his raw material; Hitler, the failed architectural student, was also an artist. “I am an artist, not a politician”, Hitler told the British ambassador to Germany one week before the outbreak of World War II. Bernardo reaches far back into the history of bourgeois aesthetics, in the 18th century: “Is it not amazing” he writes,  “that, at the very moment when technology was beginning to make possible the control of natural elements, works of art were expressing the precariousness of the human being, victim of the fury of the elements?” Bernardo finds these tendencies in Burke’s idea of the sublime, as in 19th century artists such as Turner.  “Is it not revealing that while Kant, one of the founders of bourgeois philosophy,  was theorizing an a  priori space and time, the irrationalist aesthetics of the bourgeoisie showed itself incapable of accepting any other space and time than those it projected into revivalism and exoticism?” To these tendencies, Bernardo counterposes a figure such as Goya, who portrayed such discomforting realities as the real carnage of war and workplace accidents in his work.  The English garden went to great lengths, using modern technology, to conceal every trace of that technology in its realizations. But “it was not enough to fabricate nature; it was also necessary to fabricate time by fabricating ruins”. From the Baroque onward, ruins became “picturesque”. “With grottos and ruins capitalism hid factory production”.  The fascination with ruins culminated in a fascination with death, both among many fascist artists and intellectuals, but also in movements such as the Rumanian Iron Guard.

Bernardo concludes with a discussion of the ways in which fascist ideology, through dissimulation, survived the massive defeat of World War II., particularly because the victory of the liberal democracies enabled them to rewrite the history of capitalism and downplay their own totalitarian impulse. He presents some interesting material on France (as in the fascists around DeGaulle from 1940 onward) but by far his most interesting treatment is of the Third World, where Corradini’s concept of the “proletarian nation” is alive and well. Through an analysis of Japan as “an anti-colonial imperialism” in the 1931-1945 period, Bernardo is able to show how the Japanese occupation of much of Asia, including many British,  French and Dutch colonies,  gave decisive impetus to  “national liberation” movements such as that of S.C. Bose in India (himself a renegade from the Congress Party left-wing) and to states such as Sukarno’s  Indonesia. Nazi Germany similarly had a major impact on Arab nationalism, as the enemy of British imperialism, ranging from the Mufti of Jerusalem al-Husseini to Nasser and Sadat in Egypt. Bernardo argues that Marcus Garvey, who founded his Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914, can be arguably seen as a precursor of the fascist phenomenon as a whole. “Third Worldism”, in short,  is “one of the most lasting results of fascism”.

In a capstone chapter, Bernardo sees important continuities between fascist nature mysticism and contempotary ecologism, where the old ideas are propagated not so much by the lunatic right as by their banalization through the society and across the whole political spectrum. This, again, strikes me as somewhat peremptory and hardly settled in the space Bernardo allots to it.

To conclude: the heart of this book is the assertion of a thread in the tradition of the workers’ movement from Marx and Engels’ hostility to the Slavs to an ostensible (and in my view, quite inadequately demonstrated) shift from class struggle to  the struggle between nations; from there to the “proletarian nation” thesis first formulated in Italy before World War I; from there to the almost immediate loss of the internationalist dimension by the Russian Revolution to the National Bolshevik phenomenon (one that has in fact received all too little attention); from there to the notable similarities between Soviet state capitalism and German Nazism (and possibly bureaucratic collectivism) by the late 1930’s; from there to Hitler’s genocidal New Order in the East after 1939.  Bernardo is certainly right , and unusual, in underscoring these overlaps between  the workers’ movement and fascism. But, once again, the connections are, at decisive points in the presentation, poorly made, and I doubt that its large kernel of truth will be communicated to many readers, either in Portuguese or in an eventual translation. With the impact of the contemporary far-right in Europe in recent years on significant numbers of workers in France, Belgium,  Switzerland, and Austria, the diamond-in-the-rough quality of this book is all the more unfortunate.