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Thinking about how fascism develops, quotes from The Great Transformation

The Great Transformation
by Karl Polanyi ; 1944, 1957
Pages 237-245

Apparently K. Polanyi is a conservative thinker. And yet there are some powerful insights to be found here, insights that seem to be sometimes independent of ideology to only one side of thinking, especially when it comes to capitalism! Especially interesting, I think, for those evolutionaries (not “revolutionaries”) who wish to make a qualitative escape from the traps of ideology, of forever-only-Left or Right-wing Eurocentric/colonial and neo-colonial ways of thinking and seeing! In that light, I wish to share this as “ammo” for increased critical consciousness! And invite dialog, as always!

Page 237:
“[Fascism] offered and escape from institutional deadlock which was essentially alike in a large number of countries…

“The fascist solution of the impasse reached by liberal capitalism can be described as a reform of market economy achieved at the price of the extirpation of all democratic institutions, both in the industrial and in the political realm. The economic system which was in peril of disruption would thus be revitalized, while the people themselves were subjected to a re-education designed to de-naturalize the individual and make him unable to function as the responsible unit of the body politic.”

(quotes himself, in “The Essence of Fascism” In [journal?] Christianity and the Social Revolution, 1935)

“This re-education, comprising the tenets of a political religion that denied the idea of the brotherhood of man in all its forms, was achieved through an act of mass conversion enforced against recalcitrants by scientific methods…

“The appearance of such a movement [in such a widespread way, not dependent on how ‘civilized’] should never have been ascribed to local causes, national mentalities, or historical backgrounds as was so consistently done by contemporaries. Facism had as little to do with the Great War as with the Versailles Treaty… The movement appeared in defeated countries like Bulgaria and in victorious ones like [Y]ugoslavia, in countries of Northern temperament…and of Southern temperament…in countries of Aryan race…and non-Aryan race…in countries of Catholic…and in protestant ones…in soldierly communities…and civilian ones…in old cultures…and in new ones. In fact there was no type of background…that made a country immune to fascism, once the conditions for its emergence were given. (237-238)

“…The very term ‘movement’ was misleading since it implied some kind of enrollment or personal participation in large numbers. If anything was characteristic of fascism it was its independence of such popular manifestations. Though usually aiming at a mass following, its potential strength was reckoned not by the numbers of adherents, but by the influence of the persons in high positions whose good will the fascist leaders possessed, and whose influence in the community could be counted upon to shelter them…thus taking the risks out of revolution.
“Hitler was eventually put in power by the feudalist clique around President Hindenburg, just as Mussolini and Primo de Rivera were ushered into office by their respective soveriegns…In no case was an actual revolution against constituted authority launched; fascist tactics were invaribly those of a sham rebellion arranged with the tacit approval of the authorities who pretended to have3 been over-whelmed by force.

[(note: with many patriotic soldiers no doubt “sacrificed”)]

“There were no accepted criteria of fascism, nor did it possess conventional tenets.Yet one significant feature of all its organized forms was the abruptness with which they appeared and faded out again…”

“…where a handful of scantily armed rebels were enabled to storm the supposedly impregnable strongholds of reaction, then the “fascist situation” was its complete parallel except for the fact that here the bulwarks of democracy and constitutional liberties were stormed and their defenses found wanting  in the same spectacular fashion. In Prussia, in July, 1932, the legal government of the Social Democrats, entrenched in the seat of legitimate power, capitulated to the mere threat of unconstitutional violence on the part of Herr [Franz?] von Papen. Some six months later Hitler possessed himself peacefully of the highest positions of power, whence he at once launched a revolutionary attack…To imagine that it was the strength of the movement which created situations such as these, and not to see that it was the situation that gave birth in this case to the movement, is to miss the outstanding lesson of the last decades.

“Fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function. Hence, it was world-wide, catholic in scope…”

“Counterrevolutions were the usual backswing of the political pendulum towards a state of affairs that had been violently disturbed. Such moves have been typical in Europe at least since the English Commonwealth [(ed’s question: post-Roman invasion?)], and had but limited connection with the social processes of their time. In the [nineteen]twenties numerous situations of this kind developed…partly due to the backwash of defeat, not to the forward move of democracy. The job of counterrevolution was mainly political…The alliances and clashes of conservatives and fascists during this period concerned mainly the share [of the spoils]…Now, fascism was a revolutionary tendency directed as much against conservativism as against the competing force of socialism. That did not preclude the fascists from seeking power in the political field by offering their services to the counterrevolution. On the contrary, they claimed ascendancy chiefly by virtue of the alleged impotence of conservatism to accomplish that job, which was unavoidable if socialism was to be barred…[The conservatives] deprived the working-class parties of influence and power, without giving in to the nazi.

241: (…)
“[various nations able to keep fascism in limbo]…In Italy alone were the conservatives unable to restore work-discipline in industry without providing the fascists with a chance of gaining power.

I put the following quote in while thinking about One World Government consequences, here–ed:
“…in a world in which the only existing organization of international law, international order, and international peace rested on the balance of [allied?–ed] power, a number of countries had been made powerless without any intimation of the kind of system that would replace the old. …The nascent fascist movement put itself almost everywhere into the service of the national issue; it could hardly have survived without this “pick-up” job.

“Yet, [fascism of both a Left and Right nature?–ed] used this issue only as a stepping stone; at other times it struck the pacifist and isolationist note. In England and the United States it was allied with appeasement; in Austria the Heimwehr cooperated with sundry Catholic pacifists; and Catholic fascism was anti-nationalist, on principle. Huey Long needed no border conflict with Mississippi or Texas to launch his fascist movement from Baton Rouge…[Ed’s note: Huey Long was a Leftist/Populist, anti-banking, anti-rich “share the wealth” US Senator, assassinated in 1935, according to Wikipedia; thus the author putting him into such a category might be viewed as being labeled wrongly by Leftists, and yet what would anti-authoritarians say? And what would John T. Gatto, a critic of mass US education say about Long’s desire to expand educational institutions?]

“In its struggle for political power fascism is entirely free to disregard or to use local issues, at will. Its aim transcends the political and economic framework: it is social. It puts a political religion into the service of a degenerative process. In its rise it excludes only a very few emotions from its orchestra; yet once victorious it bars from the band wagon all but a very small group of motivations, though again extremely characteristic ones. Unless we distinguish closely between this pseudo intolerance on the road to power, we can hardly hope to understand the subtle but decisive difference between the sham-nationalism of some fascist movements during the revolution, and the specifically imperialistic nonnationalism which they developed after the revolution.”

[here cites H. Heymann, in <i>Plan for Permanent Peace</i>, 1941: Cf. Bruning’s letter of January 8th, 1940]
[discusses Bruning’s beliefs about his being put out by Hindenburg’s clique, but author says this seems immaterial…, citing H. Rauschning, <i>The Voice of Destruction</i>, 1940]

“Both in Germany and in Italy fascism could seize power only because it was able to use as its lever unsolved national issues…[a good portion left out here by ed].
“In reality, the part played by fascism was determined by one factor: the condition of the market system.

“During the period 1917-23 governments occasionally sought fascist help to restore the law: no more was needed to set the market system going. Fascism remained undeveloped.

“In the period 1924-29, when the restoration of the market system seemed ensured, fascism faded out as a political force altogether.
“After 1930 market economy was in a general crisis. Within a few years fascism was a world power.

“In the majority of countries the peasantry turned against the urban workers; in some countries fascist movements were started by officers and gentry, who gave a lead to the peasantry…

[(Ed’s note: today the peasantry might be viewed as marginalized rural people, including non-corporate mainline farmers?)]

“[Calling for law and order (“mooted”? [up for discussion–ed]), no question of radical reform raised, no sign of fascist revolution was apparent]:
 These movements were only fascist in form, that is to say only in so far as civilian bands, so-called irresponsible elements, made use of force and violence with the connivance of persons in authority. [Ed’s note: Political Correctness realities??]

“It was in the third period –after 1929– that the true significance of fascism became apparent. The deadlock of the market system was evident…It now emerged as an alternative solution of the problem of an industrial society.
“An adventitious but by no means accidental event started the destruction of the international system. …[Wall Street slump, Britain, and then USA going off gold standard, and Disarmament Conference ceased to meet, and in 1934 Germany withdrawing from the League of Nations]
“These symbolic events ushered in an epoch of spectacular change in the organization of the world.Three powers, Japan, Germany, and Italy, rebelled against the status quo and sabotaged the crumbling institutions of peace. At the same time the factual organization of world economy refused to function. [Etc…]

“Germany…fostered economic autarchy (??)…”

Goes on to discuss how Germany “easily managed to cammouflage her true intentions since neither Wall Street nor the City of London nor Geneva suspected that the nazis were actually banking on the final dissolution of nineteenth century [Eurocentric, colonial] economy. ...Illusions…survived in Downing Street up to the time of Munich and after.”

Economic history reveals that the emergence of national markets was in no way the result of the gradual and spontaneous emancipation of the economic sphere from government control.  On the contrary, the market has been the outcome of a conscious and often violent intervention on the part of government which imposed the market organization on society for noneconomic ends.”


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