Fascism – some thoughts

About twelve years ago, a company for which I worked had a new MD appointed. He knew nothing of the business but tried fanatically to impose a one-size-fits-all version of lessons learned in American business school and from corporate self-help books. this ideology involved a lot of cheer-leading, goal-setting and monitoring, and a standing policy to fire 10% of the workforce annually.

I was used to to the sort of brutal egoism that often drives management, but this was of a different kind and from my knowledge of history and sociology I came to realise that our new MD was unwittingly trying to create a fascist organisation. This realisation drove me to prepare the following notes for what they are worth. Followers of the antics of Donald Trump may find it interesting to consider how far he conforms to the type.

by Jim Williams

This paper is concerned with principles of organization, not policies. An organization may be fascist in its structure while pursuing benevolent objectives.

1 The Triumph of Will.
This is the guiding principle from which most of the other characteristics of fascist organizations follow. Goals are not limited by external constraints. All goals can be achieved by the exercise of Will. Failure is therefore due to weak individuals or treachery. As the highest value, Will stands above others such as technical competence, since a Leader can always command and direct the required professionals. Frequently the Leader is influenced by a guiding text emphasizing Will. The Triumph of Will manifests itself in assertive self-belief which can mask a weak, underlying identity. Its expression therefore has sado-masochistic undertones, which can be seen in its preferred imagery. Fascist Leaders have a strong sense of Mission to bring some form of salvation to a failing organization. They may attribute this to God, Destiny etc.

2 The Cult of Leadership
Will is embodied in individuals (Leaders) not systems. Leaders are identified praised and rewarded at the expense of system, method and tradition. Great effort is put into the development of Leaders. The defining quality of Leadership is Will, not skills or professional training. This is a formal doctrine, the Leadership Principle (Fűhrerprinzip).

3 Propaganda
Because success depends upon the cultivation of a state of mind (Will), extensive propaganda is carried out to influence the masses to have faith in Leaders and Will and specific policies. Posters, rallies etc will be directed to that end. Similar effort will be applied to creating the external image. The propaganda will go beyond the presentation of facts, since it designed for persuasion and image. Its truth will not be a high value.

4 Task Oriented Structures
Hierarchical, procedural based systems with defined competencies and boundaries (conventional bureaucracy) are superseded by ad hoc structures to meet specific tasks, each task force headed by a Leader. The older structures are not normally replaced wholesale, because the task-based approach is by nature ad hoc rather than programmatic and the Leadership lacks the concentrated attention to execute a complete reorganisation; so the two systems exist in parallel. This leads to overlapping competencies and lack of clarity. In the Nazi system the existence of parallel organs performing the same functions was endemic. The organs would have different sources such as the Party, the old bureaucracy and the personal offices of the Nazi chiefs.

5 Personal Influence
Although there may a be a formal programme of development of new Leaders and formal structures for deciding policy, the emphasis on the primacy of the individual Will over procedure means, in reality, that the promotion of persons and the definition of policy depend upon the relationship of individuals to the Leader(s). This leads to competition for the attention of the Leader and the development of informal cliques outside the official structures at which policy is decided. Because skill and professionalism are subordinate to the display of Will, the criteria for becoming a member of the Leadership cadre are in reality subjective and known only to the Leader.

6 Cronyism and Corruption
The importance of personal relations at the expense of formal qualifications, leads to the Leader surrounding himself with cronies. The overriding of formal procedures to allow the untrammeled exercise of Will and Leadership, compromises the conventional checks on honesty and accountability and is frequently accompanied by corruption. Psychologically, the ideology of Will is underpinned by self-belief, which easily becomes self-interest.

7 Internal Conflict
Because of the clash of personal Wills and the systemic lack of clarity, conflicts arise at several interfaces:

• Between Leaders for the attention of the Supreme Leader and over resources for their own goals;
• Between task forces over priorities and resources.
• Turf wars because of ill-defined boundaries and overlapping competencies.
• Between Leaders and the remnants of professionals, bureaucrats and traditional leaders.

The lack of effective formal systems means these conflicts can be resolved only by the Supreme Leader which enhances his authority and power.

8 Intellectual Laziness
The primary task of the Supreme Leader is to establish himself as leader, maintain his aura of charisma and sell the message of Will and Leadership. It is not accidental that Hitler and Mussolini were both publicists: Hitler as orator; Mussolini as orator and journalist. Both were abysmal administrators with negligible interest in the detail of executing policy. Their impact was ad hoc, according to whether their interest could be attracted. This is not surprising since fascist organizational doctrine downplays technical competence. Having achieved their positions through strength of character or cronyism, fascist Leaders have mediocre intellectual ability and professional training. They tend to disparage professionals and override their opinions. This can bring measures of success through energy and unconventional thinking, especially in the short term before incoherency of policy becomes apparent. In the long term however, professionals are likely to be more successful than amateurs. The laziness of fascist Leaders creates scope for a powerful chief of staff (cf Martin Bormann) who formulates and distributes the Leader’s views and controls access to him. Lack of intellectual rigour and a desire to prove ‘so-called experts’ wrong incline fascist Leaders to subscribe to unorthodox theories, and their sense of Destiny can lead to belief in the occult and mysticism.

9 Confused Priorities – Opportunism
The dependence on attracting and keeping the attention of the Leader and the importance of personal influence, mean that priorities are not established by consistent rational criteria and will fluctuate depending on the degree of attention and influence at any one time and the dynamics of the Leadership cadre: ie which Leaders and policies are in favour. Combined with intellectual laziness and lack of skill on the part of fascist Leaders, policies will lack coherence and strategic underpinning.

10 Lack of Collegiality and Representation
The primacy of the individual Will and the Leader is inconsistent with collegial or representative decision-making: the individual cannot be reconciled with the collective. Hitler ceased to call cabinet meetings after he came to power. His evening dinners became very important and his chiefs had to make sure that they had representatives there who would take note of Hitler’s dinner conversations. Because of his lack of interest in administration, these notes became the basis on which others had to decide what he really wanted: what policies, laws etc. were applicable. A Fűhrerbefehl (order of the Leader) was commonly not issued by Hitler personally and formally but simply culled from table talk. Other forms of collective and representational government fell into disuse and were converted into organs of propaganda rather than discussion or representation. The Reichstag was used only to make important announcements. Popular rallies to mobilize the masses behind the Leader replaced representative organs to express popular will. Rallies increase in number to create a pseudo democracy with the appearance of popular participation.

11 Witch hunts
The emphasis on Will personalizes problems. Failure is due to weakness or an opposing malevolent Will. Fascist organizations see treachery everywhere, at the level of both groups and individuals. The extent of internal conflict, corruption and jockeying for position stimulates denunciations. Witch-hunts in whatever form is available are characteristic. In addition to paranoia-fuelled witch-hunts, the Leadership often regards purges as good in themselves in order to maintain the revolutionary dynamic.

12 Youth and Modernism
Fascist ideology can be described as revolutionary conservatism. Frequently it will claim as a long-term goal the restoration of an ancient glory, and it may make an appeal to some groups who see themselves as threatened by change. Sitting uneasily with this is a commitment to modernism, which justifies the overthrow of existing structures. The Leadership swings opportunistically between these two themes. Modernism is largely represented by technology, the superficial trappings of which are exciting to fascist Leaders. Culturally, fascists tend to be conservative because the Leaders vest their effort in action rather than contemplation and do not spare the energy to understand new cultural forms. There is, however, great emphasis on the cooption of youth to the régime. This is part of its identification with modernism and dynamism as represented by youth, and also because youth provides the alternative cadres to take over from the old gang. In the long run this commitment to youth is difficult to sustain beyond the level of propaganda, because the Leadership is not inherently self-renewing. Unless removed by external forces, its self-belief/self-interest will make it cling to power, though limited openings will be provided by internal power struggles and purges.

13 The cult of sport and the body
An archetypal expression of Will is competitive sport, which also exemplifies the fascist identification with youth. The cultivation of physical fitness is typical and can also be united with a love of mass spectacles as part of the régime’s manipulation of popular opinion. Fascist aesthetic also gives a high place to images of youth and fitness, with a narcissistic, homoerotic undertone.

14 Policy failure and inefficiency
In the long run fascist organizations tend to fail in their goals (though they may not be overthrown). Hitler made gross errors of policy which landed him in a losing war and, contrary to popular myth, scholars agree that Nazi organization was chaotic and inefficient. Statistics of industrial production seem to show that Germany was less efficient at increasing war production than much maligned Britain. The reasons for failure are systemic.

• Over dependence on the skill and character of Leaders, often of mediocre ability and sociopathic personality.
• Irrational and changing priorities.
• Lack of professionalism.
• Cronyism and corruption.
• Internal conflict, witchhunts and demoralization.
• Unwillingness to face facts that conflict with self-image.

It might be worth considering how far, in structural terms, Enron was a fascist organization.

Fascist leadership is dangerous. The sense of Destiny, especially if accompanied by early successes, promotes in the Leader a belief that he is an exception to the general rule. In turn this leads to his overreaching himself and undertaking an impossible project in the teeth of all advice to the contrary and with disastrous results. The downfall of Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon was due to this tendency to extremism.

15 Fascists and other Autocrats
There is a tendency to use “fascist” as a term of abuse and apply it to all autocrats. However, true fascism has specific characteristics that distinguish it from other autocratic forms such as aristocracy, particularly in the source of the Leader’s authority and his mission. The fascist Leader derives his authority from Destiny and his own Will, and is typically in opposition to or, at best, in uneasy alliance with traditional elites. The aristocrat derives his authority from tradition and superior birth and is at ease in his society. The fascist Leader is a radical carrying out a mission to bring salvation to an organization or country in moral decline. The aristocrat is a conservative, either an outright reactionary or engaged in a process of gradual management of change.