Fascism, communism and our democracy have common roots

August 10, 1998|By William Pfaff

PARIS -- Whether Spain's Francisco Franco was really a Fascist, or only an anti-Communist authoritarian, would not seem a very urgent question today, but it has recently stirred angry debate in Italy of all places.

Leftists have condemned the argument recently made by Italy's former NATO ambassador, Sergio Romano, that while Franco was a ruthless dictator , he actually was simply a reactionary anti-Communist and anti-democratic military dictator.

Moreover, Mr. Romano said, Franco kept Spain happily out of World War II and restored its monarchy, paving the way for democracy to blossom again in the 1970s.

The controversy Mr. Romano provoked has more to do with current Italian politics than with Spanish history. The Marxist or post-Marxist left still has considerable influence among Italy's intelligentsia and has an obvious investment in portraying any kind of anti-communism or anti-Marxism as fascist.

To suggest that Franco was not a fascist, and that Spain was better off with him as its dictator from the '40s to the '70s than it would have been had Spain's Communists come to power, is to them a defense of fascism.

This is nonsense, but interesting nonsense, since it arises from the effort to rebuild a center-right in Italy to take the place of the largely discredited Christian Democrats, while resisting the self-interested rightist populism of the television magnate Silvio Berlusconi. Mr. Romano is affirming the existence of a democratic and intelligent right.

Communist influence

He also wants to reduce the influence the former Communists now exercise in the center-left "Olive Tree" governing coalition, which is composed of a fragment of the old Communist party together with reformists from the Christian Democratic movement.

The controversy is much like the one that broke out in Germany when some historians said that Josef Stalin had been worse than Hitler or even that Hitler's genocidal program had been inspired by the crimes already committed in Stalin's Soviet Union.

The identical argument has been going on in France, touched off by a recent scholarly reference work on communism, "The Black Book of Communism," whose editor said in his preface that nothing essential distinguishes communism from Nazism. This set off a great cry, since not only is the French Communist party in the governing coalition of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, but also France's left was until the 1980s dominated by Marxist ideas, and Marxism remains a sensitive subject.

Stalin's crimes

However awful the crimes of Lenin and Stalin, and however terrifying the hypocrisy, mendacity and treachery of communism at work in the West as well as inside the Communist countries, the original and animating motive of Marx was a humane one, and it was this which drew people into the movement, while its betrayal turned many of them into anti-Communists.

However, some who were wise could see from the beginning what Marx's thought implied. The 19th-century democratic reformer Pierre Joseph Proudhon wrote a letter to Karl Marx four years before the "Communist Manifesto" was published in which he said, "I, of course, admire you very much, Monsieur Marx, but your thought makes me fear for the liberty of men."

It is right to connect communism with fascism because, different as they may have been, they were both millenarian and utopian movements connected to the ancient assumption in European civilization that history is going someplace, and that mankind, or an elite of mankind, can with sufficient effort or a new revelation of knowledge, transform the world.

America is affected by this, too. There is an American "manifest destiny." America's ideas are held able to save the world. America's market capitalism can make everyone prosperous. The British scholar John Gray has pointed out that America's present-day claim to be a model for a universal civilization lies in direct succession to utopian Marxism, to which it is a reaction. His is an argument that merits attention in the intellectual circles where U.S. policy originates.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 8/10/98

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