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  • Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism by A. James Gregor
  • Eric Smith
Marxism, Fascism, and Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism A. James Gregor Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009; 402 pages. $75 (cloth), $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8047-6034-9

This ambitious study is A. James Gregor's 25th. It details the intellectual evolution of Marxist theory through a number of notable theorists as it eventually manifests in Russia's Marxism-Leninism and Italy's Fascism, a line of inquiry that follows from Gregor's earlier work. The book consists of a dozen chapters, four of which are devoted entirely to the thoughts of Ludwig Woltmann, Georges Sorel, Vladimir Lenin, and Benito Mussolini. The last five chapters consider nationalism and the effects of the Great War upon Italian and Russian party leaders. The outlines of Marxism's foundation are sketched out quickly here with the resulting portrait showing a theorist who left many of his ideas in only a formative stage. Later theorists pursued their inchoate meanings, and Gregor credits Engels with inflicting much of the original damage on these undeveloped ideas.

While only a small part of the larger study, Gregor's attention to the impact of Darwin upon the world of Marxist theory is especially interesting because it becomes clear that "social Darwinism" reshaped [End Page 145] Marxism just as it became a central tenet of capitalism's intellectual salesmen in the same period. That Darwin's scientific revolution had profound effects upon Marxism's theorists is perhaps underappreciated, and Gregor comes repeatedly back to this subtheme.

Gregor turns considerable attention to the work of Woltmann and Sorel. Woltmann's impact upon Hitler and the Nazis is mentioned in passing, though it surfaces throughout the study. His turn toward a heterodox race-based Marxism comes via Darwinian theory. Sorel's syndicalist influence upon both Lenin and Mussolini is explored more substantially.

The author's primary interest lies in the recognition that the economic determinism according to these heterodox Marxist theorists did not fully explain human motivations. The advent of this recognition led to the revisions that built Lenin's party elite, a feature also arrived at independently by the fascist theorist Giovanni Papini. "Mussolini's familiarity with La Voce, and the intellectuals who gathered around it, helps account for many of the features of that variant of Marxism we now speak of as Fascism" (149). In particular, Mussolini used Sorel's syndicalist theorizing as a basis for his own movement. But as Gregor points out, Lenin probably was also influenced by Sorel. Notably, Georgi Plekhanov receives passing mention, as do Enrico Corradoni, Roberto Michels, Giusseppe Prezzolini, and especially Karl Kautsky.

The book's final third grapples with political matters as theories are put into practice amid the developments of the First World War. Gregor concludes that "whatever distinguished the two [Marxism-Leninism and Fascism], there were fundamental similarities that identified them as a species of the same genus. Many of the similarities turned on the nature and role of the state within that syndrome of similarities . . . Many of those putative differences have shown themselves to be less than substantial" (294). Readers familiar with the larger history beyond the intellectual revisions of Marx may surmise potential points for disagreement. Gregor does not approach the debate of what defines totalitarianism but concludes that "it is more interesting to acknowledge totalitarianism's source in the Marxism of the nineteenth century than labor over the differences between regimes" (294). Whether a focus on the Marxist intellectual origins for the dictatorships in Italy and the Soviet [End Page 146] Union will be adequate for Gregor to repel the argument of the scholars in, for example, the recent Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick volume, Beyond Totalitarianism, remains to be explored. Gregor makes a well-documented attempt to prolong that discussion.



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pp. 145-147
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