wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Zeev Sternhell

Neither Right Nor Left

In a classic work of national socialism written at the end of 1912, Edouard Berth summed up the despair and feelings of revolt of the Sorelians. He condemned 'the ignoble positivism' in which 'the bourgeoisie seems to have succeeded in sweeping along both the aristocracy and the people.' 'Pessimism, utilitarianism and materialism,' he said, 'are eating away at all of us, nobles, bourgeois and proletarians.' These words of Berth, a revolutionary syndicalist who was associated at that time with the integral nationalists, read like a text of Gentile. Did not the Italian philosopher also see fascism principally as a revolt against positivism? Against that positivism that created the 'regime of money, the essentially leveling, materialistic and cosmopolitan regime' that delivers up France to 'the essence and quintessence of bourgeois materialism, the Jewish speculator and financier'? Thus, 'one saw socialism and syndicalism successively pass into the hands of the Jews and become defenders of that nauseating and pestilential ideology of which Malthusianism, anti-Catholicism and antinationalism are the whole substance,...and it would seem, in fact, that the people now aspire only to the state of well-being of the man who has retired and is completely uninterested in anything except his pension, and lives in terror of social or international unrest and asks for only one thing: peace-a stupid, vacuous peace made up of the most mediocre material satisfactions.' Berth railed against 'bourgeois decadence,' against 'the completely bourgeois pacifism' that infects 'the people coming to birth with the corruption of the bourgeoisie coming to an end.' Bourgeois decadence bequeaths to the people 'a hypertrophied state, the product of a beggarly and half-starved rural and urban democracy,' and it creates a 'universal stagnation' in which the proletariat borrows 'the worst ideas of the decadent bourgeoisie.'

To counteract the effects of decadence, then as in the past, Berth saw but one solution: war. 'War,' he said, 'is not always that "work of death" that a vain people of effeminate weaklings imagines. Behind every powerful industrial and commercial development there is an act of force, an act of war.' War assures the progress of civilization and at the same time raises the question of the state and the nation. Berth, who was Sorel's disciple, quotes Proudhon—'War is our history, our life, our entire soul'—and Arturo Labriola, who claimed that 'the sentiment of national independence, like the religious sentiment, leads to the most incredible manifestations of sacrifice.' Only violence can save the human race from 'becoming universally bourgeois,' 'from the platitude of an eternal peace.'

Six years before writing these words under the pseudonym of Jean Darville, Berth, returning to one of Sorel's main ideas, had said that he believed that the syndicalist movement and proletarian violence possessed 'the capacity of regenerating the degenerate bourgeoisie and restoring its power of resistance so that it could fulfill its historical mission to the end.' In revolutionary syndicalism he had seen a fusion of the very Nietzschean idea of responding with 'blows of the fist' to the selfinterested benevolence of the bourgeoisie and the 'Marxist precept' that if one wishes to resolve social antagonisms, they first have to be taken to an extreme. If Berth was influenced by Nietzsche, that was certainly not accidental. Nietzsche had a considerable influence on the 'new school,' as he had formerly had on Barres,' and it is therefore not at all surprising that their successors in the thirties should also be very preoccupied with him. Thierry Maulnier wrote a book about him, and during the same period Drieu La Rochelle acknowledged his intellectual debt to Nietzsche's pessimism and his pragmatic philosophy of irrationality and action.

However, Berth attempted a synthesis of Marx and Nietzsche, whereas Drieu rejoiced at the overthrow of Marxism by the Nietzschean spirit. Berth could not conceive that the purpose of proletarian violence was merely that of setting two antagonistic classes against each other, but thought it was, rather, primarily that of creating the conditions in which a class could be formed, for 'economic unity' (or 'unity of situation'), he said, may be the necessary condition for the forming of a class, but it is not a sufficient condition. To this economic unity should be added 'unity of will,' and 'unity of will' is created only through struggle. It is in struggle that the classes become conscious of themselves and of what Berth, apparently following Hegel's Philosophy of Right, called the collective self or complex personality.'

According to Berth, the concept most dangerous to the idea of a class was that of a party. The real difference, he believed, between a class and a party was not that a party was an ideological unit and a class an economic unit: a class, when it is fully developed, is also an ideological entity. The real difference, he said, is that a party is only a collection of individuals from various classes-something that does not allow class consciousness to awaken and to attain the full clarity of an idea. In a word, a party is an organ of democracy, and 'democracy does not know classes, it only knows individuals.' Consequently democracy is fatal for socialism and the proletariat.

Berth claimed that liberal democracy and bourgeois society led to social atomization: 'Society is brought to the point where it is only a market made up of free-trading atoms, in contact with which everything dissolves. There are now only individuals, dustlike particles of individuals, shut up within the narrow horizons of their consciousness and their money boxes.' Side by side with this disintegration "of the merchant, bourgeois, liberal and democratic world,' however, one has the proletariat 'restoring the scattered condition of things and minutes to the permanent unity of its will to power.' Entrenched within 'the strongholds of its syndicates,' the proletariat alone is capable 'of restoring to a dissolving world a meaning, a goal, a direction, an ideal.' For, finally (here Berth quotes Sorel), 'it is war...that engenders the sublime, and without the sublime there cannot be a lofty morality.' Consequently, setting off, like Sorel, on a crusade for the redemption of morality and civilization, Berth once again assailed the 'international plutocracy' that 'is pacifistic by instinct and interest," for this plutocracy fears 'a revival of heroic values [that] could only hurt its purely materialistic domination.' Berth quotes at length a text that Pareto had contributed to Sorel's journal L'Independance, in which the Italian sociologist accused this plutocracy of being 'cowardly, as the Jews and the usurers had been in the Middle Ages. Its weapon is gold, not the sword: it knows how to scheme; it does not know how to fight. Thrown out on one side, it comes back on the other, without ever facing the danger; its riches increase while its energy diminishes. Exhausted by economic materialism, it becomes increasingly impervious to an idealism of sentiments.'

After having found inspiration in Pareto, Labriola, and Corradini, Berth turned to Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche, Berth wanted to destroy 'the power of the average, or, that is to say, of democratic, bourgeois and liberal mediocrity (as Nietzsche said, the proper word to qualify whatever is mediocre is "liberal").' It follows, then, that 'the dual, parallel and synchronized national and syndicalist movement must bring about the complete ousting of the regime of gold and the triumph of heroic values over the ignoble bourgeois materialism in which Europe is presently stifling. In other words, this revolt of Force and Blood against Gold, whose first signs were detected by Pareto, and the signal for which was given by Sorel in Reflections on Violence and by Maurras in Si le coup de force est possible, must end with the total downfall of the plutocracy.' To save civilization, one therefore had 'to persuade one group that the syndical ideal does not necessarily mean national abdication, and the other group that the nationalist ideal does not necessarily imply a program of social pacification, for on the day when there will be a serious revival of warlike and revolutionary sentiments and a victorious upsurge of heroic, national and proletarian values-on that day, the reign of Gold will be overthrown, and we shall cease to be reduced to the ignominious role of satellites of the plutocracy.'

The intellectual evolution that we see here was not the result of chance, but followed naturally from the Sorelians' basic conception of the relationship between socialism and the proletariat. Ultimately, they looked on it not as a fixed relationship but as something circumstantial, arising out of a given historical situation. The relationship between socialism and the proletariat could even be regarded as accidental, and that explains the ease with which the proletariat could be integrated into the nation and lose its unique status as a revolutionary factor. It transpired that the revisionists, those 'revolutionary revisionists' of the pre-1914 period, like the 'neos' of the thirties, came to believe that this role could be played not only by the proletariat but also by the nation, and this was what connected the thinking of people like Sorel, Labriola, Berth, and Michels with that of the next generation's critics of Marxism and liberalism. Neither group really set as its goal the liberation of the proletariat and the liberation of the individual; both groups, rather, sought to save civilization through a negation of bourgeois and liberal values and a condemnation of the old Socratic tradition.