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20190609 – A History of Fascism 1914-1945

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide detailed analysis of nature and history of fascist movements in Europe and all over the world. These movements were somewhat popular in Europe between WWI and WWII, but a lot less than people usually believe. There is trend to call fascistic all kind of authoritarian regimes that are not really belonging to this category. Moreover author quite convincingly demonstrates that in between wars majority of fascist movements were successfully suppressed by rightist authoritarian regimes, so the most famous German Nazi and Italian fascists who obtained state power were unlucky exception rather than rule. Finally the overriding idea is to provide understanding of these exceptions and make sure that it would not happen again.

DETAILS:

Introduction. Fascism: A Working Definition

Here author discusses use of the term and its meaning. He provides a very detailed definition and historical reference to various movements that could be defined as fascist:

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Despite closeness between totalitarian ideologies – all beings collectivistic ideologies, author places fascism on the right and provides table comparing it with other right wing movements:

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PART I: HISTORY

  1. The Cultural Transformation of the Fin de siecle

Here author discusses development of fascist ideologies and links it to the end of era of monarchies and empires that was prepared by European development before WWI and caused huge convulsion in period between1914 and 1945. Author looks at expansion of Marxist philosophy with its ideas of radical revolution and advocacy of mass violence, which coincided with development and popularization of racist ideas, somewhat derived from application of Darwinian ideas of evolution and survival of the fittest to societies and populations. Author makes an interesting point that it all become possible due to dramatic improvement in productivity that freed multitude of young people from the need to work hard just to survive and allowed them to spent time on ideology.

  1. Radical and Authoritarian Nationalism in Late Nineteenth-Century Europe

Here author discusses growth of authoritarian nationalism in Europe at the end of XIX century, which was directed against old monarchical imperial orders and promoted ethnicity based nationalism. First it obtained popularity in France and author reviews history of this movement. Then it was expanded to Germany where it obtained somewhat more sophisticated form with German school of political economy and volk traditions. It basically included massive state control over economy in interest of indigenous people with strong limitations on ethnic outsiders, especially Jews. Then author looks at Italy with its “Risorgimento” movement that was aimed not only to remove foreign control, but also create new superior society. It was expressed in Futurist movements that become ideological precursor of fascist movement. Here is example of manifesto from 1909:

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However author stresses that it all was not the main foundational part of fascist movement. It actually came from the left from Revolutionary Syndicalism that was directed to more violent action with objective to implement socialism in contrast with existing popular socialist movements that were looking for peaceful transition from capitalism. Finally author allocates some space to Eastern Europe and Russia, but so little that he misses similar events in Russian division of socialist movement into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

3. The Impact of World War |

The WWI was the key event that created foundation for all fascist and communist movements of XX century and author provides quite comprehensive list of its consequences:

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4. The Rise of Italian Fascism, 1919-1929

Here author provides details of fascist movement’s history in Italy including personal history of Mussolini, impact of WWI, and postwar crisis that pushed a lot of people into search of new solutions outside of constitutional monarchy of the time. There are plenty of historical details of party organization, development, and internal politics. There is also a very interesting analysis of class and professional participation:

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The author reviews phases of taking power: March on Rome; Mussolini taking role of Semi-constitutional Prime Minister (1922-25); Construction of dictatorship (1925-29); and finally completion of Totalitarian state. In the final part of the chapter author reviews attitudes to the newly established Italian fascist regime from different quarters including communist and anti-communist ideologues. Communists were ambivalent, recognizing fascists’ similarity to their own movement with ambition to establish new society on ruins of old using the same violent methods, but also recognizing their anti-Marxist philosophy that would put nation above class. Kind of side effect of this ambivalence was tendency to use the word fascist as insult intended to denigrate opponents of all kinds, while at the same time building alliances with fascists when it was useful for communists.

5. The Growth of Nonfascist Authoritarianism in Southern and Eastern Europe, 1919-1929

This is country-by-country review of fascist movements in small countries of Europe. Important point here is that nowhere they succeeded in taking power on their own, being mainly suppressed by traditional authoritarians and conservatives.

6. German National Socialism

German version was famously much more successful. Author rejects idea that it was because of some specifics of German culture or history. It was rather time specific combination of defeat, economic suffering, and believes that army was not defeated, but betrayed. Author goes through postwar crisis of 1919-1923 when communist forces nearly took power, but were suppressed in bloody, but brief civil war. Author also discusses creation and development of Nazi party, which was invigorated by Hitler who turned it into genially cross-class mass movement. It however failed when it tried to take power in Bavaria, leading to decisive change to formal compliance with laws and attempts to take power legally via elections. Then author moves to reviewing period of stability 1923-1930 when Weimar was quite successful until it was economically crashed by the worldwide depression. However author mainly reject that Germany was uniquely hard hit. He provides table of unemployment in different countries showing that there was nothing unusual in its situation, except that after taking power Nazis did decreased unemployment and quite dramatically:

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7. The Transformation of Italian Fascism, 1929-1939

Here author discusses history of Italian fascist rule and its transformation from popular movement to bureaucratic elite. Basically author presents opinion that the state kind of consumed fascist party and it become the prime object of support of all statists of the world including FDR and many members of intelligentsia in democratic countries that saw in this party-state combination much more effective method of society organization than messy democratic governance. Economic policy was relatively successful: “Compared with the pre-World War I norm of 1913, total production in Italy had risen by 1938 to 153.8, compared with 149.9 in Germany and 109.4 in France. The aggregate index for output per worker in 1939, compared with the same 1913 base, stood at 145.2 for Italy, 136.5 for France, 122.4 for Germany, 143.6 for Britain, and 136.0 for the United States. “ The fascist state even started implementing welfare programs, but it was never fully completed. Author also discusses expansionist policies, which were not especially successful due to overall military weakness.

8. Four Major Variants of Fascism

Here author discusses countries where fascist movements were powerful and popular: Austria, Spain, Hungary, and Romania. In all these countries authoritarians subdued fascist movement, even if they were initially very important part of coalition, like it was in Spain.

9. The Minor Movements

Here author looks at fascist movements in democratic countries like France, Britain, Low countries, Ireland, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia, and others. Nowhere fascist movements were able to get close to power before the war. Only under German occupation fascist movements where somewhat in control, but only to the extent Germans allowed.

10. Fascism Outside Europe?

In this chapter author reviews countries outside Europe and mainly demonstrate that despite usual tendency to call any authoritarian regime fascistic, they generally were far from it.

11. World War II: Climax and Destruction of Fascism

Here author reviews WWII and how character of Nazi regime defined its conduct by Germany. Here is representation of different approaches:

Table 11.1. The Nazi New Order

  1. Direct Annexations: Austria; Czech Sudetenland; Danzig: Polish West Prussia. Poznan, and Silesia; Luxembourg; Belgian Eupen and Malmcdy: French Alsace and Moselle: northern Slovenia; Yugoslav Banat
  2. Direct German Administration:
  3. a) Civil: Polish Government General. “Ostland” (Baltic area). Ukraine. Norway. Holland
  4. b) Military: Belgium and part of northern France, forward military districts in the Soviet Union
  5. Tutelary Satellite or Puppet Regimes: Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia: Croatia. Serbia. Montenegro. Greece. Italian Social Republic (1943-45)
  6. Satellites: Denmark. Finland. Hungary. Romania. Slovakia. Bulgaria. Vichy France. Italy (1941-43)
  7. Neutrals:
  8. a) Friendly neutrals: Spain. Switzerland. Sweden
  9. b) Distant neutrals: Portugal. Ireland. Turkey

At the end of chapter author discusses how military defeat led Nazis to attempt to expand the fascist movement into all European form so it would allow combining total resources of occupied Europe, but this was mainly unsuccessful.

PART I: INTERPRETATION

12. Interpretations of Fascism

Author discusses a variety of explanations mainly provided by ideologues of the left with the clear intention to link it to the right. Probably the funniest part is that a bunch of interpretations are quite opposite to each other. Here is the list:

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Probably on conclusion, which is practically inevitable, is that, as any other complex societal phenomenon, it is just not possible generalize.

13. Generic Fascism?

Here author discusses difficulties of defining genus of fascism and presents 5 specific varieties that did existed:

  1. Paradigmatic Italian Fascism, pluralist, diverse, and not easily definable in simple terms. Forms to some extent derivative appeared in France, England, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and possibly even Brazil.
  2. German National Socialism sometimes defined as the most extreme or radical form of fascism, the only fascistic movement to achieve a total dictatorship and so to develop its own system. Somewhat parallel or derivative movements emerged in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, the Baltic States, and Hungary, and, more artificially, in several of the satellite states during the war. The Italian and German types were the two dominant forms of fascism.
  3. Spanish Falangism. Though to some extent derivative from the Italian form, it became a kind of Catholic and culturally more traditionalist fascism that was more marginal.
  4. The Romanian Legionary or Iron Guard movement, a mystical, kenotic forms of semireligious fascism that represented the only notable movement of this kind in an Orthodox country. It was also marginal.
  5. Szalasi’s “Hungarist” or Arrow Cross movement, somewhat distinct from either the Hungarian national socialists or Hungarian proponents of a more moderate and pragmatic Italian-style movement. For a short time, perhaps, it was the second most popular fascist movement in Europe.

14. Fascism and Modernization

Here author discusses relationship between fascism and modernization or more precisely idea that fascism is reaction to modernization by people who are not able to adjust. Author provides data demonstrating that it was not the case, showing that fascism accelerated modernization as part of process of military preparation.

15. Elements of a Retrodictive Theory of Fascism

Here author confirms that all attempts to create adequate theory of fascism failed, but it was possible identify a specific set of circumstances consistent with its success. Here there are compiled in the table:

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Epilogue. Neofascism: Fascism in Our Future?

Here author states that despite destruction of fascism in WWII fascists did not disappear and still exist, albeit on the margins of politics. He reviews their activities in several countries, but concludes that at this point it is not very serious threat. However author provides list of features that are typical for fascist movements and could appear in some other arrangement. Here is this list:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a very nice historical research and it provides lots of facts and background that allows better understanding of this phenomenon. I think that, while overall reviewed and discussed, the issues of psychological environment that make people to seek revolutionary changes to existing order using extreme violence were not looked in sufficient depth. I also think that the key feature of Fascism as philosophy of group supremacy and suppression of individual should be discussed more. I would be interested in much more extensive look at the link between Fascism and Communism, but at the commonality of all group dominance / statist / welfare ideologies of XX century that seek top down control of society by bureaucrats and politicians. I think those have a lot more in common, even if some of such ideologies in Western world by far less murderous than Nazis. There is also clear connection between real danger of fascism and level of adherence to democracy in population. The greatest examples are probably consequences of taking power by collectivistic powers in Russia, Germany, USA, and Britain. In all cases communist / fascist / socialist parties took power either via democratic (USA, Britain), semi-democratic (Germany) or quasi-democratic (Russia) methods. Populations with deep democratic traditions (USA and Britain) were capable more or less recover by electing less collectivistic parties in relatively short period of time (1932-1952 in USA and 1945-1951 in Britain) when collectivistic policies proved to be detrimental to population wellbeing, despite multitude of antidemocratic methods like massive propaganda in support of regime and legal measures against its opponents. Populations with strong authoritarian traditions were successfully suppressed for decades so they could move away from totalitarian collectivism only after complete military (Germany) or economic (Russia) collapse.

 


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