What Is Fascism 4 pages NO OUTSIDE SOURCES What is Fascism? The tendency of politicians to label their opponents “fascists” and the overuse of the term

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What Is Fascism 4 pages


The tendency of politicians to label their opponents “fascists” and the overuse of the term in pop culture clearly distorts the original meaning of the word. But what exactly is fascism and does it still exist in the world today? Historians have been debating this very question since the 1960s. Some scholars like Gilbert Allardyce have argued that fascism only existed in interwar Italy. He claims it cannot be considered an ideology, and particularly not a generic ideology shared by many movements, because its nationalism makes each movement too distinct to be categorized under a single label and there is no one founding thinker or doctrine. Others, like Ernst Nolte, Stanley Payne, and Roger Griffin have proposed the existence of a generic form of fascism that can, with continued study, be categorized, defined, and identified in diverse times and places just as other ideologies like communism have been. Nolte defined fascism as anti-Marxism, anti-liberalism, and anti-conservatism with a cult of the leader, an army devoted to the political party, and the goal of totalitarianism. Payne expanded this definition to include a series of additional characteristics based on organization, style, and ideology. And Griffin crafted a concise definition of what he called the ideal type or model of fascism as a “genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultranationalism.”[footnoteRef:1] Another highly regarded historian of fascism, Robert Paxton, defined fascism in his 2004 book The Anatomy of Fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”[footnoteRef:2] While these historians all disagree over the phrasing and characteristics of the definition, they agree on the importance of understanding fascist movements as a category of political ideology that can include not only Italian Fascism but also German Nazism and other similar movements in countries like France, England, Hungary, and Belgium. More recently, scholars have tried to move beyond the debate about the existence of a generic or international fascist ideology by considering the transnational experience and exchange of fascist ideas and practices instead. These scholars often ask whether fascism could have been exported from Italy to become a European-wide political ideology or if a key component of fascism, ultrantionalism, prevented such a transnational exchange in practice. The voices of fascists in the 1930s including Mussolini, Hitler, and French fascists can give some insight into the question as well since all of them struggled to put the political ideas and goals of the movements they led into words. As active citizens of the global community, we today have a responsibility to be aware and informed about political movements around the world. Studying the past helps us to understand the historical context and meanings of the labels we use to describe leaders and organizations in our present. [1: Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1991) 26. ] [2: Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Knopf, 2004) 218. ]

Primary Sources

Benito Mussolini, What is Fascism (1932)

In 1932 Mussolini wrote, with the help of Giovanni Gentile, an entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of fascism. Gentile was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Rome who became a strong proponent of Fascism and eventually Minister of Education under Mussolini.

Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism — born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. …Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production…. Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied – the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society…. After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage…. For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State…. The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State….The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone…. …For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. …never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time.
1. What doctrines does Mussolini say Fascism rejects?
a. Pacifism,
b. Marxian socialism
c. democratic ideology and individualism
d. All of the above ms

2. If it is not individualist then what does it promote instead?
a. Collectivism and the State
b. Democracy and peace
c. Law and political participation

3. What will the individual be deprived of and who makes the decision about this?
a. They are deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom and the decision about which freedoms are useless is made by the state.
b. They are deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom and the decision about which freedoms are useless is made by the people themselves.
c. They are deprived of nothing since they retain their essential freedoms which they alone have decided to protect.

4. What does the nation need to be healthy?
a. Growth and expansion
b. Authority
c. Direction and order
d. All of the above ms

The 25 Points of Hitler’s Nazi Party (1920)

Hitler composed the 25 points of the Nazi party platform and presented it in a speech at the first mass meeting of the NSDAP in February 1920 in Munich.

1. We demand the union of all Germans in a Great Germany on the basis of the principle of self-determination of all peoples.

3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the maintenance of our people and the settlement of our surplus population.

4. Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman.

8. Any further immigration of non-Germans must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who have entered Germany since August 2, 1914, shall be compelled to leave the Reich immediately.

20. In order to make it possible for every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education, and thus the opportunity to reach into positions of leadership, the State must assume the responsibility of organizing thoroughly the entire cultural system of the people. The curricula of all educational establishments shall be adapted to practical life. The conception of the State Idea (science of citizenship) must be taught in the schools from the very beginning. We demand that specially talented children of poor parents, whatever their station or occupation, be educated at the expense of the State.

21. The State has the duty to help raise the standard of national health by providing maternity welfare centers, by prohibiting juvenile labor, by increasing physical fitness through the introduction of compulsory games and gymnastics, and by the greatest possible encouragement of associations concerned with the physical education of the young.

22. We demand the abolition of the regular army and the creation of a national (folk) army.

23. We demand that there be a legal campaign against those who propagate deliberate political lies and disseminate them through the press. …Newspapers transgressing against the common welfare shall be suppressed. We demand legal action against those tendencies in art and literature that have a disruptive influence upon the life of our folk, and that any organizations that offend against the foregoing demands shall be dissolved.

24. It fights against the Jewish materialist spirit within and without, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our folk can only come about from within on the pinciple: COMMON GOOD BEFORE INDIVIDUAL GOOD

25. In order to carry out this program we demand: the creation of a strong central authority in the State, the unconditional authority by the political central parliament of the whole State and all its organizations.

1. Who are allowed to be citizens of Germany?
a. Those who have German blood
b. All those who have applied to become naturalized citizens of Germany
c. Anyone who moves to Germany and agrees to join the military

2. What does point 20 allow the State to control and why is this important?
a. The state controls the curricula of all educational establishments which teaches the youth what they Nazis want them to think
b. The state will provide maternity welfare centers to raise more German babies
c. The state will control immigration in order to prevent non-Germans from entering the country

3. Why is the Nazi state interested in maternity?
a. Strong and healthy mothers will produce strong healthy babies to be citizens and soldiers
b. Nazis are concerned about offering equal rights and opportunities for women
c. The Nazi state wanted to conduct research on reproduction

4. What does point 23 allow?
a. A campaign of censorship and persecution of the press if it challenges what the Nazis want people to believe.
b. Protection of public morality
c. Protection and patronage of the arts and cultural centers

5. How do points 24 and 25 show a similarity between Hitler’s and Mussolini’s definition of fascism?
a. For both Hitler and Mussolini the individual is less important than the collective good as defined by the centralized state.
b. Both Hitler and Mussolini are strongly anti-Semitic and oppose the Jewish presence in their country
c. Both Hitler and Mussolini want to expand their territories and grow their military presence

Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Socialisme Fasciste (Paris: Gallimard, 1934) 102, 126-129. (trans S. Shurts)

Drieu la Rochelle was a highly regarded writer and editor before his public infatuation with fascism led him to support collaboration with the Nazis during the German occupation of France. After his first visit to Germany in 1934, Drieu wrote the articles that would become his book Socialisme fasciste, and publicly announced his sympathy for the fascist ideology. In his search for a French version of the fascist alternative, Drieu was drawn to the Parti Populaire Français (French Popular Party). From 1936 to 1938 he was the ideological voice of the PPF and formed strong bonds with fellow PPF intellectual Ramon Fernandez.

Fascism presents itself as the new intermediary party between the old right and the old left, and when it is in power, its method is not that of radicalism, it is the opposite method- it is not the politics of equilibrium, it is a politics of fusion. The men of the left do know understand what it involves. They say ‘fascism is the last defense of capitalism.’ But no, as in Moscow, so in Berlin and Rome, it concerns a purer reaction. It is a pure theocracy where the spiritual and the temporal finally confound themselves. ,,, Reason tells us that a leader is not morally superior to the masses because he comes from the same time and the same conditions as the masses. But it is not about reason, it is about faith…Fascism does not come from the leader, the leader comes from fascism. Fascism did not leap from the head of Mussolini like Athena from Zeus. There was in Italy a movement, an effort of a generation which had searched and found fascism and at the same time had searched and found it in Mussolini. An individual is not able to begin anything, he is not able to create a political machine; he is only able to take into his hands a collective spirit, guide it, and project it.

1. How does Pierre Drieu la Rochelle describe fascism?
a. An intermediary party between the old left and the old right.
b. A merger of the spiritual and the temporal.
c. A German and Italian idea that is foreign to France
d. A and B are correct ms

2. What is fascism’s relationship to its leader in any country?
a. Fascism does not come from the leader, the leader comes from fascism therefore it is a grassroots movement where a people discover and install their leader.
b. The country’s most powerful individual will decide to lead and impose fascism on the people.
c. Fascists see their leader as chosen for them by God and his policies as divinely inspired

Ramon Fernandez, “Incapable of Using Reason Against Doriot on Concrete Political Problems, the Intellectuals Console Themselves by Representing Him as a Fascist Boogeyman” Emancipation Nationale (July 24, 1937) (trans S. Shurts)

Ramon Fernandez was a French university professor who became a writer, journalist, and literary critic. He was originally a member of the French socialist party and supported the antifascist CVIA but became disillusioned and in 1935 joined the fascist sympathizing Parti Populaire Français and advocated French fascism.

Henri Polles published a large work, Opera Politique, consecrated to the critique of fascism, or rather fascisms. Everyone knows that this word is a veritable “Jeannot’s Knife” where one changes all the realities that it represents but keeps the word and the trick is played. So well played that one can call “fascist” any political doctrine, no matter how different it is from true fascism. In fact, an intellectual can today call fascist all the political programs that are opposed to the one he has concocted in the silence of his room, between his dreams and his books. This confusion is one of the deplorable fruits of the moral anarchy where we live. Polles’ book, however, is a relatively serious book because he alone takes fascism seriously. He thus avoids the sad confusion which curses the mental sterility of the majority of his peers. Having identified our movement (the PPF) among the fascisms, Polles tries to adjust it to match his theories. Given his prejudices, his incomprehension of the spirit of our party was inevitable…These intellectuals have invented, in order to justify their antifascism, a prefascism with which they categorize all the political writers of other times who have written things they reject. This makes a pretty vaudeville, but a vaudeville which confuses our unfortunate contemporaries. Since the years before WWI, a vigorous effort was pursued to align political thought to political reality by breaking the rigid ideas that masked and deformed this reality. This effort was expressed differently in different nations—in some, it has taken a fascist form, in others, it has taken a form better adapted to national conditions. To reduce this effort to some fascist conspiracy is to refuse thought by accusing others of renouncing thought. I sense, behind the creation of antifascism, a great fear of thinking, a great fear of creating, a great fear of letting go of the last branch that attaches us to an obsolete past.

1. What does Fernandez say about how the term fascism is used in France?
a. It is currently used to describe any political program one is opposed to
b. It is a term that inspires admiration and respect in France
c. It is a term that denotes power, authority, and rule of law

2. What does he say Polles tries to do with the PPF?
a. He labels it fascism and then tried to make the movement match his theory about fascism
b. He tries to claim it is under the influence of a foreign political power
c. He tries to use the party to rise to power himself
3. How does he say French authors are using the new label “prefascism”?
a. As a way to discredit any writers they reject
b. As a way to suggest writers are seeing stability and structure in their society
c. As a way to label those who borrow from Italian and German literary styles

4. What does he say is behind the creation of antifascism?
a. A fear of thinking, creating, and letting go of an obsolete past
b. A fear of German or Italian domination over the politics of France
c. A soviet attempt to bring communist parties to power in France

Paul Rivet, Alain, Paul Langevin, “Aux Travailleurs” Comité de Vigilance des intellectuels antifascistes (1934) (trans S. Shurts)

Rivet was a socialist ethnologist, Alain was a poet who was seen to speak for both the Radical socialists and the anarchists, and Langevin was a supporter of the French communist party. Their union in the CVIA (Vigilance committee of the anti-fascist intellectuals) indicated the belief on the French left that there were strong native fascist organizations in France. It also indicated the power that anti-fascism had for uniting the diverse left-wing organizations. The following statement was written after a street riot on February 6, 1934 by anti-republican organizations on the monarchist and nationalist right.

United, beyond any differences, by the spectacle of the fascist riots in Paris and the popular resistance which faced it alone, we have come to declare to all the workers, our comrades, our resolution to struggle with them to save from a fascist dictatorship those popular rights and liberties that the people have earned. We are ready to sacrifice all to prevent France from submitting to a regime of oppression and bellicose misery…. We will not allow the financial oligarchy to exploit, as it has in Germany, the discontent of the masses that are hindered or ruined by it. Comrades, under the flag of National Revolution they prepare a new Middle Ages for us… Our first act has been to form a Committee of Vigilance [of anti-fascist intellectuals] who support the will of the workers organizations.

1. Who does the CVIA statement claim to address?
a. The workers
b. The soldiers
c. The middle class

2. What will its members combat?
a. Fascist dictatorships that will take the rights and liberties earned by the people
b. The rise of communist and socialist parties
c. Anti-fascist intellectuals

3. What do the fascists, under the auspices of a National Revolution, intend for France to do?
a. Live in the equivalent of a new Middle Ages
b. Revise the constitution to allow more popular participation in government
c. Conquer the lands of its neighbors to create a new Europe

Scholarly Sources

Robert O. Paxton, “The Five Stages of Fascism,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1 (March 1998), 1-23.

Robert Paxton is an American historian of France and professor at Columbia University most recognized for his groundbreaking work Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 published in 1972. This book exploded the French view of their nation-wide resistance to German occupation by revealing a large number of French supported and collaborated with the Nazis. His 1998 article on the stages of Fascism defines it as not only an ideology but also a set of political behaviors.

At first sight, nothing seems easier to understand than fascism. It presents itself to us in crude, primary images: a chauvinist demagogue haranguing an ecstatic crowd; disciplined ranks of marching youths; uniform-shirted militants beating up members of some demonized minority… Yet great difficulties arise as soon as one sets out to define fascism… Even if we limit ourselves to our own century and its two most notorious cases, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, we find that they display profound differences. How can we lump together Mussolini and Hitler, the one surrounded by Jewish henchmen and a Jewish mistress, the other an obsessed antisemite? How can we equate the militarized regimentation of Nazi Party rule with the laxity of Mussolinian Italy?
…Five major difficulties stand in the way of any effort to define fascism. First, a problem of timing. The fascist phenomenon was poorly understood at the beginning in part because it was unexpected… A second difficulty in defining fascism is created by mimicry. In fascism’s heyday, in the 1930s, many regimes that were not functionally fascist borrowed elements of fascist decor in order to lend themselves an aura of force, vitality, and mass mobilization… But one cannot identify a fascist regime by its plumage. …Focusing on external symbols, which are subject to superficial imitation, adds to confusion about what may legitimately be considered fascist. This leads to the third problem with defining fascism: each national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy, as we shall see, not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity. …A fourth and even more redoutable difficulty stems from the ambiguous relationship between doctrine and action in fascism. The great “isms” of nineteenth-century Europe—conservativism, liberalism, socialism—were …characterized by deference to educated leaders, learned debates… Unlike them, fascism does not rest on formal philosophical positions with claims to universal validity. There was no “Fascist Manifesto,” no founding fascist thinker…The fifth and final difficulty with defining fascism is caused by overuse: the word “fascist” has become the most banal of epithets. Everyone is someone’s fascist….Nevertheless, we cannot give up in the face of these difficulties. …We must be able to examine this phenomenon as a system. It is not enough to treat each national case individually, as if each one constitutes a category in itself. If we cannot examine fascism synthetically, we risk being unable to understand this century, or the next.

Reading Questions

1. What major differences exist between German Nazism and Italian Fascism?
a. Nazism was strongly militarist and anti-Semitic while Italian Fascism was not
b. Italian Fascism was not expansionist and had no vision of an Italian empire
c. Nazism did not have a sense of racial hierarchy the way Italian Fascism did

2. What is the problem with categorizing fascism that is created by mimicry?
a. Many movements borrowed elements of fascist style but these are external symbols not real ideals that indicate a shared ideology
b. Other fascist movements get overlooked because they are assumed to be copycats or mimics rather than truly fascist parties
c. Fascist mimics often display all of the essential characteristics of fascism but they don’t borrow its style and therefore go undetected

3. What does Paxton say is the third problem with a single category of fascism?
a. National variants of fascism all draw their legitimacy from authentic elements of its own community thus making each variant different and unique to that nation
b. Fascism does not have a founding ideological thinker shared by all regimes the way communism does with Marx
c. Fascism is well defined therefore it is easy to have a single category but hard to include movements in it beyond the original regimes of Germany and Italy

4. Does he think a definition of generic fascism is important?
a. Yes despite the difficulty in defining fascism, it is important to be able to look at the phenomenon as a system in order to understand it
b. No the idea of generic fascism is fundamentally flawed because there are too many national variations to have one single definition
c. No because the age of fascism is over so there is no need to try to create a definition to identify new movements

Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept” The American Historical Review 84:2 (April 1979) 367-398.

Gilbert Allardyce is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He is the author of or contributor to numerous books on fascism including his edited collection The Place of Fascism in European History (1971).

Although some scholars attempted from the start to restrict the use of the term fascism to Mussolini’s movement in Italy, most have joined in a process of proliferation that began as early as the 1920s. After Mussolini’s success, observers thought they recognized men and organizations of the same time arising in other nations. From this beginning emerged a popular image of fascism as an international movement, a phenomenon that found purest expression in Italy and Germany, but also appeared in a wide number of other countries. When stripped of national trappings, it is commonly believed, all of these movements had a common characteristic that was the essence of fascism itself. Although that essence is difficult to define, the prevailing hope is that continuing research will eventually reveal the nature of fascism more clearly… Unfortunately the diversity of these personalities and organizations is such that general theories formed from the study of certain samples are often contradicted by the study of others… Few historians, however, have lost confidence that further research will unearth the “missing link” that unites the different individuals and parties in a generic fascism. Somewhat like the search for the black cat in the dark room, this search presumes that there is something to be found in the dark void…Only individual things are real; everything abstracted from them, whether concepts or universals, exists solely in the mind. There is no such thing as fascism. There are only the men and movements we call by that name. … The premise of this article is that our understanding of the real men and movements that we call fascist has not been increased by generic concepts. Instead, general definitions have probably obscured their individual identities. … First of all, Fascism is not a generic concept. The word fascismo has no meaning beyond Italy. …The definition of fascism was established from Italian and German experiences and transferred wholesale to movements in other locations. Many who have studied these other movements, however, sense that something is not quite right; the models do not fit precisely. Indeed, the unique and ‘native’ features of such movements are easy to discover; the difficulty lies in finding the common ‘fascist’ substance that connects them… scholars will want to continue the effort to catalogue more effectively a ‘fascist minimum’ a certified cluster of shared traits…such traits are largely descriptive accessories, features too limited and external to provide a compelling generic classification.

1. What does Allardyce say about generic fascist ideology?
a. There is no such thing. It does not exist.
b. It is a difficult concept to define but there is a generic definition if we look for it
c. It is easily identifiable by the shared style and appearance of its members in every nation

2. What is the “missing link” and how does Allardyce feel about searching for it?
a. The missing link is a pointless search for a fascist minimum or cluster of shared traits that all fascist movements share.
b. The missing link is a black cat in a dark room but it is important to keep looking for it
c. The missing link is what brings historians of fascism together

3. What arguments does he use to support this …

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