Fascism and National Socialism
Political theorists, historians and and scholars have long tried interpreting and defining fascism but the definitions have either been too narrow or too wide as each interpretation of fascism is distinct and based on the ideological and political leanings and thoughts of the scholar or the theorist. According to Roger Griffin, fascism is "a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra nationalism". He goes on to say that the fascist ideology has three core components- the myth of rebirth, decadence and populist ultranationalism. Paxton in his book, The Anatomy of Fascism describes fascism as a "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood 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.” National Socialism, more popularly known as Nazism is on the other hand an ideology and political practice that was followed by the German Nazi party headed by Hitler. National Socialism is a form of fascism that gives more importance to scientific racism and anti-semitic ideas. Fascism and national socialism were both mass movements fuelled by the middle class angst and reaction against liberal and socialist ideas and they came into prominence at a time when Europe went through a political and social upheaval after the first world war. Although there has been an increasing tendency to talk about and describe fascism and nazism as being similar, based on perceptions of social reality, there are also important differences between these two ideologies. However, in spite of the differences, it cannot be denied that Fascism and national socialism belong to the same ideological family. In fact national socialism or nazism is not only an offshoot of fascism but also can be called as a ‘true fascist movement.
Origin and growth of Fascism and National Socialism
In the case of national socialism and fascism, the prevailing ideas of anti liberalism, anti-democracy, anti-rational, anti-conservative and more were combined together with high amounts of xenophobia and often an extreme and vicious form of nationalism. Marcuse traces the roots of fascism to the antagonism that existed between the increasing industrial monopolization and the democracy system. He says that in order for capitalism and industrialized monopolization to survive, the opposition that mainly came from the working class needed to be put down or neutralized, which meant the democratic institutions currently in place needed to be torn down as they would no longer serve effective for capitalism. A totalitarian terror where the individual and the state would be subjugated to an ideology or a person was needed for the production and the profits to increase and kept growing. This regime of totalitarianism was the case in both fascism and national socialism. Both used terror and subjugation to repress the workers and others and ensured that the interests of the big businesses and other financial concerns were safe. National socialism or the Third Reich began with the economic destabilization that happened soon after the first world war. The modernization that happened soon after the war ended up breaking the old political system that was in place and created a space where new right wing movements could come up. The inherent instability in the state system was what propelled the radical measures taken by the nazi and fascist states. Although fascism and national socialism were not a product of the inter war period alone, it was around this time that they became ideologies that were publicly and popularly embraced. In Italy, it began with the Italian Fascist party in 1922-23 and came of age in germany with Hitler’s Nazi party. And with the defeat of these two countries and their leaders, it ended. A communist view of fascism and national socialism defines them as, “the openly terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital”. Another important reason that led to the growth of fascism and national socialism was the mentality and the psychological makeup of certain classes of people, mostly the lower middle class and the adolescents who were socially deprived as a result of the first word war. In both Italy and Germany, the results of the first world war on the lower middle class were quite strong. They suffered a loss of security, self -hatred and felt alienated. The anger and the sadistic trait felt by them went towards moulding the authoritarian personality. This support from the masses helped bring Hitler’s fantasies into a sort of social reality. Another reason that both the ideologies became quite popular is because of the fact that they were not class based. Both the ideologies were always seen and projected as a national ideology that applied to all social classes in the country. It rejected class struggles as much as it rejected class antagonisms. The ideologies did not favor one single class and hence was able to unite large number of people.
The Italian Fascist movement created by Mussolini in 1919 was seen as left leaning challenger to the Italian Socialist Party which garnered the votes from the working class. In Italy fascism was born out of the belief that the country should be relegated to its classical glory. In this belief Mussolini was supported by nationalists, forward thinkers, syndicates as well as people who fought in the first world war. In the end, the fascism in Italy was a combination of different ideological beliefs, including nationalism and socialism which Mussolini described as National Socialism. The marxists viewed the growing fascism in Italy as the final and desperate measure of the middle class to hold on to its socio-economic position which was threatened by the working class. However the fascists has support from not only the middle class, but also from the working class as well as the aristocrats. The marxists also viewed fascism as a brutal and violent endeavour to preserve capitalism from the left after the war. The basic thought about fascism and national socialism in the inter-war periods was that they were a result of the moral and religious crisis in Europe that was undergoing a major socio-economic upheaval. The emergence and popularity of these parties and their heads was in effect as result of the socio-economic conditions and the insult that was meted out to them after the first world war. The leaders of both Italy and Germany were able to rally the people for their cause promising them a sense of rebirth for their nations. Given that they were treated badly by the victorious powers and that their countries were in a state of decay,it was easy for them to rally people. The primary concern for the leaders as well as the supporters of fascism was nation building. This led to the extreme version of nationalism which eventually became a trademark of these ideologies. Fascism and national socialism gained support from the military and civil personnel, the industrialists, capitalists, the bourgeois as well as the working class. The fascists and the national socialists thus encountered not only mass support but also adversaries in the different social groups. The particular manner in which there was a rapid industrialization in Italy and Germany also led to the rise of fascism. The war which had led these countries to become virtual paupers overnight also instilled a sense of nationalism which was aimed at bringing back their lost glory. Military might as well industrial and social might were seen as being essential to bring about this resurrection of the countries. Fascism was particularly seen as the road to modernization in both Germany and Italy although industrialization and modernization came a little late to Italy when compared to Germany. The difference in growth rate and modernization between Italy and Germany shows that these two countries followed a different version of Fascism and thus the forms of fascism and national socialism as practised in the two countries cannot be clubbed under the same category. Fascism was not against and was not also afraid of the revolutionary working class, In fact Mussolini recruited a lot of working class people. By recruiting from all the classes, the advocated of fascism tried to pit their ideology as something that was both nationalistic as well as socialist. The fascists had their support from nationalists, especially in italy where the nationalists had long accused the liberals of not promoting Italy in the global arena, especially in colonial conquests and the modernization of the economy. The liberals were also accused of not doing enough to protect the interests of the working class. Corradini, the leading nationalist in Italy suggested that Italy can gain importance and regenerate itself only if the class conflicts within its society came to an end, and that economic growth and national unity was essential for further colonial expansion as well as the gaining of status as a great power. Mussolini played into the nationalistic as well as the capitalistic fervour by creating the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, in which delegates were appointed by corporations as well as the National fascist party. Talking about the ideology Mussolini stated that, “We have constituted a Corporative and Fascist State, the State of national society, a State which concentrates, controls, harmonizes, and tempers the interests of all social classes, which are thereby protected in equal measure. Whereas, during the years of demo-liberal regime, labor looked with diffidence upon the State, and was, in fact, outside the State and against the State, and considered the State an enemy of every day and every hour, there is not one working Italian today who does not seek a place in his Corporation or syndical federation, who does not wish to be a living atom of that great, immense living organization which is the national Corporate State of Fascism”. Fascism can thus be defined as a phenomenon or a movement that brought together different social classes and support from different generations. It was also a response to the crisis generated by the pre-war structure of the continent as well as the party systems in the respective countries. The fascist movement in Italy saw a more traditional nationalism which was in essence patriotism and imperialist tinged with xenophobia. The fascists rejected liberal democracy as well as a parliamentary government as they wanted freedom from the industrial society and form a neutral space between communism and capitalism. National Socialism in Germany was however different as race played a central role in the building or the resurgence of the nation. The Italian fascism was not as anti-semitic as the German national socialism.
Italy and Germany under Mussolini and Hitler were totalitarian states as these leaders had complete control and authority over the citizens in every aspect. The private as well as the public life of the masses can be dictated by the ruler and this was usually accomplished by terror and violence. The fascist and Nazi states of Italy and germany also used propaganda as an important tool to control the people. In fact propaganda was one of the most successful tools that Hitler employed in recruiting people for his party and gain support for all the things that he did. The individual liberty and freedom that the people and liberals valued in their countries were heavily curtailed by these leaders. They reasoned that only a totalitarian state where there was unity and obedience would serve well for national interest. The state was dominated by the political elite with Mussolini and Hitler at the top. Mussolini admitted that his state was fascist and that his ideas came from the principles of Nietzsche , Pareto and Michels. Hitler shared the same vision of the Fascist state but also went ahead and linked the control of the state through force. Freedom was no longer individualistic in a fascist state but was subservient to the purpose of the state. In the case of Germany, when Hitler came to power, there was no real top-down control and the state was chaotic internally. The nazi officials took over the existing bureaucracy and worked together with the police as well as the army. By having their party members in all aspects of the country, Hitler and Mussolini ensured that they were in control of whatever was happening in the country and played a vital role in the final decision making. In spite of the power the leaders enjoyed, the countries also had traditionally entrenched power systems and both of them had to make certain concessions. The culture of leadership and myth and charisma gave both Mussolini and Hitler unrestricted power to make decisions and rule the people. The people also believed that they possessed the skills as well as the political acumen to rule over them. National Socialism is without a doubt a type of fascism but it had race as a central topic more than Mussolini’s brand of Fascism. The totalitarian regimes in both the states gave the bureaucrats power to maintain as well as organize a reign of terror. As long as the people were loyal to the leaders, they were left untouched. Both the states also used mass psychology as a weapon and as a tool to control the people. More than Mussolini, Hitler had complete control over the people as the cult of leadership and nationalism was constructed around him. In Italy, there were parties that were seen as compromising the national interest. In both the countries propaganda was used to build the idea of nationalism as well as leadership.
Differences and similarities between Fascism and Nazism
If there was one issue that differentiated Fascism and Nazism , it was the issue of race. While it was central to the natioanl socialism or nazismin Germnay, it was not a central issue in Italy. Unlike Mussolini’s Italy and other Fascist leaders like the French Rochelle and Spanish Primo de Rivera, Germany’s hitler came from a strong Volk tradition. The absence of strong Volk tradition in the other countries meant that there was no strong anti-semitic feeling in the other countries. At the height of anti-semitism in Germany, Mussolini called germany a ‘racialist lunatic asylum’. Another distinguishing factor between the fascism of Italy and Nazism of Germany was the lack of terror and controlled violence. While Hitler had a free reign to torture and kill jews, Mussolini did not engage in such activities. Unlike Germany, Italy’s racism was not centered in the country in Europe was was in its colonial expansionism. Their racial superiority was focused on the Africans over their perceived superiority over them. However Italy’s anti-semitic stance developed and and became greater as their alliance with Hitler became stronger. Human nature had an interesting role to play in both fascism and nazism. The followers of these ideologies, especially the young people were taught to think of violence in romantic and heroic terms. This had to do much with the influence of Nietzsche in the Fascist rhetoric. The idea was Ubermensch gained popularity in both Germany and Italy. Nietzsche had said that some people were born or endowed with a superior will and imagination that would result in them dominating the weaker ones in the society. Thus it was a given that the society or the order would be unequal and this superiority was biological. This was used as an impressive propaganda by Hitler and all his followers accepted the superiority of the German people over other races. The mass extermination of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ in Germany, its occupied areas and allies was possible due to this belief in the inherent superiority of the Germans. As Hitler put is: “The progress and culture of humanity are not a product of the majority, but rest exclusively on the genius and energy of the personality”. Although Italy too had its points about the genius of its leaders, it was not based on racial or a biological superiority, but based on the sociological writing on elitism. Self delusions of grandeur, pomposity and neuroticism was was another common factor between Mussolini and Hitler. The leaders and the followers all believe in the theories of fascism and national socialism and were convinced of the genuineness in their belief. This was the major reason for it to become successful and powerful in the countries. It wasn’t just violence or threats from the governments or the leaders but a genuine belief in their own superiority as well as the need to make their nation great again that brought millions of people towards these ideologies.
Totalitarianism was a central tenet in both fascism and Nazism. Both the Italian Fascist party and the German Nazi party had one powerful leader who seemed to epitomize the desire of the entire nation. The leaders as well as the state were given invasive powers over the private and public lives of the citizens as they had convinced them that it was for the greater good. National and social unity in both Italy and Germany were achieved through a single party system and even though there are many dissimilarities between the two parties and ideologies, they both have enough similarities to be treated as sharing the basic tenets of fascist beliefs. Both fascism and national socialism believed in the power of propaganda to control the will of the people. Both were the result of the post war situation in Europe. Having been beaten and insulted at the treaty of Versailles, both Italy and Germany not only had to surrender the territories that they had previously won but also had to pay huge amounts in repatriation. The only way to pay for the losses and keep paying the other countries was to increase production and modernize the economy. In a nation that had to prove itself and also regain its lost glory, there was no place for liberal ideas or democracy. National unity was foremost and the leaders of the fascist and nazist parties were well aware of it. Violence, racial hatred, feeling of superiority and national resurgence were used in propaganda extensively to unite people of different classes. Both fascism and nazism were successful because they did not play to one specific social class. People from all classes were recruited and this gave them their power to rule over their people with unconditional power. Both movements were also revolutionary in nature. The people had got tired of the political systems in place during and after the war and wanted a change and the new set of leaders took advantage of the need.
National Socialism is just a more violent and racist form of fascist ideology. The fascist ideology is anti liberal, anti-conservative, anti rational, totalitarian, populist, racist and heterogenous when it came to its social base. Both fascism and national socialism were a result of the devastation of the war, social upheaval and the rise of left leaning parties and communism. Although Fascism and Nazism or national socialism are interchangeably used in many places and are thought to be similar, there are in fact some differences too. However the similarities far outweigh the differences. Both Fascism and national socialism were opposed to liberalism and are bourgeois. Both promised to serve the elites more effectively than the previous regimes. Violence was also the preferred tool to bring people under their control. National Socialism in spite of the differences with fascism is a true fascist movement.
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