November 24, 2005

Welcome to the new fascism Blog at Warwick

Writing about web page

This blog is linked to my _Fascism and Nazism in Theory and Practice _module in the department of Politics and International Studies at Warwick.

Some opening thoughts:

It remains a moral duty to seek to properly understand and clarify the nature of fascism given its well known and appalling record of inhumanity and intolerance, (including a world war in which over 50 million people were killed, murdered, maimed, or displaced). Such clarification allows us both to demonstrate that fascism is a profoundly erroneous and dangerous creed, and to prepare all humane and thinking individuals to oppose it successfully where ever it arises in the future.

Second: fascism, apart from representing one of the most disturbing and important themes in modern history, remains ‘the great conundrum for students of the twentieth century’. [Robinson, 1981, p.1.] Even more than Soviet Communism fascism was perhaps the predominant idiosyncrasy of the inter-war years in Europe, a particularly unusual period of Euro¬pean history. From its emergence in Italy and Germany shortly after World War One, trailed by a host of self-styled and often motley imitators, fascism had been one of the most difficult and controversial of ideologies, movements and regimes to analyse and understand. Facing its clever modernistic propaganda and open exaultation of strength and brutality for the first time, contemporary liberal commentators likened fascism to some terrible political virus spreading between countries, which by 1939 was threatening domination of the whole of Europe, and the world beyond. Thus the novelist Thomas Mann judged fascism ‘a disease of the times, which is at home everywhere and from which no country is free’.

There are a number of vexed and still unanswered questions relating to the conundrum of fascism:

• Can certain parties, movements and regimes with some degree of certainly be collectively defined as ‘fascist’, or are the differences between extreme rightist parties, movements and regimes too great to allow fascism to be defined generically?

• To what extent the intellectual, social and cultural roots of fascism be traced back into the past.

• Can the essence of ‘generic fascism’ be found in the realm of its stated ideas, or is it better located in the specific historical conditions which gave rise to it i.e. economic crisis; breakdown of the post-Enlightenment liberal consensus; brutal class confrontation; deep rooted national traditions of racism and xenophobia; rival imperialisms; defeat and/or humiliation in war?

• Is fascism one or more of the following: a product of the development of a modern mass society; the political manifestation of individual neurosis translated into mass hysteria; the creature and tool of capitalism in crisis, or a largely independent ideological and political force; a form of Totalitarianism sharing traits with communism, or a product of the extreme right defined by its anti-communism; a revolutionary, or a reactionary force; a modernising or an anti-modernising force; a complex and sophisticated political ideology, or just an outlet for petit bourgeois prejudices and political opportunism; an essentially right wing phenomenon, or a genuine attempt to create a ‘Third Way’ between communism and capitalism.

• Was ‘fascism’ confined to Europe between the wars and are we therefore in the era of post-fascism in which the non-fascist ‘radical right’ exhibits significantly different characteristics from its putative predecessors?

Some Divergent Answers.

‘Everything about Fascism was a fraud. The social peril from which it saved Italy was a fraud; the revolution by which it seized power was a fraud; the ability and policy of Mussolini were fraudulent. Fascist rule was corrupt and incompetent, empty [.;] Mussolini himself was a vain blundering boaster without either ideas or aims. Fascist Italy lived in a state of illegality; and Fascist foreign policy repudiated from the outset the principles of Geneva [A J P Taylor, 1964, p. 56]

‘Inevitably, in seeking the quintessence of fascism, one is drawn to a consideration of political concepts and social ideas. And immediately one encounters the difficulty that most fascists af¬fected to scorn philosophical constructs. Deeds were deliberately exalted at the expense of theory; doctrine tended to be invented, if at all, in haphazard, opportunistic fashion. However, one may sus¬pect that this emphasis on action for its own sake was mainly a propaganda device to give the fascist movements a vigorous, youth¬ful, devil-may-care appearance. Moreover, fascists had a rough and ready notion of the ideal society at which they aimed, and the charismatic fascist leaders symbolized for their followers at least a generalized set of social and political attitudes. Fascist ideas consti¬tuted a vague Weltanschauung rather than, as in the case of Marxist-Leninism, an intellectual dialectic. Thus, we are dealing here, not with a precise ideology, but with the loosely formulated aspirations and inchoate impulses which motivated the fascist movements. [A. Cassels: 1974 p. 78]

It is important to stress that any definition of fascism is essentially heuristic, an ideal type. It will never completely conform to the real world, not least as fascist movements and regimes (however defined) are made up of different groups and change through time. But this is not to argue that conceptual analysis is largely an academic game, an exercise in semantic point scoring, or in constructing landless and timeless frameworks cannot be applied to the real world. There is a crucial methodological relationship between concept and theory which has so far not been developed. This is the fact that a good concept should point towards the most fertile avenues of theory. There is an important sense in which they must reinforce each other – they must together form a model, which although not itself capable of being tested, contains theoretical aspects which are: for instance, the claim that a particular type of voter was attracted to fascism. [R. Eatwell, 1996, p. 315.]

We have many elements of Weltanschauung in common. Not only have Nazism and Fascism everywhere the same enemies who serve the same masters, the Third International, but they share many conceptions of life and history. Both believe in violence as a force determining the life of peoples, as the dynamo of their history, and hence reject the doctrines of so-called historical materialism and their political and philosophical by-products. Both of us exalt work in its countless manifestations as the sign of the nobility of man; both of us count on youth, from which we demand the virtues of discipline, courage, tenacity, patriotism, and scorn for the comfortable life.( Mussolini in Berlin in September 1937, in R. Griffin (ed) 1995, p. 79.)

The Nazi appeal to the past was part of a campaign to transform the very nature of modern man; as such, it was a value-laden concept. By contrast, Fascist Italian patriotism was limited and conventional. Set against the Nazi yardstick, it is dif¬ficult to dispute Hannah Arendt’s dismissal of Mussolini’s regime as “just an ordinary nationalist dictatorship”. [A. Cassels, 1974.]

Fascism was everywhere an ‘attitude towards life’, based upon a national mystique which may vary from nation to nation. It was also a revolution attempting to find a ‘Third Way’ between Marxism and capitalism, but still seeking to escape concrete economic and social change by a retreat into ideology: the ‘revolution of the spirit’ of which Mussolini spoke; or Hitler’s ‘German Revolution’…. The fascist ‘attitude towards life’ was suffused by cultural factors, through which…. [the] movement presented itself :….. [G. L. Mosse, 1979]

A consequence of [my] … emphasis on common ideological components is that…. [the] model of fascism expounded here anticipates that the social base of generic fascism…. [will] be far from homogenous in terms of class, status, occupation, age group, or psychological type. Nor will it be associated with any particular stage of ‘nation building’ or socio-economic ‘development’ (modernization), except insofar as it is structurally related to specific consequences of secularization and pluralism…. The approach adopted in this book similarly precludes any attempt to demonstrate the nature of fascism through reconstructing the history of the many discrete movements which comprise it… The two exceptions are [Italian] Fascism and Nazism, which merit special treatment because, as the only two fascist movements autonomously to ‘seize’ power, they provide important case studies in the all-important transition from revolutionary force to regime. ..Having established… our ideal type of fascism…. What should emerge cumulatively is how the same genus of political energy has acted as a remarkably protean force in the twentieth century, endowed as it is with an ideological core which can draw on the most varied and contradictory cultural components. At the same time, not only should the essentially utopian and unrealizable nature of its ideological goals (even when implemented by an authoritarian regime) become increasingly apparent, but also its fundamental impotence to do more than exert the most marginal influence on mainstream politics, except in the freak circumstances which prevailed in two nations in the inter-war period in Italy and Germany. [Griffin, 1991, pp. 20–21.]

‘Fascism cannot be understood in terms of…. ideological formations, but only in terms of its fundamental objective causes. The roots of fascism, like those of any other social movement, are not in the mind or the realm of ideology but in society.’ [M. Kitchen, 1976. p.39.]

Wolfgang Schieder has recently compared the stages of the seizure of power by the two regimes [Italian Fascism and Nazism], coming to the conclusion that the two were fundamentally similar. Macgregor Knox has compared the relationship between the domestic and foreign policies of the two regimes, coming to the conclusion that both regimes used foreign policy to revolutionize domestic affairs…… Paolo Pombeni has executed a beautiful systematic comparison between the two parties, concluding that their functions and structure were basically similar. Charles Maier has compared the Nazi and Fascist economies to the effect that the similarities outweigh the differences. At a lower level of empirical research, I have tried to examine a contrast: the capacity of the Italian working class to launch a widespread strike in March 1943, of a kind which never came about in Germany. I concluded that the difference had to do above all with the much greater administrative capacity of the Nazi regime, both in killing and providing welfare and providing welfare, than that of the fascist state.
These essays indicate that the discussion can enter a new phase. Any less cautious formulation would be out of place. The question of Italian participation in genocide – against the Jews, in Africa, in the Balkans – remains hotly debated. Most Italian historians and publicists think that this issue marked off Italian Fascism from German Nazism in a decisive manner. But the problem is not resolved by counting corpses. What matters is the genocidal potential of the regime, and how one interprets the various instances of mass murder which were committed in the name of Fascism…. The fact that most Italians of all political colours are resistant to a positive comparison between “their” fascism and German Nazism is a political-historical fact of great significance; it may also be an obstacle to historical work. [Tim Mason, 1991, pp. 95–96].

"…fifty two year old pure Aryan doctor… desires male progeny through a registry-office marriage with a healthy Aryan, virginal, young, unassuming, economy-minded woman, adapted to hard work, broad hipped, flat healed and earingless – if possible also propertyless” Marriage advertisement in the Neueste Nachrichter. (Grunberger, Social History of the Third Reich, p. 237.

"If I can send the flower of the German nation into the hell of war without the smallest pity for the spilling of precious German blood, then surely I have the right to remove millions of an inferior race that breeds like vermin". Adolf Hitler

Jokes in Nazi Germany

Humour was a safety valve in the dictatorship. There was some cynical anticipation of the loss of the war in the jokes circulating as early as 1940.

Two friends are talking. ‘When the war is over, says one, I plan to make a bicycle tour of Germany.’ The friend replies: ‘Fine, what will you do after lunch?’

The social historian Hermann Glaser first heard this joke in 1941:

‘An SS man says to a Jew in a concentration camp: “You will die today but I will give you one last chance. I have a glass eye. If you can tell me which one it is I will spare you.’ The Jew looks at the SS man and says: ‘It is the left one Sir.’ ‘How did you guess?’ The Jew replies: ‘It looked more human.’

This joke suggests a more widespread knowledge of the death camps and their purpose than some acknowledge.

As the Wehmacht’s forces were halted in their tracks at Stalingrad, jokes began to circulate about the army’s military performance and the way it was reported at home:

‘Valiant German soldiers capture a two room flat with its own kitchen, toilet and bathroom, and despite fierce counter attacks by Soviet bandits, managed to retain two-thirds of it.’

The reported sexual foibles of the Nazi leaders. After the leader of the Brownshirts (SA) and well known homosexual Ernst Rohm’s death in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives, a joke circulated which proclaimed:

‘Now we can understand his recent address to young people, that “Out of every Hitler Youth a Storm Trooper will emerge.”’

Herman Goering was always good for a laugh as the puffed-up head of the Lufwaffe was so fond of uniforms and self-awarded medals.

A watermain bursts in the Air Ministry basement. Goring calls up his secretary: ‘Fetch me an admiral’s uniform immediately.’

One night Emmy Goering awakes to find her husband with his back to her performing a strange dance with his baton. Asked what he is doing, he replies: ‘I am promoting my underpants to overpants.’

Jewish humour also found an outlets amongst the horror.

Two old Jews are sitting on a park bench in Berlin shortly after the Nazi take-over. ‘You know, Cohen, despite everything, do you realise that we are living through history, here, real history?’ ‘Is that a fact?’ say Cohen. ‘Personally, I wouldn’t mind trying geography next time.’

But telling such anti-regime jokes was a risky business in the Third Reich. The penalty was death. On the 24th July 1944 the People’s Court sentenced Father Joseph Muller to death by hanging for telling the following joke.

On his deathbed a wounded soldier asked to be see for the last time the people for whom he had laid down his life. The nurses bring him a picture of the Fuhrer and laid it on his right side. They then brought a portrait of Reichmarschall Goering and laid it on his left. Then, he said: ‘Now I can die like Jesus Christ, between two criminals.’

(Adapted from: Adam Lebor and Roger Boyes: Surviving Hitler: Choices, Corruption and Compromise in the Third Reich, Simon Schuster, 2000, pp. 35–37.)

Berlin was long famous for its sardonic humour and quick wit Schlagfertigkeit…. In the Bismark era Carl Furstenberg the head of the Berliner Handels Gesellschaft was an admired wit. He told a man who complained that is wife was betraying him with two friends that he would prefer to have a 30 per cent share of a good thing than 100 per cent of a bad; he answered his confidential clerk’s call “Guess who just died?” with “Today anyone will do.” And who having secured a whole sleeping compartment on a train, and being begged by an acquaintance to be allowed to pay him a large sum of money to sleep in the free upper berth: “No problem – but let me sleep on it first.”

(Gordon A. Craig: The Germans.1982., p. 113–14.)

And a short definitional poem

"Fascism is…."

Political Iliberalism and anti-Marxism
Mixed with a profound political Cynicism
Laced with Irrationalism
and ultra-Nationalism
and often Racism
realised through Militarism
and brute Authoritarianism
(some call itTotalitarianism)
A form of Fundamentalism
The dark underside of Modernism

And finally an "Isms Rap" (Why do we have so many "Isms" as general conceptual categories…...?)












David Baker

June 2019

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