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How useful is the term ‘fascism’ when applied generically to describe the far right in interwar Europe? Essay

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Updated: Mar 29th, 2019

Introduction

Fascism is a versatile term used to describe the political philosophies that were influential in many parts of Europe following the First World War. It also relates to the style of leadership and the policies adopted by a group of people. According to Eatwell, fascism is the most vicious political crusade that ever emerged1. It is associated with dictatorial rule and violence.

In Europe, fascism was experienced between the first and the second world wars. Countries such as Britain, France and Norway had fascist crusades, while others like Poland and Austria were ruled by fascist governors. Nevertheless, fascism had a profound effect on Germany and Italy. Despite the fact there is question over the origin of fascism; Morgan asserts that fascism is a product of crisis2.

The crisis that engulfed Europe due to war and the great depression presented the perfect opportunity for fascist movements. This is because; crisis created a demand for unusual strategies to solve the political, economic and social issues that emerged after the war.

Fascism is mostly associated with leaders who were against collectivism, egalitarianism and socialism. Some of those leaders include Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler among others. Their ideologies were centered on an acute form of nationalism and racism.

Although these leaders were first seen as heroes due to the efforts they made to recuperate from the war, their actions later led to an era of violence such as the Holocaust that ended after the Second World War. Fascism is useful in describing the political regimes witnessed in interwar Europe.

This paper discusses the origin and ideologies developed in interwar Europe and the reasons why these ideologies spread. It further examines the characteristic policies adopted by Leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Finally, it looks at the relationship between fascism and religion in Europe.

Origin of Fascism

Product of crisis

To understand fascism, it is important to look at its history. According to Morgan, fascism is a product of crisis. The First World War left Europe in economic hardship3. Economic control changed hands from England to United States. There was a high rate of unemployment and the inflation rate had increased tremendously.

In Britain, workers initiated strikes in order to demand an increase in salary and improved working conditions. Moreover, Europe was indebted to America. The Americans demanded that the European nations should pay reparations. Since there was no way for these nations to pay compensation fees and inter-allied debts, the Americans invested in Europe to recover their debt.

Unfortunately, when the United States economy failed, the European economy failed too. For most people, the actions of the fascists were not important so long as the nation was restored to its former glory. Still, other historians hold the view that fascism started way before the First World War due to the cultural and social changes that occurred in Europe. Those who hold this view believe that fascism already existed before it could be identified4.

Reaction to communism

However, Eatwell argued that fascism originated from rejection. Fascists detest the idea of freedom and fairness5. They believe that democracy causes the government to be weak. Fascism grew because people could not tolerate the idea of democracy and communism. They blamed communism and democracy for the great depression. In addition, they abhorred the idea of equality. Another analogous view of this subject is that of Furet in his book Fascism and communism.

He claims that fascism is a reaction to the communist rule. Fascism developed because of fear of communists6, who had unsuccessfully tried to invade Europe. For example, fascists gained acceptance because they promised to nationalize property and introduce private property rights. They promoted wealthy entrepreneurs while demolishing workers union. Nonetheless, these rights were subject to individuals who rendered services on behalf of the state.

Emotions

Emotions like fear, bitterness, and hatred also contributed to fascism. Following the First World War, most of the European people were left without a nation. As causalities of war, people found themselves in geographical entities which did not recognize their values or customs. Furthermore, the people felt embarrassed because of the demands imposed by the champions of war. They feared that the communists would take over and confiscate their property.

Soldiers and war veterans come back home after the first war, in desolation and paucity. All these issues, together with the economic depression experienced in interwar Europe birthed out negative emotions. As a result, people did not need much convincing before they embraced nationalist ideologies. They had lost their value and the state was their only source of pride.

In Italy, the returning soldiers were despised and jeered by the public. Their services during the war were not appreciated or honored. Mussolini targeted the anger of the lower class and the veteran soldiers of war to gain popularity. The support he received gave him the opportunity to bring his party to power.

Ideologies of Fascism

Nationalism

One of the essential ideologies of fascism is nationalism7. Fascists endorse nationalism in terms of ethnicity, religion, race and culture. However, fascism drove nationalism to the negative extreme. Nationalists believe that the nation was more important than a single individual. An individual is only right when his interests concur with the nation.

Fascists failed to see that people were different from the state. Consequently, individuals were treated as division of a nation. To win support, leaders made promises to restore past prominence and power.

They also made effort to create an invisible threat to the state in order to instill fear in people. For this reason, leaders like Hitler were authoritarians who claimed to do everything for the nation. All their actions were justified by the nationalism ideology. The use of nationalism to gain influence is a perfect example of how dictators come to power during the interwar period.

Racism and Anti-Semitism

Another popular ideology with fascism is racism and anti-Semitism. This was seen through Hitler who started to spread propaganda against the Jews. Hitler took advantage of the economic depression and framed the Jews for the economic downfall of Germany. He came up with a solution to eliminate the Jews. To make his message effective, he spread propaganda against them and made the people believe that Jews were inferior and had an agenda to take over Germany. Conversely, racism towards black people was a common phenomenon witnessed in the interwar period. Most of the people were led to believe that white people were superior to other races due to their skin pigmentation8. These ideologies led to ‘racial cleansing’ in order to safeguard their heritage.

Use of violence

Fascists firmly believe that violence is inevitable. It is a common dogma used by fascist to ensure that they solved crisis9. Under fascist administrations, a huge amount of money is set aside for the military. Additionally, violence was used to instill fear and cause intimation. It is the means by which fascists ensured that there philosophies and ideas were adopted. All their orders were obeyed without question. In Germany, Hitler used the Nazi.

In Italy, the terror group was known as ‘black shirts’. In the beginning, Mussolini used this group to tear down the opposition. Later, the black shirts manned the streets disciplining anyone who dishonored the leadership of the dictator. These groups were known to be brutal and the people had no choice but to obey orders. Because fascism was known to endorse war and violence it led to world war two; which in the end destroyed it.

Dictatorship

Dictatorship is one of the political regimes witnessed in interwar Europe. It is a term used to depict a system of government in which a democratic system is missing. There are two forms of dictatorship classified into: authoritarian and totalitarian10. Authoritarians are brought to power following a military takeover or an existing conventional administration. The main purpose of such a regime is to preserve long-established structures and customs.

On the other hand, totalitarian rule come to power following a rebellion. Such administrations have radical believes and principles that ensure that change in the political, financial and societal structures. This system of government was seen in Germany and Italy among others. Some of the aspects that were common to these administrations were the use of propaganda to control all sectors of the economy, use of violence to intimidate people, and the complete control of economy.

Fascism in Italy

Fascism originated in Italy under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. This was a period in which Italy was greatly distressed. Like all the other nations involved in war, Italy had borrowed a huge sum of money to cover the cost of the war. However, on returning home, the prime minister and the soldiers at that time had no plunder to show forth.

What followed was a period of economic distress characterized by corruption and unemployment. In the midst of the chaos, Mussolini launched a fascist party and organized a fascist movement that saw him being awarded with a position in the government11.

He later changed the country and forced the opposition party at that time to vote against themselves. This move gave him power to rule over Italy. His ideas were centered on a racial nation, in which all the citizens would be unified by their birthright and outward appearance.

Mussolini’s power and influence increased and extended to several parts of Italy. His rule was characterized by violence. His party took charge of the police force which controlled the streets and instilled fear. Mussolini’s doctrine denied the people many freedoms. All forms of written materials were censored while other books and articles were banned.

The education system was structured to endorse the fascist administration. One of the strategies used by Mussolini to provide a solution to issues of unemployment was the formation of work camps. These work camps provided employment opportunities for the people who were jobless12. In addition, the camps led to an improvement in infrastructure.

Because he increased the rate of employment, Mussolini gained trust and control of the economic sector. Although the ideologies developed by Mussolini improved the economy of Italy, it cost the people their rights and privileges.

Fascism in Germany

Fascism in Germany was first experienced when Hitler came to power. Like Mussolini, he made numerous promises to restore the economy of Germany. Nonetheless, his method of organization was different from Mussolini. The Nazi party was obsessed with being a model of patriotism for the people13. The party was independent of financial donations from industries and businessmen as it was financed by supporters and associates.

Hitler framed the Jews for their defeat during war and the loss of German soldiers. Additionally, he associated the Jews with communism and financial capitalism. He accused them of taking sides with the Soviet Union whose goal was to take over Germany. Consequently, the government endorsed a program to fight the threat. The Jews were denied citizenship and their property confiscated.

Fascism and Religion

Fascists like Hitler and Mussolini used religion to gain political acceptance. Nevertheless, these leaders supported the church for outward appearance but inside they were pagans. There ideologies completely any form of religious belief. Their totalitarian and authoritarian manner made them supreme in their own sense. They demanded allegiance and cooperation from the people. Initially, Mussolini was against the Catholic Church.

He spread propaganda against the church and tried to possess their property. Later on, he denounced his stands when he saw that people were warming up to the church. In the same way, Hitler used the church to attract supporters. In his speech, he would quote religious texts and relate them to the Nazi political schemes.

For example, he altered the bible and claimed that Jesus was not a Jew, and that the Jews had killed Christ because he despised them. It is clear that religion and fascism could never agree because both seek to claim the body and soul of a person.

Conclusion

Based on the ideologies and origin of fascism, it is clear that fascism was a reaction to communism and the aftermath of war. The pain and suffering brought about by the economic downfall and the loss of national pride provided the perfect environment for the fascists to take over. Mussolini and Hitler introduced ideologies as a way of restoring national identity and creating a powerful nation, and the people were excited to hear this.

Fascism developed as a result of extreme patriotism, apprehension, and dictatorship. However, it did not succeed due to its violent nature, lack of proper structures and totalitarian rule. Although fascism made life better for a while, a lot of people paid a high price for the loss of their freedom and privileges. Several people lost their lives and property due to the violent. Fascism is useful in describing the political system witnessed in interwar Europe.

Bibliography

Eatwell, Roger. Fascism: A History. London: Routledge, 2003.

Fieschi, Catherine. Fascism, Populism and the French Fifth Republic: in the shadow of democracy. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2004.

Furet, François and Nolte Ernst. Fascism and Communism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

Morgan, Philip. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003.

Todd, Allan. The European Dictatorship: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Footnotes

1 Roger Eatwell. Fascism: a history. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.6

2 Philip Morgan, Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p. 64

3 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.64

4 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.15

5 Roger Eatwell. Fascism: a history. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.20

6 François Furet and Ernst Nolte. Fascism and communism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004, P. 19-20

7 Catherine Fieschi. Fascism, populism and the French Fifth Republic: in the shadow of democracy. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2004, P. 10

8 Allan Todd. The European Dictatorship: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 11

9 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.64

10 Allan Todd. The European Dictatorship: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p.12

11 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.123

12 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.130

13 Philip Morgan. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2003 , p.66

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