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Making of the Modern World. Lecture Fascism: Between Nationalism and Total War. Schedule. Introduction What is Fascism? Fascist Movements Fascist States Fascism and War Interpretations Conclusion. Schedule. Introduction What is Fascism? Fascist Movements Fascist States

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making of the modern world

Making of the Modern World


Fascism: Between Nationalism and Total War

  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion
fascism etymology
“Fascism” - Etymology

from fasces (rods bundled around an axe) – In ancient Rome a symbol of the authority of the magistrate, lictors carried them in front of the magistrates

Symbolism: strength through unity

fascism difficult to define
Fascism : difficult to define
  • Not a coherent ideology
  • Big differences between Nazism, Italian Fascism and other “fascist” states and movements
  • Some characteristics in common with other authoritarian regimes
  • Extreme left, extremism of the centre or extreme right?
  • Inflationary use of the term to slander political enemy, has become a term of political conflicts
fascism a collectivistic nationalistic authoritarian ideology based on
Anti-communism (-socialism, -Marxism)

Anti-liberalism (-democracy, individualism)

Anti-capitalism (only until in power)

Anti-semitism (only in Germany)

(Anti-egalitarian, anti-intellectual, anti-pacifist)

The idea of regeneration, rebirth and youth

The nation (as the eternal embodiment of the collective spirit)

Corporatism (Italy): organic organisation of society, harmonised by state

Community (in Nazi Germany Volksgemeinschaft)

Racism (more in Nazism)

Leadership cult

Imperialism and expansionism

FascismA collectivistic, nationalistic, authoritarian ideology based on

Syndicalism: a set of ideas, movements with the aim of transforming capitalist society through action by the working class. For syndicalists, trade unions are the potential means both of overcoming capitalism and of running society in the interests of the majority. Industry and government in a syndicalist society would be run by trade union federations.

National syndicalists imagined that the liberal democratic political system would be destroyed in a massive general strike, at which point the nation’s economy would be transformed into a corporatist model based on class cooperation, contrasted with Marxist class struggle.


Corporatism or corporativism (Italian corporativismo): a political or economic system in which power is given to unelected civic assemblies that represent economic, industrial, agrarian, and professional groups to exert control over their respective areas of social or economic life.

In Fascism: corporations represent the interests of their members in relation to the state and are at the same time instruments of control of the state

Alternative to class struggle

“Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism as it is a merge of state and corporate power.”

Benito Mussolini


“The keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State… For Fascism the state is absolute, individuals and groups are relative… The State, as conceived and realised by Fascism, is a spiritual and ethical entity for securing the political, juridical, and economic organisation of the nation… The State is not only the present; it is also the past and above all the future. Transcending the individual’s brief spell of life, the State stands for the immanent conscience of the nation.”

Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism (1932)

“For the Fascist, everything is within the State… For Fascism, the State is an absolute.”

Giovanni Gentile (1932)


“In the state it [the völkisch idea) sees on principle only a means to an end and construes its end as the preservation of the racial existence of man. Thus, it by no means believes in an equality of the races, but along with their difference it recognises their higher or lesser value and feels itself obligated, through this knowledge, to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker in accordance with the eternal will that dominates this universe.”

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925)

fascism modernisation
Fascism & Modernisation
  • Fascism as backward-looking force (Lipsett)
  • Social protection of middle classes against rise of organised capital & organised labour, but de facto support of big business (rearmament)
  • Means & ends: modern means to archaic ends
  • Multiple paths to modernity: technological, economic, political
  • Horkheimer & Adorno’s Auschwitz paradox: height of barbarism achieved with factory-like precision; scientists of death working for ‘perfectibility of man’: a perverted Enlightenment project
  • Nazism as “reactionary modernism” (Jeffrey Herf)
  • Mass media: tomorrow will highlight use of film & radio
  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion
fascist regimes

Fascist regimes

Italy (Benito Mussolini) 1922-1943/45

Germany Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Adolf Hitler) 1933-1945

Austria (Dollfuß) - 1938

Spain (Franco) -

Portugal (Salazar and Caetano)

Fascist movements

  • Some examples
  • Britain British Union of Fascists (Oswald Mosley)
  • Norway Nasjonal Samling (Vidkun Quisling)
  • Romania Iron Guard
  • Hungary Arrow Cross
  • Fascist regime 1922-1943 (1945)
  • Benito Mussolini (Il Duce)
  • March on Rome, October 1922
  • Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti murdered by fascists, June 1924
  • Mussolini deposed August 1943
  • Saló Republic 1943-1945

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

March on Rome, 1922

  • NSDAP formed 1920
  • Failed “beer hall coup”, Nov. 1923
  • Played no important role in 1920s
  • After Great Depression fast growth of influence, 1932 strongest party
  • Hitler becomes chancellor in Jan. 1933
  • Night of the Long Knives, June 1934: against SA-leaders who wanted to continue National-Socialist “revolution” and criticised Hitler’s alliance with the conservatives and the traditional elites


Fight for Germany

Booklet on German politics before 1933

Munich, 1933DHM, Berlin

  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion

Alliance with the traditional elites – no social revolution

Potsdam, March 12, 1933, Hitler meets Reich President Paul von Hindenburg


“I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer [leader] of the German nation and people, Supreme Commander of the armed forces, and will be ready as a true soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath”.

Oath sworn by German soldiers after 1934


Führer principle

“The Führer is supreme judge of the nation…The Führer is not backed by constitutional clauses, but by outstanding achievements which are based on the combination of a calling and of his devotion to the people. The Führer does not put into effect a constitution according to legal guidelines laid before him but by historic achievements which serve the future of his people… Constitutional law in the Third Reich is the legal formulation of the historical will of the Führer.”

Justice Minister Hans Frank in a speech in 1938


Racism and Anti-semitism

“The Scourge of God, Polish Jews"

From A Brochure issued by Der Stuermer. 1939


Creating the German Master Race

Measuring the facial features of young Germans

  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion

A Nazi war song: Es zittern die morschen Knochen

Und liegt vom Kampfe in Trümmern

Die ganze Welt zuhauf,

Das soll uns den Teufel kümmern,

Wir bauen sie wieder auf.

Wir werden weiter marschieren

Wenn alles in Scherben fällt,

Denn heute gehört uns Deutschland

Und morgen die ganze Welt.

And lies due to the battle

The whole world in ruins,

What the devil do we care?

We build it up again

If all the world lies in ruins,We still will go marching on,For today Germany is oursAnd tomorrow the whole world.

fascism war empire
Fascism, War & Empire
  • Mussolini’s hopes to recreate Roman Empire & Mediterranean ‘Mare Nostrum’
  • 1935 invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia); 1940 stalling of Greek & Egyptian campaigns
nazism war empire
Nazism, War & Empire
  • Hitler’s admiration of American & Russian continental powers with natural resources
  • Mein Kampf (1925): criticises Kaiser’s Weltpolitik
  • Lebensraum: Germany ‘crowded’ people seeking continental empire in E. Europe/Ukraine
  • Volksdeutsche: mission to reunite ‘lost’ territories of Greater Germany; Aryanisation schemes
  • World ambitions: future confrontation with USA?

“The foreign policy of a völkisch state is charged with guaranteeing the existence on this planet of the race embraced by the State, by establishing between the number and growth of the population, on the one hand, and the size and value of the soil and territory, on the other hand, a viable, natural relationship … Only a sufficiently extensive area on this globe guarantees a nation freedom of existence.”

B.  1924, Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. 8th Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1939), p. 935.


Holocaust: the genocide against the Jews

Auschwitz II – Birkenau 1945


The enslavement of the slavic peoples

“The Slavs are to work for us. In so far as we don’t need them, they may die. Therefore compulsory vaccination and German health services are unnecessary. The fertility of the Slavs is undesirable. They may use contraceptives or practise abortion, the more the better. Education is dangerous. It is enough if they can count up to one hundred. Every educated person is a future enemy… As for food, they won’t get any more than is absolutely necessary. We are the masters. We come first.”

Letter from Martin Bormann, 1941


Mobilising for Total War

Berlin, 1943

DHM, Berlin

  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion
some american historians strange revival 10 years ago by daniel goldhagen
Some American historians (strange revival 10 years ago by Daniel Goldhagen)
  • Nazism as culmination of centuries of German history
  • From Luther – Fredrick the Great of Prussia – Bismarck and William II – Ludendorff/Hindenburg – Hitler
conservative german historians after 1945 gerhard ritter friedrich meinecke
Conservative German historians after 1945 (Gerhard Ritter, Friedrich Meinecke)
  • State oriented historians
  • Aim: to save the German past
  • Nazism as a complete break with the German past
  • Nazism as part of an European trend of the collapse of moral and religious values in and after the Great War
  • Demonizing of Hitler who is held responsible for the German catastrophe
revisionist view
Revisionist view
  • German territorial war aims in the Great War similar to those of Hitler (Fritz Fischer in 1960s)
  • Tradition of German expansionism
  • Continuity of social structures and power of traditional elites
  • In another step: Germany’s special path (+ late industrialisation, no successful bourgeois revolution)
  • Some historians see Nazism as unique (anti-Semitism and racial theory and Holocaust) and fundamentally different from Italian fascism



Synthesis (according to Bracher and Jäckel): Hitler derived much of his strength from the rivalry and the overlapping responsibilities of state and party institutions. He thus could assume the role of a mediator. Single offices competed to win him over to their policies. Often they tried to implement what was considered to be his wish ...

fascism theory
Fascism theory
  • Stresses the similarities between Italy & Germany
  • Imperial expansion as inherent
  • War as overall goal
  • Close relationship with capitalism
  • Fascism as ‘faith-based’ political religion, placing willpower over material constraints

“Fascism is the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital”.

Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov on the occasion of the VIIth Congress of the Communist International 1935

totalitarianism theory
Totalitarianism theory
  • Mussolini, 1925: ‘our totalitarian fascist will’
  • Theory in 1950s with Cold War comparison to Soviet Russia
  • Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951
  • Carl Friedrich’s six points:
    • An official ideology
    • A single mass party
    • Terroristic police control
    • Monopoly control over the media
    • A monopoly of arms
    • Central control of the economy
  • Criticisms: static; does not take account of radical, self-destructive tendencies of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism
  • Introduction
  • What is Fascism?
  • Fascist Movements
  • Fascist States
  • Fascism and War
  • Interpretations
  • Conclusion
fascism vs totalitarianism
Fascism vs. Totalitarianism
  • Fascism is a useful category to compare the origin and nature of right wing, authoritarian regimes with mass support in the historical context of post-World War I Europe
  • Totalitarianism is useful to compare how power was exercised in Nazi-Germany and Stalinist Soviet Union, but should not be applied to the post-Stalin Soviet Union
  • All theorizing and comparison should not blur differences, especially the unique and radical character of the Nazi extermination policy