Nazism vs. Fascism

While Nazism and Fascism are virtually known as having similar government styles, they were created with different ideals and meaning.  Fordham University wrote two different articles, The 25 Points 1920: An Early Nazi Program and Benito Mussolini: What is Fascism, 1932.  In these two articles, the two governments are explained as different, one focusing on purifying the country and the other in expanding the state’s territory.

In the article about Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, he argues that Fascism, “believes in holiness and in heroism… in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect”(1).  The Fascism ideals support the individuals apart of the state.  Mussolini focuses on expanding the Italian state and creating an empire in which believes in the living faith of the individuals.

On the the other hand, Adolf Hitler supports the purifying of the German state, according to the Fordham University article, The 25 Points 1920: An Early Nazi Program.  In this, the 25 points of the NSDAP show the unification of the non-Jewish German citizens.  The points included those that support the elimination of Jews and non-citizens of Germany.

These two articles show the contrast in dictator leadership.  While they may have developed into the same idea later on, the fundamental ideas of these two governments were essentially different in the sense that they support the individuals of their countries respectively in different means.

Totalitarianism: A Comparison

Ian Kershaw’s Totalitarianism Revisited: Nazism and Stalinism in Comparative Perspective applies the modern definition of totalitarianism to Nazism, Fascism, and Stalinism. On the surface level, these three governments appear to be similar in their nature. A powerful figurehead dominating the governments ideologies and fueling the motives at large, while controlling their state with force and surveillance. Kershaw does a good job in pointing out while the term authoritarianism needs to be adjusted based on the evolution of Nazism and Stalinism, the term can be applied to Italy’s, Russia’s, and Germany’s governments spanning from a pre-WWII era to the transition the USSR endured following Stalin’s death, but emphasizes the importance of not losing track of their singularities.

Modernity is the reason why these government systems are so similarly equated under the scope of totalitarianism. The organized bureaucracy and structure share similar characteristics while the overall motive of the state differs greatly. Both Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR were surveillance states, but with different purposes. Stalin wanted surveillance to be used as a tool of repression; to weed out counter-revolutionaries and stabilize politics. In contrast, Nazi Germany used surveillance to concentrate its power in the State and to promote its ultimately racist motives and to strengthen expansion. Italy had a more similar goal to Germany than the USSR. Mussolini also desired to expand and strengthen the Italian empire to return it to its former glory.

What can historians potentially gain by comparing these three forms of government? How are they similar to the British and American governments during the same period?


Defining Totalitarianism: Total control or Non-existence?

In Friedrich and Brzezinski’s “Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy” (1957), they posit that the two terms should be used interchangeably to define a regime that is led by a singular leader who agrees upon, if he himself does not create, all official state decisions. The leader is defined as an autokrator: “the ruler accountable only to himself.” (15) The main goal of a totalitarian leader, explained through the ideological-anthropological theory, is to attempt to create an utopian society through “total control of the everyday life of its citizens.” (16) To accomplish this vast goal, totalitarian rulers utilize the political tactic of “totalism”, which attempts to completely restructure mass society through an all-encompassing ideology using state terror, a centralized government and economy, and finally, a monopoly on communications and weapons. Friedrich and Brzezinski elaborate that totalism is only successfully employed with the use of modern technological and organizational bureaucratic devices. In the eyes of the totalitarian ruler, his absolute leadership would transform his weak country into a highly advanced nation. Stalin himself said, as Friedrich and Brzezinski quote, that he believed his vision of Soviet totalitarian society created the “perfect democracy”. However, Friedrich and Brzezinski see autocratic totalitarianism as attempting to replace pure democratic societies with their “perverted descendants”. (p. 26) They concur that, “the effort at total control, while not achieving such control, has highly significant human effects.” (17) As later historiographers would point out, this definition, among the first in the field, reduces totalitarianism in an overly-simplistic fashion. On a similar overly deconstructed note, they agree that fascism (here they include National Socialism) and communism, as the model totalitarian regimes led by Hitler and Stalin, are “basically alike”. (19)

On the other hand, Walter Lacqueur’s more contemporary commentary piece “Is There Now, or Has There Ever Been, Such a Thing as Totalitarianism?” (1985) completely overly complicates the definition of totalitarianism. While he attempts to create a ‘crude definition’ declaring totalitarianism as “any regime attracting 99% of the votes in an election”, (1) he does not create any sort of valid conclusion of what totalitarianism is — or if it even exists at all. While never settling on his own definition of totalitarianism, what he contributes through this article is historiographical comparison of multiple historians’ perspectives. In favor of Friedrich and Brzezinski’s six components of totalitarianism, he prefers Bracher’s four criteria, which he sees as the “shorter and simpler” as well as more accurate version, as he points out flaws in Friedrich and Brzezinski’s theory. Further, Lacqueur supports Bracher’s declaration of despotism and freedom as the “fundamental dividing line in recent history”. (3) Lacqueur then examines Linz’s comparison of authoritarianism versus totalitarianism; he cites the main differences as authoritarianism allowing pluralism while lacking the state-sponsored ideology and forced mass political participation directed from above, both characteristic in totalitarian regimes. While he successfully synthesizes multiple perspectives on totalitarianism into one piece, what Lacquer really over complicates is his application of totalitarianism to communism and the Soviet Union. He asserts early on that totalitarianism may be applied correctly to the character of nazism but not to the character of communism (2); he then spends a good amount of time deciding whether Lowenthal’s fascism-communism comparison or Hassner’s “post-totalitarianism authoritarianism” definition better aptly fits the Soviet bloc experience. While Friedrich and Brzezinski’s definition of totalitarianism is overly simplistic, at least it does not confuse through round-about arguments in the style of Lacqueur.

The Berlin Stories: The Modern State?

Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, is a novel about the changing pace of Germany during the late Weimar Republic. Set in 1931 the story follows Isherwood’s alias, William Bradshaw, and his relations with Arthur Norris, who is a member of the German Communist Party. As their friendship blossoms the reader is introduced to Berlin slowly under Nazification, through meeting many of Bradshaw’s acquaintances.

The book particularly shows an evolving Germany in the sense of the modern state that we have been examining. The cultural changes seen with in the cafes and discussion of women or education continue to show the progression that has been developing since the 1920s. Also between the Marxism and Nazism the idea of statism, and nationalism, and homogeneity are often found throughout the story pushing for those greater ideals. However I found that the story while a demonstration of what pre war Berlin was, also mocked the Nazis attempts to create the modern state. The intricate character Mr. Norris often goes against the grain of a homogeneous state and Bradshaw recognizes and enjoys that. Mr. Norris also goes against the classic conceptions of communists being wealthy, somewhat fiscally irresponsible, and a masochist. Also I could not tell if there was a serious homosexual undertone in the whole work between Arthur and Bradshaw.

Does this work represent the changing progression to the modern state as we have been studying? Does it mock the Nazi changes in Germany through its characters?

Norris and the Role of Luxury in Communism

When readers are first introduced to the character of Arthur Norris, he is offered a cigarette by William Bradshaw, a luxury reserved more or less “for the common folk”. As we see his character develop, the amount of wealth he flaunts becomes greater and greater, bragging about having a bedroom in Paris that he customized himself and worth a small fortune. Later he goes on to show this wealth with the amount of servants and the quality of decoration his house has to Bradshaw, which in turn helps characterize him for the reader.

These characterizations are important because than Isherwood goes against the stereotypes of communism. By making this rich socialite a communist, Isherwood was not only showing the rapidly changing politics of German society, but was showing the hypocrisy that the rich intellectuals were living in the Wiemar Republic. These folks truly were disconnected with the realities of Germany at the time. Even though people such as Norris were attempting to solve reform and improve living conditions, they failed to realize that this radical reform would never occur and ultimately, their attempts at change were actually hampering the working classes cries for help. While Norris thinks he is helping workers like those oppressed in China, in reality he is part of the problem, delaying any chance of democratic reform and allowing the Nazis to eventually rise to power.

Spread of Nazism Throughout Europe

In Dark Continent, Mazower briefly discusses Germany’s view of Europe as a racial entity.  The movement to eradicate Jews from the population did not exist only in Germany—it was a genocide that aimed to span the entire continent. Mazower argues that racism was the driving force behind World War II, and the desire to improve and cleanse the population occurred throughout Europe. As the power of the Nazi party strengthened, it expanded outside of Germany and ultimately led to one of the greatest genocides in history.

When comparing these concepts to the 25 Points, there is an interesting contradiction when defining national identity.  The 25 Points was written in 1920, before Germany began to expand into other European countries.  Because the Nazis invaded other countries in the following years, the definition of nationality became somewhat confused.  In order to promote a united front, the Nazis accused Jews of being scapegoats for the hardships that Germany faced during the interwar period.  What ultimately led to Germany’s continental dominance, and the mass extermination of Jews, was the need for a blame for Europe’s dark interwar period. Overall, racism was the catalyst behind German power during the Nazi regime.

How did the increase in German power affect the 25 Points? Did it strengthen or weaken the document?

European Dictators: The Worse of Two Evils?

While viewing pictures of the gulags on, I was reminded of the pictures of Auschwicz  I had seen in high school during our holocaust unit. The starvation, disease, and forced labor I read about on the site, as well as in the book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich seemed reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps.

These facts made me wonder why in American culture Joseph Stalin’s crimes often seem to be minimized. (Not that I believe Hitler’s crimes are exaggerated at all.)  According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust. According to the International Business Times, Stalin’s kill count is estimated to be 20 million. *Both counts vary according to different sources.

I will not try to determine “who is worse.”  I am merely examining why Hitler seems so much more evil to Americans than Stalin does, while, at first glance, they committed similar crimes.

I think the reason America remembers Hitler more than Stalin is because 1) Hitler was concerned with the extermination of certain races 2) Hitler killed using more sadistic methods 3) Stalin’s crimes were internalized to his country and 4) Stalin had been an American ally.

While Hitler was probably “more racist” as his entire philosophy was based around race, Stalin wasn’t exactly Martin Luther King. He sent various nationalities to the gulags because he perceived them as a threat.  These nationalities included Ukrainians, Germans, and yes, Jews.  So Stalin was also anti-Semitic.  Though he was arguably less so than Hitler, (he didn’t want to actually exterminate them), does it really matter who is more or less anti-Semitic?  Both of them killed people simply for being Jewish.  Which we can all agree is incredibly wrong.

Yes, Hitler was definitely more sadistic than Stalin. While Stalin killed people who he felt threatened by, Hitler almost seemed to take joy in the pure act of sadistic killing. My guess is that this is what truly sets the two apart in the minds of most Americans. Stalin joins the ranks of Genghis Khan and the ancient Roman emperors- killing because they believed they had to in order to remain in power. Hitler’s more of a Jeffrey Dahmer figure with unlimited power.

Hitler also attempted to take over Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, France and an alliance with Italy, and an attempt on Russia. When he would take over a country, he would send the local Jewish, Romani, handicapped, etc. populations to concentration camps (except in the case of Poland, where he basically sent anyone he could).  Stalin stuck to the Soviet Union. While it was the largest country in the world at the time, it was Stalin’s, so he could more or less do as he pleased.

Finally, during World War II, the United States sided with the Soviet Union, and Stalin. First of all, Soviet troops fought valiantly against Hitler, following the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” rule.  Also, as we did ally ourselves with Stalin, we may have trouble admitting we sided with someone who was basically as evil as the one we were fighting against.

Stalin is perceived as less racist and less sadistic than Hitler. He stuck to his own territory and was even an American ally for a little while. Whether deserved or not, these reasons make Stalin the “lesser of two evils” for many Americans.


Critical Summary of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent

Dark Continent by Mark Mazower is a historical text which covers the interwar period of Europe in a unique way. The first four chapters each focus on a different aspect of interwar Europe: the decline of democracy, nationalism and the effects it has on minority groups, health and social welfare as a means of control over populations, and the economies of nations. Mazower’s geopolitical coverage of Europe is large; he touches upon other countries in Europe that are usually neglected. Mazower’s interpretation of these historical events is also unique. He ties his interpretation into his themes of decline, fall, and social struggles in Europe to his thesis that Communism, Nazism, and democracy are more related than the reader may have originally thought. Through these views of the forms of governments and the main social struggle of the era, Mazower helps the reader gain a greater understanding of interwar Europe.

Starting with the first chapter and continuing through the next three, Mazower repeatedly points out the primary social struggle present throughout all countries and political parties: the strained relationship between the individual and the population as a whole. This is especially apparent in chapter three, when Mazower expands on the welfare state and social welfare. The welfare was not for the good of the individual; it was for the good of the country as a whole (89). This was constant throughout all countries in Europe. Another historian, Hoffman, reaffirms this idea in his historical writing, Cultivating the Masses. Hoffman, like Mazower, writes about a country’s concern for its productivity level, as it is directly correlated to the creation of social welfare for its people.

In Mazower’ interpretation of history, he views Communism as a favorable political solution. He touches upon the positives of Communism, explaining the basic goals of tackling corruption and social injustice. This interpretation sheds a positive light on Communism, which the reader may not have expected. He believes that the Soviet Union dealt with the issue of minorities and nationalism the best out of all of the governments. The Soviet Union was able to win over the minorities in the country by offering them involvement in the government (50). This united the country in a way in which no other country in Europe was able to do.

Mazower also examines the growth of Nazism in Europe, especially Germany. Nazism grew from citizens’ hatred of communism. This is apparent from many SS members’ own testimonies, including Hitler’s bodyguard, Rochus Misch. Like many members of the Nazi Party, he stated that he joined the SS because it was a “counterweight to the threat of the left,” and that it was for anti-communist goals. Yet Nazism was a form of imperialism that fits into history better than many believe it should (74). It did have a focus on social welfare; however that focus was then manipulated to benefit a minority of Germans, the Aryan race.

The most discussed form of government, which failed quite often, was democracy. In interwar Europe, there was not a universally agreed upon definition of democracy (5). This directly lead to the development of “democratic governments” which were no more than totalitarian or militant, non-parliamentary regimes. This can be seen in post-World War I Germany when a Constitutional provision, Article 48, was created in order to suspend the Constitution under specific conditions. This article was inevitably abused by then-Chancellor, Hitler, and although he was democratically elected, it is obvious that this abuse was not one of good faith and democratic idealism (33). From democracy, Nazism was born.  On the other hand, in other countries’ democracies, there was great distrust of the executive branch of government (19). Mazower does a good job of linking, comparing, and contrasting each individual European country’s form of democracy with the others.

From Mazower’s descriptions alone, the reader can see that these three forms of governments had similar goals. These three governments grew from and were related to each other; one cannot exist without the others. Each was constantly evolving, rising and falling with the changing climate of worldwide political trends. This leads to a greater understanding of the political structure, and conflict, in interwar Europe.

Overall, Mazower’s Dark Continent is a great text for an undergraduate history course. It intelligently follows the rise and fall of vastly different political ideologies in Europe, while also following the social struggles stemming from each. It does so without confusing the reader with irrelevant details, employing the use of brevity through text. It goes without saying that Mazower provides the reader with an extensive overview of the interwar period and successfully supports his thesis.