Comparative Fascism in Europe

Comparative Fascism in Europe

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Comparative Fascism in Europe

Is it “easier” to write a fascist credo than an anti-fascist credo? Why or why not?

Fascism was an enforced State while antifascism was a chosen opposition

Defining a fascist credo is difficult because the fascists built their support and policy on negative integration. This was coupled with an alliance and hostile takeover of the political right. If the fascists were on the right, then, their most obvious enemies would be on the left. With street brawls and political assassinations, the Socialists most assuredly were an opponent of fascism. Was socialism, then, the antifascist movement? While the political fighting occurred between left and right, the fascists opposed another large group as well: the liberal establishment. The fascists eventually took violent action against liberalism as well, in the form of World War Two. Thus, fascism was against these political groups, but were those political groups antifascist in nature or in action? The answer is quite simply yes, these groups were antifascist. The common element between the antifascist groups was that joining them and being active within them was a voluntary action; this is opposed to life in fascist regimes, wherein people were forced to become fascist. In this sense, fascism was totalitarian, because it made everyone become part of the system or else wanted by the police. The freedom in the liberal system, wherein people were Catholic, democratic, socialist, communist, and so many other things, was in opposition to the very idea of that freedom being taken away. People willingly joined these groups, making an antifascist credo easier to define, because it was a choice to be antifascist.

Certainly a more complex definition of fascism is required. However, the framers of fascist thought itself, Mussolini and Hitler, never truly bothered to define fascism for their supporters or for posterity. Mussolini tried in the Enciclopaedia Italiana of 1932, published a full 10 years after Mussolini took power. Mussolini said that his “own doctrine, even in this period, had always been a doctrine of action” (Mussolini, 586). This is the most obvious facet of fascism, its love of action; it is in the name of action that no true doctrine was ever laid out (Mussolini, 587). Mussolini proceeded from there to explain fascism in negative terms, saying:

“For us fascists, the State is not merely a guardian…nor is it an organization with purely material aims…nor is it a purely political creation, divorced from all contact with the complex material reality which makes up the life of the individual and life of the people as a whole.

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The State, as conceived of and as created by Fascism, is a spiritual and moral fact in itself, since its political, juridical, and economic organization of the nation is a concrete thing: and as such an organization must be in its origins and development a manifestation of the spirit. The State is the guarantor of security both internal and external, but it is also the custodian and transmitter of the spirit of the people, as it has grown up; through the centuries in language, in customs, and in faith.”

(Mussolini, 592) The amount of ideas he lumps together as what fascism is not, and the very general terms used to defend what fascism is, shows the character of fascism. Fascism, as the thing representing the “spirit of the people,” is the most important aspect for this argument, because by stating that fascism is the spirit of the people, it leaves no room for opposition. Everyone became part of the State under fascism. Simultaneously, fascism became the State.

Other movements became swept up in fascism, just as many others were attacked by fascism as we shall see later. The most obvious group associated with the fascists was the Nazi party in Germany, a group fascist in origins and mostly fascist in practice. The largest split between the two was the focus on race inherent in the Nazi system. Beyond stating that the people of Germany were part of the German State, Hitler stated that the people of Germany were part of the German race, and that those who were not German within Germany (especially the Jews) were the enemy. Hitler’s view was that “We must distinguish in the sharpest way between the state as a vessel and the race as its content” (Hitler, 206) In the 1920 National Socialist German Workers’ Party platform, citizenship according to race was defined. The party platform also points out one of the only decisive items in fascist politics: hatred of the Treaty of Versailles (National Socialism, 595). Since fascism was originally constructed of almost exclusively ex-servicemen from World War One, its politics understandably ran towards violence and the right. The violence was anti-left, and ended up gaining a good deal of support from people who feared the left: industrialists. The political right, meanwhile, joined forces with the fascists – sometimes willingly, sometimes not. The nationalist parties, Futurists, and others on the right formed alliances and coalitions with the fascists, or simply joined the party.

A summary of fascism is hard to determine. It was created by men who had fought in World War One and were dissapointed that the war was over. This led to a passionate hatred of the Treaty of Versailles and the men who had signed and supported it, including the liberal establishment and the socialists. Having just been in a war, the men were focused on fighting and exerting power. Fascism was about gaining power from the hands of the enemy, becoming the State, and then focusing the attention of the public on the State. A stereotypical fascist would say things like “We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness” (Marinetti, 211). Fascism did not, then, believe in something so much as it was something to do. Mussolini asserted that “A party which entirely governs a nation is a fact entirely new to history, there are no possible references or parallels. Fascism uses in its construction whatever elements in the Liberal, Social, and Democratic doctrines still have a living value” (Mussolini, 591). His constant obsession with making sure fascism was new, unique, and unpredictable, makes defining it today difficult. Hitler said that “We National Socialists as champions of a new philosophy of life must never base ourselves on so-called ‘accepted facts’ – and false ones at that. If we did, we would not be the champions of a new great idea, but the coolies of the present-day lie” (Hitler, 206). The fascists hated the thought of being considered to be part of the system, because they were supposed to be the definitive opposition party.

It is much easier to look at fascism in terms of what it was not. Fascism created a political context for itself by being an opposition party. It used negative integration to define what it was not, and said everyone not covered by these oppositions was a fascist. “Everyone thought it was either absurd or ridiculous to associate for the first time the idea of freedom with that of the fatherland” (Marinetti, 217), but nonetheless this is what the fascists did. The only people who were free were those who gave up their liberty in the name of the State. That is to say no one was free, which is not quite true because “Free people are those who are the most powerful” (Papini, 110), which would be the leadership itself. Meanwhile, “Fascism has taken up an attitude of complete opposition to the doctrines of Liberalism, both in the political field and the field of economics” (Mussolini, 589), an opposition that was felt within the fascist countries and without. Winston Churchill, the primary liberal in opposition to the fascists, said that “We have been reduced from a position where the very word ‘war’ was considered one which would be used only by persons qualifying for a lunatic asylum” (Churchill, 231).

However, the fascists were not the pacifists, much as the fascists were not the liberals. Race was also an enemy of fascism, most specifically of Nazism. The fascists supported their own nation’s race, deciding who within the nation, and without, would be considered part of that race. The last main enemy of fascism was the socialist movement. It was said of the socialists that they “ask for freedom and sing its praises so that they can deprive capitalists of the freedom to draw the profits they want from their money, deprive Catholics of the freedom to act according to their faith and deprive the middle classes of the freedom to get rid of them and punish them” (Papini, 110). This is amusing in comparison to fascist freedom, which was just as nonexistent. The socialism described here applies well to the Soviet Union, but less so to the Social Democrats in the Italy and Germany. The Social Democratic parties worked within the existing government, something else the fascists opposed. Overall, fascism was anti-status quo in all its forms, wanting to be a new movement in every way, replacing all preexisting movements.

The largest opposition to the fascist State, then, was that individual. Fascism required the individual to subvert themselves to the State, because they “want the individual to be free to develop and contribute to the resurrection of our country” (Papini, 113). Therefore, fascism enforced this dream of the individual on its citizens. Antifascism arose from the wish to be truly free. The free individual is not necessarily one who has no connection to societal groups, but is at the very least one who is able to choose which groups to be a part of. Someone can choose to be part of the State, and this is the sort of person who would truly choose fascism. Certainly, some people did just that. However, by joining groups that shares one’s dreams, “the individual can associate himself with all the other individuals who want the same changes, and… the individual can be multiplied an impressive number of times and can obtain a change which is far more radical than at first seemed possible” (Gramsci, 169). The fascists did not loose sight of this expansion of the One into the Many, however; “The individual in the Fascist State is not annulled but rather multiplied, just in the same way that a soldier in a regiment is not diminished but rather increased by the number of his comrades” (Mussolini, 592). However, this multiplication is only in support of the State; the State is large and powerful because there are many people within who belong there. The antifascists argued in response that we want to be “makers of our own selves” (Gramsci, 168), able to choose our own paths.

Several general groups of society were antifascist, such as workers and women. A society of militarism and politics was deemed to not be the place for a woman; instead the woman’s place was in the home, raising a goodly number of young fascists. “Fascist ideology had replaced the women’s movement’s assertion of ‘different but equal’ with ‘different and subordinate’” (Willson, 81). This did not stop some women from supporting fascism, but a goodly number did oppose fascism. Hitler said that women’s “frame of mind is fixed less by the grounds of abstract reasons than by an indefinable emotional yearning toward a strength that offers her completion” (Hitler, 196), and as such clearly held women in low esteem. However, “There is little evidence that their opposition was in any sense a clearly formulated response to Fascism’s misogynism. Women seem to have generally chosen to oppose or support anti-Fascism on other grounds” (Willson, 84), so resistance within the Fascist State cannot be fully gauged. Overall in the world, fascism and most especially World War Two liberated women in a way they never had been before: entering the workplace. Antifascist Virginia Woolf wrote on the status of women as war seemed eminent; she said that “psychology would seem to show that it is far harder for human beings to take action when other people are indifferent and allow them to complete freedom of action, than when their actions are made the centre of excited emotion” (Woolf, 516), and as such women should be indifferent to the idea of war. War, she argued, was a sex characteristic of men that women could not understand, and that therefore they should not help in production of weapons to let the men kill one another (Woolf, 515). Instead, women should “press for a living wage in all the professions now open to her sex; further she must create new professions in which she can earn the right to an independent opinion” (Woolf, 516). Women are born women, much as Germans were born German or Italians born Italians. However, women did not have to ascribe to the beliefs that Woolf had, and some supported fascism while others did not. It is this element of personal choice that separates fascism’s forcing people of the nation to work for the nation (or women to follow women’s roles) and the antifascist upholding the individual choice to do so.

The workers are a slightly different group, because one is not necessarily born a worker, but becomes one through circumstances. It was becoming part of labor movements that was the optional choice. Hitler himself describes a situation where he was asked to join a union, but “When it was explained to me that I had to join, I refused. I based my refusal on the ground that I did not understand the matter, but that under no circumstances would I permit myself to be forced into anything” (Hitler, 194). This is highly ironic, as Hitler would later force others to do things. Antifascist Simone Weil said that, “The first thing to be done for [the workers] is to help them to recover or retain, as the case may be, their sense of dignity” (Weil, 345). She felt herself to be connected to the factory, to have worked in several and to understand the working class. However, historians find that the working classes under fascism stood strong. In Italy, “the failure of Italian Fascism over two decades to win the lasting allegiance of a stubbornly recalcitrant working class…The strikes demonstrated the very fragile basis of Mussolini’s conversion of the Italians to nationalism” (Abse, 60). That a strike could happen at all under fascism shows that the workers were still unified in their own terms. In Germany, “the regime had reason indeed to distrust ‘its’ workers: for even though it was successful in containing the working class, it did not find the ‘total’ approval which it tried to produce with its propaganda” (Siegel, 65). The workers were the target of socialism, and so their antifascism came in staunchly opposing fascist totalitarianism. Certainly, things were bad, and “Many workers – male and female – were clearly disgruntled about being forbidden to change jobs for a better wage or about being conscripted to work in a factory important for armaments production and far away from their home” (Siegel, 66), but the fascists could not remove the class consciousness that the workers chose to feel.

A far greater victimized group under fascism was the Jewish community. Certainly many other groups were the targets of the death camps, but the Jews are the ones who still captivate us about the war today, and who received the most international outcry. Also, the racial science that excluded the Jews was a peculiarity of the Nazi State. In the beginning, Hitler claims to have found that “Linz contained very few Jews. In the course of centuries their outward appearance had been Europeanized and had become humanized; yes, I even considered them to be Germans. The absurdity of this delusion was hardly clear to me because the only distinguishing feature I had perceived was their alien religion” (Hitler, 198). Although it may all be propaganda for Hitler to say in Mein Kampf that he had been watching the Jewish question for a long time, it is nonetheless important that he believed these things at some point. So, when Hitler said he “could no longer very well doubt that the issue concerned itself with Germans of a special denomination, but rather with a distinct nationality unto itself” (Hitler, 198), what matters is not the supposed conversion of thought but the fact that he believed the Jews to be a separate nationality. He based this belief on the thought that “I recognized the Jew as leader of the Social Democracy” (Hitler, 201), and as being heads of most newspapers and other cultural industries. Hitler is then amazed at “the limitless hatred they exhibited toward their own nationality, defaming its greatness, dirtying its history, and dragging its great men into the gutter” (Hitler, 202), which is odd because he saw them as a different nationality and as such not beholden to German culture.

Overall, though, it is hard to understand any logic in Hitler’s beliefs about race, or indeed to understand the racial state at all. It sought to improve the stock of Germans, but then the Germans were expected to be unstoppable, especially in war. Like other fascist ideologies, then, this one is not important in the fact that it is confusing, but important in that it was followed. There were effects, even if the cause was illogical. However, this was not a fully fascist idea, as Italy was not anti-Semitic until the Germans invaded. When Mussolini returned to power in Salò, it “seemed a positive development to many Jews: perhaps Latin tolerance would continue to temper Teutonic hatred towards the Jews. After all, as long as Mussolini had been in power, the Germans had not dared harm a single Jew” (Stille, p. 191). If only this had turned out to be true. The Jews and antifascists of Rome, for example, did not flee the German invasion of Italy, because they assumed safety. Some Jews were even fascists themselves, “defending the Jews against their anti-Semitic critics while also attacking Zionist and antifascist Jews whose supposed lack of patriotism placed all the others under suspicion” (Stille, 21). We shall never know how many antifascist tales and tales of heroism exist about the Jews, because so many ended in tragedy in the death camps anyway.

As fascism became more aggressive internationally, other nations began to oppose it. Both the socialists and the liberals were antifascist in this way. The bulwark of socialism, the Soviet Union, only opposed the fascists in rhetoric; it was not until the Soviet Union was invaded that the communists entered World War Two. Hitler said “the fate of Russia will be exactly the same as I am now going through with in the case of Poland. After Stalin’s death – he is a very sick man – we will break the Soviet Union. Then there will begin the dawn of the German rule of the earth…” (Hitler, 233), showing the ideological opposition to Russia even though the Nazis signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviets. It was only the Popular Front movement, and the socialists and Social Democrats in the liberal countries, which opposed fascism. These left-wing groups upheld the importance of freedom, as was stated of the Spanish Civil War: “the blood of the finest sons of Spain flowed in streams in defense of peace, democracy, and liberty” (Ibarruri, 512). The left was working to exist within democracy, to be an option for individuals to choose, as opposed to an enforced regime like the Soviet Union. Mussolini said “the enemies of fascism ‘are the liberals, the parliamentary democrats, the Bolsheviks, socialists and communists, and also certain Catholics with whom we shall settle accounts sooner or later’” (Ibarruri, 512), and so the conflict began. France became the bastion of the Popular Front, and was the first country to fall in World War Two. During the civil war, the Spanish pleaded that “you understood what danger a victory of the forces of reaction and fascism, which had launched themselves against our country, would entail for France, democratic France, the France of the ‘rights of man’” (Ibarruri, 512). The Popular Front did not do enough to oppose fascism internationally, but was a coalition formed specifically to oppose the rise of fascism on the home front. The tragedy is that they did not keep fascism from attacking Spain.

Meanwhile, the bastion of liberalism was Great Britain, which was heavily bombed during World War Two. Embodied in Winston Churchill, the liberal antifascism opposed “the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force” (Churchill, 231). The liberal State was the freest of all, and so opposition to the fascists was widespread. However, fascist hatred of liberalism was widespread as well; liberalism was seen as the cause of things like Versailles, Weimar, and the status quo in general. Hitler said that “the masses also love a sovereign more than a supplicant, and feel themselves inwardly more gratified by a dogma that suffers no other beside it, than by the grant of liberal freedom” (Hitler, 196), whereas the liberals would hold that choice as the very thing that gives meaning to life. Liberal capitalism, as well as materialist socialism, were opposed by fascism, as “Fascism denies the validity of the equation, well-being = happiness, which would reduce men to the level of animals, caring for one thing only – to be fat and well fed – and would thus degrade humanity to a purely physical existence” (Mussolini, 589). However, living a physical existence is simply another choice in the liberal State. People under liberalism were free to like or dislike fascism as they wanted, but the State overall had to fight fascism to defend the freedom that allowed for fascism and antifascism to exist simultaneously. “We in this country, as in other Liberal and democratic countries, have a perfect right to exalt the principle of self-determination, but it comes ill out of the mouths of those in totalitarian States who deny even the smallest element of toleration to every section and creed within their bounds” (Churchill, 230).

It is easier to see who the fascists were by looking at who they were not; easier to see what they believed by looking at what they did not believe. Still, much like Hitler’s racial theories, there was not a true logic at work in fascism, and following the illogic through could lead to only one thing: World War Two. We can only understand the racial theory by looking at its result, the death camps, a part of history over-studied to understand how and why it happened; in the same way we look at World War Two as being the result of fascism. The question arises over whether war was, in fact, the purpose of fascism. This is entirely possible, but as the best description of fascism so far has been the fascism was simply something to do, war seems to fall into this category as well. There was no reason to doubt the war, because “The Germans are born business men… our victorious wars have never disturbed our business life” (Bernhardi, 57), and thus going to war would cost nothing in Hitler’s thinking. Mussolini looked at war as a system with political gain. Between the regimes, an incredible number of nations and regions were invaded. Hitler’s policy was to “Be hard, be without mercy, act more quickly and brutally than the others. The citizens of Western Europe must tremble with horror. That is the most human way of conducting war. For it scares the others off” (Hitler, 233). If true, then the course of history would have been much different. Yet, the antifascists proved more powerful than Hitler believed. The Spanish said that “Fascism is pleading a struggle against communism as an excuse for the war. But with fascists everything that does not belong to fascism is communism” (Ibarruri, 512), and so this was as good a reason as any to go to war. While this was said in relation to the Spanish Civil War, it still applies to World War Two.

It is questionable about whether the fascists could ever have truly won the war, and whether they knew they could or could not win. However, they worked hard to delude themselves into believing that they could win. Hitler said “The world believes only in success” (Hitler, 233), and so success was his goal. It is questionable whether the fascists foresaw antifascist international resistance, as Hitler expected that “They won’t go beyond a blockade. Against that we have our autarchy and the Russian raw materials” (Hitler, 233). Hitler and Mussolini also believed in their own power to hold the war effort together. “Hitler said he must act this very year as he was not likely to live very long. His successor however would no longer be able to carry this out. Besides, the situation would be a hopeless one in two years at most” (Hitler, 233). Mussolini said “The fighting would go on because ‘war is the most important thing in any man’s life’: it had consistently been his view that war was the norm, peace the exception, and winning was basically a matter of will-power” (Mack Smith, 288). However, will-power definitely failed the leaders; Hitler had an old axiom to work from, saying in Mein Kampf that “If Moltke’s saying, ‘In the long run only the able man has luck,’ is anywhere applicable, it is surely to the relation between body and mind; the mind, too, if it is healthy, will rule and in the long run dwell only in the healthy body” (Hitler, 211). At the end, the fascist leaders were in terrible health, and so were their regimes.

More so than the actual fighting of the war, though, the true antifascist action taken was appeasement. If war was the fascist thing to do, then peace was the antifascist thing to do. If the war had been fought without all the players ready, “if a violent solution of existing difficulties is adopted, if the political crisis develops into military action, the Germans would have a dangerous situation in the midst of all the forces brought into play against them. On the other hand, the issue of this struggle will be decisive of Germany’s whole future as State and nation” (Bernhardi, 59). As things turned out, the fascists may have gone to war before they were ready anyway. Before that time, though, fascism had been allowed to take many regions, in Europe and in Africa. The most important moment was the Munich crisis, a time when British statesman Neville Chamberlain said that “this recent crisis which has saved Czechoslovakia from destruction and Europe from Armageddon” (Chamberlain, 229) was averted through appeasement. It is important that he saw fascist takeover as destruction and fascist war as Armageddon: while appeasement may have seemed like giving in, Chamberlain was nonetheless antifascist. He also said that “Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted” (Chamberlain, 228). He obviously did not see fascism as such a threat. There was another side to this antifascism, though, with those like Churchill who thought appeasement was a mistake. Churchill believed that “Between submission and immediate war there was this third alternative” (Churchill, 230) of holding back fascism, showing force keeping the Germans in Germany. However, this most likely would not have worked, because “The conception of neutrality is entirely contrary to the essential nature of the State, which can only attain its highest moral aims in competition with other States” (Bernhardi, 67). The fascists would never have understood being stopped, not when at the height of their power. Appeasement was one of antifascism’s great triumphs. This is not to say fighting the war eventually was bad; it had to happen sometime, and because Allied armament began mostly after the Munich crisis, it is a good thing that they bought themselves that time.

If appeasement can be seen as antifascism’s finest moment, and World War Two can be seen as fascism’s biggest mark on the world, which system is easier to define? Throughout, it has been difficult to define fascism as anything more than a movement based on action; “When you speak of nationalism, you immediately think of conservatism, a system of greedy imperialism, reactionary traditionalism, repressive police, militarism, a hereditary aristocracy, clericalism” (Marinetti, 216). However, these labels are too generous, because they would mean that fascism intended to be these things, which is not necessarily true. Fascism attacked its enemies and hung onto the people who were not its enemy. On the other hand there is antifascism, which, no matter who it is or what they believe, is a position they chose to take against the fascists. It may seem more difficult to define antifascism than fascism, since antifascism is by definition the rejection of fascism; but because there is no clear definition of fascism, antifascism needs no clear definition. It existed as all of the enemies negative integration created for the fascists, and existed as the people who did not like the idea of a man “called in German and Italian Führer or Duce; in our own language tyrant or Dictator” (Woolf, 516-7). Antifascism was the movement of freedom, and had freedom as a core tenant. Antifascism was people by individuals who chose a group, not a State imposing its will, and is thus easier to define.
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