Fascism and Nazism

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13


—In the January/February issue (HI 13.1) Professor John Horne gives an illuminating account of the origins and rise to power of Fascism in Italy and of National Socialism in Germany. I have only two cavils with his article.
After examining arguments for and against the notion that the two movements had enough in common to constitute a ‘generic fascism’, Horne decides that they had. The Fascists and Nazis did not think so, and I am not convinced. But that apart, a historian who examines this question is in fact deciding whether a notion disseminated by the Communist Comintern—not because they thought it true, but for tactical and propagandistic purposes—reflected a reality. The Communist purpose was to win acceptance for a view of the world scene as occupied by Communism, Fascism, and an anti-Fascism that included ‘all democratic forces’. But if the notion of a generic Fascism had not been thus disseminated, would the question exist to consider? Might we not, in the matter of foreign influences of, and similarities with, Mussolini’s Fascism, focus our attention quite differently? For example, on the influences of Fascist Italy on the developing Nazi movement, on Irish affairs (government included) in the 1930s, on Roosevelt’s New Deal and so on? Or, again, we might be noting the similarity, in respect of originating circumstances and political project, of Fascism, Nazism and the Bolshevik revolution.
I find a good deal in Horne’s article to suggest that latter similarity. At the same time, his description of the revolutionary Fascists and Nazis as ‘counter-revolutionary’ and ‘reactionary’ seems to me to derive ultimately from the Communist point of view and vocabulary, rather than from that of the Italians and Germans involved.
Secondly, the title of the article says that it is about ‘the origins and nature of Fascism and Nazism’. Given that Horne is declaredly dealing with both movements only up to their coming to power, I have trouble with that word ‘nature’. Perhaps the title isn’t Horne’s. Origins, propaganda and rise to power are one thing, but surely the nature of Fascism and Nazism, respectively, is evidenced mainly by the kind of state-societies they created. Because Horne does not describe these—does not tell us how things were politically, economically, socially and culturally in Italy and Germany in the 1930s—his article of necessity omits the nature of Fascism and Nazism as socio-political systems. I hope that this was clear to students who derived benefit from the professor’s account of the origins and the rise to power.


The title and the scope of the article were set out by me, as editor. The ‘nature’ of fascism relates to the process by which fascism arrived in power—though some hints are given concerning the period in power. But there are limits to what can be covered in a 3,500-word article (or a 45-minute exam answer for that matter!). The nature of the anti-fascist construction of ‘fascism’ as an intellectual object is referred to in the article. But just because the Communists (and others on the left) said it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The fact that some contemporary National Socialists or Fascists rejected the idea that the two movements were closely connected is important—but intrinsically no more definitive than the equally interesting fact that the Comintern considered that they were. Professor Horne has set out a reasoned critique of the pros and cons of considering National Socialism and Italian Fascism as part of a single phenomenon in such a way that it would be perfectly possible for a Leaving Cert or A-level student (or any other reader) to come to the opposed conclusion.


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