Nazism, Fascism, Bolshevism and long spoons

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13

Sir,

—I would like to comment on two contributions to the last issue (HI 13.3, May/June 2005), namely Desmond Fennell’s letter on Fascism and Brian Hanley’s study of Seán Russell’s (and the IRA’s) collaboration with Nazi Germany.
Desmond Fennell attacks Professor Horne’s view of the resemblance between Fascism and Nazism and implies that an inquiry into ‘the nature of Fascism and Nazism as socio-political systems’ would disprove this. He cites, on the one hand, Italian Fascist influences on the New Deal and on Irish government policy in the 1930s, and, on the other, the resemblances between Fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism.
To take the second point first, there were, of course, big resemblances between Stalinised Communism and Nazism/Fascism. This led to a generation of writers, notably James Burnham and Hannah Arendt, to lump them together as ‘managerialism’ or ‘totalitarianism’. It remains true that there were big differences between Bolshevism and the other two in their ‘originating circumstances and political project’. The first was a trend within the working-class movement; it took power by overthrowing the government and its aim was ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. The others developed in opposition to the workers’ organisations (with the blessing of the bosses), took power by manipulating the existing constitutions of their countries and claimed to be ‘above’ classes.
As to Fascist influence on Roosevelt and de Valera, this was more a matter of the spirit of the period than of conscious emulation. Economically, both seem to have been more influenced by the interventionist liberal J.M. Keyes than by Mussolini. The socio-political connections between Dev and Il Duce were those filtered through the Catholic Church. In overt politics they were, as often as not, opposed.
However—and this is where Brian Hanley’s article enters the picture—it was possible to confuse the Axis and the Comintern, particularly to the unsophisticated IRA of the late 1930s and ’40s, and particularly in the period of the Hitler–Stalin pact. This basically understandable military agreement was given a socio-political slant by the Comintern that must have disorientated many of those who might have remembered the An Phoblacht articles quoted by Dr Hanley. Undoubtedly, the change of line made it easier for Frank Ryan to take the U-boat; it would have encouraged others to go even further.
I suspect that it would be wrong to see all the pro-Axis IRA volunteers as ready to toe the Nazi line. Many would have seen their ideal political structure as something like that of Finland, a relatively democratic and independent component of Hitler’s ‘coalition of the willing’ that invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. In principle, neither the Hitler–Stalin pact nor a bloc with Nazi Germany to unite Ireland was wrong. In practice, high political skills were needed to forge a spoon long enough to sup with Hitler. Stalin did not have them, and Russell even less.

—Yours etc.,
D.R. O’CONNOR LYSAGHT
Dublin 5

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