From Hobson's Choice
This article is under construction
Defining fascism is a controversial topic among students of political science. This site takes the position that fascism is a manifestation of totalitarianism characterized by an origin in moribund parliamentary forms, a single violent vanguard movement under unified leadership, with ties to business management. The "ideology" is a product of these other definitional traits, and could vary dramatically depending on historical circumstances. Fascist states emerge farcically, continually "refine" their membership as part of the totalitarian process of intimidation, and usually end tragically (e.g., through foreign invasion).
The most decisive feature of fascism, to a much greater degree than the two other manifestations of totalitarianism (falangism & Jacobinist totalitarianism), is that it centralizes all forms of control: state, business, and so forth.
Aside from the trivial case of Mussolini's regime in Italy, I propose to include the following examples:
- Third Reich (1933-1945)
- Militarist Japan (1936-1945)
- USSR (1929-1953)
- China (1927-1949)
- Haiti (1957-1986)
- Rwanda (1973-1994)
It's debatable whether Iraq suffered fascist rule from 1979 to 2003; generally speaking, the characteristics of the Southwest Asian state make such analogies very unreliable. While Saddam's state had many characteristics of fascism, such as rabid glorification of the state, adulation of the leader, widespread terror, a totalitarian party structure, militarism, and reactionary economic administration, it's also true that the coercive attributes of the Iraqi regime were not autochthonous. However, my chief motive for excluding Iraq is the unreliability of many alleged attributes.
Some authorities will find the inclusion of Stalin's regime objectionable; while Stalin and fascism both have few admirers today, it will be objected that Stalin was leftist while fascism is a rightwing ideology; hence, the term "fascism" is being stretched to include both ends of the political continuum, but unreasonably restricted from describing garden-variety military juntas. I would reply that Stalin, while ostensibly leading a Jacobinist regime, was totally devoted to the new economic elites created after the Revolution. It is extremely easy for a Jacobinist regime to swing to the right; indeed, there are few examples where it did not.
Crimes of Fascism
The crimes of fascist regimes are amply documented. The Holocaust is estimated by Hilberg to have claimed the lives of 11 million people. The Japanese militarist regime is estimated to have caused the deaths of between 3 million and 10 million Asians. The Young Turk regime in Turkey, which probably qualifies as fascist, perpetrated a holocaust of that country's Armenian population. My reviews of other fascist (or non-fascist) episodes of mass killing suggest extremely unstable and unreliable estimates of the death tolls. Rummel tries pretty hard to be even-handed and explain his sources, but in many cases there is absolutely no compelling basis for an estimate. Not wishing to debate body counts or allocate degrees of responsibility, I will merely pass over some of the other major monstrosities: the totalitarian regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, which collapsed (as fascist regimes do) in a miasma of murder; the optional wars of Mussolini against Libya, Ethiopia, Albania, Greece, and France; and the madhouse of Duvalier's Haiti.
No doubt the case could be made for including or excluding some cases. And the democracies, anarchies (frontiers and such), monarchies, and competing brands of totalitarianism are huge tallies. The USA is much cited for huge sloppy mass killing in Vietnam (1956-1975), Korea (1950-53), Iraq (1991-present), WW2, and so on. Rummel's entire tally for the US government (1900-2000) is surpassed by Belgium's in the Congo. Monarchies in Europe repressed peasant revolts at stupendous rates; the Q'ing Dynasty 1865 massacre of villagers in the central region west of Nanjing is often estimated at over 5 million (not counting rebellion combat deaths). Other monarchies (mostly) presided over a revival of slavery as an industrial system, resulting in the deaths of several million in the Middle Passage alone. A falangist regime in Indonesia, the junta of Suharto (1965-1998) came to power with a pogrom of perhaps a million Chinese, inter alia. Frontier anarchy probably caused the deaths of 150,000 Native Americans in California alone.
But fascist regimes, being so rare, have a huge propensity to kill. And unlike the others, it's usually centrally coordinated and determined, even ideological. Societies with the other times usually turn into orgies of death when they collapse (exceptions exist, but not the ones one might think). Worse, fascist regimes mold the future of state power elsewhere. Fascism as an ideological principle can transcend failed regimes, killing long after its dictator's remains are immolated.
Controversies in the Definition
In "The Rise of Pseudo-Fascism" journalist David Neiwert revisits the initial dilemma faced by everyone who attempts to write about fascism as a phenomenon: is it a political ideology or a political system? The major experts to whom Neiwert defers, Robert O. Paxton ("The Five Stages of Fascism") and Prof. Roger Griffin (e.g., "Fascism: Paper Tiger or Cheshire Cat?") conclude that it is an ideology. Griffin defines fascism as "palingenic ultranationalist populism," which requires some explanation: "palingenic" means, "rebirth from ashes." The fascist movements, like other totalitarian organizations, dream of society being remade anew, after the total destruction of the existing one.
Without wishing to challenge that definition, we prefer the "degenerative pathology" analogy because it incorporates a non-arbitrary criterion for classifying specimen regimes as "fascist" or not. There is only one regime in history that unambiguously self-identified as "fascist"; so we have to exercise some discretion in choosing other examples. While ideologies can vary infinitely, especially over time, paths of state degeneration tend to converge, leading to a finite number of varieties. Also, we have a working definition of ideology which is incompatible with totalitarianism in power.
According to traditional Marxist definitions of fascism, this is an inevitable degeneration of capitalist economies. Central to the analysis is the bourgeoisie's failed attempt to govern society under its own initiative. The bourgeoisie lacked a social basis for political control and hence was in danger of being liquidated as a class. So it endows, and submits to, a super-duper praetorian state. The Marxist analysis, which makes little distinction between either fascism and falangism (on the one hand), makes no distinction between fascism in power and fascism as a movement. Hence, the Marxist analysis is needlessly burdened by a conspiratorial, shrewd, and unified bourgeoisie. There is little recognition of unintended consequences to the bourgeois, of exogenous forces or varieties of bourgeois, or other nuances.
A final note: we use a definition of "totalitarianism" that includes some comparatively mild regimes. Not all tyrannies are totalitarian; for example, 18th century European monarchies, while usually absolute, were largely passive with respect to social norms (despite their egregious cruelty). Similarly, the Confederacy was a one-party state legitimized by its immense popularity with Whites; it had a racialist doctrine, militarism, and a canonically rightwing agenda, but was not totalitarian. Hannah Arendt argues that Mussolini's regime, despite having favored the word and totalitarian rhetoric, was much too mild to be genuinely totalitarian. She similarly acquits the regimes in Romania, Hungary, and any falangist states. The mildness apart, there is the vehemently-held distinction made by Nazi political theorists that their regime was an authentically ideological one. Arendt assumes this reflects a distinction in ideological composition, but fascism is not a true ideology. Arendt finds this or that common thread and iterates it every time it reappears, but there are other common threads too, that require a suspension of basic reasoning on the part of the true believer. Fascism (and therefore, totalitarianism, of which we maintain it is a type) is characterized, as Arendt points out elsewhere, as repudiating any coherent ethical structure.  In cases where it implements a campaign of racial eliminationism, or where it is confined to intermittent outbursts of prosaic barbarism, it is merely responding to the internal dynamics of the movement through history.
Fascism as a Movement
Nearly all that Hannah Arendt writes about totalitarian movements may be justly said not of totalitarianism per se, but of fascism. There are two other varieties of totalitarianism besides fascism, falangism and jacobinism. The other two tend to have little use for movements, except within the armed forces. Jacobinist movements, having a radical critique of existing social relations, have no use for the sorts of mass psychosis that far-right totalitarianism does. Continuing along this line, there is not much of a distinction between the fascist/totalitarian movement out of power, and in power.
This distinction would seem fairly important, but the fascist conquest of political power is a protracted affair. Hence, the continued obsession of the fascist movement with the further politicization of private life, with youth associations, women's associations, party membership, and so forth. The incessant propaganda and terrorism against ordinary citizens is regarded as part of the process of transforming the society into something devoid of any normal appeal to personal or group interest. Hence, Arendt's focus on the mob, which she implicitly defines as a natural union of the nobility with the petty bourgeois and declassé middle class against either B'nei Yisrael (Jews) or bourgeois, or both.
Fascism has since evolved, as one would have expected. While no regime has publicly embraced fascism since then, several have certainly come close to being examples of it. Rather than get bogged down in assessing which regimes were fascist and which not, it's more useful to assess the current landscape of fascist movements and their precursors. Generally speaking, fascist regimes have emerged from praetorian societies in which political freedoms were in decline (e.g., the Weimar Republic's state of exception; the rexist regime in Romania; the military turmoil in pre-Duvalier Haiti); there has been a tendency for the praetorian state to be paralyzed by profound sectional division, in which rival interest blocs are perpetually frustrated; and there are a multitude of militant organizations exploiting public scorn for parliamentary democracy. The fascist regime is created through a protracted, semi-legal process of manipulation and "weeding out" of rival movements. Once there is only one authentically fascist movement left, then the fascists are ripe for power.
Should a catastrophe occur in which the fascists seize power abruptly, then the praetorian state will be succeeded by falangism—a vastly more likely outcome.
- ↑ In other words, foreign patrons of Iraq, such as the USSR, France, and the USA, furnished the regime with the means (and technology) to repress its population. Likewise, the rexist-fascist regime in Iran (1953-1978) was so overwhelmingly dependent upon foreign patronage that it bypassed many of the peculiar characteristics of autochthonous fascist regimes. For example, Iraq did not have anything comparable to the European bourgeoisie to stimulate a fascist revolution.
- ↑ Raul Hilberg, [The Destruction of the European Jews] (1985 edition) cites a figure of 5.1 million B'nei Yisrael (Jews); tables online. See the Holocaust page for estimates of the other victims. "Other victims" includes persons murdered for reasons besides being Jewish. Unfortunately, many people use the term "Holocaust" to refer exclusively to the Jewish victims. The correct term for that is Shoah. The massacre of Rroma is known as O Porrajmos. I am not aware of the term for the mass murder of Soviet POW's, but I understand it was on the order of 4 million.
- ↑ Nearly all European victims of Japan were combatants. For estimates, see Rummell, Statistics of Japanese Democide.
- ↑ Ibid., [http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.CHAP5.HTM Statistics Of Turkey's Democide].
- ↑ See, especially, Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, Pathfinder (1973; originally published 1939); excerpt here; see also my essays on the book (starting here).
- ↑ Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (link allows one to search book), Harcourt Brace; Chapter 5, "The Political Emancipation of the Bourgeoisie," p.123ff (in the paperback edition). Arendt remarks that the bourgeois was the first class in history to achieve economic pre-eminence without aspiring to political power, and the period of "high imperialism" (1884-1914) represented the historic period of its ascent to political power as well as economic power.
- ↑ Ibid., p.308. She cites 7 death sentences for political offenders; 257 sentences of over 10 years; 1,360 under ten years; 12,000 cases of people arrested and found innocent under the Fascist tribunals. Nazi and Soviet tribunals, of course, hardly ever acquitted anyone.
- ↑ Ibid.p.309. The following is Arendt's footnote:
"Nazi political theorists have always emphatically stated that Mussolini's 'ethical state' and Hitler's 'ideological state' [Weltanschauungsstaat] cannot be mentioned in the same breath" (Gottfried Neesse, "Die verfassungsrechtliche Gestaltung der Ein Partei," in Zeitschrift fur die I:esamte Staatswissenschaft. 1938, Band 98)Emphasis added by JRM
Goebbels on the difference between Fascism and National Socialism: "[Fascism] is ...nothing like National Socialism. While the latter goes deep down to the roots, Fascism is only a superficial thing" (The Goehbels Diaries 1942-1943. ed. by Louis Lochner, New York, 1948, p. 71). "[The Duce] is not a revolutionary like the Fuhrer or Stalin, he is so bound to his own Italian people that he lacks the broad qualities of a worldwide revolutionary and insurrectionist" (ibid.. p. 468).
Himmler expressed the same opinion in a speech delivered in 1943 at a Conference of Commanding Officers: "Fascism and National Socialism are two fundamentally different things, ...there is absolutely no comparison between Fascism and National Socialism as spiritual, ideological movements." See Kohn-Bramstedt, op. cit.. Appendix A.
- ↑ Ibid., p.464:
Whether the driving force of this development was called nature or history is relatively secondary. In these ideologies, the term "law" itself changed its meaning: from expressing the framework of stability within which human actions and motions can take place, it became the expression of the motion itself.
- ↑ Ibid., Chapter 10, "A Classless Society," p.305ff. Arendt rejects falangist AND fascist regimes (she names those in Portugal, pre-Nazi Austria, and Spain) as totalitarian, on the grounds that they are too mild and too pedestrian in their mission. In contrast, she includes the Communist regime of Stalin.
- Hannah Arendt Papers, Library of Congress
- Giovanni Gentile, The Philosophic Basis of Fascism, complete text at Adventures in Philosophy page (1932)
- A. James Gregor, Giovanni Gentile: Philosopher of Facism, Transaction Publishers (2001)
- Roger Griffin, Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion, Routledge (2005)
- David Neiwert ("Orcinus")
- News & Journals
- NGO/University: Study of Fascist Movements
- NGO/University: History
- In Germany
- In Russia
- Beyond the Pale: the History of Jews in Russia,Friends & Partners: US-Russian Friendship
- In Italy
- In Hungary
- The Arrow Cross, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont California
- In Romania
- The Iron Guard, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont California
James R MacLean (00:24, 6 September 2007 (PDT))