Is fascism like communism

Operations: Article - 01/28/77

Fascism, National Socialism, Communism and Stalinism

Ossip K. Flechtheim

from: transactions no.26 (issue 2/1977), pp. 70-78

Fascism and communism were often simply equated as totalitarian ideologies, movements and systems. Lately this view has often been completely rejected as a purely formal one. A characterization of the complex reality that lies somewhere in the middle seems to us today to be more fair. We assume that all four terms mentioned in the title are to be described more precisely and distinguished from one another.


Fascism and nationalism

Italian fascism presents itself as a kind of forerunner of German National Socialism. This appears as the most mature form of "fascism": but it has also remained its only fully developed "classical" form. Other reactionary-authoritarian military dictatorships or civil autocracies should not be denounced as fascist, however malicious they may be in detail. They are always and everywhere lacking the very decisive criteria of fascism and National Socialism, which, unlike other dictatorships, implied modern mass movements and ideologies. The term fascist is so difficult to grasp because there have been a number of such movements and may continue to exist in the future, but so far these have only come to power in Italy and Germany and have been able to establish a genuinely fascist form of rule.


Communism and stalinism

It is different with communism and Stalinism. Not only has history known a number of quite diverse communist movements and ideologies - the communists have usurped power in a large number of countries. So we have not been limited to Russia for a long time - communist regimes today extend from the Soviet Union to China, from Cuba and the GDR via Poland and Romania to Outer Mongolia and Vietnam. Now all these regimes, no matter how different they may be in their level of industrial development, in their history and size, are all identical in one important point: they were and remain Leninist and Stalinist or late Stalinist and that also means totalitarianism. The only exceptions here are the CSSR in the late 1960s and, in another way, Tito's Yugoslavia. (Perhaps Hungary and Poland also occupy a limited special position as “semi-Stalinist” states.) In addition, there were and are communist movements and ideologies that were anything but totalitarian or Stalinist or even Leninist or are again today. We are thinking of so-called euro-communism, but also of the early manifestations of communism in general.


Differences and approximations

From all of this it follows that we have to distinguish between fascist and Soviet communist or Stalinist totalitarianism. First of all, let us hold on to the fact that even with all rapprochement, fascism and Soviet communism have never merged into an identical and unified movement and ideology. Even the German-Russian non-aggression pact in 1940 (which meant maximum rapprochement) remained an episode. Fascism and Stalinism are like two streams, the sources of which are worlds apart, but which of course seemed to be getting closer and closer at the time of Hitler and Stalin.
Fascism, which itself arose as a counter-movement and reaction to communism, appropriated some communist views and behaviors, just as, conversely, Stalin in particular also adopted a lot from Hitler. For all these reasons, those who want to interpret fascism as "brown Bolshevism" or Stalinism as "red fascism" are not entirely wrong, although the adjectives brown and red indicate the not insignificant differences. It has therefore been rightly said that fascism and Stalinism can only be compared on one point; this point is of course significant: both are and will remain totalitarian.


National coinage of the Totaiitarisans

Here is a word in place about the national characteristics of these various totalitarianisms. Fascism was not least the product of Italian society and culture. It reflected the situation of a country that remained caught in the contradictions of a modern capitalism, which was attacked by a broad, radical but unsuccessful labor movement, but at the same time showed strong remnants of an agrarian feudalism, which formed the basis for the pre-bourgeois upper and middle classes thus provoked to rebellion against the socialist labor movement as an outgrowth of capitalism.
But National Socialism and Bolshevism as Leninism-Stalinism were also decisively shaped by the specific characteristics of Germany and Russia, respectively. Both were and have remained German and Russian to the last. They are an expression of the history and politics of the respective country. Germany and Russia have one thing in common: they were so-called belated nations. In Germany the deficit lay more in the state-national, in Russia in the economic-social.
Of course we must not overlook the fact that as early as 1918 Germany was one of the most highly industrialized and technically and organizationally advanced countries in the world. Of course, here too, as in Italy, there was a contradiction between the progressive capitalist economy with its strong labor movement and the absolutist feudal relics in the state and in agriculture. All the more paradoxical is the fact that the German November Revolution of 1918 essentially did not get beyond the framework of a bourgeois revolution and that National Socialism is now appearing as the most extreme counter-revolution against this late bourgeois revolution - National Socialism, according to Thomas Mann, “an after-revolution without any relation on the idea of ​​humanity and its future ”.


The beginnings of communism

Bolshevism and Stalinism, on the other hand, are not least manifestations of the Russification of European communism. As a modern social movement, communism can be traced back to the labor movement of the 19th century or further back. At first, communism and socialism were almost interchangeable terms. Communism was supported by the most radical intellectuals, workers and poorer peasants. In this communism, the great revolutionary, radical and democratic traditions of Europe were initially oriented primarily towards the needs of a rising working class. Thus communism sought to articulate the longing of the oppressed popular masses and especially the proletarians for a new and more just social order. With the stabilization of capitalism after 1848, however, the working classes began to come to terms with the status quo and to scale back their revolutionary ideology. Only in the great crisis of the First World War did the more radical communists regroup - but even then they could only gain influence in those parts of the world that had suffered particularly from the catastrophe.


Bolshevism: From Revolution to Counterrevolution

The Russian October Revolution of 1917 was quite different from the German November Revolution, not only a bourgeois, but also a progressive peasant-proletarian revolution. Bolshevism initially articulated these revolutionary goals, but soon turned into a latent counter-revolution. As early as the 1920s, this turned against the intellectuals, who were the first to be brought into line, then at the beginning of the 1930s against the peasants, who lost their economic independence, and then, especially since the mid-1930s, as Stalinism, also against the workers who have been totally subjugated and enslaved. Ultimately, however, the counterrevolution also fought against the initially emancipated national minorities, which have been Russified especially since the 1960s. However, this counter-revolution was never able to completely eliminate all revolutionary elements. Seen in this way, with Thomas Mann, it can be characterized as an “autocratic revolution in Byzantine dress”.


Russification of communism

The Bolsheviks' seizure of power in October 1917 and the founding of the Communist International in 1919 made a decisive contribution towards identifying communism with the ideology and practice of the Russian Bolsheviks and the communist movements they controlled. After 1917, the Bolsheviks increasingly began to adapt their policies to the needs of an immensely wide and isolated, underdeveloped and still predominantly agrarian continent, a continent that had also been a borderland and battlefield between European and Asian cultures for centuries. In the course of this process, typical Western humanistic and cosmopolitan values ​​were sacrificed in communism to that component of Russian tradition, which was based on the submission of the individual to the community and its community
Leaders rested. We want to call this Russified communism Bolshevism or Leninism-Stalinism. It is not by chance that this branch of the communist family tree also developed its markedly totalitarian traits.
Incidentally, it should only be noted that the communists themselves were probably not at all clear at first as to where their form of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat would lead. As Orwell rightly pointed out, “The Russian Communists ... never had the courage to admit their own motivations. They pretended, yes, maybe even believed ... Paradise was just around the corner. "


Fascism and Stalinism: totalitarian secular religions

One of the reasons why we speak of Stalinism and fascism as a variant of totalitarianism is that they both remind us so strongly of Orwell. Certainly they have never been able to fully realize Orwell's ideal type of totalitarianism. Even if the term totalitarian, like most political categories, is not unambiguous and not free from emotions, this is one of the reasons why we cling to it. As already indicated, it encompasses a very essential characteristic of both ideologies, movements and systems, namely the tremendously extensive harmonization of the individual as well as of all independent, more important groups, organizations and institutions in accordance with the interests and ideas of the monopolistic leadership.
Fascism as well as Russified communism both appear with the claim to be able to overcome the crisis of modern society, of which they are indeed more conscious than some more conservative tendencies. So they both promise bread for the hungry stomach, security for the disturbed mind and community for the lonely heart. Fascism and Stalinism initially fanatical their followers to such an extent that their spirit and belief are equal to the ardor of a religious movement. For this reason, both have rightly been labeled as secular or social religions. Thomas Mann had already sketched this characteristic splendidly in 1950: