Essay on Communism and Fascism

The early part of the XXth Century witnessed the rise of two new political philosophies: Communism and Fascism. Both rose from the ashes of World War I and were firmly established in Europe by 1933. Though they exposed different goals and relied on different motivations to gain support, both ultimately resulted in totalitarian dictatorships.

The writings of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels in 1848 gave birth to modern communism. Motivated largely by the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution on poor factory workers, the pair wrote The Communist Manifesto, which outlined their philosophy. Marx argued that the ‘Proletariat’ should, and one day would, rise up and overthrow the ‘Bourgeoisie’ ruling class. Once the revolution has successfully occurred, complete control would be given to the communist Party, and a “dictatorship of the Proletariat” would be established. The new government led by the Communist Party would seize controls of all means of production such as land, railroads, banks, and industry and ultimately create a classless society of common ownership. The Communist basic philosophy held that the needs of society are more important than individual rights liberties and personal freedoms. This would create a classless utopian society run by the masses.

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According to the Oxford Dictionary of World History capitalism is a system of economic organization based on market competition, under which the means of production, distribution and exchange are privately owned and directed by individuals or corporations. In the most developed form of capitalism, which is based on the principle that economic decisions should be taken by private individuals, the role of the state in economic policy is restricted to the minimum thus making it the total opposite of Marx’s communism doctrine.

The years between World War I and World War II saw a new political philosophy sweep across Europe. Originating in Italy in 1920, Fascism created dictatorial governments that sought to control every aspect of life: political, cultural, social, and economic. Using the national crisis, whether an economic collapse or a great military defeat, fascist leaders gained support by pledging to restore the country’s world standing and led it into new and glorious achievements. In addition to extreme nationalism, fascist worked to create public fear of an outside threat to the well being of the nation. With the public fear created, the fascist party moved to promote itself as the country’s only hope in face of the danger. However with the social and economic devastation of World War I and the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, conditions in several countries like Italy and Germany were ripe for a Communist revolution.

According to Eric Hobsbawm in his book Age of Extremes he says “The rise of the radical Right after the First World War was undoubtedly a response to the danger, indeed to the reality, of social revolution and working-class power in general, to the October Revolution and Leninism in particular. Without these, there would have been no fascism, for though the demagogic Right-Wing Ultras had been politically vocal and aggressive in a number of European countries since the end of the 19th century, they had almost invariably been kept well under control before 1914”

After World War One, Italy found itself on the verge of bankruptcy due to its huge war debt. Between 1919 and 1920, unemployment soared, and mounting frustration over the condition of the economy led to sporadic violence and the rise of radical political groups.

In 1919, newspaper owner Benito Mussolini, a former socialist, formed a new political organization called the ‘Fasci’. The group held demonstrations throughout Italy and pledged to restore the nation’s economy and prestige. Mussolini echoing these pledges often spoke of restoring in Italy the glory and prestige of the ancient Roman Empire. These pledges drew a variety of supporters including unemployed veterans, disillusioned army officers, Italian nationalist, under-paid workers and peasant farmers. Between 1920 and 1921, armed members of the Fasci Party called ‘Black Shirts’ launched attacks on the Italian Socialist Party who were also demonstrating for support. Like most Fascist leaders Mussolini had no particular ideological agenda other than anti-communist and the prejudices traditional to their class .

During this period, street brawls between Socialist and Black Shirts became so frequent and violent that the public demanded the existing government take action to restore order in the streets. At this point Mussolini, whose Black Shirts had instigated the majority of the violence, publicly echoed the public’s call for peace, and launched an anti-Communist propaganda campaign. He painted the Italian Socialist as puppets of Russian Communist seeking to bring revolution to Italy. He condemned the present government as too weak to stop the ‘Red Menace’ and proclaimed himself and the Fasci Party as the nation’s only hope of escaping communist revolution. The fear of a communist takeover caused many industrial leaders and the Italian middle class to join and support the Fasci Party.

By October, 1922, crisis and division within the central government had crippled its effectiveness. Mussolini demanded that the government be dissolved and a new government dominated by his party be formed. Prime Minister Luigi Facta refused. On October 28, 1922, Mussolini ordered the Black Shirts to march on Rome to “restore order and legality” to the government. Facta wanted to declare a state of siege and use the Army to crush the marchers, but he needed the authorization of the king. Italy’s aged king refused to authorize the action for fear it would start a civil war. Instead, the king met with Mussolini and asked him to form a new government with himself as Prime Minister, opening the door to Fascist control of Italy. Soon after the creation of the new government he demanded and received dictatorial power until the end of 1923.

It may be worth reminding ourselves that in this period the threat to liberal institutions came also from the political right, for between 1945 and 1989 it was assumed almost as a matter of course, that it came essentially from communism. During this period “Soviet Russia was isolated and neither able nor willing to extend communism.” In other words in the inter-war period it was not realized that the right was also a treat to democracy, human rights and freedom just as much and maybe even more then the left was.

With Germany’s agreement to an armistice with the Allied Powers in 1918, the government of Kaiser Wilhelm II collapsed. The monarchy was replaced by a democratic government called the Weimar Republic. Though it was intended to bring democracy and stability to Germany, the new government was never able to rise above the problems created by the treaty that ended the war Many Germans blamed the Republic for the horrible conditions in their country, and several radical groups attempted to overthrow the government. In 1919, the German Marxist Party led a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt. The following year, supporters of Kaiser Wilhelm’s revolted and actually gained control of Berlin before their effort to seize the government was stopped.

In 1923, a third coup attempt was made on the Republic by the Radical National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the NAZI Party. The group had formed in 1920 and was now being led by a charismatic young leader named Adolph Hitler. On November 9, 1923, Hitler and nearly 3,000 armed NAZI Party members called Storm troopers marched on Munich in an attempt to forcibly seize control of the government. Unlike Mussolini’s famed ‘March on Rome’ the attempt known as the ‘Munich Beer Hall Putsch’ was crushed by armed force. Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for his part in the revolt.

During the one year that he actually spent in jail, Hitler wrote the book, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) which detailed his plans and political views. With the aid of Joseph Gobbles, who eventually became the NAZI Minister of Propaganda, Hitler launched a propaganda campaign against the Weimar Republic. In speech after speech, Hitler blamed Germany’s defeat in World War I on a conspiracy of Jews and Communists within the government. He denounced the signing of the Treaty of Versailles as traitorous, and blamed the Republic for Germany’s current economic problems (mainly due to the payment reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles). Hitler and the Nazis’ promised the German people that they would break the shackles placed on them by the treaty, and restore the glory and prestige it had enjoyed prior to World War I. He promised that the NAZI Party would establish a 3rd German Reich (state) that would dominate and rule Europe and the world for a thousand years. By 1928, the NAZI Party had won seats in the Reichstag, Germany’s legislative body. The following year the Great Depression provided the NAZI Party with the conditions needed to successfully seize power.

As the German economy plunged back into economic depression, German Socialist and Communist Parties grew in strength. The NAZI Party used this opportunity to produce propaganda that increased public fear of an increasing ‘Red Menace’ within Germany. Hitler often warned of a pending communist revolt throughout Europe, and offered the NAZI Party as Germany’s only hope to prevent the takeover. As economic conditions in Germany worsened, Hitler actively sought the support of industrial leaders who feared a possible communist revolution. By Nazi SA men breaking up Communist party meetings further bolstered the NAZI image as the only force willing to stand against the growing ‘Red Menace’. By 1931, major industrial and business leaders as well as many in the middle class were supportive of the NAZI Party.

At the height of the depression, a series of political crisis shook the Weimar Republic. In 1932, unable to solve the growing economic problems, German Chancellor Heinrich Burning resigned his office. German President Paul von Hindenburg replaced him with diplomat Franz von Papen, who only lasted seven months and he too resigned. By this time, the NAZI Party had become the largest political party in Germany, and Hitler became the next Chancellor.

Once in office Hitler immediately called for new elections. Hitler was forced to join forces with the Nationalist Party in order to have a majority in the Reichstag. In February, 1933 Hitler asked the Reichstag to approve the Enabling Act, a law that would give the Chancellor the power to decree laws independent of the Reichstag in the event of a state emergency. On February 26, 1933, the Reichstag Building was set on fire, the result of obvious arson. Hitler seized the opportunity to blame the Communists and justify the outlawing of their party. With the Communist gone, Hitler was able to build a coalition that gave him the 2/3 majority needed to pass the Enabling Act. By May, 1933, all political parties, except the NAZI Party, were disbanded. Eric Hobsbawm said that although political liberalism was in full retreat through this phase in history, this retreat was accelerated sharply after Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933. In 1934, President Hindenburg died and Hitler moved quickly to abolish his office by combining it with the Office of Chancellor. In the same year, Hitler or ‘der Fuhrer’ as he was now called instituted a new requirement in the military. All members of the armed forces were required to swear their allegiance no longer to the state, but to ‘der Fuhrer’. The consolidation of power was complete from this point on and Adolph Hitler alone would rule Germany.

Thanks to Communism and the West’s politics of appeasement Fascism in Germany and Italy soared and this lead to the start of the Second World War. Even after the War, Fascism of a different form lived on for many years in Portugal, Spain and later on in Greece. The fact that the Second World War ended in victory of the Soviet Union, together with the allies, allowed to the communism to survive to fascism, for more than four decades.

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