Monday, 27 June 2016

81. Because you need educating. Political Essay 1 - Five Stages of Fascism.

So 'Great' Britain voted to leave the Eu in a referendum on Thursday 23/06/2106.
A day that will live on history...

Simply put, this referendum was won by people who didn't know what they were voting for, and in all likelihood, still don't.
The ramifications of this will last for decades.

So I decided it was about time to educate you guys.

Our first essay is about Fascism.
because some of you don't seem to make the logical link between what is happening now with the likes of Farage, UKIP and Britain first, and how Mussolini and Hitler came to power.

Using the success of fascist rule in Germany and Italy and the failings of fascist movements in other European states as an example, explain and discuss the approach of Robert Paxton in 'Five stages of Fascism.'

   The rise of Fascism in Europe during the inter war period (1918-1938) is a much contested area of research. Fascist movements appeared all across the European nations, in the obvious instance in Germany and Italy, but also in such countries as Britain, France, Hungary, Spain and Portugal. This period was rife with discontent at the state of economic affairs and saw a rise of support for the nation state. With similar conditions across Europe, why is it that the fascist movements in Italy and Germany were the only movements which managed to secure power? Many historians and theorists from the social sciences have offered various explanations to why these movements succeed where others had failed. These reasons often refer to the Great Depression and state of economic affairs, the rise of nationalistic feeling within nation states and the use of violence to name a few. There are problems with these explanations however, these conditions were apparent not only in Italy and Germany, but across all the nations involved in the Great War. They do not explain what made the fascist movements in Italy and Germany succeed and become Fascist ruled states. The problem, as Robert Paxton explains, is that Fascism is difficult to define. He states that "five major difficulties stand in the way of defining fascism.[1]" These are Timing; the fact that the fascist movements were misunderstood at the time that they appeared. Mimicry; the extent of regimes that have 'borrowed' so called fascist idea, but did not function in the same way. The difference of time and space; "They differ in space because each national variety of fascism draws its legitimacy...not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic element of its own community identity.....They differ in time because of the transformations and accommodations demanded of those movements that seek power."[2] The relationship between doctrine and action; essentially that there is no universal fascist doctrine, which a large portion of theorists and historians try to justify, but rather a belief in "the powers of the race, of the nation, of the community."[3] Finally, the terms incorrect overuse in modern society. Paxton suggests that the reason Fascist movements gained power in Italy and Germany was by no single influence, he argues that in both cases there were 5 very particular stages that were unique to Germany and Italy. These stages are the Initial creation of the movements; under what conditions they came about. The Rooting of the movements as Political parties; how they come into government. Acquisition of power; how they claim their rule. Exercise of power; essentially how they rule and under what political climate, and finally the evolution of fascists 'dual power'; radicalisation or entropy. By comparing the various fascist movements across Europe, and the conditions within these countries and  comparing them against these '5 stages of fascism,' focusing on the processes and discriminations among these stages it might be possible to discern a reason as to why Germany and Italy emerged as the only fascist regimes in this period.

      First we look to the initial creation of Fascist movements; Paxton's first stage of fascism. "Fascism can appear wherever democracy is sufficiently implanted to have aroused order to give birth to fascism, a society must have known political liberty - for better or for worse."[4] It is this disillusion under which fascism is born, primarily as nationalistic movements, and the qualities of which are inherently unique from country to country. All fascist movements start here. For example, Hungary's early Fascist movements formed after the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye in 1919 which saw Hungary lose land to the newly created states such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia. "Against this background a number of patriotic societies sprang up, many of them secret. All aimed to reverse the verdict of the war and restore Hungary's past greatness."[5] In Britain the worsening of the economic situation and the disillusion with the moderate conservative minded governments at the time lead to the formation of the British Union of Fascists who aimed to "Convert the existing chaotic survival of laissez -faire liberalism into planned economy serving the needs of the State as a whole. The state envisaged would be authoritarian, and based on Mosley's (leader of the B.U.F) black shirts, who claimed to be essentially a national movement whose policy was contained in two words: 'Britain First."[6] Indeed these movements have similar beginnings to those in Germany and Italy. In Germany the collapse of the Kaisers Empire after the war and hyper inflation lead to a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the Weimar government; when the 'Great Depression' hit in the late twenties it "knocked the last nail into the coffin of a disintegrating order...In this swarming mass of unemployed, the ruined "bourgeois" and "sometime-bourgeoisified proletarians" were united by a common helplessness and exasperation.."[7]
    As can clearly be seen, the various fascist movements all materialism under similar circumstances. This still does not answer why Fascist rule prevailed in Italy and Germany, but nowhere else. To begin to answer this we must examine these movements in contrast to Paxton's second stage of fascism. The rooting of Fascism in the political climate, "in which a fascist movement becomes a party capable of acting decisively on the political scene."[8] This transition happens relatively rarely in Fascist movements as there are precise conditions required for this to happen. Firstly there needs to be a severe weakness of the Liberal State. A government whose actions 'condemn the state.' Secondly there needs to be a political deadlock between those on the political 'right' that hold the power; the liberal bourgeois, and those that demand change on the 'left.' This polarisation just simply did not occur in some instances. Britain for example had a relatively moderate political climate. The formation of the B.U.F may have signified dissolution in part, however, unlike Germany and Italy, "the British middle class was not ruined, not in terror of social revolution, not harassed or excited enough to join [Mosley's (The B.U.F)] in sufficient numbers."[9] Due to this lack of polarisation some sections of the British middle class "saw fascism as the chief danger,"[10] and those that did sympathise its authoritarian ideas were "shocked by fascist hooliganism."[11] Another example would be France; during the agricultural strikes of 1936 and 1937 peasant anger was whipped up by the 'Green shirts' of the demagogue Henri Dorger├Ęs."[12] However, unlike the unstable governments of Germany and Italy; where civil unrest was put down by militants and vigilantes, France did not need the fascist 'Green shirts,' they had the French Gendarmerie, and as such "the authority of the state and the power of the conservative farmers' organizations left hardly any space in the French countryside for the rooting of a fascist parallel power."[13] On the other hand Both Italy and Germany's governments were weak, fearing revolt and powerless. This in essence is what leads the Fascist parties to power as the "break down of democratic regimes and the success of Fascist movements in assembling new, broad catch-all-parties that attract a mass following across classes and hence seem attractive allies to conservatives looking for ways to perpetuate their shaken rule."[14]

       This brings us to the third of Paxton's stages of Fascism; that of securing power. "At the third stage, the arrival in power, comparison acquires greater bite. What characteristics distinguished Germany and Italy, where fascism took power, from countries such as France and Britain, where fascist movements were highly visible but remained marginal?"[15] As previously stated, In France the liberal conservatives did not feel threatened from the left or the right, as is evident in their putting down of agricultural riots, and in Britain the conservative party succeeded in ruling effectively, and as such the Fascist's concerns were quashed. In Spain Fascism had seized power via force and thus ended up with a regime more akin to a military dictatorship. What then allowed fascism to take hold in Italy and Germany? A key aspect in both cases is that neither Hitler nor Mussolini took control of power by force, "each was invited to take office as head of government by a head of state in the legitimate exercise of his official functions, on the advice of his conservative counselors, under quite precise circumstances: a deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascist abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that left and who felt unable to govern against the left without further reinforcement."[16] Essentially this overview is what the other fascist movements lacked. It is this willingness of the conservatives to work with the fascists and the flexibility of the fascists themselves that allowed them a path to power. It is how the movements conduct themselves in stages 1 and 2 that affect the variable factor of the conservative's likelihood to work with the fascists.  In the case of Italy it was down to the problems Mussolini's Fascist presented to the government. "If the fascist coup was put down by the army, who would be left to defend society from a revival of 'bolshevism'?"[17] This fear of the left, in addition to the possibility of a civil war and wavering support from the army lead to appointment of Mussolini as prime minister.

     This leads us to the fourth stage of Fascism; how power is exercised, which is largely down to how power is secured. Only Germany and Italy's Fascist movements under Hitler and Mussolini managed to claim power 'legitimately'; most other instances such as the fascist movement's in Britain and France failed in their attempt to gain power. Those movements that did gain a foothold, such as Spain, did so by force, and such needed up being authoritarian in nature and thus lacking the 'authentic' fascist characteristics. Paxton states; "the tensions within fascist rule also help us clarify the frontiers between authentic fascism and other forms of dictatorial rule. Fascist rule is unlike the exercise of power in either authoritarianism (which lacks a single party, or gives it little power) or Stalinism (which lacked traditional elites)."[18] He goes on to spell out these differences in more detail, "Stalin's communist party governed a civil society radically simplified by the Bolshevik revolution: under Hitler, in contrast, the party, the bureaucracy, and the traditional elites jostled for power. Even if Stalin's techniques of rule often resembled those of Fascism. He did not concern himself with concentrations of inherited autonomous social and economic power."[19]

     The final stage of Fascism is how it evolves over the long term. The Italian Fascist regime under Mussolini transcended into routine authoritarianism for the large portion of the period. Whilst on the other hand Nazi Germany reached full radicalization, for which fascism is most famous for. For Germany it manifested after conquering Poland, and subsequently committing to racial cleansing. "Extreme radicalization remains latent in all Fascisms, but in circumstances of war, and particularly of victorious wars of conquest, give it the fullest means of expression."[20]


      Paxton's five stages of Fascism not only give us a clear idea of how to defineFascism, but also help us to understand why the Fascist movements such as Germany and Italy succeed in gaining power while the other movements failed. Through examining the various fascist movements and comparing them to these five stages it is possible to see a correlation between the circumstances in which these movements arrived and gained influence, and the reasons as to why some floundered, while other succeeded.  The main criticism to Paxton's five stages would be that while it does provide a comprehensive explanation to the various successes and failures of Fascism in this inter-war period, it does not explain the possibilities of Fascism in the present. While he acknowledges its possible the only theoretical framework we have to base fascism today against is that "fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing divisions and decline."[21] In a world where democracy 'stands accused' on a daily basis from all parties, this isn't much help.


  • Paul Brooker., 'The Faces of Fraternalism: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan' (Oxford.) 1991
·         Ernest Gellner., 'Encounters with Nationalism'(Blackwell) 1994.

·         Roger Griffin., 'Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning Under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave Macmillan) 2007

·         Julian Jackson Ed., 'Short Oxford History of Europe - Europe 1900-1945' (Oxford. ) 2002

  • Robert Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism, in ' the Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (March., University of Chicago) 1998

  • Mihaly Vajda., 'Fascism as Mass Movement' (London) 1976

·         Eugene Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism: Doctrines of Revolution in the Twentieth Century (Van Nostrand) 1964

[1] Robert Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism, in ' The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp 2.

[2] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism', pp 3-4.

[3] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism', pp 4-5

[4] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism',  pp 11.

[5] Eugene Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism: Doctrines of Revolution in the Twentieth Century (Van Nostrand., 1964) pp 88

[6] Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism' pp 110.

[7] Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism' pp 79.

[8] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism' pp 13.

[9] Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism' pp 112.

[10]Kevin Passmore., 'Politics,' in, 'Short Oxford History of Europe - Europe 1900-1945' (Oxford., 2002) pp108.

[11] Weber., 'Varieties of Fascism' pp 112.

[12] Richard Bessel., 'Society,' in, ''Short Oxford History of Europe - Europe 1900-1945' (Oxford., 2002) pp 129.

[13] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 14.

[14] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 14-15.

[15] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 16.

[16] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 17

[17] Paul Brooker., 'The Faces of Fraternalism: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan' (Oxford., 1991) pp 40.

[18] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism' pp 18.

[19] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 19.

[20] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 20.

[21] Paxton., 'The Five Stages of Fascism,' pp 21.

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