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Communism and Fascism
Throughout much of the twentieth century, there were two dominant political ideologies, which influenced a variety of nations and resulted in a number of active and passive conflicts:
- Communism was ‘left-wing’ – a totalitarian application of Marxist-Leninist socialism
- Fascism was ‘right-wing’ - a totalitarian application of reactionary nationalism.
Russian revolution & civil war
In 1917, Russia became the world's first Communist state as a result of two revolutions:
- The first replaced the leadership of the hereditary royal family, led by the Tsar, with a government which wanted peaceful, moderate reform
- The second replaced this government with a Communist government, led by Vladimir Lenin. This government wanted far-reaching change in Russia and was prepared to use force to achieve its aims.
It faced strong opposition and, between 1917 and 1920, Russia went through a brutal civil war, which the Communists eventually won.
In Communist Russia, the state took control of most private businesses and trade with foreign countries. All profits and surpluses went to the government. When Joseph Stalin replaced Lenin as Russia's leader in 1924, farming also came under state control. The state claimed ownership of the land, and the peasant farmers were forced to work on collectivised, government-controlled farms.
Other countries came under Communist influence particularly after Russian occupation during and after the Second World War and were referred to as ‘Soviet bloc’ countries. They included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia (previously separate Balkan states).
Stagnation and disintegration
State control of industry and farming was not a great success. There was no incentive to work hard if everyone was paid the same and the government took any profits. As a result, productivity was lower than in countries where they had private, profit-making owners. This meant that the standard of living was also lower.
This gap between Communist and non-Communist countries widened sharply in the third quarter of the twentieth century. In the non-Communist countries of the West this was a time of growing prosperity, but Russia and the other soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe experienced little of this progress.
By the 1980s, there was growing unrest throughout Eastern Europe. Fearing violent revolt, the Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev, relaxed much of the state control of industry and farming. Many parts of the Soviet empire gained their freedom, with the countries of Eastern Europe rejected Communism as a workable ideology. One great symbol of these changes was the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, which, since 1961, had divided the Communist and non-Communist parts of the city (see From the Berlin airlift to the fall of the Berlin Wall).
Following the collapse of European Communism, the ideology was maintained (with significant modifications) only by China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea.
Mussolini, Hitler and Franco
In 1922, Benito Mussolini made Italy the world's first Fascist state – one which aspired to the mass mobilisation of the population to serve Italy’s economic and military needs, under an authoritarian, military style leadership. Adolf Hitler followed with the establishment of Nazi Germany in 1933 and Francisco Franco created the Falangist one-party Fascist state in Spain in 1936, a result of his victory in the Spanish Civil War.
Although their methods of leadership were often brutal and violent, people were attracted to these leaders for a number of reasons:
- They offered strong leadership at a time when democratic politicians seemed weak
- They seemed to offer simple answers to complicated problems
- They were nationalists, who made people proud to belong to their country of birth
- Hitler gave his followers a specific target to blame for their problems, the Jews.
Characterised by mass rallies with military overtones, overt propaganda across all media and a sense of common purpose fuelled by national pride, Fascism became increasingly popular throughout the 1930s. The ideology focused on youthful vitality and the merits of direct action, developing huge youth movements such as the Hitler Youth and Nazionale Balilla groups.
During the economic problems of the 1930s, the appeal of Fascism spread. There were pro-Fascist riots in France, and Fascist leaders rose to prominence in Hungary, Romania, Brazil and Chile. In Britain, Fascism’s most famous British adherent was Sir Oswald Mosely, who led ‘black-shirt’ rallies in the poorer areas of London, which, like such rallies abroad, condoned aggression against those deemed to be un-worthy citizens – mainly Jews, immigrants and homosexuals.
Mussolini claimed to be re-creating the Roman Empire and Hitler claimed to be building a thousand-year empire, known as the ‘Third Reich’. Yet both these Fascist states were destroyed as a result of defeat in the Second World War in 1945. The Nuremberg trials from 1945-9 established that many wielding authority within Fascist states had committed crimes against humanity, which were punishable by death.
In the following years, the Fascist period was regarded with shame in both countries. The new German state outlawed belonging to any neo-Nazi organisation. However, there have continued to be Fascist or neo-Fascist groups in a variety of countries, though generally remaining a small minority on the margins of politics.
Spain remained neutral in the Second World War and Franco continued as its leader until his death in 1975. Spain then became a democratic country.
A system of government where the state exercises total economic, social and political control.
The political theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles, which were developed to form the basis for Communist theories.
A political philosophy advocating social ownership of a state's commodities as an economic system.
Patriotic support for one's own country, culture and people.
An economic ideology based on gaining common ownership of the means of production. This is achieved by political revolution and social engineering; a communist is a followed of this ideology.
Russian term for emperor.
Vladimir Lenin, 1870 – 1924, Russian revolutionary and communist leader of the Soviet Union.
Communist leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953.
The global war which lasted from 1939 – 1945
Fascist dictator of Italy.
A supporter of, or referring to, a system of government where all power is centred under the authority of a dictator.
Leader of the Nazi party in Germany.
An abbreviation for the National Socialist political party in Germany from 1920 until 1945.
Spanish military general and dictator of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.
1) In the Bible a member of the Hebrew race 2) Someone who belongs to the Jewish faith which believes in one God and the importance of Jewish Law.
Ancient Roman civilisation governed by emperors.
The global war which lasted from 1939 – 1945
A series of military tribunals, held in the German city of Nuremberg, conducted by the Allies after the Second World War in order to prosecute those involved in war crimes.
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