Entire libraries have been written about the left in Europe in this century; the number of serious studies of the history and character of right-wing movements can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are several good reasons for this: most people who write books are, in Europe at any rate, closer to the left than the right. The intelligentsia is attracted by ideas, and these have been traditionally less ideas (and ideology) on the right, than on the left. That the right has no consistent Weltanschauung is not necessarily a drawback; it needs one less than the left As Mussolini once put it very succinctly: “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better.” Intellectually the right is inferior to its adversaries; for that reason alone it is in many ways a less exciting and fruitful subject for students of ideas in modern history.

But, history is not only the history of ideas, intellectually stimulating or not. The right was, and is, important and its study should not be neglected. All students of modern Europe will be grateful to Professors Weber and Rogger who, with their collaborators, have produced a truly pioneering study of a fascinating phenomenon. It is one of the most interesting books in the historical and political field published in recent years.

The first obstacle facing the editors was how to define the meaning of left and right. The traditional definitions are well known, but how much sense do they still make in the modern world? It has been argued that left and right have largely lost their meaning in the era of totalitarianism and the subsequent age of the “end of ideologies.” It has also been said that few of those who talk about the end of ideology belong to the left. Most students of contemporary history will no doubt agree with Professor Weber, who says that reference to left and right is a reality in countries like France where these terms have over the ages become essential constituents of political definition and vocabulary and thought. However, since the advent of De Gaulle, the left-right dichotomy has become much less clear than it formerly was in France; the farther one goes from Paris to the south and east, the less meaningful do “left” and “right” become. In pre-war Hungary and Rumania, for instance, the left-right division was much less clear than in the West; since Rumanian realities, to give but one example, differed in almost every aspect from the situation in France, it was not really appropriate to use French categories and criteria to label Rumanian movements and personalities. To talk about countries like Egypt, Algeria, or Ghana in terms of “left” or “right” makes even less sense; this misuse of the European political vocabulary has caused great confusion and will no doubt cause more unless checked in time.

The contributors to the present volume were asked to deal not with the traditional, conservative right but the “new, extremist right” which came into being around the turn of the century and which was essentially a post-liberal and post-industrial phenomenon. It was more radical and violent than the old conservatism which merely wanted to preserve the status quo; it implied a readiness to conduct policies with the techniques and the appeals of the mass parties of the left, making, in the process, some innovations of their own. In some countries the extreme right remained rooted in conservative soil; neither the Horthy regime nor Dr. Salazar’s ever blossomed into fascist mass movements: these were, and remained, old fashioned authoritarian governments. The radicalism of fascism, its willingness to strike out in new directions, was, to quote Rogger, roughly proportionate to the degree in which their nations had been radicalized or traumatized by startling changes and severe strains in the social, political, and economic order. This is an excellent rule of thumb, but there are other important considerations—national character, for instance. If Italian fascism was less radical than Nazism, and if Mussolini failed to transform his people into lions, this reflected the fact that the dream of the mare nostro was less deeply rooted and much less intensely felt than the German claim to Lebensraum, and, generally speaking, to expansion, great power status, and domination.

The more radical fascist movements put themselves into deliberate oppositional conservative forces. They did not want to be counted on the right. When the Nazis first entered the Reichstag in strength in 1930, they firmly refused to sit on the benches on the right end of the parliament building. The second verse of the Horst Wessel song mentions the comrades who were shot by communists and reactionaries. Since there is reason to doubt whether any SA man was actually shot by a member of another right-wing group, this shows that the Nazis took great pains not to be identified with the traditional, conservative forces for whom they had only scorn and contempt. There were parallels in many other countries: the struggle between the Hungarian Arrow Cross and the native conservatives and, even more dramatically, between the Rumanian Iron Guard and successive reactionary governments, or the contest between the Finnish Lappo movement and the right-wing conservatives under Svinhufvuud.


According to a tradition which was by no means limited to Marxists, fascism was always the servant of big business. This view is reflected in a great many books, most prominently perhaps in the late Franz Neumann’s Behemoth. It still pervades much of the popular literature on the subject. Big business collaborated with fascism, but it did not create it and it certainly did not control it. The fact that middleclass votes brought fascism to power did not make it a middle-class party; even if the social basis of fascism was in some countries partly, elsewhere largely, middle-class, the fascist leaders did not by any means represent middle-class interests. If they made some accommodation with big business once they had come to power, this reflected, to quote Professor Rogger again, their interest in continued and efficient productivity rather than their love for capitalism. They were not the tools of “monopoly capitalism”; their anti-capitalism was not a mere phrase but part of the general anti-liberal syndrome. That many fascist parties came into being as workers’ and quasi-socialist groups may have been a demagogical exercise; they certainly had no particular inclination to identify themselves with the working class. But the fact that so many fascist leaders began their careers in the socialist (or communist) movement (Mosley and Mussolini, Doriot and Déat) was not fortuitous; there was in all these groups a strong strain of what, for want of a better term, might be called populist inspiration. Their opposition to liberalism and parliamentary democracy did not make them (as some of their leaders claimed) modern movements; they had no practical policies for an industrialized and urbanized world. Communism had a program of social and economic development (not only, and not mainly for Europe) and looked for allies more and more outside Europe. Fascism, on the other hand, had no such global concept; its leaders thought of Asia and Africa merely in terms of colonies. From this Professor Rogger concludes that fascism could not survive into the second half of the twentieth century. I am less certain.

The history of the extreme right in Europe came to an end in 1945. Since there was, for a variety of reasons, no fascism outside Europe (Japan being at most para-fascist) a strong case could be made for closing the file. In so far as fascism was rooted in one specific strand of the European tradition, and in so far as it represented a reaction against liberalism, it cannot indeed reappear outside Europe. But this huge volume shows very clearly that there was not one single model fascism, but many fascisms. The strains and stresses that produced fascist movements and regimes in some European countries are not so dissimilar to the situation in some of the new countries of Asia and Africa. Professor Weber draws attention to some striking parallels between the movements and policies of Peron and Vargas and similar phenomena in prewar Hungary and especially in Rumania. Twentieth-century societies in the throes of urbanization and industrialization react very much alike, germinating movements of protest and revolution which appeal to the urban and rural disinherited, the poorer classes, and certain intellectual, idealist, or authoritarian reformers.

Fascism as we knew it in our time will not recur but extremist dictatorships no doubt will; there are pronounced anti-democratic tendencies in modern industrial society and there is much fertile soil in the post-colonial nations. If German traditional race doctrine and blood-and-soil philosophies are unlikely to find imitators, the emergence of a new racialism is not ruled out; the days of the “cult of the individual” are by no means over, nor can we unfortunately take it for granted that we have seen the last of the torture of political opponents or of concentration camps. But whatever emerges, it will not be fascism. There have been cruel and brutal dictatorships before fascism and there may be after. Since there is no agreement on the definition of fascism, premature labeling of the dictatorial regimes that may succeed it is to be avoided.

It is difficult to single out for critical review any particular contribution in a huge volume full of fascinating facts and challenging attempts at generalization. One might perhaps have expected more comment on why fascism did not thrive in North America. There are some references to American prosperity and social mobility, and it is certainly true that circumstances and problems in the United States were radically different, even at the height of the world economic crisis, from those in Europe. But it would have been useful to analyze these differences and the abortive attempts to establish fascist mass movements in the United States in some detail. Contributions to symposia tend to be uneven and not all the essays in this volume are of equal excellence. I found those dealing with fascist movements in the smaller European countries of the greatest interest (for instance, Professor Weber on Rumania, Professor Rintala on Finland), perhaps because least is known about them. Mr. J. R. Jones has written an interesting essay on trends in England, but it seems somewhat misplaced in this context. So does, for different reasons, Mr. Nolte’s contribution on Germany; he concentrates on right-wing political thought in the nineteenth century rather than on Nazism and its immediate predecessors. I am not sure whether I share the view of Professor Rogger, who in an excellent essay on the extreme right in pre-revolutionary Russia argues that Tsarist Russia (together with Britain) provided the least favorable climate for the growth of rightwing radicalism. This is certainly not true of Tsarism in its decline; was it not touch and go for at least a year or two whether the extreme left or the far right would prevail in the struggle for power? The first world war doomed the traditional right, and the new, extremist right could not survive as an important political factor in Europe after 1945. The cautious historian will draw the line at this point, for he knows that the members of his profession are no better prophets than the rest of mankind.


This Issue

August 26, 1965