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East Central Europe 37 (2010) 338344

brill.nl/eceu

Uniqueness and Family Resemblances in


Generic Fascism
Roger Grin

Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

1. Was Fascism a Synchronic-Epochal or a Generic-Diachronic


Phenomenon?
I have always considered the synchronic-epochal and generic-diachronic
approaches as existing in a dialectical relationship rather than being mutually
exclusive. In fact, one of the premises of my research (still hotly contested by
many scholars) is to reject the assumption that fascism assumed its sole historically signicant expression in the inter-war period when it acquired a number
of features with which it is still widely identied in the public imagination
(e.g. leader-cult, uniforms, paramilitarism, expansionist imperial policy, pervasive propaganda, cultural vandalism). Such an approach still dominates
many encyclopaedia-style denitions and leads to a check-list denition
of fascism based on an amalgam of properties displayed by Fascism and
Nazism.
Residues of this nave approaches still linger in my original denition presented in The Nature of Fascism (1991) when I talk of the fascist belief in an
imminent transformation of the status quosomething that does not apply to
more sophisticated fascist historical scenarios since 1945, e.g. ones based on
the visions of Armin Mohler (1950) and Julius Evola (1953). These are based
on seeing the present as an interregnum, meaning that the breakthrough to a
new era is indenitely postponed. They are present in even more blatant forms
in the denitions of such fascistologists as Stanley Payne, Michael Mann,
A. James Gregor, and Ernst Nolte when such attributes as the leader-cult,
corporatism, or a state-terror apparatus are treated as denitional properties.
When the interwar period is seen as providing the true manifestations of fascism, post-war fascism is regarded as a sort of coda of minimal relevance
to understanding the genus. My approach stresses instead the need to track
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010

DOI 10.1163/187633010X534540

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fascisms evolution as a genus, its adaptation to dierent local historical conditions and its ability to mutate into new forms (e.g. cyberfascism or the New
Right) outwardly dierent from Nazism or Fascism while retaining its core
myth of national/ethnic rebirth (which must be treated as an ideal-typically
identied ideological core and NOT an essence).
In short, my premise is that fascism can be usefully seen in its rst inter-war
stage of development as a new ideological force characterized by a revolutionary version of organic, populist nationalism (palingenetic ultra-nationalism).
This certainly assumed its rst signicant organizational form as a factor in
national politics and society in Mussolinis movement from where the term
earned its generic name. However, in my view, to treat Fascism as the realtype of fascism from which others derived, as proposed by Wolfgang
Wippermann (see Loh, Wippermann 2002; Wippermann, 2009), is illconceived. In contrast to Nolte (1963), I argue that the inter-war period was
a fascist era only in the sense that it was then that forms of revolutionary
nationalism emerged in many countriespredominantly but not exclusively
in Europeas a radical alternative to what was conceived as a dying liberal
capitalism, to reactionary ultra-conservatism, and to a profoundly threatening
communism. In my narrative fascism assumed two profoundly dierent
regime forms that partially compromised the original ideals of the movement
in Italy and Germany, and had a decisive impact on government in several
other countries, including Hungary and Romania, and was imitated by a
number of conservative military regimes. However, the totalitarian form it
assumed till 1945 was a product of an age shaped by World War I, the collapse
of absolutist empires and the Russian Revolution of 1917. The core ideology,
which I must stress again is an ideal-typical construct and not an essence, has
since assumed a number of ideological and organizational expressions which
diverge signicantly from interwar models.
I consider the real essentialists those historians whose work implies in practice (whatever their theoretical convictions) that Nazism represents the
essence of fascism, and who fail to recognize the profound and empirically
demonstrable continuity and kinship of inter-war variants of fascism with
such phenomena as White Noise music, International Third Position, and acts
of lone-wolf terrorism carried out against multi-culturalism or the One
World society with no trace of leader-cult or coloured shirts. The approach
I have adopted in the last 25 years (though far more restrictive in its denition
than the one promoted by Stein Larsen in his Fascism outside Europe, 2001)
also makes it natural to look for fascism and phenomena akin to fascism both
outside Europe and outside the inter-war period. However, it assumes that

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there will be limited or no political space for fascism to emerge in societies


whose traditional religions and social hierarchies have not been signicantly
fragmented and secularized by the forces of modernization and Westernization,
and where organic populist nationalism on the European model has not
become a hegemonic force in society. It also sees Islamism as akin to fascism
in some respects in its war on existing modernity and radically utopian quest
for an alternative, but as a form of politicized religion rather than sacralized
politics generically dierent from it.
2. Varieties of Fascism: Are Historical Regions Heuristically Useful Units
of Analyzing Fascism?
The topological approaches to fascism which emerged in the 1960s now seem
very misleading and simplistic (in this respect Fascism: A Readers Guide, 1976,
however ground-breaking, is a testimony to the confusion endemic to comparative fascist studies of the time). These arose either on the basis of a Marxist
hypothesis that saw fascism as the in-built tendency of all capitalist societies
reacting to the threat of socialism, or because of a failure to develop its
denition to take account of revolutionary mission to inaugurate a new historical era, so that it became assimilable with any form of repressive ultraconservatism or militarism. Thus Franquism, Salazarism and even Metaxas-ism
could become amalgamated with Fascism and give rise to the idea of a South
East/Southern Fascism.
Clearly for heuristic purposes of comparative studies it is valid to look for
patterns of similarity and elements of uniqueness in the extremist politics
within ideal-types constructed by regions of the world, but they must not
be homogenized or reied. I am very suspicious of a category such as
Mediterranean, Scandinavian or East European fascism given the radical
dierences between, say, the regimes of Franco and Mussolini, between
Hungarys Arrow Cross and Romanias Iron Guard, and between the domestic
politics and situations of Demark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Thus regional
studies have to be approached with great care and subtlety. Having said this,
the collapse of the Soviet Empire has made it possible for Anglophone scholars
nally to learn something about right-wing extremism in the inter-war period
without distortions of Soviet propaganda, and I would welcome some good,
intelligently conducted regional studies of, say, the Baltic or South Eastern
European far right informed by the latest developments in comparative studies of fascism, totalitarianism, political religion, and modernism.

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3. Are there Distinct East Central or Southeastern European Types of


Fascism? If so, What Are their Specic Features?
Each expert on fascism will answer this dierently. My own position is the
following: a) To treat any movement as a specimen of fascism assumes the
application of a generic denition that identies certain common traits shared
with other movements that t the ideal-type, and the analysis should not be
carried out on the basis that the movement is only fascist. In other words, the
generic term allows recognition of family likenesses without any suggestion
that each fascism is not also unique, and may also not belong to other generic
categories of politics, such as political religion, or totalitarianism. It is also
valid and necessary to study it as a historical specicity, a unique product of the
historical conditions prevailing in the period when it arose; b) There is no
real-type or archetype of fascism from which a particular manifestation of it
deviates. The Catholicism of Hungarism or the Orthodox Christianity of the
Iron Guard in inter-war Europe are no more deviant than the paganism of
Nazism or the technocracy of the British Union of Fascism, and certainly they
are not all aberrant permutations of Italian Fascism; c) In other words, all are
products of a unique national culture which determined the concrete expression of the revolutionary nationalism (which I termed palingenetic ultranationalism) in that society. (Even a historian as brilliant as Stanley Payne is
unclear about this in his categorization of the Iron Guard as a deviant form of
the genus in his groundbreaking Fascism: Comparison and Denition, published in 1980): all fascisms, including Nazism, are simultaneously exceptional
and unique; d) There are no regional types of fascism, only unique national
types (and in some cases a variety of national types: Nazism was only one of a
number of German variants of fascism that thrived in the chaos of Weimar
and Fascism merged several competing visions of the new Fascist Italy).
This is not to say that commonalities of regional experience do not lend
fascisms in a particular region or type of society some common traits (for
example, it would be useful to compare the way fascists in predominantly
Catholic countries or Orthodox countries accommodated their essentially
pagan/atheistic beliefs in national rebirth to hegemonic values, a topic distinct
from the study of clerical fascism, about which much is already known);
e) Thus there are no common traits of East Central or Southeastern European
fascism which can be identied as the properties of a clearly demarcated
regional sub-genus or species of generic fascism. Instead there are just intriguing patterns of similarity, cross-cultural inuences, histoires croises on the one
hand and unique singularities on the other.

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4. How Would You Evaluate the State of the Field of Studies on Fascism
in East Central and Southeastern Europe?
Here I profess ignorance. I am aware of some notable scholars in Hungary,
Romania, Ukraine, and Russia doing pioneering work to write proper histories of fascism and political extremism in their countries for the rst time
(some of whom also produce excellent contributions to comparative fascist studies), and many who put Western historians to shame in their polylinguistic ability and familiarity with comparative fascist studies and theory in
all its complexity. Particularly encouraging is the way a new generation of PhD
students and post-docs in Eastern Europe are working on aspects of fascism
which will not only ll lacunae in national histories but considerably enrich
Western fascist studies.
By rejecting the assumption that all putative fascism in Eastern Europe, in
general, are clones or imperfect imitations of Fascism and Nazism, by giving
due weight to the unique, endogenous dimension of each movement, and by
applying the latest scholarship on related topics such as totalitarianism, political religion, and modernism, these scholars will, I hope, come to be considered at the centre of fascist studies and not peripheral to them. (To dismiss the
subtle, complex approach to history that results as pioneered by George Mosse
and Emilio Gentile as culturalist with pejorative connotationsthe wont of
some particularly blinkered self-styled empiricistsis the hallmark of an
acute deciency in the historical imagination and creative intelligence). The
new wave of research in which Eastern European scholars are playing a leading
role promises to produce some exciting examples of joined up thinking on
how dierent national phenomena can be classied, and their complex genesis
and causation, but also how these phenomena can be located within not one
but several international processes and patterns of events as Western cultures
adapted to the devastating impact of modernization on traditional structures
and beliefs. This is especially possible if their work is informed by a sophisticated grasp of the cultural, anthropological, and modernist dynamics of the
abortive fascist revolution.
However, as I have said I simply do not know enough to be more specic
about the new avenues of research referred to in the question. What I would
say is that post-Soviet Eastern European scholarship in this area, though
under-nanced, has the advantage of travelling light, of having far less
academic baggage from the bad old days when comparative fascist studies
were dominated by an extraordinary degree of ethnocentrism, tunnel vision,
conceptual and methodological confusionnot to mention sheer ignorance
of many national histories and languageswhich made them of minimal

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value to real historians. Eastern Europe seems to be creating a new breed


of comparativists and experts on national history who understand the
international context, and Western scholars could learn a great deal from
them. The more Eastern scholars illuminate the unique events in their own
histories (in works published in English!), the more they will enrich Western
scholarship.
5. Can One Speak of a Recrudescence of Fascism in Contemporary
Europe, or We Deal here with an Essentially New Political Phenomenon?
Every individual form of (putative) neo-fascism is to be seen in terms of its
continuity with interwar movements, both internally and outside the country,
as well as a unique, novel phenomenon shaped by a contemporary history,
utterly dierent from the interwar period, however constant the fascist mindset. Thus we are dealing with BOTH a revival or recrudescence to be illuminated by comparative fascist studies (nomothetically) and a new phenomenon
to be illuminated by political scientists with a historical awareness of uniqueness (the idiographic). Everything in history is unique while simultaneously
displaying general patterns.
The experience of being forcibly integrated and gleichgestaltet economically,
culturally, and ideologically into the Soviet Empire, the intense socioeconomic and political chaos that followed the collapse of that empire in the
1990s, the impact of the resumption of unnished nationalist and racist business postponed for two generations when the Soviets cryogenically froze ethnic politics in Eastern Europe, the enormous problems that accompanied the
Herculean task of modernizing time-warped societies overnight and bringing
their nancial and technological infrastructures in line with the West, the
huge social inequalities that suddenly opened up, the explosion of resentment politics, ethnic hatred and utopias: all of these factors contributed to
turning the nations and ethnies of the former Soviet Empire into an incubator
of extremist anti-democratic tendencies along with forms of politics masquerading as democratic but ultimately extremist. These included some nostalgic
and mimetic fascisms, but also new forms of extremism (e.g. radical right
populism) which are best regarded as taxonomically distinct, even if they serve
as outlets for what in the inter-war period might well have expressed themselves in revolutionary, and hence fascist, forms.
Thus there are rich pickings in Europes New East for students of extremism, racism, neo-fascism, fundamentalism, and political religion. However,
I do not know enough to identify any main trends in this area, let alone

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evaluate them. I can only assume that there are major dierences between the
situation in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, for example, so that
regional generalizations are hazardous. That said, I believe that European
democracy needs journals like East Central Europe, focused on Eastern Europe,
but fully integrated in spirit and through international research networks with
wider European and Western academic communities in a transdisciplinary
spirit so as to help ensure that within the edgling democracies there is an
intellectual and political space for genuine history to counteract the destructive and divisive force of mythical histories and grand rcits.

Bibliography
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