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12 Interpretations of Fascism Ever since the March on Rome, analysts and other writers have sought to formulate an interpretation or theory capable of explaining fascism. As the only genuinely novel form of radicalism emerging from World War I, and one that seemed to involve multiple ambiguities if not outright contradictions, fascism did not obviously lend itself easily to monocausal explanations or simple theories-though that did not deter many commentators. The first attempts to provide an interpretation came from Italian opponents, such as Luigi Salvatorelli and other liberals, and from Socialists and Communists. The issue was addressed by the Comintern as early as 1922, and indeed the main activity in generalizing the concept was carried on by Communists and other leftists, for purposes of promoting antifascism. The termjascist was being widely applied in some European countries, especially Spain, by the early 1930s; it was increasingly applied as a pejorative for political opponents, though on a few occasions some accepted it as a badge of honor. It became widely used in the Soviet Union, both as a term with which to smear opponents and also as a basic synonym for German National Socialism, the latter an awkward term that struck too close to home for Communist comfort. The Italian Communist dissident Angelo Tasca early observed that to define fascism was to write its history, and after 1945 Western historiography concentrated on monographic study of individual countries and movements. Subsequently the "fascism debate" of the 1960s and 1970s, touched off especially by Ernst Nolte's Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche (1963), refocused scholarly attention on the general concept, but no consensus has ever been achieved concerning an explanatory interpretation or theory, or even a complete and precise definition. The principal interpretations of fascism have been directed toward defining the underlying nature of this presumed genus of politics, toward its over441 442 PART II: INTERPRETATION all significance, or, more commonly, toward its principal sources or causes.1 The main interpretations may for the sake of convenience be summarized in thirteen categories, with the understanding that these concepts are not mutually exclusive but in some cases may draw upon each other. Fascism has been considered a violent, dictatorial agent of bourgeois capitalism; a unique radicalism of the middle classes; a twentieth-century form of "Bonapartism"; a typical manifestation of twentieth-century totalitarianism; a new form of "authoritarian polyocracy"; a cultural revolution; a product of cultural, moral, or sociopsychological pathologies; a product of the rise of amorphous masses; a consequence of unique national histories; a reaction against modernization; a product of the struggle for modernization or a stage of socioeconomic growth; and a unique metapolitical phenomenon. Finally, some analysts have denied that any such general phenomenon as generic fascism can be defined or identified . Before briefly examining each of these interpretations, we should face the fact that few of those who attempt to develop a causal theory or explanatory concept of fascism define exactly what they mean by the term or specifically identify which parties or movements they seek to interpret, beyond a primary reference which is normally to National Socialism alone. The absence of an empirical definition of what is meant by fascism has been an obstacle to conceptual clarification. I. The principal studies of the interpretations of fascism are W. Wippermann, Faschismustheorien (Darmstadt, 1989); Renzo De Felice, Interpretations of Fascism (Cambridge, Mass., 1977); A. J. Gregor, Interpretations ofFascism (Morristown, N.J., 1974); G. Schulz, FaschismusNationalsozialismus : Versionen und theoretische Kontroversen. 1922-1972 (Frankfurt, 1974); H. Grebing, Aktuelle Theorien fiber Faschismus und Konservatismus (Stuttgart, 1974); R. Saage, Faschismustheorien (Munich, 1976); G. Schreiber, Hitler: 1nterpretationen. 1923-1983 (Darmstadt , 1984); F. Perfetti, 11 dibattito sulfascismo (Rome, 1984); L. Bossie et aI., Sozialwissenschaftliche Kritik am 8egrijJ und an der Erscheinungsweise des Faschismus (Wiirzburg, 1979); M. A. Saba, 11 dibattito sulfascismo (Milan, 1976); L. L. Pera, lIfascismo dalla polemica alia storiografia (Florence, 1975); and P. AY'i0berry, The Nazi Question (New York, 1981). Two good summaries and analyses of the historiography and interpretations in Italy and Germany down to 1985 concerning the two main movements and regimes are E. Gentile, "Fascism in Italian Historiography: In Search of an Individual Historical Identity," JCH 21: 2 (April 1986): 179-208, and in the same issue, W. Hofer, "Fifty Years On: Historians and the Third Reich" 225-5\. The chief anthologies are De Felice's lIfascismo: Le interpretazioni dei contemporallei e degli storici (Rome, 1970); E. Nolte, ed., Theorien fiber den Faschismus (Cologne, 1967); T. Pirker, ed., Komintern und Faschismus 1920...


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