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Critically compare and contrast fascism and communism.
In this essay, I will be analysing the key differences and similarities between communism and fascism and providing descriptions of the systems with in depth background information on how they came represent the modern-day idea of what they stand for. This includes their origins, purpose, views and key themes.
Communism is the idea that all property and wealth are owned and controlled by the state to create a classless society. A classless society is one in which there are no differences between the wealthy and the poor, between genders or between races. The most common form of communism is Marxist communism although there are other forms as well. This socioeconomic system promotes equality and communal hard work to progress a nation’s economy and social wellbeing.
Fascism is not so easily defined as various social scientists have different opinions of what fascism is. In a general sense, Fascism is an economic system with heavy emphasis on political structure but mainly focuses on a nation state’s social layout being determined by the ruling dictator. The main themes that are promoted are militarism, youth and masculinity and any idea that challenges the state is undesirable. For example, liberalism, communism, conservatism and democracy are actively shunned and gender and race equality are not relevant.
The idea of a communist philosophy dates to 1516 in the form of a fictional book called Utopia written by Thomas More which was about a society where common ownership of property was the way of life. The most recognised origin of modern day communism is seen to be associated with the Prussian-born Karl Marx and German philosopher Friedrich Engels who published the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Marx saw the industrial revolution as the exploitation of the working classes through capitalism. In their book, the two proposed a system where property is owned communally through a classless state, eliminating the differences between the wealthy elite and the working classes. They believed that the formation of such a state would remove many of societies issues caused by inequality and lead mankind towards a new age of progress. Marx and Engels never described how such a society could be formed which left others to determine how this could be achieved.
Around 1917 just after the Russian revolution, Vladimir Lenin was the leader of Russia’s communist party and he established the direction and structure that his ideology would take. He envisioned a global communist state which was not different from Marx’s idea of a worker’s revolution. Lenin’s goal was to influence communism and develop it across Europe but internal power struggles led to the dismissal or exile of prominent party leaders such as Leon Trotsky which left the Russian communist regime at the mercy of opportunists after Lenin’s death. This left the path open for Joseph Stalin to take power and he believed that solidifying his power was more important than dealing with theoretical struggles. Communisms development in the modern world was majorly influenced by economic issues arising in the 1930’s, most prominently in post-colonial territories, like much of Africa and Asia and in regions such as south America where it was politically unstable. Any gains made by communism were undermined by the lack of economic successes in major communist countries such as Russia and China as they tried to take the role of leader in the push for communism through military influence and economic dominance which did not work.
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Fascism’s primary goal is the glorification of the nation as one state. The origins of fascism can be followed back to nationalist movements in the late 1800’s. Charles Maurras and Geroges Sorel, two French nationalists, wrote about extreme nationalism as a way to develop a more organised and prosperous society. Their writing had an adverse effect on an Italian names Enrico Corradini who advocated the nationalist movement and believed in a state run by the aristocracy with support from anti-democratic groups. This combined with Futurism, a 20th century idea that change must be forced to be progressive (even through violence if need be), led to fascism taking root in Italy just prior to World War One. Fascism was not straightforward however as it took many different forms throughout Europe with many countries taking different approaches to what should define it. This succeeded (Italy, Germany, Spain) or failed (France) based on different circumstances.
Despite how differently the processes of development are, fascism does share many of the characteristics of communism. One of the key elements that both systems share is the emphasis on substantial militarism combined with strong nationalism. Other factors that are similar are rejection of democracy, economic conservatism that benefits the rich, opposition to cultural and political liberalism, the idea that power resides with the elites and under a social umbrella, and the desire to form a ‘people’s community’, where everyone’s desires are second to the good of the state. In practice, there are a few more elements that are similar which is the collaboration of corporations to benefit the national agenda and complete control of the media causing overwhelming levels of propaganda.
The two systems have varying approaches to social structure and hierarchies. Communism, the type that’s inspired by the communist manifesto, has the belief that class hierarchies should be removed by the state and ownership of property and industry should be seized by the government, therefore removing capitalist ideals and combining the classes. They are also against other social constraints such as ender specific roles. On the other hand, fascism holds to a rigid class structure in which every citizen has a pre-determined specific role. This often leads to women being restricted to housework and raising children and there is normally one ethnic or racial group that is superior to the others. For example, unity through ethnicity or nationality is prioritized over diversity and individuality like in Hitler’s regime. Germany under Hitler idolised the Aryan race and the government actively sought the eradication of various minorities such as the Jews, Poles and Gypsies throughout world war two. These were not the only groups targeted under the fascist ideals of ethnic dominance, any group with a real or even perceived difference was targeted including homosexuals, disabled people and even communists, throughout the Holocaust.
Communism and fascism are both opposed to the democratic model but not equally and not in the same way. Fascism looks to be above parliamentary freedoms which is strange as fascist leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler were active participants in democratic politics before their rise to power. After seizing power, these leaders looked to remove other political parties, they were against complete suffrage and quickly adapted into dictators as a direct cause of their fascist beliefs. Communism however, understands that democracy may be the route to power but that the prevailing outcome of democracy is single-party rule. If a communist majority is elected, then future elections may take place but the communist party candidates are usually the only ones eligible to run for office. Party leadership is also based on seniority over political experience and one ruling central committee governs debate. They decide what is allowed and what is not allowed to be debated and effectively they establish the party ‘line’ that is to be followed. Fascism promotes a dictatorship whereas communism leans more towards the concentration of power within a small group known as the part leadership.
Relating back to the economy, fascism allows private business to flourish so long as the overall economic system is primarily strengthening the power and glory of the state. Both Italy and Germany, during the height of their fascism in the first half of the 20th century, strived for self-reliance so they could sustain themselves without trading with other countries. Communism’s main ambition is the equal redistribution of wealth amongst the populace. All people in the country receive an equal share of dividends for their labour, such as money and food. For this to be enforced the industry within a country is directly controlled by the government.
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Both fascism and communism see individual goals and ambitions as second to the needs of society as a whole. In a communist state, private property and religion are forbidden, the government directly controls wealth and labour and the choice of job or education is removed and the government assigns citizens where they are needed. Fascism is very similar as the state controls people’s careers and pathways in order to increase their strength but private property is not restricted.
There are a few modern examples of communism in practise with China (probably the most famous), Cuba and North Korea being the most prominently known out of just over 10 communist countries in the world (compared to the 210+ countries). However, China has adopted a few basic capitalist practises in order to continue the growth of the world’s largest and fastest growing economy. Cuba has also reopened relations with the U.S. There are no examples of modern day countries operating under the system of fascism but neo-fascists (also known as neo-Nazis) are present in many countries.
Communism’s view of the world as a whole is easily defined. Communism is an international movement in which a communist from one country can see themselves as allies and even friends with an unknown communist in another country. They have a distrust of high level business as the owners are capitalists and therefore do not share the same desire for social equality. Fascists are ultra-nationalists who mainly identify themselves with other nations with the same views and strong leaders. A fascist has a distrust for internationalism and primarily focus on the advancement of their nation which often leads to international agreements not being abided by. The concept of international law is not something that they agree with or follow.
The two systems also have varying beliefs on war and their inclusion to it. A fascist nation believes war is good for boosting moral and therefore a positive thing for the state. The glory that can be attained through the conquest of war is something the state places high value on. They deem that war has no adverse effect on the economy and the country gains strength through the subjugation of other inferior countries.
To conclude, many people see communism, fascism and even capitalism to be separate forms of government but they all have shared elements. Capitalism is not part of this comparison but it makes sense to include some of the features that are similar to communism and fascism. A capitalist system encourages the presence of the public domain works, which are shared by all, which follows part of the principle of communism that defines a united community as does the practise of a public education system. Employee-owned companies such as John Lewis PLC follow the communist model by allowing workers the same privileges and rights as the owners. Lobbying is a trait derived from fascism that is present in capitalist systems, particularly in the U.S, as it promotes business wealth to influence political outcomes and legislation. To compare and contrast fascism and communism is not a simple task as they constantly overlap in places and the fact that capitalism also derives some forms of their system shows how complicated this comparison can be.
Communism and Fascism are two types of government that are somewhat connected to each other through loosely adapted philosophies as they both have similarities and they also have fundamental differences showing they are two separate systems with the underlying belief in the progression of the nation state.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848
- Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution, Russia, 1918
- Archie Brown, the rise and fall of Communism, New York, Vintage, 2010
- Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind, Poland, Instytut Literacki, 1953
- Shannon Kurt Brincat, Communism in the 21st Century, Praeger, 2013
- Robert O. Paxton, The anatomy of Fascism, London, Penguin, 2005
- Stanley G. Payne, History of Fascism 1914-1945, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1996
- Roger Griffin, Fascism (Book), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995
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