Folly and Malice book

What is Fascism?

In the second instalment of a two part article, Roger Eatwell chooses between rival definitions of a slippery word

In Part One of this article, which appeared in the last issue of History Review, I argued that it was vital to have a definition of fascism in order to assess major questions, such as which inter- war movements were truly fascist, or whether fascism is reviving today?

But this is easier said than done. Definitions of fascism have typically focused on socio- economic rather than political factors. In part 2, this emphasis is explained by the social history and Marxist tendency to view the probing of origins and functions as more sophisticated than the analysis of characteristics such as doctrine. Thus fascism has perhaps most frequently been defined as a movement of the middle class, or of capitalism, in crisis. The widespread belief that fascism was not a serious ideology, that it was little more than a violent form of nihilism or opportunism, has further encouraged this tendency.

However, there have been notable developments over the last twenty years which have begun to lead to a change of perspective. It has increasingly become accepted that fascism was not simply a tool of the owning classes, and the more sophisticated Marxists now talk of the 'primacy of politics'. It has now also become more widely accepted that fascism, especially in Germany; attracted all-class support during its rise. These socio-economic perspectives have been accompanied by a growing willingness to accept that there was a serious side to fascist ideology, that it is not best summed up by the infamous aphorism 'When I hear the word "culture", I reach for my gun'.

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