John F. Pollard: fascisms have much in common – and a future

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John F Pollard: Fascisms have much in common – and a future

Trinity Hall is perhaps the prettiest of those Cambridge colleges which I have been able to visit more than once. Dr John F. POLLARD is staff fellow in history and fellow archivist there, after having taught modern European history at Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge’s „other“ university. he is also a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Author of books such as Catholicism in Modern Italy, The Vatican and Italian Fascism. A study in conflict and The Fascist Experience in Italy, John Pollard is an expert on papacy as well as on Italian fascism. He has accepted parts of our long conversation in his Trinity Hall office to be recorded. Here’s the English part of it.

What did Italian fascism and German and Austrian national socialism have in common?

They were both militaristic. They were both expansionistic, they sought to build empires. Hitler’s was to be an Empire to the East, „der Drang nach Osten„, in a new 20th century form. Mussolini wanted „living space„, „Lebensraum„, like Hitler, but he wanted it in the Mediterranean, in Africa, and in the Middle East. They were authoritarian, totalitarian regimes. They were anti-democratic, anti-liberal. They were dictatorships. They believed that they were creating „a new man„. Not just a new Germany, and a new Italy, but a new German, and a new Italian.

What is interesting is that the British historian Roger Griffin has tried to define the essence of fascist movements (not just nationalist socialist and Italian fascist movements, but a variety of movements throughout Europe (the British movement of fascists, Codreanu’s Iron Guard, the Legion of the Archangel Michael in Romania, and other groups in Belgium, in Scandinavian countries, in Spain, the Falange, and so on). And his definition is very interesting. he says: the absolute essence of fascist movements in Europe between the wars was „palingenetic populist ultranationalism„. What does that mean? It means that these movements were seeking the rebirth of their societies, of their countries, that they were populist movements, they were not elitist movements, they were trying to have a wide popular appeal, and above all, they were nationalistic.

I would slightly correct his definition and say that the fundamental difference between Italian fascism and German national socialism was that from the very beginning, from its absolute fundamental ideological origins German Nation Socialism was racialistic rather than just simply nationalistic. Hitler’s vision, the nazi’s vision of society was that of a racial society, whereas racialism entered Italian fascist ideology and policy and practice some years after fascism was born in 1919, and even after it came to power. Racialism as it can be understood in comparison with the docrines of the nazis, racialism in Italy really only arrived in the late 1930s.

Do fascists target the same type of personality? Do they satisfy similar, perhaps deep-rooted sentiment?

I think in both cases they attracted people who were affected by the First World War, very often who fought in the First World War, and people who, for different reasons in Italy as to those in Germany, felt bitter and angry about the outcome of the First World War. In the German case of course, they felt they had been cheated of their victory, that they had been „stabbed in the back“ in Germany itself by the left, by the trade unions, by the Jews, by whoever, by the civilians – that they had not really lost the war, that they had been tricked. In Italy, it was slightly different: the Italians felt that they had won their victory, but that they had been cheated by their gain by the Allies of Versailles: the so-called „mutilated victory.“ But there is the same element of bitterness, of conspiracy theory, of paranoia, a sense of having lost, in both cases. Would that go for 21st Centruy young fascists as well? I think that young fascists in Italy, Germany and elsewhere in other countries might feel a sense of loss on a different level. One is a personal one. Many a people who are attracted by such fascist or neonazi movements in different European countries may feel that somehow personally they have lost out to immigrants, to other groups in society, and that is particularly true in Britain.

What is also interesting is how in both Germany and Italy many of those people are trying to recuperate their past, their history. They are trying to re-write their history, they feel that the history of Germany in the Fifties and the Forties, of Italy in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, have been written by „the enemy„, so they are trying to bring it back, to recover it.

Dr Pollard, we know fascism has a history. Has it a future?

It might have a future, but probably in a different form. But the essence of fascism is still palingenetic: people are still trying to reconstruct their societies, they want to re-create their societies. If you look at the language of present-day neofascist, neonazi movements, they talk about decay, about degeneration of Western European society. they talk about trying to restore the purity of the race, and that racialism is basically about the White, the „Aryan race“, the European race. They are concerned about the other, the enemy. The enemy in its broadest sense is the person from outside, which means, effectively speaking, the immigrant. The concern about immigration, foreigners, xenophobia is a powerful issue for the present day of fascists, of neonazis. It has a future in the sense that these movements will almost certainly continue to develop, and the present circumstances arguably are perfect for the development of such movements. You know, you just look at the comparison between the present-day problems with the clubs of banks, the problems of the euro, the kind of social discontent and indeed violence that this has generated, and the nineteen-thirties, the Great Depression, the collapse, unemployment, and so on.

You said it is necessary to study fascism. Why should this appear necessary to a young person? 

Well of course, as a historian I could study anything, medieval history, paintings, I could study King’s, anything. I think it is necessary to study fascism because we need to understand certain kinds of moments, periods, processes in human history.

Remember that fascism led to milions of people dying in the Second, and in addition milions of civilians including jews, slavs, gypsies, homosexuals, just because who the were, what they were. And this is I think something we must ensure that does not happen again.