Roger Griffin: there won’t be any fascist revival

von macchiato

At Oxford, we have an appointment with Britian’s most frequently quoted -and sometimes contested- academic political theorist on generic fascism: Roger Griffin, Professor of Modern History at Oxford Brookes University’s Department of Arts and Humanities. His best-known book is The Nature of Fascism, St.Martin’s Press, 1991/Routledge, 1993; but he has continued to be most prolific on this subject, publishing books like Fascism. Oxford Readers (Oxford University Press, 1995); International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus (Edward Arnold, 1998); Fascism, Totalitarianism, and Political Religion (Routledge, 2006); Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave, 2007); A Fascist Century: Essays by Roger Griffin, ed. by Matthew Feldman; and Terrorist’s Creed. Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning (forthcoming):

In later posts, this blog will quote some of these works and/or essays (many of them accessible on the internet). They have prompted lively world-wide academic debate on comparative fascist studies, e.g. on the palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology. But Prof.Griffin agrees to express himself in much simpler terms in the following interview for our civic education porposes, when he briefly explains the essence of his thoughts on fascism, and its relevance to the 21st century, as follows:

„When you hear the word fascism you always have to ask yourself: what are they talking about, how are they using the word? The word ‚fascist‘ can be a simple way of insulting somebody, of saying that they are horrible, nasty, that they should go away. Fascist is used in a much more accurate way to talk about the Mussolini regime. The Mussolini regime was a fascist regime. Fascism is also used about regimes which have a similarity with Italian fascism, and this is were the problems begin. Because the communists see in fascism an attack on the working class, or on the working class revolution.

But I have been arguing in my books, and in my career, that we do not see in fascism a reaction against the working class, but that we see in fascism the attempt of a rebirth of the nation. Now, the Italian nation was not the same as the German nation. The problems of Jews and Communists were different in each country, but nevertheless I believe that you can understand the history of nazism and the history of fascism if you have this idea of the key driving force of fascism being in the attempt to create a new type of nation, a nation based on the historical cultural uniqueness of each country, the Italians and the Germans.

Nowadays, in the present crisis, there is no basis of the revival of fascism, because society has changed: millions of modern young people have their mp3s and they have their walkmans, and they have their computers, and they have their videogames. And so, there has been very big privatisation of your inner space. But there are problems in society, problems of religious integration. I think there are problems in the relationship between the European Christian population and the Muslem population not because Muslems are terrorists, but because there is a problem of identity.

And this problem of identity was summed up in the attempt by Breivik to start a new racial war in Europe. But look at the reaction: the Norwegian people came together and said no to Breivik, Breivik was wrong. Breivik did not start a new war against Muslems. He created more solidarity with Muslems. And this is the big difference between the present crisis and the crisis in the 1920s: In the 1920s, Hitler and Mussolini could fill the squares with thousands of people. Now, when Breivik in Oslo tries to create a mass movement against Muslems, you get thousands of people coming together to defend Muslems, and to attack Breivik, and therein lies the hope for the sort of Europe that we can build: where we all have many identities, identities as English, as European.

I am married to a Italian, in Tyrol you have ‚Italian Tiroler‘ and you have ‚German Tiroler‘, and you are all part of Italy, and Italy is part of Europe, but you can still feel close to Germany. We have multiple identities, we have many identities, and we should celebrate these multiple identities, and learn to love difference while remaining different. We should not try to get rid of differences, but we should celebrate the differences we have.“

Prof. Griffin, it’s good to hear such optimististic words from someone who is as deep into the subject of generic fascism as you are. On the other hand, looking at the current economic crisis, looking at populist tendencies all over Europe, don’t you see the probability of a strong come-back of desperate ultranationalist needs for a scapegoat (not necessarily always „the Jews“) for all our mishappenings as individuals, or as a nation?

„Breivik said that he hated nazism because nazism had made racism not respectable, no longer possible. I think that even if Europe enters a very very deep crisis, people remember what Hitler did in the name of nation and race. There are some people who have a Sehnsucht for the past, who have nostalgia, who think that Mussolini did Italy good, that we need a little bit of Hitler to sort out society. Yes, but the memories of Auschwitz, the memories of Belsen, they are deeply burned into our collective memory now – and fascism is descredited. They will be hatred, but we now have a sort of civil society, we have a different educational system, we have exhausted nationalism.

Now, there will be some sporadic violence, little cases of it, little attempts of movements, in Italy for example, now there is a terrorist movement called Casa Pound that does nasty things to people, but the vast mass of Italians…One of the great miracles of modern democracy is that even with the crisis, racist parties are not strong in Britain, they are not strong in Germany, they have not risen significantly, there is no crisis of state. Italians mugugnano, they complain, sie beschweren sich, sie beklagen sich, sie meckern…We are now a Europe of Meckerer, ja, we will complain, we will moan, and there will be one or two people who may do desperate things – but there will be no mass movement, there will be no mass movement.

We have mass television, we still move around in our cars, or if we can’t we go on buses, there is lots of access to pornography and violent video games, and there are many ways in which frustration can express itself now. There was a major book by a guy called Wilhelm Reich who said what drove nazism was sexual frustration. Well, Europe has changed sexually now, there are not so many sexually frustrated people wandering around. I think if there had been plentiful marijuana in Weimar, than maybe Hitler would not have been quite so successful either.

I think there is a danger that my generation remembers the inter-war period too readily. I did not live in the inter-war period but we tend to think: ah, here we go again, we are off again, this is the 1930s again. It is not the 1930s. We have different problems. People said, when Putin came to power: ah, here we have another fascist. Putin’s Russia is not fascist. It is corrupt, that is different. Corruption is not the same thing as fascism. We must try to fight corruption, we must try to fight racism and hatred, but we must not think that we are trying to fight the rebirth of fascism. Fascism is a phenomenon of the past.

What we must do as human beings is to look for new dangers: there has always been a war between two tendencies in history, the tendency to xenophobia, exclusion, social hatred, ethnocentrism – and the tendency towards accepting and interacting with other cultures. We must be part of the tendency towards a greater humanity, towards interacting with other cultures, embracing other cultures, and we must try to react against social exclusion and hatred, but we are not refighting the Second World War.“

(Source: recorded interview with Roger Griffin on 25/05/12 at Oxford Bookes University by faschistensindimmerdieanderen; N.B. to be continued transcribing our second, longer German language interview with Prof. Griffin)