FL Carsten – The Rise of Fascism

In F.L. Carsten’s The Rise of Fascism, the author examines the development of European fascism in several countries including Italy, Germany, Spain, Finland, Austria, Hungary, and others. The majority of the book focuses on narrating the development of fascist movements in each nation followed by a short chapter that seeks out similarities. By taking a comparative approach, Carsten presents factors he believes were important to the development of fascism into a viable political ideology. The narrative examines the years leading up to the First World War to the beginnings of the Second World War with a concluding chapter on neo- fascism. While the author has no explicit argument, his stated purpose is to explain how fascism developed, became a mass movement, and seized power in countries of ancient culture, high education, and “a tradition of civilized behavior.” (8) To achieve his objective, the author uses political speeches, newspapers, and diaries to narrate the rise of fascist political parties throughout interwar Europe.
Initially, the author examines what he describes as the “pre-conditions” for the development of fascism in European countries by describing political parties that advocated violent nationalism, strong anti-Semitism, and appealed to the middle and lower middle classes prior to World War I. Carsten skips over the First World War but notes that “this great upheaval, the destruction and the crises resulting from it . . . brought forth the movement . . . we call Fascist.” (9) Following this introduction, the author recounts the development of several fascist parties throughout Europe. This includes a detailed narrative of Mussolini’s seizure of power, two chapters explaining Hitler’s rise to power, and two chapters describing the successful and unsuccessful attempts of other fascist parties to gain power in other European nations. While those already familiar with Mussolini and Hitler’s rise to power will find nothing new, Cartsen’s discussion of how smaller fascist movements in countries like Finland, Hungary, Belgium, and Romania also attempted to seize power is important to examining the broader trends in European fascism which are often overlooked.
After narrating the development of fascist parties throughout Europe, the author devotes a short (8 out of 258 pages) chapter to analyzing the similarities that allowed for fascism to emerge in interwar Europe. In describing these similarities, Carsten emphasizes that politically these parties all advocated strong nationalism, violent anti-communism, a hatred of democracy, and a powerful myth of the nation. These movements were devoted to a cult of violence as many of the early members were veterans for whom fighting was a way of life. Fascist groups appealed to the young especially because they were bored with the postwar governments and attracted to regimes which promised radical change. Not only were the fascist movements attractive to the youth but appealing to all social groups (except those who groups ostracized by the fascists like the Jews). But, while appealing to all groups, Carsten continually stresses the importance of the middle and lower middle classes, defined as artisans, tradesmen, small farmers, low level government employees, former officers and NCOs, and white collar workers, in supporting the fascist movements because these groups were displaced from their traditional places in society and frightened by the future. Carsten concludes that fascism emerged due to “a malaise, a maladjustment of capitalist society, the victims of which were the lower middle classes.” (233)
While many of Carsten’s conclusions concerning the rise of fascism are accurate, he takes a contradictory approach to the importance of the working class and communism to the rise of fascism which undermines his narrative. The author notes that fascism arose in nations with both left and right leaning governments leading him to suggest that “it does not seem that the relative strength of the bourgeoisie and the working class had much to do with the rise of Fascism.” (233) Yet, this conclusion contradicts his earlier narrations especially concerning Italy and Germany where Carsten recounts how the working class and fear of communism helped to support and empower the fascist parties. For example, Carsten writes that “the fear of ‘red’ revolution which arose in many European countries brought forth the movement . . . we call Fascism.” (9) When discussing postwar Italy, Carsten states “[t]hey (the middle and lower middle classes) thought that Italy was at the brink of a red revolution. They hated workers.” (54) These sentences argue that the middle and lower middle classes feared communism and the working class and fervently supported fascist parties. This was also true in Germany. Carsten states “[t]he working class increasingly turned toward the Communists; they became particularly strong in central Germany . . . The middle and lower middle classes, the disinherited and uprooted more and more turned toward the extreme Right.” (109) These statements by Carsten show that the classes most disposed to support a fascist regime were frightened and angered by the communist and working class threat and thus viewed fascist as a viable political ideology to counter the “red revolution.” Carsten’s dismissal of communism and the working class as an important factor in the rise of fascism is not only incorrect but is also contradicts his own narrative. Beyond this one crucial flaw, Carsten’s study presents clear narrative that recounts the development of fascist parties throughout interwar Europe.

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