Modern History/Rise of Fascism, Socialism and Communism
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The Rise of Fascism, Socialism and Communism After World War Two
The beginning of the Twentieth Century saw the rise of an entirely new political environment in Western nations. The previous century had seen the Industrial Revolution replace agriculture as the primary economic model in Western nations, a change accompanied by huge social, political and demographic shifts. Populations which had once been largely rural and engaged in farming or small handicraft work shifted to urban districts filled with factory workers. The new industrial economies created great wealth, but also much alienation, sharpening divisions between economic classes. Workers' movements agitating for better living and working conditions emerged in many nations, and came under the influence of intellectual leaders, largely drawn from the middle and upper ranks of Western society. Some of these leaders pursued radical and Utopian visions of what society should become.
Socialist societies had existed before the term Socialism was used and there exist many flavours of Socialism, one of which is Communism. The main ideas of Socialism are, "focusing on general welfare rather than individualism, on co-operation rather than competition, and on laborers rather than on industrial or political leaders and structures" (see Wikipedia for further information).
Communism was given a common structure through Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' book, The Communist Manifesto. According to Marx, society is meant to go through phases of evolution, beginning with a hunter-gatherer society, followed by Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism, and finally Communism. Marx believed that the final stage could only be achieved through revolution. Although The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, Marx was not far off with his presumption. After decades as a radical movement on the edges of the political scene, Communism burst onto the world stage in 1917, when the October Revolution in Russia brought the Bolshevik wing of the Russian socialist movement, led by Vladimir Il'ych Lenin, to power. Czarist Russia's military failures, first in the Russo-Japanese War, and then the great hardships of World War I, discredited the Russian monarchy and opened the door first to a moderate liberal government replacing the Czar. Lenin's movement quickly displaced it in turn. As one of the radical visionaries mentioned previously, Lenin and his cohorts envisioned a complete reordering of Russian and potentially all European society under strict Marxist lines.
Communism is concerned with a complete overhaul of the Capitalist system. One of Communism's goals is to create a classless society in which all members are equal both politically and economically. This is exemplified by the phrase commonly associated with Communism, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." In other words, members of society will be expected to provide all that they can by their ability both intellectually and physically, and in return people will receive the benefits according to their need. For example, if 'x' was a doctor, x would be expected to put in all of his skills and effort into being a doctor and in return he would get comparatively little due to his lack of real need. Assuming x is an able fit doctor, x does not need as much as 'y'; a disabled child. Y puts into society as much as he can, being very little, but gets out comparatively a lot. Economically, all factors of production are controlled by the commune so that they will ensure the fair distribution of resources, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".
Fascism was founded in Italy by Benito Mussolini, who began his political career in Socialist circles but came to embrace the idea of an authoritarian, nationalist "corporate state" to achieve his ideals. Unlike Lenin, Mussolini's ideology definitely did not include international revolution, stressing instead the unity and glory of the Italian nation and the dangers posed to the nation and its culture by Communist-inspired workers' revolt. Fascism, though a radical movement, emphasized discipline and devotion to a birth nation rather than fighting for class interests. This made Fascism far more palatable to traditional elements of society such as business interests and the church, who saw in it a means to organize the working and middle classes to defend their interests against Communism. Mussolini chose the title Duce (leader) and modelled his image on the emperors of ancient Rome, developing a "cult of personality" around himself.
His beliefs influenced many during the mid-Twentieth Century, namely Adolf Hitler, Britain's Oswald Moseley and Spain's General Franco. Even Britain's Winston Churchill was an early admirer of Mussolini's rule in Italy. Most people associate Fascism with Hitler; however, Hitler's National Socialism differed in important respects. Similarly to Communism, Fascism took control of the economy with the inauguration of many organizations to control output and prices amongst other things. This was in line with Mussolini's belief and aim of creating economic self-sufficiency.
For his part, Hitler succeeded in this endeavour because he was able to rearm Germany and once World War II began, was able to keep the country functioning. Hitler's political movement, National Socialism, incorporated elements of all three of these movements, but was unique for its anti-Semitic focus and its devotion to the ideal of the Aryan (northern European) race as a superior race, an idea absent from other forms of Fascism. Hitler and Mussolini both looked at the example of Russia to formulate their rule, however. Concentration camps first appeared during the Boer war, but their escalated use by the Soviets may have impressed the Nazis who took their use to fiendish heights. Fascism also engaged in imperialism and the expansion of territory; Mussolini invaded Ethiopia while Hitler invaded the rest of Europe and North Africa.
The importance of these three political theories can be seen simply by looking at the history of the Twentieth Century. The First World War was the end of the "Old World". A "New World" had dawned. From 1917, Russia became "Communist", although a more accurate word would be Stalinist. This caused political polarisation as soon as the First World War was over. Trade was halted with the Soviet Union and it was only until 1924 when the British Labour government recognised it, that the Soviet Union began trading with world powers. Only the rise of Fascism in Italy, Spain, Germany, Romania and other countries did we see the focus weaken on the Soviet Union. Many nations realised the threat Fascism posed to the world and it was only until the outbreak of the Second World War that the world actually took action against it. As soon as the West's fight against Fascism ended in 1945, the fight against Communism commenced with the beginning of the Cold War.
As we can see, the Twentieth Century can be seen as a period of flirtation with new political ideals that caused the world to be politically split for over half a century, starting with the end of the Second World War, and ending with the end of the Cold War.