Fascism’s Evil Reputation


From a reader:

Jonah, Are you sure that it is really the Holocaust that has made fascism synonymous with evil? I would suggest that starting World War II has been at least an equal contributor to that reputation. As you noted, Communism has murdered many more people than fascism. Indeed, Stalin and Mao each murdered more people than Hitler did. But where the fascists really stand out in history is as perpetrators of the worst war the world has ever seen. The Holocaust certainly helped to cement the reputation of fascists as evil, but the reputation was developed by repeatedly attacking neutral nations without provocation, and thereby starting a war that killed many tens of millions.   Consider the following alternate histories: (1) Stalin mobilizes before Hitler, invades most of the countries of eastern Europe and then Germany by surprise attacks without provocation, and WWII is therefore fought with the fascists as reluctant allies of the western powers against the USSR and Maoist China. During the war and the ensuing “cold war” against the West, Hitler kills six million Jews in Germany and in territories occupied in the counterattack against Russia. Or (2) Everything happens as it actually did except that Hitler recognizes that large scale extermination of Jews would require huge amounts of resources that would be urgently needed for the war effort, and therefore postpones the “final solution” until after Germany wins the war, which of course never happens. As a result, the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis reaches only the tens of thousands. My suspicion is that, had scenario (1) occured, the Nazi’s murders would have been excused or overlooked by most of those who instead overlooked the crimes of Stalin & Mao; and ”communist” would have much the same connotation that “fascist” does today. But under scenario (2), the reputation of fascists would be only marginally better than it actually is today.
Me: I’m not sure about all the contrafactual historical speculation, but I think it’s certainly a strong argument that the launching of the war contributed as much as the Holocaust to fascism’s evil rep. Indeed, Mussolini’s American fans really only turned on Italian Fascism after his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Though remember, Nazism and fascism aren’t 100% interchangeable terms. For example, Franco’s Spain — which, truth be told,  I’m not entirely comfortable labeling fascist — stayed neutral in the war and yet “fascist Spain” was a particular bogeyman for the left for generations.


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