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7-10-2015, 08:43

ITS OWN BEST ARGUMENT AGAINST ITSELF

In response to a meeting of members of the fascistleaning German-Amerlcan Bund at Madison Square Garden on 20 February f939, the New York Times printed the folloiving editorial:

There is no occasion to worry about what happened in and around Madison Square Garden on Monday evening. The German-American Bund, exercising the right of free speech which its German allies tong ago suppressed, hired a hall. It pledged "undivided allegiance" to the flag, deplored the "campaign of hate" of which it believes itself to be the innocent victim, endorsed the Golden Rule and listened to speeches denouncing the National Administration, the city administration and a number of eminent and respected private citizens.

Seventeen hundred policemen kept an unsympathetic outside crowd of between 10,000 (Commissioner Valentine's estimate) and 100,000 (Chief Inspector Costuma’s estimate) in reasonable order. Several fights took place outside the hatl. But for so large a meeting of so insolent a character the occasion passed off pretty peaceably. The police demonstrated that the uniformed strong-arm squad maintained by the Bund was unnecessary, as it is totally out of keeping with the atmosphere of a public meeting in a democratic country.

We need be in no doubt as to what the Bund would do to and in this country if it had the opportunity. Unless its attitudes and utterances are greatly misleading, it would set up an American Hitler, It is an outspoken enemy of the traditions of the American democracy, including those upheld by George Washington, whom it insulted by pretending to honor. In spite of these facts, its members are entitled to free speech and to the protection of the other constitutional guarantees so long as they keep within the laws which bind all of us. We cannot deny these rights and still call ourselves a democracy. It would be folly to deny them, for the Bund, functioning freely, is its own best argument against itself.

To some observers Monday's spectacle was ominous because it resembled the Nazi demonstrations in Germany which preceded Hitler's rise to power. To such observers toleration seems a dangerous weakness. But the attitude of the police, of the city government and, as we think, of the public generally was evidence of confident strength, not of weakness.

We are not, to state the case mildly, afraid of the Bund. The limits to which this or any other group, including the Communists, may go are definite. If any group attempts to overpass those limits, ample and legal force exists to put them down—and let them have no doubt of the outcome: they will be put down.

Source: “The Bund Meeting," Uew York Timas, 22

February 1939, p. 20.

It is best to imagine fascists sprinkled across Europe in small, unconnected groups, rather than forming a large-scale movement. For example, there were fascists in Norway. Vidkun Quisling established the Nasjonal Samling, or National Union Party, in 1933. Yet, neither Quisling nor the National Union Party achieved great political success. Its designation as the only legal party in 1940 was due to Nazi occupation, not an indication of domestic support for the party, its leader, or its agenda. There were Finnish fascists as well, although their appeal lay mostly in strong nationalism. Ultimately, Finnish fascism came to be publicly identified with German National Socialism. That identification, along with economic improvement and parliamentary reforms, stymied the rise of fascism in Finland.

Some Russian expatriates in Manchuria and the United States became fascists as well, forming the All-Russian Fascist Party in 1934. This party was diametrically opposed to the Soviet Union. It wanted to create a state based on “God, Nation, and Labor.” The party, however, split less than a year after it was founded and disappeared entirely by the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union.

Secret societies in Hungary developed into fascist political parties in the 1930s. The parties adopted some of the symbols of fascism, including wearing green shirts with an arrow cross symbol. (The Arrow Cross Party was formed in 1936 and had around two hundred thousand members at the end of 1939.) Although none of these parties enjoyed success on the scale of Italy or Germany, the Hungarian government did adopt some of their reforms, and Ferenc Szalasi, the leading proponent of “Hungarianism,” held power briefly in 1944 until the Soviet arrival. Even this modest success, however, is far from an indication of the existence of a larger movement.

Circumstances were not ripe for fascism in Czechoslovakia, either. Those groups that did develop were marginal, without significant followers. In Slovakia, however, there was more attraction to fascism due to religious and nationalist feelings of domination from Prague. When Slovakia became a German protectorate in 1939, these parties lost any chance for political authority, as Hitler’s puppet. Monsignor Josef Tiso, exerted the real power.

In Belgium, there were at least eight rightist movements in the interwar period that could be at varying degrees linked to fascist ideology, affectations, or behavior. None of these groups, however, really gained widespread support. Belgium, like Portugal and France, did not experience extreme social and economic change and was less susceptible to fascism. Belgium’s religious and linguistic divisions meant that it was difficult for any party to gain widespread support. None of the extreme Right-wing parties captured the population’s imagination with a charismatic leader or compelling political program.

To speak of fascism in Poland in the first part of the twentieth century is also somewhat of a misnomer. The best way to describe important Polish political movements that developed characteristics similar to those described as fascist elsewhere in Europe is as extreme Bight or, more moderately, as Right of Center. The history of rightist movements in Poland is not particularly neat; it can be more accurately described as an evolutionary process. Over time different movements emerged, often subsuming previously prominent groups. Yet, despite the creation of new groups (or at least of differently named groups), the movements of the Polish Right were not fascist themselves. The extreme Right in interwar Poland was highly nationalistic, anti-Semitic, opposed to democratization, initially anticlerical, and had youth and paramilitary organizations. Yet, there were significant points on which the two movements diverged. Specifically, Roman Dmowski criticized Italian fascism and German Nazism for personality cults, the militarization of politics, an obsession with industrialization, and a disregard for the rule of law. He opposed what historian Andrzej Walicki describes as “right-wing totalitarianism,” instead favoring a tradition-based conservative movement in a time of European upheaval.

Owing to links between Italian and Austrian fascists—Benito Mussolini supported Austria’s protofascist party, the Heimwehr, financially—one could attempt to see a larger connection between fascist movements. Yet, Mussolini was motivated by fears of rising National Socialism, a move that indicated the splits even between fascist Italy and Nazi Germany at the time. The Heimwehr did gain significant political support, but it was subsumed by Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss into his Eather-land Front movement and by the mid 1930s ceased to exist as an independent party. Alongside this group, an Austrian Nazi Party developed, but it was patterned on Hitler’s model in Germany and did his bidding.

Nevertheless, there were some fascist successes. Like the Austrian fascists, the Yugoslavian Ustasa directly benefited from external assistance. German and Italian aid proved essential to the rise of the Ustasa to power in Yugoslavia. Fascists also existed in Romania, known there as the League of the Archangel of Michael. In the 1937 elections, the League secured the second-largest share of the voting.

In the United States, similar small fascist groups appeared, many of which were tied to their respective European homelands. By 1924 Rome was directing the Italian American Black Shirts’ operations. Their popularity, as well as that of other Italian American fascist groups, was tied to Italian patriotic sentiment. It rose in the mid 1930s, a time of Italian foreign-policy successes, but fell in the 1940s in an effort to appear to have undivided loyalty to the United States. In addition to the Italian American fascist groups in the United States, the Nazi party in Germany inspired the creation of extreme Right groups. The most prominent example, the German-American Bund, was a Nazi organization intimately connected with the Ausland-Organization of the German National Socialist Worker’s Party (NSDAP). Its mission was to convince German Americans that ethnic links should be stronger than those of citizenship. Estimates at Bund membership vary from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand, signifying the group’s prominence; however, it declined in 1939 predominantly owing to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which stimulated significant ideological disputes and precipitated a decline in Bund membership. Bund members drilled in paramilitary uniforms and adopted much of the Nazi regalia for their own ceremonial uses. The federal government took the seditious nature of the Bund so seriously that it was under scrutiny from the House Un-American Activities Committee beginning in the fall of 1938, and it was subject to similar treatment from state and local governments. Its enemies charged that the Bund was nothing more than a front for German intelligence.

A further indicator of the extent of the fractures within fascist groups in Europe in the interwar period was the failed efforts by some to found a “Fascist International,” an organization that would roughly correspond to the Communist International established in 1919. The Congress of Montreux in 1934 was intended to create such an organization, but it collapsed due to disagreements between national delegates and shifts in the foreign policies of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. This failure is further confirmation of the absence of an international fascist movement.

-SARAH SNYDER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY



 

 

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