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Zhelyu Zhelev's "Fascism": Introductory Remarks
With apologies for how long it's taken me to translate this bit of text, I present you the introductory remarks of Fascism
Contrary to expectation, interest in the topic of fascism has not lessened as the time between the end of the second world war and the present day has increased. We are witness to this fact. As an ideology, political system, and social practice, fascism still provokes scholars’ attention. The literature on this topic amounts to a massive mountain.
Clearly, the reason for this strange phenomenon cannot be found in a general historical interest. On all accounts it looks as though a series of supplementary social and political reasons, rooted in the complex circumstances of the 20th century, also fuel this interest: 1. The majority of people who were contemporaries of and/or participants in the events in question are still alive; the war either changed and altered the fate of each and every one of them, or else permanently left them somehow marked. For these people, every serious investigation of fascism is taken as a kind of reflection on their life, struggle, and suffering. 2. Occasionally, in many different places, military-political regimes arise which willingly borrow in both form and method from the battle arsenal of fascism (the physical extermination of Pinochet’s political enemies, the Cambodian genocide, etc.). These regimes also fuel interest in that phenomenon called fascism. 3. The current complex international relations and the occasionally increased tension and threat of confrontation between the nuclear superpowers also remind us of the lessons of the second world war which was sparked by fascist countries. Once again, we’re forced to return to and to reconsider fascism. 4. Finally, every attempt to interpret the value of cultural heritage and to appraise the complex trajectory of the movement and development of culture and civilization brings us, again and again, to the possibility that all culture and all civilization is threatened and may be ultimately destroyed unless the presuppositions of fascism are once and for all removed.
There are probably a number of other reasons in addition to these. But whatever the reasons for the continued interest in fascism may be, they only remind us that it’s time to provide a proper theory of fascism which naturally and organically unites all of the studies about its disparate aspects.
The truth is that this theory doesn’t yet exists despite the fact that there have been mountains of books and articles written on the topic examining this or that element of fascism. In a sense, this creates a paradoxical situation in which all the necessary methods and preconditions for the building of such a theory are readily available, and yet the theory itself has yet to crystalize. On its face, these are: a) the methodology of Marxism—historical materialism—that most solid and fruitful theoretical base of studying history and society; b) the mass of factual and documentary material (and more); c) the presence of a deep theoretical study of different aspects of fascism: economics, political structure, ideology, propaganda, terror, etc.
It’s apparent to all contemporary scholars that a singular unifying theory of fascism must not only account for the economical and political aspects, but must also find a place for the psychological, socio-psychological, and culturo-logical elements of this phenomenon. And in order to avoid eclecticism and achieve an organic unity of these elements, we need a theoretical base that can only be supplied by historical materialism. As deterministic as it may seem at first glance, the truth is that no other method in contemporary sociological thought other than historical materialism could successfully solve the large and complex task of building up a single theory of fascism since it alone provides: 1. An explanation of the link between the economic base of fascism—financial capital—with its political superstructure, and above all within a specific country’s system; 2. The means to show the opposite in an already constructed superstructure—namely, the influence of the fascist country’s foundational institutions on the economy. The latter is also very important with an eye towards a wholistic understanding of the subject. Sadly, the current historiography, and to that extent, Marxism, too, is very weak on this point. As with all other social phenomena, despite the fact that the economic base plays a definitive role on the superstructure, the latter can also have a strong effect on, and, sometimes, can play a decisive role with respect to the economic base. From this point of view, the attempts of the fascist regimes to regulate their economic development is of great interest: the Third Reich’s attempts to control and plan its industrial and agricultural production, to regulate the proprietary relationships in the village, etc.; or the attempts of the Italian fascists to control and regulate the contradictions between the industrial workers and mercenary hires through the corporation.
Precisely from this point of view, fascism presents not only the means by which the proletarian revolution is prevented, but also the attempt to offer an alternative.
The Relevance of the Topic
It’s been 36 years since the end of the second world war. In that time, two new generations have been born. They don’t have personal acquaintance with fascism. Their impressions of it are fueled by the many books and films on the topic. For that reason, to many of them fascism looks more exotic than terrifying. The struggles, the suffering, the grievous and countless sacrifices that fascism inflicted on the old generation are not, in their imaginations, as alive and vivid as they are in that which experienced it. Time has done its work.
This is only natural. All events one day become history. And new generations are not bound to live with history, nor with the grief and suffering of their ancestors. They have new tasks and pursue their own ends. If it weren’t the case, they wouldn’t differ from the old generations.
But it is precisely this fact that obscures a great danger. Because it is this that leads to a magnanimous attitude and a lack of political vigilance towards the era’s biggest dangers, while, at the same time, fascism remains more than mere history.
The potential danger of fascism exists even today.
Nearly daily we are reminded of this. The most recent event was the failed right-wing pro-fascist coup attempt in Spain, executed by the National Guard through an armed invasion of parliament.
Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin, too, turned out to have had organizational ties to the American National Socialist party which exists freely in that country.
National Socialist and neo-fascist parties and groups exist in a number of countries in Western Europe as well. Currently they’re a minority and don’t have any serious influence over political life, but they’re no longer harmless.
Some of them conduct military trainings with their members in the field, while others dare to hold international meetings and conferences, to march in the streets and sing fascist songs, to deface monuments dedicated to the anti-fascist struggle, to attack synagogues or to organize racist protests against people of color. The bombing of public places-- the victims of which are completely innocent people—has become a common occurrence. Here and there, in different places in Western Europe, either Hitler’s mustache, or his haircut has once again become fashionable.
The most disturbing thing about this whole neo-fascist bacchanalia is the sympathetic attitude of some of the governments of these Western nations towards these events. They view them as a kind of harmless reliving of the past that doesn’t pose any real danger. But it goes without saying that in the beginning, Hitler’s party was also seen as a motley gathering that no one even conceived could come to power.
It is only in this way that we can explain why, even now, Hitler is considered an honorary citizen of 179 West-German towns; why there are so many numerous biographies of him, published in large numbers and distributed freely on the open market; why there are so many political relics of the Third Reich listed at fabulous prices which today constitute a veritable Hitler reliquary; why so many official bodies or national institutions are falling over themselves to declare the limits of Nazi crimes, etc.
This tolerant attitude towards the most criminal national-political phenomenon of the 20th century—fascism—appears in other guises as well. On December 15th, 1980 the regional courts of West Berlin decided to pardon Van der Lubbe. The verdict handed down by the Imperial Court in 1933 was recognized as constituting an “apparent perversion of the law.” Van der Lubbe should have only been tried as an arsonist. Nothing is said about the fact that he was a patsy for the real arsonists. What’s said about the main defendant—G. Dimitrov—is so modest that it amounts a perversion of historical fact.
Dimitrov is presented as an ordinary defendant, acquitted due to lack of evidence. About his titanic fight against the ascending “brown plague”, about the heavy moral and political blows he delivered to National Socialism from the very beginning, about his heroic example, as well as his insight into future developments which were subsequently confirmed by history, nothing at all is said.
It’s as though the Leipzig trial of 1933-1934 was merely a criminal trail, and not as a clash between two ideologies and two political systems.
Even more alarming are the cases of sympathetic attitudes towards the budding fascist movements whom the official state police of some countries, led by formally democratic considerations, provides protection to from…the democratic antifascists.
It doesn’t need to be proven that the sympathetic and conciliatory attitude towards the fascist threat, as well as a general underestimation of that threat, makes it more real.
But, on the other hand, to the extent that the reality of this threat is determined to be purely psychological and socio-psychological factors, and to an even greater extent by economic, political, and historical causes, it deserves a closer look.
We believe that the question of the possible rebirth of fascism must be posed and answered solely scientifically, and not empirically or by way of propaganda.
What’s needed first of all is a distinction between the historical and the political manifestation of fascism. As with all social phenomena, it, too, is subject to two forms of negation.
In the first sense—the historical—fascism has already been experienced and it can never return. This means that as an idea and a political practice that claims to have discovered a new path for humanity, a new world order, and a different, higher meaning for human life, fascism has irrevocably failed.
After the revelations at the end of the Second World War, and especially after the Nuremberg Trials which provided massive documentation of the monstrous criminality of fascism, it can no longer appeal to any nation. For humanity, it has become a spent idea.
Furthermore, in the political consciousness of 20th century people fascism is a completely odious phenomenon, which is why every time regimes are forced to quietly resort to its political methods, they’re also quick to distanced themselves from it, and to deny any connection or similarity to its practices. This is indirectly evidenced by the fact being accused of fascism is today tantamount to being completely discredited in a moral-political sense.
It’s precisely these considerations that give us grounds to claim that historical fascism has been fully overcome.
However, it doesn’t follow from this that it has also been politically overcome; i.e. that under certain circumstances the ruling arm of one country or another will not resort to borrowing various elements from fascist practice or to take up arms from its political arsenal.
Nobody can guarantee this won’t happen. Moreover, each of us following political events, has had multiple opportunities to observe how easily tempted by this is every military junta that comes to power through a coup. Pinochet’s regime is the most recent example in this respect.
The political defense of fascism has its own deep foundations in economics—in those processes involved in centralizing and concentrating capital and property which are deeply inherent in imperialism. This isn’t a matter of anachronistic phenomena, but of the objective tendency that maintains state capitalism. The larger the centralization and concentration of the means of production in the hands of the monopolies and the state, the larger their economic power, the greater the ability to destroy liberal democracy, to liquidate the civil and political liberties of individuals, and, following that, to bring about fascist totalitarianism.
As far back as sixty years ago Lenin was already turning his attention towards this and other phenomena in his “Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism”: the replacement of free competition with a state monopoly in the economy (in the base) corresponds to a replacement of a bourgeois democracy with political reactionism in the superstructure. (According to Lenin the political superstructure under imperialism “presents a reversal of democracy towards political reactionism. Free competition corresponds with democracy. Monopolies correspond to political reactionism.”) Or, to say the same thing, a monopoly of the economy necessarily grows into a monopoly of politics, and from there spreads into all other spheres of public life. And it’s well known that a monopoly of politics always has one singular form: dictatorship.
Of course, the possibility of a fascist dictatorship is not always a reality in politics, but it exists as an ordinary possibility which can threaten us during periods of significant social crisis characteristic of our century. In any case, the tendency towards totalitarianism in the current world is so strong that even traditional bourgeois democracies aren’t as idealistic as they were in the 19th century; quite frequently, one can observe in their political life certain steps and actions that reminds one more of dictatorship than of democracy.
The relevance of the topic has another side: the necessity of clarifying the structure, laws, and the hidden mechanisms and levers of the fascist state. Until this is done it will always remain a mystery how fascism—and especially the German kind—with its anti-scientific and reactionary ideology could have dragged along the nations of Europe and used them as tools for its criminal aims; what was the system of “barbarization”, stupidity, numbing, corruption, demoralization and dehumanization that turned millions of burgers, philistines, and loyalists into a modern version of Tamerlane’s Horde, threatening all civilization with destruction?
We know too much about the crimes of fascism (the burning of books, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, etc.), but know far too little about that machine called “the fascist state” that committed those crimes.
We know too much about what we call “bestial fascism” and almost nothing about the “ordinary”, every day fascism from which the bestial kind grows.
This is why it’s not enough to say that fascism is the dictatorship of the most reactionary imperial cliques (which, of course, is perfectly true) as an answer to these questions. It’s necessary to go further: to study in detail the fascist dictatorship as a system and a form of state power.
2. The Numerous Definitions of Fascism
Many different definitions from many different perspectives have been given during the different periods of fascism. Every one of them, to a certain extent, uncovers the political reality of that contradictory and culturally mysterious 20th century phenomenon. After the famous 1921 “March on Rome” when the Italian fascists come to power, many Marxists began to think of fascism as a peculiar petit-bourgeois revolution. As early as 1923 S.M. Bronsky describes fascism as a “petit-bourgeois revolution” and “a struggle of the middle classes for self-preservation” in The Communist Revolution (6-25). In the beginning that’s how the Italian Communists, who were the first to feel the blows of fascist dictatorship on their backs, thought of it too. As L. Longo describes the discussions among the Italian Communists and Socialists, the fascist movement was understood as “the result of a revolt of the petit-bourgeoisie, trapped between large capital and the worker’s movement” (64-199).
This was also the understanding of the entire social-democratic population of Europe during the 20’s and 30’s.
That was also A. Gramsci’s understanding. But attached to his name is a different definition of fascism as “extrajudicial violence on behalf of the capitalist class.” (23-471)
Later, after 1926, when Italian fascism begins to build its own specific state system and when the more aggressive German Nazi movement appears on the horizon, the counterrevolutionary nature of fascism begins to come to the forefront. At that point new definitions arise which underline precisely this characteristic. In 1932 E. Tellmann characterizes fascism as an “armed counterrevolution, presented as a mass movement, as embodied in Hitler’s organizations” (115-33). At the same time the Italian historian Delle Piane called fascism a “preventative counterrevolution”, and L. Longo described it as “one form of preventative counterrevolution.” (64-114)
At the start of the 40’s, the French communist, G. Politzer, engaging in a polemic with the Nazi ideologue A. Rosenberg once again defined fascism as “the most reactionary counterrevolution in history” and as “the counterrevolution of the 20th century” (160-41, 44).
In his attempt to discover the contradictory nature of fascism and, specifically, the contradiction between its mass social base, between its mass national movement, and its deeply reactionary program it executes, Eugene Cox called fascism a “reactionary revolution” (52-136).
Erich Hess, led again by the desire to express the paradoxically contradictory political nature of fascism, and especially the contradiction of his business organization, defined fascism as “industrial feudalism” (127-8), as a system that unites in itself all capitalist industrial development with pre-capitalist forms of extra-economical coercion.
Hermann Rauschning—former party leader of Danzig who saw the adventurism of national socialism even before the war and escaped across the ocean—defined German fascism as a “nihilistic revolution”, “a revolution of negation.” In his singular book The Revolution of Nihilism, published in 1938, he constantly highlights the destructive character of the fascist ‘revolution’: the struggle to destroy all moral, political, and artistic values, acquired in the slow and difficult development of human civilization. (160a-26).
Winston Churchill his unique genetic definition of fascism by linking it with the appearance of communism. In his own words, “fascism was the shadow or ugly child of communism.” (136a-13)
It must be noted that this idea is widely shared among the bourgeois democracies and the liberal intelligentsia in the West. It’s shared with the acolytes of ‘official historiography’, for whom it’s become almost a dogma. Its typical expression is like that of philosophy professor Luigi Sturzo: “In reality, between Russia and Italy there only one true difference—namely, that Bolshevism, or the communist dictatorship, is left-wing fascism, while fascism, or conservative dictatorship, is right-wing bolshevism. Bolshevik Russia created the myth of Lenin, Fascist Italy that of Mussolini” (172a-221).
There are also numerous definitions of fascism which don’t take into account its social and class content. The American psycho-historian, R. Binion, for example, looks at the spread of fascism into Germany as “an epileptic seizure of the German people” and as a “schizophrenia of the nation.” (6-167)
L. Mumford claims that the real roots of fascism must be sought “in the human soul, not in the economy.” In clarifying this claim, he says: “In overweening pride, in the delight in the cruel and neurotic disintegration—in this, and in the Weimar contract, or in the incompetence of the German republic lies the explanation of fascism.” (155a-118).
Wilhelm Reich, in “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”, doesn’t deny the role of the economic factor in the appearance of fascism, but attempts to explain its rise entirely through psychological causes. Fascism is “a statement of the irrational structure of man, modeled on the crowd…Its sadism seeps from the nostalgia or an unsatisfied organism.” (162-176).
Since fascism can’t be explained through the pathology of the Fuhrer or the general stupidity of the nation, we won’t busy ourselves with these kinds of pure psychological definitions. At the same time, it should be noted that without the contributions of social psychology, include those of the aforementioned authors, many things in the fascist phenomenon could not be fully understood.
It must also be said that all of the definitions and characteristics mentioned above contain part of the truth. They simply represent different sides of the actual political phenomenon we call ‘fascism’. Because fascism is at one and the same time both “a mass movement”, and “a petit-bourgeoisie counter revolution”, and, in a sense, even an ideological “schizophrenia of the nation” and an “epileptic seizure” of an entire people.
But none of them uncovers the deepest foundation and specific reality of fascism. The latter was more or less fully express in the definition given to fascism by the 7th Comintern Congress as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of financial capital.” (33-29). Namely, financial capital is that which stands at the base of fascism and determines its program. Without financial capital, fascism could never become a national movement and take control of state power. It’s no coincidence that fascism appears during the era of imperialism, in the midst of a deep social crisis that threatens the very existence of the capitalist system. History has known other mass movements of the petit bourgeoisie which were able to birth Bonapartism, but none that could birth fascism.
It doesn’t matter at all that fascism began as a revolt of the middle classes, of the petit bourgeoisie against the monstrous pressure of a social crisis (unemployment, inflation, tax burdens; etc.); it doesn’t matter either that the vast majority of participants in the fascism movement is not subjectively serving finance capital in order to act as its agent and guard. Objectively, due the power of the historical circumstances during imperialism there are only two primary figures that can resolve the great problems of the age: financial capital and the proletariat.
That’s why the social crisis can, in principle, be solved either with a proletarian revolution, or with a fascist dictatorship. The latter represents precisely the solution of financial capital.
Despite its plurality, the petit bourgeoisie cannot offer its own solution to these problems which give rise to the social crisis. Therefore, it does belongs neither to the financial power of big capital, to the monopolies of trust, nor to the desperate determination and revolutionary energy of the proletariat.
For the same reason every mass movement that arises from it, every one of its revolts or revolutions will, in due time and by necessity comes under the ideological leadership of one of the primary figures mentioned.
It’s interesting to trace how the social knowledge of fascism has moved from appearance to reality. First, one looks at the social makeup of the fascist movement—the petit bourgeoisie as the major element in the mass social base of fascism. The very appearance, however, is not yet fully developed. Precisely at that point is fascism defined as a petit-bourgeoisie revolution.
Later, when the fascism movement directs its blows against the parties and organizations of the left—the communists, the socialists, and the social-democratic parties, the independent trade unions of the proletariat, their rallies, strikes, and demonstrations – then its counterrevolutionary contents is revealed. The fascism movement is uncovered through its actions. Its counterrevolutionary nature becomes apparent. This appears as the most important thing. At this stage we see the new definitions of fascism as “a right-wing revolution”, “a reactionary revolution”, “an armed counter-revolution”, “a preventative counterrevolution.”
Later, when the fascism movement has taken control of the state machinery and has begun to establish its dictatorship on the path towards a violent destruction of all other political parties and organizations (both right and left-wing); when it removes the institutions of liberal democracy, and the civil and political freedom of individuals—it becomes possible to pose the question: whom does the fascist dictatorship serve? As long as the petit bourgeoisie by itself, by the power of its own social nature and its own social interests cannot birth such a reaction, such a reactionary energy, to carry such a concentrated counterrevolution, this becomes the fundamental question.
And here is precisely where we begin to see the figure of financial capital which in the crisis it finds itself in is truly in need of that kind of state power, but which remains in the shadows, hidden behind the exterior appearance of the fascist system.
Somewhere at this stage in the understanding of the social nature of fascism we get the definition given by the Comintern as rule by the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most aggressive elements of the imperialist bourgeoisie.
The definition of fascism provided by G. Dimitrov during the 7th Comintern Congress in 1935 remains to this day the best insight into the scoi-class nature of this phenomenon. Because of this, even today, when Marxists scholars turn towards the study of this or that problem in the history, sociology, social psychology of fascism, or of some even more specific problems of its practice such as its propaganda, state terror, concentration camps, etc., they invariably call upon this definition and, to one degree or another, use it as the starting point of their scientific analysis.
At the same time, however, it would be wrong to think that the Comintern definition fully captures and exhausts all the features of fascism. It lacks an explanation of the specific political system of fascism, of its unique form of dictatorship without which we could never explain the demonic power of the fascist countries which ignited the bloodiest world war and reached a monstrous scale of terror and criminality against humanity, unprecedented in history.
It’s true that fascism is, primarily, rule or dictatorship of financial capital—and that is the most significant of its socio-class characteristics—but it’s also true that every contemporary late-stage capitalist government power is likewise rule of financial capital with its corresponding limitations of democracy, civil and political freedoms, etc. The same applies to the same extent to all developed capital countries in the world today. However, nobody has allowed themselves on this basis to claim that those countries are fascist ones, or that the form of their political rule is a fascist dictatorship.
It is precisely this that shows that the definition of fascism as the rule or dictatorship of financial capital, despite picking out the most significant of feature of this concept, does not exhaust its whole being. It must be supplemented by specifying its particular political system, its unique form of dictatorship which crystalizes the power of financial capital under the unique critical conditions between the two world wars. Here not only the class content, but also the form which it takes, is a significant part of this phenomenon. The organic unity of the two express the specific reality of fascism.
The absence of this “formal” moment in the Comintern’s definition became a reason for some authors to eliminate it altogether, to engage themselves only in the study of political structures without taking account of their real contents. Others, staying dogmatically faithful to that definition, claimed that it represents the whole truth of fascism and that there was simply nothing more to be said on this question. They were usually satisfied with repeating this definition while lacking any ability to apply it creatively to the concrete sociological analysis of the studied phenomenon.
The absence of this “formal” moment in the Comintern’s definition is a little strange because every visible actions of the Comintern took seriously this side of fascism.
As we will see in our forthcoming exposition, even as far back as the Leipzig trial G. Dimitrov paid special attention to the political structure of the Nazi state and its totalitarian character. P. Togliatti’s detailed analysis of the architecture of the fascist system in Italy as outlined in his “Lectures on Fascism”, finds fascism’s specific reality precisely in its totalitarianism. To one degree or another, this feature of fascist dictatorship was also noted by E. Tellmann, L. Longo, V. Pick and others. Namely, it is through it that they tried to explain this or that phenomenon in the political life of the fascist states which, outside of the full context of the system, would appear strange and unfamiliar.
To jump ahead, this is why we claim that that totalitarianism is such a significant part of the fascist dictatorship, of the fascist state, so fully and wholly expresses its political nature, that it must necessarily be included in the definition of fascism. In that respect, the Comintern definition should treat fascism as the totalitarian rule, the totalitarian dictatorship of financial capital and of its most reactionary and aggressive elements. It is precisely a totalitarian—not military, not authoritarian, but a totalitarian dictatorship. What is a totalitarian dictatorship and a totalitarian fascist state is the subject of the following exposition.
3. The Concept of the Totalitarian State
Those who speak of the totalitarian state are, first and foremost, the very creators of fascism itself. In listing the three main conditions for creating the corporate system, Mussolini puts the creation of the totalitarian state second after the creation of a single party system. He characterizes the totalitarian state as “a state, which incorporates within itself…the whole energy, all interests, and all hopes of a nation” (10-37).
Paul Raterbusch, one of the theorists of Nazism, in decisively opposing “the pluralistic multiparty state” of Western Democracy defines the totalitarian state thus: “…the totalitarian state is that which with the help of a certain single party or ideology has elevated itself to a totality and has claimed the exclusive political right in constructing national life…The totalitarian state represents a fundamental break with relativism, with the notion that every party contains only relative truth.” (101-61 and 62).
The German envoy to London, Von Dirksen, also speaks about the fascist state. With this term he refers to both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (39-110, 115, 308, 420).
Finally, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, Speer, in his deposition in the Nuremberg trail emphasized the totalitarian state as the most important reason for the catastrophe that befell the German nation: “The great danger to be found in this totalitarian system became apparently clear at that moment in which we approached the end…Allow me to explain like this: near the end it became apparent what kind of great danger is hidden in systems of this kind even if we set aside the Fuhrer principle. It was the combination of Hitler and this system that brought forth the horrific catastrophe into this world.” (99-48)
During the Nuremberg trial the English prosecutor Shawcross called Hitler’s cabinet a “totalitarian government” because it “doesn’t tolerate any opposition” and destroys civil and political freedoms (90-50 and 60). Able Plehn presents the “Spanish Phalanx” which builds the country in its own image as “war-loving” and “totalitarian” (93-261). Curt Reiss describes the “totalitarian form of government” as one “in which freedom of the press and parliament are destroyed…” (102-202). A. Manhattan, in quoting a report of Mussolini’s envoy to Madrid on March 25th 1939 also speaks of a “inter-European fascist block of totalitarian states throughout the whole continent.” (71-329)
The term “totalitarian state” is used also by Marxist authors in characterizing the fascist system, especially during its final years. Indeed, Georgi Dimitrov, during the Leipzig trial in the “Ten Questions to the Criminal Police Officials” used this term, precisely in this sense. But because the text has the form of a question which can’t be separated from its context without distorting the author’s intentions, we present the tenth question in its entirety: “10. Is it true that in this tense situation the Reichstag fire serve as a signal to begin the campaign against the labor movement and to overcome the difficulties within the ‘national coalition,’ to exercise national-socialist ‘unity, and to organize the so-called ‘totalitarian state’, i.e. to the forcible destruction of all other parties and organizations, to the ‘unification’ of the state, economy, culture, military, sport, youth, church, and the other organizations of the press, propaganda, etc.?” (58-202).
In the “Sentencing Notes” which are a synopsis of a speech never delivered to the court dated December 23, 1933, G. Dimitrov once again returns to this question, noting: “For the creation of a ‘totalitarian state’, the national-socialist ‘sole-rule’!” (34-186).
In short, according to G. Dimitrov the totalitarian state is the kind of state that aims first “towards the violent destruction of all other parties and organizations”, and second, towards “the unification of the state, economy, culture, military, sport, youth, church, and the other organizations of the press, propaganda, etc.”, in a word, unification of all social life.
P. Togliatti in his infamous “Lectures on Fascism” read during the spring of 1935 in Moscow’s Lenin Academy before the Italian communist party functionaries working illegally against Mussolini’s regime, also looks at the Italian fascism as a “totalitarian regime,” “a totalitarian state.” He even classifies Italian fascism in terms of its totalitarian elements: “I would divide this subject in three periods: the first period—fascism until the “March on Rome”, until the end of 1922; the second period—from 1922 to 1925, can be characterized as an attempt to create a non-totalitarian fascist regime; finally, the third period covering 1925-1930, is the period of the creation of totalitarianism and of the beginning of the greatest economic crisis” (116-33).
Even at the beginning of his lecture Togliatti explains that “Italian fascism wasn’t born totalitarian, but became such at that moment when the ruling powers of the bourgeoisie reached the maximum level of economic, and, consequently, political unity…totalitarianism is the consequence of the dominance of financial capital” (116-44).
From the very titles, and even more so from the content of the separate lectures it can be seen that it is through the concepts of “totalitarian system”, “totalitarian regime”, “totalitarian dictatorship” that the true nature of Italian fascism is revealed. Togliatti presents the following table of contents: a) the construction of the ‘singular rule’ or the single party system of fascism through the violent destruction of all other political parties and mass organizations—left and right—without exception; b) taking control of the country by the fascist party, the transformation of the state machinery into its own tool; c) the construction of a comprehensive system of mass organizations through which the fascist party guarantees control of the civilian population (trade unions, youth organizations”, the “Dopolavoro” organization, etc.); d) the creation of the corporate systems as an economic base of the fascist nation and the future “fascist order” (Mussolini).
L. Longo, in the book Between Reaction and Revolution defines the fascist dictatorship in Italy as the “undivided, totalitarian rule of fascism.” (64-271). He doesn’t make it his aim to offer a special analysis of the concept of “totalitarianism”, but much as can be judged form the context, he gives it very much the same meaning as Togliatti.
In his own deep study of Italian fascism (“Italian Fascism and its Collapse”) the Soviet author S.M. Slobodskoy also looks at Mussolini’s regime as a totalitarian one. Chapter five of this monograph is called “The Establishment of a Totalitarian Regime.” According to the author “Italian fascism entered its ‘totalitarian’ phase of its development during November of 1926.” (110-65) when it liquidates the last remains of bourgeois democracy—political parties and organizations, civil and political freedoms—and the fascist party establishes its absolute monopoly.
Without clearing up the special meaning of the term ‘totalitarianism’, Santiago Carrillo characterizes the fascist system in Spain in his book After Franco—where? as a “totalitarian power” and a “totalitarian dictatorship” (76-19).
The Spanish Marxist Jose Garcia proceeds in the same manner. In his Spain in the 20th Century we can find descriptions of fascism like “a centralized totalitarian fascist dictatorship” (20-279), a country with “a totalitarian character” (20-280), “totalitarian order from top to bottom” (20-282), “fascist totalitarian regime” (20-287), or “totalitarian fascist state” (20-322) etc.
Since there is no specialized study in Marxist literature of the totalitarian fascist state and its unique structure and laws, yet, at the same time this term is used, a systematic and detailed study is needed, starting, of course, not from the understanding of individual statements, but from a strong analysis of the main fascist nations (Hitler’s Germany, fascist Italy, and Franco’s Spain)—an analysis that seeks the most general laws that appear in each of them.
In this way the concept of a “totalitarian fascist state” can allow us to make sense of an ideal, perfected fascist state, with respect to which the separate fascist countries constitute only approximations or modifications that contain, to a certain extent, its core element.
In reality this is the goal of every scientific study—to provide an ideal, clean model of some defined phenomenon so that this model can be used as the basis to understand some specific or particular event.
The creation of a model of the ‘idea’ fascist state also has a great practical significance to the extent that it can provide us with the ability in every separate case to understand whether a given country can be treated as a ‘fascist state.’ In this way we can overcome that vulgar political approach in which the label of ‘fascist state’ or ‘fascist regime’ is treated as synonymous with political stigma but is not the result of an objective scientific analysis.
The construction of a model of the totalitarian fascist state has a principally methodological significance for not only everyday political life, but also for historiography. It is impossible, for example, to distinguish between a military dictatorship from the fascist one without appealing to such a model that serves as a criterion. That’s why all too often every military regime that comes to power with the help of the military is presented as a fascist dictatorship.
In connection to this it’s appropriate to recall the words of P. Togliatti, spoken over four decades ago: “The term ‘fascism’ is often used imprecisely, primarily as a synonym of reaction, terror, etc. That definition is incomplete. Fascism does not signify only a fight against bourgeois democracy and it’s not right to use this expression as soon as such a struggle has been identified” (116-11).
For example, it’s impossible to uncover the ‘peculiarities’ of Bulgarian fascism without such a general model of the classic fascist state. Before we establish the national peculiarities of a given fascism (Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, and English), we must first establish what fascism is, and what the general necessary characteristics of the fascist state are.
As can be seen from what has been said so far, the best hope for constructing a model of the ideal fascist state is to learn the structure of the classic fascist states, and to discover those general features without which it is impossible to think of any concrete fascist state. In keeping with this fundamental method, we are lead to the following general traits of the totalitarian state: a) the forced establishment of a single-party system or “single-rule” of fascism through the destruction of all other parties; b) the fusion of fascist party with the state; c) the unification of all social life; d) an authoritarian way of thinking with a cult of personality surrounding a national leader; e) concentration camps.
Of course, it goes without saying that the present study has no pretentions in being the final word on the topic. The aim of this study is much more modest: to point to another aspect of fascism which seems promising and relevant; to aid in the building of a singular theory of fascism that can spare one of the endless aimless wanderings through the details of this or that national fascism.
 [Translator’s Note: Where I’m able to, I’ll include little footnotes about the characters that Zhelev is referring to in the text. However, the file I’m working with doesn’t have a bibliography or a reference page, and my transliterations don’t’ always result in me finding anyone identifiable. When that’s the case, I won’t make a footnote saying I haven’t found anything. Regardless, here, Zhelev is referring to the Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe who, along with three Bulgarian members of the Comintern, was put on trial for setting the Reichstag Fire of 1933. He was the only one who was found guilty and was put to death by the state. Although Van der Lubbe’s role in the fire is historically contested, it is generally held that he was used as a scapegoat by the Nazis to justify further repression of the Communists. In 1980, as Zhelev says, van der Lubbe was pardoned by West German courts, but that appeal was overturned in 1983. In 2007 he was fully pardoned by German courts.]
 [Translator’s Note: this is referring to the SA’s brown shirts]
 [Translator’s note: I’ve left the page references that are in the original text that I have only to demonstrate that Zhelev wasn’t pulling things out of thin air. As noted, however, the copy I have does not have a bibliography section, so the page references remain completely cryptic to me.]
 [Translator’s note: Luigi Longo was the secretary of the Italian Communist Party in the 60’s and mid-70’s]
 [Translator’s Note: This is, of course, referring to Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist philosopher]
 [Translator’s Note: The former is most likely Georges Politzer, a Marxist philosopher arrested, tortured, and put to death by the Nazis in France in 1942. The latter refers to Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and key developer of Nazi ideology. He was tried at Nuremberg and put to death for war crimes.]
 [Translator’s Note: Hermann Rauschning was briefly a Nazi party member before renouncing his membership in the early 30’s and emigrating to the US. From there, he spoke strongly against Nazism.]
 [Translator’s Note: Winston Churchill was, of course, the British Prime Minister during WWII]
 [Translator’s Note: From what I could find Luigi Sturzo was not a philosophy professor, but an anti-fascist priest and politician. Why Zhelev credits him as a philosophy professor is a mystery to me.]
 [Translator’s Note: This is most likely referring to Lewis Mumford, the American sociologist, psychologist, and philosopher]
 [Translator’s Note: This is referring to the Austrian psychoanalyst—among other things, he coined the phrase “the sexual revolution”]
 [Translator’s Note: The Comintern was the name of the third international organization advocating for global communism (Communism + International = Comintern). It was founded by Lenin in 1919 and dissolved by Stalin in 1943 as way appeasing the wartime allies of the Soviet Union. Between 1934 and 1943 it was headed by the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov, who has been mentioned—and will continue to be mentioned—already. The Seventh Congress was its last.]
 [Translator’s Note: This is a reference to Palmiro Togliatti, General Secretary of the Italian Communist party from the 30’s through the 60’s]
 [Translator’s Note: Herbert von Dirksen, German diplomat to Britain before WWII]
 [Translator’s Note: This is referring to Albert Speer]
 [Translator’s Note: Hartley Shawcross, the British barrister and head British prosecutor during the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal]
 [Translator’s Note: Curt Reiss was a German refugee to America who worked as a war correspondent cataloguing Hitler’s war crimes]
 [Translator’s Note: Possibly Avro Manhattan, an Italian polymath and writer]
 [Translator’s Note: This was the Italian fascist adult recreation group]
 [Translator’s Note: Santiago Carrillo was the General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party from 1960-1982]
 [Translator’s Note: This might be referring to Jose Garcia Ladron de Guevara, but I can’t find enough information.