Zhelyu Zhelev's "Fascism": Preface
A Brief Translator's Introduction
By birth, I'm Bulgarian; by training, I'm a philosopher. These are two elements of my identity that are likely to remain with me for the rest of my life--the latter, because I've gotten used to living that way, and the former, because it's something that I can't quite get rid of regardless of how thick my American accent gets and regardless of how little any Bulgarians actually care to claim me. In any case, these two aspects of my identity aren't that hard to keep together, and, in fact, most of the time, they remain perfectly compartmentalized.
However, there are times when I want the two to meet. Unfortunately, and probably entirely because of sociological circumstances about how the profession works, Bulgarian philosophers are hard to come by. That's not to say that there aren't any. In fact, I was lucky enough to meet a Bulgarian colleague at my current institution who is one of the smartest philosophers I've ever met. Nevertheless, she works in America as a philosopher who does American philosophy. As do I. We are both Bulgarian, but I can't say that either of us is a Bulgarian philosopher.
Maybe there's no such thing. In fact, in most circumstances, I'm inclined to think that trying to find someone like that is a fool's errand. After all, what do I expect to find? A philosopher who does philosophy in the Bulgarian way? Give me a break! I'm much too foreign, much too jaded, and much too old to believe an any nationalistic bullshit like that. I'm sure there are people who would be willing to argue about this (god knows I've been in conversations with people who claim that Bulgaria is an underappreciated historical jewel! Did you know, dear reader, that a Bulgarian invented the computer? Well, no, someone with Bulgarian parents did. And, no, he didn't invent the computer, but he helped! Okay, he worked in the building where a microchip was developed. But he was there! And he was Bulgarian!). I don't buy it.
Still, some part of me wants to find something worthwhile in Bulgarian thought that I can say "yes, this is good. It came from here and it speaks of here."
I think there's plenty of that in Bulgaria as a whole. I know there's excellent poetry, excellent art, excellent music, etc. I don't mean to shit on my birth country too much. However, one area where we haven't made too much of a splash historically is philosophy. Go ahead, take a look at the Wikipedia page for Bulgarian philosophers--it wont' take long, it's a short list.
Yet, I think there may be perhaps be something worthwhile there...
This side project is an attempt to see if there is indeed something worthwhile in Bulgarian philosophy. I'm going into this entirely blind. What you're about to read is a completely unauthorized translation of Zhelyu Zhelev's Fascism, translated by me using what remains of my Bulgarian language skills (a nice side benefit is that in taking on this project, I'm also practicing a skill that I've almost entirely lost).
It goes without saying that I'm not a professional translator, and that anyone expecting that level of professionalism is in the wrong place. I'm also not a Bulgarian historian and, in fact, know very little about Zhelyu Zhelev. I know that he was a dissident during before 1989 and that he was the first democratically elected president of Bulgaria after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have some vague memories of him on television as a child, but nothing more than that. I don't know his politics and I don't know the significance of the book, or its legacy. I do know, however, that he was a philosopher, that he wrote in Bulgaria, about things that were important to Bulgarians, and about issues that are still of interest to me. It remains to be seen whether he was any good as a philosopher, but that's another matter...
I also know that I can't easily find any translation of the text in English. So, in the spirit of samizdat, I provide this translation to the best of my abilities for others to read and analyze. I claim no credit for the original work and expect no money.
I should also make a slight note on the translation. I've tried to stick as closely as possible to what I take to be the original text. However, as mentioned before, I'm not a professional translator and don't feel bound to the rules that other, more capable translators abide by. The biggest difficulty arises in the difference in syntax between Bulgarian and English--Bulgarian syntax has become bizarre to my Americanized eyes. The second biggest difficulty, which is partially the result of the syntax difficulty, is the length of sentences. This may also be a feature of Zhelev's writing style as well. Again, I've tried to stick as closely to the original sentence structure, but where I thought things got ridiculous I've broken up super-long sentences in two.
Finally, what you're seeing here is, of course, only part of the full work. Specifically, it's only the preface. My hope is that over the next year I'll be able to translate the full book, but you'll only see it in pieces.
by Zhelyu Zhelev
A Documented Study of German, Italian, and Spanish Fascism
(An Unauthorized Translation by Pavel Nitchovski)
In Lieu of a Prologue
Fascism or the political biography of a book
I am not a fatalist and I don’t like exaggerating, but it seems to me that things didn’t work out with this book. It could have had a much better fate. The book was written in 1967 and published in 1982. For an entire fifteen years it lingered in the publishing houses of Sofia. And it was always returned either because of the overloaded publishing plans, set in advance many years into the future, or because of the notorious “lack of paper.” Only the military was honest enough to tell me the real reason. I remember, when I went to talk to the military publishing house to see what was happening with the book, all the editors came around to see me. To see and to laugh. The laughter was congenial. So I asked them:
“Are you going to publish the book?”
“No, we can’t…”
“Why? Didn’t you like it?”
“On the contrary, we liked it a lot…”
“It’s too good to be published by us. This kind of thing can’t come out in Bulgaria.” One of them told me.
The only comforting thing was that the manuscript was constantly being passed around and read through by way of samizdat, both in the capital and in the county.
Credit for the rapid and widespread distribution of the manuscript goes to Radoi Ralin, who was also the book’s first reader. For years he personally distributed the text in different intellectual and political circles, giving it to certain people who, according to him, urgently needed to read it.
It’s also because of him that credit goes for the book’s speedy legalization. For that (and not only for that, of course) I dedicated it to him, even though it’s not listed in the title page for publishing reasons.
In 1968 I began negotiations with a Czechoslovakian communist party “Liberty.” At the end of July I went to Prague to arrange for the translation and other minor details. That was during the indescribable atmosphere of the “Prague Spring”, and joyous and worrisome were the “Two-Thousand Words…”
Twenty days later the Warsaw pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and everything fell apart. In 1982 ten-thousand copies of the book were published in Bulgaria by the publishing house “Narodna Mladezh.” Three weeks after its release in bookstores it was banned and pulled from libraries. In reality, it was only the third batch of books, the last batch, that was pulled so that at least six thousand copies remained in public hands – these, the police were powerless to collect…
Shortly before the book was banned, representatives of various publishers came to me to ask permission to publish another 30 thousand copy batch. I, of course, agreed, but by the time they went to the printing department of the Communist Party headquarters to ask for an extension on the paper limit, “the infection” had already started and they were summarily kicked out.
In June of 1982 an international book fair was held in Sofia. Publishers from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland wanted to secure a contract to publish Fascism. But our ever-vigilant, ideological police had no desire to discuss this question and simply said that no such book existed. Of course, there was indeed no such book in the “Festival” halls…
In 1986 during the second Congress of Bulgarian Studies a large group of Chinese translators went to Radoi Ralin and asked him for something new to translate. With his inherent generosity and selflessness—which only those of great talent possess—Radoi told them: “Since I don’t have anything better to give you, I’m gifting you a copy of my friend’s book Fascism and recommend that you translate it in Chinese.” The large Chinese group split up the text among themselves and translated the whole book in a month. It’s now offered for publishing in the Academy for Western Philosophy and Sociological Literature in Peking. I’m purposefully withholding the name of the Chinese Bulgarianist who kept communications with us and who informed us of how the work was going. The last thing we heard before that line of communication was severed was that the book had received four positive receptions with high marks regarding the quality of the text, and that the book was already printed and bound with only the attachment of the cover remaining. Unfortunately, it was precisely at that time that the next anti-intellectual campaign started, which, in turn, caused the liberally friendly Chinese intellectuals to lose their posts, and, consequently, their political appointments as well.
The director of the Academy for Western Literature must have been among them, too, because he was also removed from his post. This fact proved to be fatal for the fate of the book’s Chinese publication.
After 1982, lots of Russians requested copies of the book. Some of them aimed to translate and publish it in Russian, while others were more modest and only wanted to introduce it in their samizdat. The brutal limitations on publishing agreements binding “brotherly nations” excluded and continues to exclude the possibility of an official publication in the Soviet Union. But it appears to be a fact that the book did circulate in their system of samizdat since so many Soviet citizens know about the book or have read it.
At one point, Poles, too, wanted to publish different parts in various magazines and periodicals. I don’t know what happened with those attempts.
The last group of people who came and requested a copy during June of this year were members of the committee of the Ukrainian National Front with the intention of translating and publishing the book in Ukrainian. I’m not aware what happened with that or even if anything happened at all.
In general, the fate of Fascism began to remind me of the girl who’s liked by everyone, but, who, for one reason or another, never manages to get married. Let’s hope that this isn’t happening because the girl is getting old… Actually, as the author, I would be happy if it turned out that the themes of the book have become politically dated and passé with time because it would mean that the last totalitarian regime has disappeared from the face of the planet.
But as long as totalitarianism exists, the book won’t lose its actual meaning since it initially represents an attempt, in good faith, with the help of documentary evidence, as in paleontology, to reconstruct the massive political skeleton of the totalitarian mammoth. And those who seriously want to fight against totalitarianism need to know its anatomy and physiology, without knowledge of which success cannot be guaranteed.
Personally, I see no other way to explain why even now in the era of Gorbachev’s perestroika, when the soviet press continues to bring up such massive amounts of crucially vital political information for our society, interest in the book has not waned. People look for it, they re-sell it for high sometimes extravagant prices to the tune of one or two months’ salary. Two years ago, I needed to send two copies abroad, the booksellers offered me a special author’s discounted price of $43 a copy!
Before perestroika, what primarily attracted the public to the book was the full overlap between the two variants of totalitarianism—the fascist variant, and, our very own communist one. Despite the analogy between the two never being made explicitly, the nature of the documented material and the way it is organized, the reader himself could discover the horrifying truth that not only is there no substantial difference between the Nazi and Communist political systems, but that to the extent that there is, the difference is of not benefit to communism.
Now, when the organs of mass information speak openly about such analogies and bring in more than a little factual material to support their claims it looks like the book continues to attract attention primarily because of its prognosis regarding the death of totalitarian regimes. The schemata through which the collapse of the fascist totalitarian is elevated to the status of law (a totalitarian system—military dictatorship—a multiparty democratic system) raises the question: will the same schema prove valid for our regime; will this law be preserved, or will it happen a different way? Because if events in Poland confirm this schemata—and this is quite so—then Gorbachev’s perestroika, in the way that it’s been conceived and realized, consists in an attempt to correct it.
Perestroika represents precisely the alternative to a military dictatorship. It has the ambition to do that which must be done by a military dictatorship, but to do so in a peaceful way, humanely, bloodlessly, democratically; i.e. to actualize the social transition from totalitarianism to democracy.
It must be said that, in principle, this alternative is not groundless. The simple fact that Hungary is implementing it before our very eyes and that the Baltic states are attempting to do so as well serves as one confirmation. But this doesn’t happen everywhere, and it’s not easy to do in the beginning.
Of great significance is the nation’s political culture, its moral character, and its cultural-historical traditions. In that sense, the more elevated a nation’s political culture is, the greater its chances of success are to correct the schemata and to replacing a military dictatorship with perestroika.
I worry that for the Soviet Union as a whole this is not an open option. To the circumstances that could lead to a similar development, I note: the multinational character of the country; the different cultural levels of the separate nations; the huge nomenclature; the colossal military machine which, in the most critical phases would have a hard time resisting the temptation to take power from the helpless civilians; the ingrained imperial habits, traditions, and relations, etc.
But the military dictatorship, however hard it tries to preserve the old totalitarian structures, or to save them (as is happening in Poland), cannot alter the process from totalitarianism to democracy but, to the contrary, will speed it up. By radicalizing its contradictions, the dictatorship speeds up the disintegration of the regime. Unfortunately, in this case everything happens with blood, it’s paid for with the lives of more than a few people.
In other words, even through perestroika, even with the help of a military dictatorship, the path through which our communist system will necessarily collapse is singular: from totalitarianism towards a multi-party democracy. This is absolute, nomological, and unavoidable. Everything else is trivial.
But life, which has always been richer than any schemas and for that reason resents being stuffed with them, will probably surprise us with new, many more wondrous and unbelievable combinations from the elements of political reality that we cannot even think of now. Who of us, for example, would have thought—despite the fact that this is so simple and close to the mind—that in the dismantling of our communist variant of the totalitarian system, the system will have to, for a certain period of time, degrade to the level of fascism—to the level of the less-developed and imperfect totalitarian fascist regime, and that in that sense, for us fascism would be one giant step towards democracy! It sounds shocking and paradoxical, but political illusions, emotions, and prejudices are one thing—another are the political realities and iron laws to which they submit.
Today it is precisely this prejudice or ideologically prejudiced way of thinking that prevents the majority from understanding the reason and meaning behind the processes that have happened and are happening in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, China, and even part of the Soviet Union. Now you can hear the majority at home complain about the regime and say “This is horrifying! It’s Fascism!” by which they mean to imply that things have gotten worse than before and that the country is less democratic. If you try to disagree, they’ll point you constantly to the ever-expanding repressive measures being taken. However, they forget that the democratic movement is expanding even faster in the country and that there already exist about a dozen independent groups and movements, that civil society is re-awakening in the country, etc. –things which earlier were completely unthinkable.
This is why it would be better if we told them: yes, it’s true that on the one hand, countries like Bulgaria, GDR, Czechoslovakia, China, etc. face political repression, demagoguery, cynicism, general corruption, chauvinism, patriotism, faithlessness, etc. as well as experiencing unformed movements, open warfare for democracy, changes, and so on. On the other hand, they look more like fascist countries than communist ones, but this fact shows only that they’ve gone through a particular democratic evolution, that they’ve reached a particular phase of decomposition of the totalitarian structure. Because no other path exists in the transition from totalitarianism to democracy except the path that destroys its own political system. Whoever promises to make democracy through the perfection of the totalitarian system is working with the most profound demagoguery.
But because this question is a principled one—that is, it has not only a theoretical but also a direct practical meaning for the current moment, it deserves a closer look so that we can try to see it in historical context.
We, Marxists, were the first in history to create a totalitarian regime, a totalitarian country—the single-party system, built through the violent destruction of the other political parties or through their degradation to ordinary state organizations, completely subservient to the communist party. This absolute monopoly of the communist party in the political sphere necessarily had to lead to the complete fusion of party and state, and most of all with the state apparatus with the party apparatus, as a consequence of which the head of state and the had of the party turn out to be the same entity, possessing limitless and uncontrollable power that runs through all the lower levels of the national and economic hierarchy—the members of the party.
And so that this system could be stable and unshakeable, the absolute monopoly on the state and party, the party’s monopoly of the state, or more accurately, of the party-state, had to spread from the superstructure to the economic base of society. It was necessary that it be turned into state property—big private property by way of expropriation, the small through violent, bloody, Stalinist collectivization.
When this process of privatization of property was complete, the totalitarian regime was completed. That’s how the communist variant of totalitarianism, which even to the present day remains the most perfect model of totalitarianism throughout history. The fascist model which has been often presented as an antidote to the communist one in reality differs only from it insofar as it is unfinished and imperfect with respect to the economic base, and is consequently less perfect and more unstable. This can be investigated even in the inner architecture of Nazism and the Nazi system which nevertheless represents the most complete fascist regime. Here, the absolute monopoly of the party does not spread over the economic base, or, at least over the whole economic base. The latter is constituted in part by private property, different kinds of private property, which naturally doesn’t give rise towards impulses of cohesion, unity, or monolithicity. Quite the opposite, it creates plurality, heterogeneity, and differences which in a crisis easily transform into contradictions. A monolithic superstructure and a diverse base—this is the incompatibility between the political superstructure and the economic base in the fascist totalitarian regime. That’s what makes it unstable and short-lived. This is why ever fascist regime perished much quicker than our communist ones—some like the Nazi German and fascist Italian ones in the flames of the second world war, and others, like Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal after the war, in a matter of speaking, in peaceful conditions.
The fascist regimes not only died earlier, but they also showed up later, which shows that in this respect they are a poor imitation, a plagiarism of the original that represents the real, authentic, refined and perfected totalitarianism. My friend, professor Nicolai Genchev, with his usual sense of humor, defines fascism any time it’s brought up as “an early, un-systematized, bon-vivant variant of communism” and Hitler himself as “a pathetic imitator and operatic hero.” We must say that contained in this joke is a brutal truth. Without in any sense justifying Hitler the executioner and cannibal, we must admit that he is a veritable dwarf in comparison to Stalin the Executioner—even this comparison is a weak one. Stalin the Executioner could carry his colleague in his pocket.
I’ll mention only two figures which speak more eloquently than any arguments and deliberations of the fundamental differences between the two kinds of totalitarianism. Until the beginning of the second world war—September 1st, 1939—Hitler killed fewer than 10,000 people. As the reader recalls, this includes the victims of the “Night of Long Knives” (June 30th, 1934), when the opposition leaders of the SA were murdered, as well as the entire existing liberal opposition, and those of “Kristallnacht” (April 2938), the night of the antisemitic pogroms about which there is so much literature… By the same date of September 1st 1939, Stalin had murdered no fewer than 10 million. Some authors claim that this figure is closer to 15 million, but we won’t argue about that since this isn’t that important in this case. The important thing is that this is a difference that isn’t measured in percentages (one killed such-and-such percent more than the other), is not measured in multiplicities (this many times more than the other), but is a matter of a difference that is expressed in orders of mathematical magnitude; i.e. in quantities used in cosmology, astronomy, and modern physics…
The other figure concerns the victims of the war. Germany, which is at war with a couple of dozen countries in Europe and Africca, and which suffered a full military defeat at the hands of the Allies, suffers between 7.5 and 8 million casualties, and which includes, of course, civilian victims. In contrast, the Soviet Union, which enters the war nearly two years later suffers 30 million casualties. To hide their own incompetence and failure as leaders, Stalin only admitted to 7 million casualties, Khrushchev to 20 million, and currently the Soviet press reports casualties up to 32 million. There are authors who claim that the figure might be as high as 40 million.
Indeed, the difference here isn’t calculated in mathematical terms, but are four or five times greater given that one enters the war much later and doesn’t go to war with as many countries as the aggressor state. This indirectly speaks to the far greater scope of the completed and more perfected totalitarian regime.
But maybe nothing else speaks as eloquently on this topic as the absence of any attempts of a military coup against the Soviet leadership for the fact that it sent the population into a military catastrophe during the years of 1941 and 1942. The history of the 20th century has never known such a horrific betrayal towards one’s own nation and country as the one perpetrated by Stalin and his Politburo. The destruction of the commanding army staff, the full abandonment of the material-technical supply, the dismantlement of defensive structures on the western border, the criminal neglect of the numerous threats by the intelligent services regarding the immanent threat towards the Soviet Union, the massing of German divisions conspicuously close to the Soviet border, the lightning-fast invasion of the Soviet Union and the capture of nearly four and a half million Soviet soldiers—all this by the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942 set up the Soviet Union for a complete military catastrophe, and forced Stalin, through Beria’s channels, to sue for peace with Hitler through the mediation of Tsar Boris.
The fact that even under these nationally catastrophic conditions the Soviet generals didn’t make even one attempt to take down Stalin’s team shows precisely the depth of the political and ideological collapse that was to be found in the social consciousness of the totalitarian regime at is existed in the Soviet Union.
In similar circumstances, despite the fact that they were unsuccessful, German generals did attempt a coup against Hitler and his regime on July 20, 1944. In Italy, the year before (on July 25, 2943) the military leadership of Marshall Badolio managed to arrest Mussolini and to remove the Fascist party from power. In both cases this was possible because the German and Italian generals came from the propertied classes, which means that they had ground under their feet in the civilian sector and in the most important sphere of civil life—the economic sphere. They had property. In practice this meant that if the conspiracy failed, if the worst happened, their families wouldn’t die of hunger, wouldn’t perish, and his brood would be wiped out.
As it relates to the current problem it’s interesting to remember Mussolini’s ideological evolution during the last stage of his life after he was freed from captivity by Otto Scorceni’s squad.
As a result of continuous deliberation (and how much time he had to think while being held captive in that fortress in the Alps!) he came to the conclusion that he has to create a different fascist country where the path to nationalization leads to everything becoming state property. Mussolini understood that only a state monopoly over property could create a monolithic and unshakeable totalitarian regime, capable of guaranteeing the fascist leader and fascist party against any surprises from the military. He put these ideas into his plan for the creation of the notorious Republic of Salo, the creation of which was only frustrated by the military actions of the Allies in Italy.
However, the first practical steps were already made. The creation of the “Neofascist Republic of Salo” was announced in the beginning of October 1943, naturally with close ties to SS General Karl Wolf and his German attaché Rudolf Ran. At the arranged congress in Verona in November 1943 an appeal was made to the north-Italian workers in which they were promised control of the industrial enterprises and a partial nationalization of the land…
But let’s return to the topic at hand. When we talk about the passage through the “fascist” phase in the dismantling of our communist totalitarian regime and when we present this transition as a step towards democracy, this shouldn’t be understood literally in the sense that we’re aiming towards fascism as if towards some kind of idea, that we’ll embrace its ideology, etc. We will pass through it as inevitability, as an unavoidable state of affairs, through necessity and, therefore, the faster we go through it, the better. But we pay special attention to the internal pressures in our totalitarian system in the era of perestroika—pressures which exist because the dismantling of one or another element of the base or superstructure. It is precisely the dismantling that makes the perfect totalitarian regime imperfect, and, because of that, unstable. This circumstance, in turn, becomes a reason to resort to repression as a means of compensation through which stability is restored to the system. It’s possible, of course, for perestroika in different countries to focus the dismantling processes on the base (as is the case in China), or on the superstructure (as is the case in the Soviet Union).
In either case, the totalitarian system enters a phase of instability, as it were, a structural weakness, and to strengthen itself it can’t compensate itself with anything other than the naked use of force, repression, and terror.
The most recent events in China are evidence of this. The economic reforms that the Chinese leadership has been pushing through the last ten years, which dissolved the communes, distributed the land to the peasants under 10, 15, 20, 30, and 50 year leases, which created a freer market, “special economic zones”, etc. one way or another had to lead to contradictions between those in power and the intelligentsia. The economic reforms created conditions under which different groups grew richer, more independent, and more autonomous from the state. At the same time as these groups gained this new social status and position, they demanded to be freer politically as well, which couldn’t happen under the current communist regime without overthrowing the single-party system. So they dared to. The intelligentsia and the youth, which have always been the most sensitive towards the question of freedom and democracy, reacted first against the Communist Party’s monopoly when they called for its removal.
Therefore, even before it came to the return of private property in one or another sphere of civil life, even before it came down to the typical fascist overlap between the base and superstructure (private property and the economic base of society and absolute party-state monopoly of the political structure), the characteristics of the fascist phenomenon have begun to appear.
Of course, it’s very possible that the transition through the fascist phase will not be confirmed everywhere. The instability effect that occurs during the dismantling can occur in the other direction. In the Soviet Union, for example, the economic base is still untouched and an absolute monopoly on the state over the national property continues to be complete, while the dismantling processes in the superstructure have gone so far that political pluralism has become a fact: practical steps for the separation of state and party; unformed groups, movements, and national fronts which challenge the Communist party’s monopoly of power; strikes and national liberation movements; publicity. This consistently exposes the defects and failures of the totalitarian system. In a sense, fascism is created backwards (a monopoly in the base, pluralism in the superstructure!) which, of course, continues to destabilize the system as a whole.
If reform is actualized in Bulgaria as has been planned by the nomenclature—beginning first with the economy, and ending with the political sphere—we’ll see precisely the Chinese variant of dismantlement, and the process of fascistization will be apparent. Indeed, to the extent that economic reforms have been attempted within certain parameters and certain groups in the population have begun to develop a sense of independence and self-confidence, the tension between the base and the superstructure is already more or less palpable. What matters here is not so much the subjective side of this phenomenon, as much as a number of its objective manifestations.
All these reflections on the transition through a kind of fascist stage on the path towards a full dismantlement of our communist model of totalitarianism which, I repeat, represents the perfected form of totalitarianism, don’t change the general course of the disintegration: a totalitarian system, followed by a military dictatorship (or, respectively, perestroika), and a multi-party democracy. The general formula is valid for both types of totalitarianism, and practically for all totalitarian regimes, with the exception that before the more perfected communist variety reaches the second stage it frequently descends to the more imperfect one of fascism. This moment of degradation can sometimes be very easy to spot as an erosion of the first stage, while other times, of course, its expression can be so vague that it is hardly noticeable.
As can be seen, the latest developments on the topic of fascism come from the least expected place – from perestroika – which once again points to the tight link between the two varieties of totalitarianism. Earlier, this connection was either denied, or was primarily seen in terms of a historical or historico-genetic plan (how, for example, communism birthed or stimulated the development of fascism, and following that, how fascism has enriched the political arsenal of communism, etc.), but now, it is seen in actual political terms.
These circumstances bring us back again and again to the foundational problems of studying fascism.
The most recent data confirms that the deepest foundations of fascism cannot be understood if it is not examined as a totalitarian regime, as a type of totalitarian system. Without the totalitarian model in place it’s impossible to see how fascism fits into the political frame of the twentieth century. Even less possible is it to understand its connection to the other kind of totalitarianism—communism—and to establish precisely how the two differ and what they have in common. It’s a bad science which, a priori and necessarily, and due to clearly ideological consideration denies such a connection, emphasizes an imaginary opposition between the two, and at the same time presents itself as most basic and foundational. It’s also bad science when communism is decried as a kind of fascism, the worst kind of fascism, and so on. This attempt amounts to reducing the uncompromised or less-than compromised form of totalitarianism to the other, fully compromised form as judged by the Nuremberg process. And today this hardly makes any sense.
From what has been said so far it should be obvious that for us, the Bulgarian society and the Bulgarian intelligentsia, all the problems of perestroika are not new. We’ve literally been discussing them since the second half of the 60’s, though not at the level of a political empire as in the Soviet Union, but on a significantly higher, theoretical level where the processes in question have the status of laws and from which follow specific consequences for all totalitarian regimes.
Of course, under those circumstances this could only be done openly and comprehensively only on the basis of examining one kind of totalitarianism—fascism—the other was taboo. The public, too, was much more prepared to understand it this way since it already knew the much of the critical material regarding fascism, but retained many illusions about communism.
I remember when the young military officers in Portugal staged a revolution in April of 1974, established a military dictatorship for two years which was followed by a parliamentary multi-party democracy. At the time many friends and acquaintances who had a manuscript of Fascism said that the formula for the collapse of totalitarian regime was working quite well, or, as one especially enthusiastic person said: “it’s working flawlessly.”
The same thing happened in 1981 when martial law was declared in Poland. Of course, this time they didn’t call me on the phone because things were happening in a ‘brotherly country’ and such conversations weren’t safe.
It’s no coincidence that when the book arrived on the scene the authorities reacted with such single-minded and massive repressive measures against anyone connected to its publication. Based on the reaction from the public, and based on the breathless enthusiasm with which parts of the intelligentsia reacted, they instinctively realized that people were openly discussing the biggest problems of our time, and, in that respect, discussing the fate of our “order.”
However unpleasant it must have been for them—and they understood beautifully that they were uncovering themselves by chasing an anti-fascist book—they still understood that they had to repress it since they couldn’t oppose its ideas.
They fired three editors who were closely connected to the book: the poet Cyril Gonchev who served as the internal editor of the book; Violeta Paneva, the editor who ran the “Maver” library (where the book actually came out); and Stefan Landzhev, the head executive of political literature in the publishing house.
The external editor, Professor Ivan Slavov, was censured by the party and “reprimanded.” The question of an administrative punishment was also discussed, but the sharp reaction from the party organization in the philosophy department prevented it from going through. Two reviewers also received party punishments: Professor Cyril Vasilev and Professor Nicolai Genchev. Because of his overly positive review of the book, Genchev received a different punishment. It was ordered “from above” that he resign as the dean of the History department and all of his programs were dropped from TV in the course of three or four years. Because of his positive review in the Plovdiv newspaper “Domestic Voice” Asen Kartalov was punished with a “strong censure and final warning” regarding expulsion from the party, and as removed as OK lecturer of the BCP. The journalist Slavejko Mandev was also removed from his post as head ideological editor in the same newspaper, which seems to have caused him significant stress since he passed away soon after.
As far as I know one of the main reasons for the removal of the then Central Committee’s Comsomol secretary was for ideological reasons; namely, Belcho Ivanov had allowed Fascism to be printed despite the fact that, as was confirmed later, he didn’t even know about the text and was on vacation at the time. I’ve also heard it said many times that the publication of Fascism was used against Alexander Lilov by his enemies in the Politburo but I can’t confirm whether that’s true. In any case, after the publication of the book one of his ‘aides’ attacked me on just those grounds soon after the publication of the book. He told me that with Fascism I had “stabbed Dr. Lilov in the back.”
I, too, of course, had to be punished, but since I had been long kicked out the party, I only received administrative punishments. I was released from leading my section, and was removed from the Scientific Council of History and Culture. And so as to avoid a scandal, they did it in the Jesuit way: they called for a reorganization of the Institute, as a result of which my section on “Culture and Personality” turned out to be closed, and so I couldn’t complain and as a bit of camouflage, they also closed down the neighboring section on “Regional Cultural Problems.” At the same time, the “newly rebuilt” Science Council was announced with only one name missing—mine.
I could have protested and created a scandal, but I didn’t. I was uncomfortable trying to defend myself when, because of my book, other people whom I couldn’t help suffered much more than me. It would have been terrible.
The expectations of the powers that be that these repressive measures would have scared the cultured population, force it to refrain from commenting about the book in public, that those who had a copy would refrain from spreading it around, didn’t come to fruition. The general interest in the book was already so big that the repressive measures only served to add fuel to the fire. People who had never read any political literature were trying to get their hands on it.
At that point the authorities decided to act in a more indirect and flexible way. They organized a massive, lightening fast publication of two foreign studies of fascism: Fascism: Terror and Practice from the French Burderon, and Myth and Reality from the Soviet authors D. Melinkov and L. Chornaya. Both of these were documentary studies. However…
Aside from that, the various Central Committee departments organized a brutal review of the book, which, after a lot of mottling came out in the 12th edition of “Philosophical Thought” (from 1982) under the title of “Towards a Scientific, Marxist-Leninist Analysis of Facsims” by Mitryo Yankov. The main argument against the book was that it didn’t do a class-party analysis of fascism, and that, consequently, it wasn’t written from a Marxist-Leninist position. Other than that, it made the absurd claim that it was copied—that it was plagiarized—from Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, despite the fact that that book came out ten years later in 1981 and my manuscript was registered with the central publishing authorities between 1967 and 1970. This was a nasty and naïve claim to which I was forced to respond with an open letter to the editorial board and in which I insisted that the plagiarism either be proven, as is done everywhere else in the world, or else, for the editorial board to publicly apologize or be taken to court. I had the full intention to sue the members of the editorial board but my wiser friends convinced me not to waste my time. All the more because a group of active anti-fascist fighters whose names include Boris Delchev, Braiko Kofardjiev, Boris Spasov, Dacho Marinov, Ducho Mundrov, Iskra Panova, Nevena Mechkova, Radoi Ralin, as well as younger colleagues like Ana Serafimova, Evgenia Ivanovna, and Ilia Ivanov, wrote protest letters to the head editor of “Philosophical Thought” in which they express their indignation that the publication reserves a place for 50’s style defamatory articles without the opportunity to respond to those defamations.
The authorities, apparently, did not expect these protests because in response they took a very unpopular step: they began to call in the authors of the letters for “comradely” conversations during which they tried to convince them to reject their defense of Fascism. Of course, that didn’t work. In every conversation one side attempted to convince the other to change their mind. Radoi Ralin, who was invited to discuss the matter with the philosophy department in the presence of the academic Sava Ganovski, professor Ivan Kalaikov, professor, Todor Soichev, and others tried to convince the commission that Fascism must be introduced as a textbook in the Party Building course in the Upper Party Academy. If the commission thought that this was just Radoi’s latest political joke must have found it a hilarious one, but when they realized that his recommendation was completely serious, they became completely discouraged and changed the topic to other subjects…
All of the events not only kept the book in the public’s attention, but also consistently popularized it. As a literary fact, they turned it into a political event. A spontaneous movement developed in defense of the sacked editors and reviewers. People constantly came to me to express support and solidarity, as well as, of course, threats of punishment such as expulsion from Sofia, interrogations, and liquidation.
Interest became so large that a genuine political folklore developed around the book. Suddenly, there were comic situations, rumors and legends that became grounds for political jokes. I’ll allow myself to tell you a few of these:
Since she’s heard it be said in certain intellectual groups that a certain book has received a significant level of prestige, a young woman decides to get a copy. She goes to the bookstore and asks: “Excuse me, do you have Z. Zhelev’s Communism?” Surprised, the bookseller asks, “Did you mean to say ‘Z. Zhelev’s Fascism?’” “Yeah, yeah, whatever.”
Professor Ivan Slavov’s friend meets him on the street immediately after the party’s punishment has been passed and asks him: “Hey, Ivan, how are you? What are you up to?” To which he responds, “I’m marking myself as yet another victim of Fascism”
Every party functionary has threatened prof. Nicolai Genchev that because of his positive review of the book, he’ll be kicked out of the party. To which he replies: “By kicking me out you’ve only registered me as an active fighter against fascism!”
They asked the director of the publishing house “Naroden Mladezh”: “what’s the newest thing in the publishing game?” To which he replied: “Other than Fascism…nothing new…”
According to another joke, I sent an extensive article to the “People’s Culture” newspaper. The editorial board, overjoyed that I’d once again taken the party position decides to call me: “We’re very pleased with your article. We agree with everything. We’re publishing it without any changes. But why didn’t you sign the sign your name to it?” “Well, because it’s not mine.” “Well, what do you mean?” “It’s written by Goebbels…”
There was apparently another one that managed to compare incomparable things:u
What did the people of Eastern Europe do after the second world war? The Hungarians had an uprising in 1956, the Czechs had the “Prague Spring” in 1968, the Polish had “Solidarity” in 1980, and the Bulgarians published Fascism in 1982…
To compare the publication of one book with the uprising of a nation, or with a whole national movement, is, of course, unfounded, but it’s interesting as a certain way of thinking even if the joke is understood as a bit of self-deprecation which is the most probable case.
In connection with the contradictory and tragicomic situation in which the persecutors of the book found themselves, even the old famous joke about the “mustachioed dictator” has been updated:
A drunk finds himself, sloshed, in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square at midnight and begins to scream “Death to the mustachioed dictator! Death to the mustachioed dictator!” The guard in front the mausoleum pretends not to hear him and waits impatiently for the drunk to leave. But, stubbornly, he remains and, from time to time, turns to the Kremlin, wagging his clenched fist and chanting his slogan. Finally, the guard is forced to call the officer on duty. When the colonel sees what’s happening, he arrests the drunk and reports to Stalin that he’s captured a dangerous enemy who’s been yelling “Death to the mustachioed dictator!” Stalin says that he’s busy at the moment and can’t deal with the matter right now but to bring the enemy to him in three hours. These three hours turn out to save the drunk and he manages to sober up. And when he’s brought before Stalin and asked “Comrade, who were you referring to when you were yelling ‘Death to the mustachioed dictator?” he answers: “Hitler, of course. He treacherously invaded our country, destroyed thousands of cities and villages, and killed millions of Soviet citiz…” “Enough!” says Stalin, “Carry on, comrade!” then turns to the colonel: “And you, comrade colonel, who were you referring to?!”
I tell this clever Soviet joke not only because it was revived by popular opinion and was always related to the fate of the book, but also because, above all, it accurately describes the tragicomic situation in which those who organized and pursued repressive measures against it necessarily found themselves in. On the one hand, they had to punish because of the supposed analogy with socialism; but on the other hand, when those punished demanded that it be pointed out to them precisely where the comparison was made, they had to admit that, despite the fact that there were no explicit textual comparisons in the book, it was written in such a way that anyone reading it would naturally make that comparison—something which the opposing side, by taking the Jesuit position, obstinately denied by proving that such a comparison could only be made by a politically perverted mind. Consequently, those who make the comparisons—the party apparatus itself—are the ones who much be punished. And since this was the direct political accusation against the persecutors, the arguments exploded over and over…
What was happening was precisely that which the authorities most feared: that the punishments wouldn’t remain secret and the interest towards the book would become even more pronounced.
Of the many comic situations that developed, I’ll tell only two.
One day my friend from Pazardzhik, a poet who knew the text of the book well before it was published, saw the book on display he bought fifteen copies. The same day, he was set to meet with one of the village priest with whom he’s good friends and in order to interest him in buying the book himself, he tells him that a new book on fascism has come out and the must absolutely own it at any price. The priest tried, but couldn’t make it to the bookshop in time. A week later, he went back to find it, but by that time it was already gone. At that point, my friend gave him a copy to read and the two agreed that when the two met again in two weeks, the priest would return it. Yet, 15, 20, 30 days pass, then a month and a half, then two and not a peep from the priest. One night, my friend, worried, takes the bus to the village to see what’s going on with the priest. He finds him in the company of the village mayor, the party secretary, the leader of the local friendship league, the head of the union, and two teachers who are meeting to drink and discuss something important. He asks him why he hasn’t returned the book and the priest says “We decided that this book should stay here in the village. We started a reading group and are studying it. We’re reading each chapter and discussing it.”
“What kind of reading group is this” asks my friend. “The party secretary and the mayor are communists, you’re a Christian, the leader of the friendship league is a farmer, the teachers most likely atheists and non-party members…what do you have in common?”
“Ah, true,” said the priest, “when it’s a matter of discussing fascism and drinking, we’re a united front. Here, ideologies don’t matter…”
The other story happened in a town outside of Plovdiv. Apparently, the local union organization decided to reward its most prominent members at the citywide assembly. Along with monetary and material rewards, they also decided to gift them books. They turned to the bookseller and told her that they preferred broadly political literature, with hard covers, and thick enough to catch the eye. The bookseller told them that she had on hand a batch of about ten books on fascism that match their desired requirements—hard covers, thick, etc. The union leaders, who were also apparently the epicenter of the local political life, signed the books and handed them out at the meeting. However, after a couple of days rumor around town spread that they’d handed out an ideologically dangerous and forbidden book. The book became an object of unexpected discussion and commentary. Most likely, these murmurs made their way to that state institution which is most concerned with the ideological health of the country and, on its instruction, they went from person to person to collect the inappropriate book.
However, along with the comic situations, there were also tragic ones. I’ll tell only the most recent one. Last year, a young man from Pazardzhik called me and insisted that we meet.
At first, I thought that that it was someone from the human rights movement seeking to make contact. However, it turned out he was interested in something entirely different. “My fate is very tightly connected to yours” he told me. I expressed my surprise and told him that I couldn’t understand what he meant—we didn’t even know each other. “I was in prison for four years because of you book on fascism,” he continued, “I read it to the soldiers in my company and they put me on trial. They court martialed me and sentenced me to six years in prison, but because I worked, I came out in four. Now, I have to go be conscripted again in the fall to finish my military service. The most insulting thing was that I was tried for…spreading fascist ideas in the military.”
I was shaken—I simply couldn’t believe my ears. Actually, I had heard at one time about a case like this but I didn’t believe it. I thought that it was one of the many rumors and legends that were being spread at the time. But now this young man was standing in front of me and there was no room for doubt. Four of the best year of his young, intelligent man were lost…
“Don’t you have parents?” I asked him, “Why didn’t you run away? Why didn’t you make a scene? Why didn’t you rouse the local population? How could you suffer such a political sham?”
The young man told me that his parents tried to find help here and there but that they were threatened and told that it’s in their best interest to keep quiet, or else things could get much worse.
They truly were scared for their son and made peace with their ‘fate’.
In conclusion, I would like to apologize to the reader for the deluge of facts which have filled this preface—this is something that isn’t normally acceptable. On the other hand, however, I think, because of the strange fate of this book, it shouldn’t be considered a fault. The facts of the book’s political biography clarify and show the importance of the its contents, they decipher and further develop it. The publishers, readers, and the repressive organs, through their attitudes toward it, through the action they took, or through the suffering they endured around its publication and distribution, continued and completed its text. They continue to do so even now…
Sofia, August 1989
From the Author
 [Translator’s note]: roughly adjusting 120 leva in 1989 value to dollar value in 2019
 [Translator’s note: jokes are hard to translate. Even more so political jokes from 40 years ago.]