Difference Between Nazizm and Fascism

The Italian and German conservative political and economic establishments united to bring the Fascist and Nazi movements into the government, and in both countries, the conservatives felt confident they could control any power-sharing arrangement.

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Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during Hitler's 1938 state visit to Italy.

Scholars over the years have tried to fathom the emergence and difference between Nazism and Fascism. Looking into various scales of similarity and differences they reached different conclusions. In their views, the Fascist and Nazi movements developed in roughly three parallel stages. The first phase was the radical, quasi-revolutionary movement, which lasted in Italy from March 1919 to mid-1920 and in Germany continued from January 1919 to the abortive Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. The second period was marked by the transformation of both movements into broader middle-class alliances.

In Italy, this took place between mid-1920 and November 1921, when the Fascist movement became the landowners’ primary weapon to smash the socialist peasant movement in the rich agricultural Po Valley. In Germany, the transformative phase lasted from the reconstitution of the party in 1925 to the first electoral success in 1929. The final step in the party development, preparatory to the seizure of power, was when both movements became truly mass organizations, entered Parliament, and began to negotiate with the economic and social establishments. In Italy, this process lasted from the end of 1921 until the March on Rome in October 1922, and in Germany, it lasted from 1929 to January 1933.   For instance, the first Fascist program, inspired by Mussolini’s early socialism, called for the eight-hour day, worker participation in management, the vote for women, and a new republican constitution.

Backing for Fascism came from students, veterans, and young professionals along with former socialists, syndicalists, and anarchists who had joined Mussolini in 1914 and 1915 in breaking with the official Socialist Party over Italian entry into World War I. They shared a complete rejection of the existing political system, a contempt for the Italian political class, and an intense hatred of proletarian-based socialism. The early Fascist movement was solidly northern, with particular strength in Milan, Italy’s most modern urban center. In contrast to the Fascist movement, the German Workers’ Party had no ties to the left and was based in Munich, outside Germany’s industrial heartland. Hitler joined the movement in late September 1919, and the next year it became the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). The new party was extremely small, with 189 members in January 1920 and only 2,000 at the end of the year. The Nazi movement appealed to war veterans, artisans, and the disaffected lower middle class, who were hostile both to socialism and to large-scale commercial and industrial capitalism.

In 1921 and 1922 it spread to the small Protestant towns of Franconia and Bavaria and the major cities of Munich and Nurnberg. Spurred by the French occupation of the Ruhr Valley, inflation, and economic collapse, by November 1923 the party claimed over fifty thousand members spread throughout a large part of Germany. Three things characterize the social history of the early Fascist and Nazi movements. The transformative phase revealed a high degree of organizational flexibility. Powerful local leaders acted with significant independence. The movements’ ideological opportunism allowed them to adapt to new circumstances, and the cult of the supreme leader emerged.


The radical-populist Fascist movement reached an impasse with the Italian elections of November 1919. Mussolini’s movement was solidly defeated, and the Italian Socialist Party and the Catholic Popular Party represented over half of the new parliament. By early 1920 total membership in the Fascists dropped to nine hundred. The movement revived from this low point after November when it spearheaded the agrarian reaction to Socialist peasant organizations and strikes. The balance shifted from northern cities to the countryside and small towns of northern and central Italy. Recruits were young professionals, shopkeepers, students, and small and large landowners. They launched well-armed punitive expeditions from provincial centers against unprepared and poorly coordinated peasant unions.


This second phase ended at the Fascist Congress in November 1921, when the movement officially became the National Fascist Party (PNF). The party fully accepted Mussolini’s supreme position and abandoned its republican, anti-Catholic, and radical program in favor of a monarchist and economically conservative agenda. The Nazi movement reached a similar impasse in late 1923. The movement was outlawed, and Hitler was arrested and imprisoned after the failed attempt to overthrow the Weimer Republic.  The party was reorganized in 1925 with Hitler as the undisputed leader. The Nazi movement attracted middle- and lower-middle-class supporters, but the urban working-class strategy it pursued in 1927 and 1928 made limited gains. Fascists and Nazis took power in similar ways. Their paramilitary wings created a climate of violence directed at their Socialist and Communist enemies and the existing political class, which dared not crack down lest the revolutionary left revive. In both countries, Parliament was paralyzed. After the 1930 elections, successive German governments survived using presidential emergency decree powers.


The Italian and German conservative political and economic establishments united to bring the Fascist and Nazi movements into the government, and in both countries, the conservatives felt confident they could control any power-sharing arrangement. Thus, Mussolini and Hitler came to power legally. The Fascist and Nazi revolutions came after the movements controlled the government. In 1921 and 1922 the Italian Fascist squads continued their revenge against the Socialist worker and peasant unions in well-organized attacks against whole provinces. The Nazi SA, a massive organization devoted to street fighting and fund-raising, had a social base decidedly more working-class and lower-middle-class. Once in Parliament, both parties courted key constituencies within the established order. The Fascist Party entered the government-sponsored electoral coalition in June 1921, when it won thirty-five seats in parliament, and adopted a new conservative program in November.

Weak and divided governments in 1921 and 1922 led all established political leaders to seek an alliance with Mussolini by October 1922. To precipitate events the Fascists decreed a mass mobilization of their squads and the March on Rome that began on 27 October. Faced with violence and potential civil war, King Victor Emmanuelle III first offered the post of Prime Ministership to a conservative. When Mussolini demanded the position for himself, the monarch yielded and appointed the Fascist leader to head the government. Hitler ignored his party’s radical economic program and reached out to industrialists. Nazi domination of the political space previously occupied by several fragmented middle-class parties was confirmed in the July 1932 elections, when the party won 230 seats and 37 percent of the votes.

By January 1933 party membership had reached 1.4 million people. Social histories have revealed that, of those who voted for the Nazis, 70 percent were middle class, but roughly one-third could be described as working class or unemployed. The rank-and-file members were small peasant farmers, shopkeepers, artisans, civil servants, teachers, professionals, and small businesspeople. In contrast, the party leadership after 1928 increasingly was drawn from the middle and upper-middle classes. The successful mass movement of the middle classes and Hitler was appointed chancellor.


 Until 1934 the Fascist and Nazi movements seemed to run on parallel courses. Both leaders were young when they took power. Mussolini was thirty-nine in 1922; Hitler was forty-four in 1933. Neither man offered a clear indication of his future programs, and they headed movements more suited to seizing power than to governing. The Fascist and Nazi movements proclaimed themselves revolutionary but were in coalition with conservatives who had decidedly different aims. The two movements had changed their social bases in similar ways during the march to power. As the movements grew, more middle- and upper-middle-class people joined, but remnants of the old lower-middle-class populism remained in the Fascist squads and in the SA. Expectations that the movements would share the spoils with the bases had to be balanced against the realities of governing. The conservative industrialists and landowners’ desires for merely the restoring of order had to be reconciled with the drive to total power inherent in Fascism and Nazism.


How much the Fascist and Nazi regimes were the result of choices made by Mussolini and Hitler has been the subject of much debate between internationalists and structuralists. The internationalists stress the role of Hitler in the Nazi regime and both regimes must be seen, at least in part, as determined by the wills of their powerful leaders, especially in foreign and racial policies.

However, the structuralists are correct to see these regimes as also the products of powerful social and economic institutional forces interacting within the contexts of the new dictatorships. The organization of the regimes was largely determined by the social alliances that brought them to power. The histories of the Fascist and Nazi regimes can be divided into four periods: consolidation of power and the suppression of the opposition (Italy from 1922 to 1926, Germany from 30 January to July 1933), stabilization of power (Italy from 1926 to 1935, Germany from 1933 to 1936), the drive to totalitarian control (Italy from 1935 to 1939, Germany after 1936), and war and expansion (Italy from 1935 to 1943, Germany from 1936 to 1945).At the top of the hierarchy was the supreme leader.

After 1934 Hitler combined the offices of chancellor and chief of state, while Mussolini formally served as Prime Minister under the Italian monarch. Both regimes abolished the old constitutions and never replaced them. Instead, they introduced a series of ad hoc constitutional arrangements. Fresh electoral laws gave their parties a significant advantage.   The Nazis used the burning of the Reichstag building by a Dutch communist in late February as an excuse to ban that party under a decree for “the Protection of the People and the State”.   

Mussolini ended parliamentary control over the cabinet in December 1925 with a law making the head of government responsible only to the monarch. Hitler accomplished the same end with the Enabling Act of March 1933, which gave the government power to issue laws without the consent of the. Upon taking power, the Fascists and Nazis faced conflicting pressures. The lower-middle-class base of the party and the paramilitary formations sought immediate rewards, such as restrictions on department stores in Germany, larger roles for the Fascist and Nazi militias, and appointment to government offices.

Each of these demands conflicted with the desires of industrialists, bankers, the military, and the civil service. Both regimes coped by curbing the power of the party militias and buying off key constituencies. In Italy, this process of concessions worked only partially, and Mussolini never freed himself from the alliance with conservatives. Industrialists received the destruction of Socialist and Communist unions and reaffirmation of the supremacy of the employer within the firm. Over the long term, heavy industry was integrated into a lucrative system of state-sponsored cartels that carved up market shares to the advantage of larger competitors and guaranteed government contracts for military armaments and import substitution. The Italian Catholic Church benefited most notably from the Lateran Treaty and Concordat of 1929, which guaranteed the official status of the church and its autonomous sphere within the Fascist regime. The military won curbs on the power of the Fascist militia.

The lower middle class gained increased access to party and state positions and a gradual relaxation of limits on educational opportunities. Of course, the losers in the process were industrial workers and peasants, both male and female, who faced lost political and economic rights and wage reductions with the onset of the depression. Nazi Germany similarly bought special constituencies. In September 1933 the Nazis created an agricultural marketing organization that introduced price supports for basic commodities. The so-called blood purge of the SA leadership in June 1934 eliminated a rival to the military establishment, and the army was further satisfied by the decision to rearm.


To encourage a higher birthrate, the two dictatorships offered housing allowances and family subsidies, forced married women out of the employment market, and imposed special taxes on the unmarried. The number of women workers declined in the Fascist era due as much to the reduced importance of agriculture and textiles as to actual Fascist policy. During the early 1930s, the Fascist government closed some state employment to women, and in 1938 it imposed a 10 percent quota on female employment in the state sector and in large firms. The excess of females over males, pressure from middle-class families, and mobilization for war moderated the impact of these measures, but professional advancement was closed in many areas. Politically active women were directed into party and state women’s and social welfare agencies. The educational system remained a middle-class bastion.

Workers in Italy suffered a significant decline in wages as a result of state-enforced salary reductions during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Nazi Germany reached full employment by 1936, and labor shortages kept wages from falling. Both regimes provided sufficient basic foodstuffs but neglected the consumer goods sector. Nonmonetary incentives, such as housing and family benefits, replaced wage incentives.Both Fascist rule in Italy and Nazi rule in Germany profoundly influenced their respective societies, but it is dangerous to exaggerate their impact.  To this extent the “racial community” failed to create a new German, just as Mussolini’s “revolution” failed to create the new Fascist Italian. But the two regimes did touch almost all Italians and Germans, even those who retreated into private life, by forcing them into constant daily compromises and involving them in the many official social and economic organizations.


In the end, the social impact of Fascism and Nazism cannot be separated from the effects of the war, defeat, and occupation. Certainly, in the case of Italy and Germany, the “economic miracle” of the 1950s and early 1960s changed their societies more fundamentally than anything the Fascists and Nazis did. Differences between Fascist and Nazi regimes.If the two regimes resembled each other in important ways, they differed in equally important regards both during and after the consolidation of power. First, the Nazis made revolutionary use of the concept of race to undermine existing legal standards and bureaucratic order, to make sweeping changes in cultural life by labeling most modern art and literature Judeo-Bolshevik, and to extend state control into the sphere of private life. Joseph Goebbels’s new Ministry of Propaganda (1933) began to dismantle libraries and museums with a massive, symbolic book burning in the spring of 1933; and the Nürnberg Laws of 1935 took citizenship from Jews and forbade marriage between Jews and non-Jews. Applying racial theory, the Nazis sterilized those deemed physically or mentally defective or born of mixed-race marriages. They encouraged Aryans to have children; indeed divorce was granted on grounds of infertility.  The Nazism and Fascism also differed in how the state bureaucracy related to the party and its paramilitary and police organizations. In Italy the Fascist Party was subordinated to the established bureaucracy that imposed the dictatorship, therefore the party never developed its own police and security apparatus.


Hitler understood that the German bureaucracy was ill-suited to create his racial utopia, and to a much greater extent than in Italy, the party relied on Nazi-dominated organizations to carry out its will. Most important, the SS, the party security agency, paralleled the state security police, the Gestapo. In 1936 Heinrich Himmler merged the state and party police under his control and forged a weapon of totalitarian terror that had no Italian counterpart. The Italian regime rested on a highly effective police apparatus widespread use of informants, censorship of the media, and even concentration camps in the late 1930s, but it did not use systematic terror.  A final distinction between the two regimes is in the culture. Most of the Italian culture survived under Fascism, which applied no official doctrine to purge literature, the arts, or the universities except against overt opponents. Thus Italy’s greatest artists and writers remained in the country. In contrast, the Nazis forced German writers and artists into silence or exile. Fascism, Nazism, and war.


Fascism and Nazism were geared for war and expansion. Both regimes started from a vision of a world of narrowing opportunities in which nations and races had to struggle, expand, or die. Hitler’s goal of expansion of the German state was rivaled in importance only by anti-Semitic policies. In 1933 and 1934 he assured the military that he would begin rapid rearmament. In 1936, after achieving full employment and economic recovery, the Nazis rejected economic orthodoxy for continued expansion of a war economy. From the remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936 to the final disaster of World War II in 1945, Nazism embarked on a series of conquests that had no limits and involved ever-widening aims. Fascist Italy, a much weaker state, moved more slowly. Mussolini had few options during the 1920s when Britain and France were dominant, but the revival of Germany after 1933 gave Il Duce his opportunity. Mussolini had the more limited ambition of replacing Britain as the dominant power in the Mediterranean. By putting his country on a war footing, he might also break the conservatives’ hold over his regime and resume the push for a totalitarian society. Unfortunately for Mussolini, Italy lacked the industrial and military base to compete with Germany and Britain. In  July 1943 Mussolini was outvoted by his fellow Fascist leaders, removed by the king, and arrested. In September, Hitler’s army rescued Mussolini and restored him to power as head of a puppet Italian Social Republic that lasted until April 1945.


It would be a mistake to forget that Mussolini’s girlfriend was a Jew who welded considerable authority over Mussolini’s propaganda apparatus.  This was a total negation of Hitler’s theory of a superior German race. Many beautiful young German women were encouraged to sleep with handsome German youths to produce handsome boys and girls. Such a belief is not only abhorrent in the present-day world but is a complete negation of the present-day complicated world where even a historical quirk like US President Donald Trump would not have been elected as a threat to NATO unless the beneficiaries paid their dues for American shield over their heads.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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