‘The Rise of Fascism’ by F.L Carsten is a compact but highly detailed book that explains much about fascism. The book explores the origins and political development of fascism throughout Europe. The author mainly deals with countries that experienced severe fascism like Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria. The small and insignificant fascist movements in Holland and Norway were omitted by the author since they were short-lived and bore little bearing in the course of the world’s history. Some of these omissions show that the author was not attempting to explain everything about fascism. Carsten’s main aim was “… to explain how it was possible for the fascist to be developed and become mass movements that seized power in nations that had strong culture, highly educated and practiced traditional civilized behavior.
Fascism is a radical, authoritarian political attitude and mass movement that arose between the First and the Second World War. The expression ‘Fascism’ is adapted from the Latin word ‘fasces’, which refers to ‘an ax tightly wound with sticks.’ The policy advocates for creation of a totalitarian single-party rule in the country. Fascists seek to flush out forces, ideas, and systems considered being the source of moral corruption and relapse. Fascism seeks to produce the nation's rebirth based on dedication to the national community based on organic unity where individuals are bound together by links of lineage, customs, and blood. Fascists think that a nation needs tough leadership, singular communal identity, and the determination and ability to commit acts of aggression and wage war in order to keep the nation strong. Fascist governments prohibit and restrain disagreement with the state.
Fascism entails giving full economic, social and judicial authority to a single dominant ruler. Such a ruler exercises power characterized by terrorism, police brutality and sheer infringement of fundamental human rights. One of the major building points of fascism is the belief that one’s race or ethnic group is better than all others are. Fascist nations strongly believe in violence and war. For such states, war and aggression is seen as a means of maintaining national regeneration, spirit and vitality. Conflict is viewed as a fact of life that is dependable for all human progress. Fascists laud militarism as providing constructive renovation in society, in providing spiritual restoration, education, instilling of a will to govern people's character, and promote national solidarity through military service.
F.L Carsten observes, “There was nothing like fascism before the First World War” (9). In fact, fascism as we know it was as a result of “this great upheaval (first world war), the resulting destruction and the consequent financial crisis” (9). Before the First World War, prosperity and economic progress were the order of the day. Western and central Europe was a haven of peace, and order was established. “The security of the governing orders, the economic and social system, and the prosperity of the middle class seemed to be protected for all eternity” (9). Most countries in Europe were more concerned in partition and acquisition of colonies in other continents than in changing the local politics.
Some strong feelings of nationalism were exhibited in France after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and 1871. France lost the war to Germany and consequently, two of its richest coal mining areas; Alsace and Lorraine were taken by the victor. This bitter loss stirred up deep feelings of nationalism and calls for revenge. In the 1880’s, a movement formed by General Boulanger marched across the Rhine and attempt to free the lost provinces. This movement was crushed by the government and peace and calm returned. Anti-Semitism then found its way to France. A journal was published to fight the international influence of Jewish financiers.
Like in most parts of pre-war Europe, Jews were the strongest and most powerful group economically. Jews were more prosperous than the native tribes were. This lower class versus middle-class bigotry morphed in a murderous rage and animosity. After 1919, the Jews, who made up around one percent of the population, controlled almost half of the economy. More than half of the private banks were Jewish owned. Eighty percent of the country’s press was run by Semites and the stock exchange was dominated by Jewish stockbrokers. Feelings of anti-Semitism brewed deep within the local’s blood. “Jewish immigrants, such as the Rothschild’s had amassed vast fortunes in France: their wealth caused all the evils from which France was suffering” (11).
Carsten traces the beginning of fascism in France to the formation of Comite d’Action Francaise, a movement that sharply attacked parliamentarism and individualism. It elicited strong anti-Semitic emotions and maintained that France must be made as strong as it had once been. “Long before 1914, the Action Francaise showed many of the characteristics which later distinguished Fascist movements. Its hatred of liberalism, democracy and the parliamentary system; its glorification of power and violence, which it did not hesitate to use against its enemies, its advocacy of strong leadership, its marked anti-Semitism and anti-freemasonism were features which we shall find time and again among the Fascist groups of the post-war period.
The historical origins of the Italian republic are traced in ‘The Rise of Fascism.’ Carsten reports that after its unification, Italy still remained a desperately poor country. However, there were high spirits and anticipation of better things among the Italians. “After Cavour’s death in 1861, the Italian governments proved weak and inefficient” (17). Italy lacked any significant mineral deposits, was mountainous and agriculturally unfit. The Industrial revolution was lagging due to lack of capital investment in the country. The citizens were very illiterate and hugely uninterested in politics. There were few voters and the government was based on poor practices. Still, somewhere in the middle of all this crap, there existed a few individuals who had dreams of great-power politics. Francesco Crispi was among one of the founding Fascists. As Prime minister, he waged war against Ethiopia but lost bitterly.
Later, one of his ardent followers, Enrico Corradini, founded a nationalistic journal that anti-socialist, anti-democratic and anti-parliamentarian. The journal denounced the noble society as unheroic, cowardly and pacifist. Corradini lauded and spoke in volumes about the moral values of war and imperialist growth. The spirit of war and aggression would conjure new spirits and lead to rebirth of the nation. In an attempt to achieve such goals, Italy waged war against Libya. Benito Mussolini gained popularity due to his vocal and aggressive opposition of parliamentary procedures and socialist ideologies. Mussolini advocated for the use of force in the class struggle against powerful landowners and the church. The deep love for violence made Mussolini visible among his fellow socialists. Mussolini’s glorification of war and strong emphasis on acquisition of colonies made him extremely popular in Italy.
Mussolini set up the 'fascio di combattimento' (fascist movement) in 1919. The movement consisted mainly of ex soldiers who were disgruntled with the liberal regime and the result of the First World War. Mussolini began to make assurances that he would reinstate Italy to its past glory. He ran his own tabloid ' Il popolo d'Italia' that was the perfect tool with which to encourage his fascist principles and spread propaganda. The 'fascio di combattimento' movement also used brutality in their quest to convert the nation into the idea of Fascism rather than Socialism. The feeble Liberal government and the fast ascent of Socialism terrified many citizens, thus allowing the budding support for the Fascist movement.
From the beginning of the 1920’s Mussolini's reputation really began to grow. Furthermore, he was supported by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Italian police. As 1921drew to an end, the Fascists had increased to over 200,000 members. Liberal leaders attempted to make pacts with Mussolini to bring him into government. He refused saying that unless he was appointed as Prime minister of Italy, he would not think about the deal. Mussolini later declared that unless he was made Italy’s Prime minister, he would compulsorily grab authority. Since the 'fascio di combattimento' had gained such enormous recognition, Mussolini knew they would be able to grab authority.
In 1922, they strategized on how to take over the local governments and the ultimate protest on Rome. However, the march was unnecessary as the King asked Mussolini to form a government, partly to prevent the threat of Civil war. Fascism sprouted in Italy as a result of people’s disgruntlement with the product of the First World War. Carsten clarifies that, unlike other countries in Europe, there was little anti-Semitism in Italy. Antisemitism developed in Italy from Germany during and after the Second World War. This weird observation is due to the fact that the Jews in Italy were less wealthy or intellectual than their counterparts in other Nordic countries. (22)
In the ‘Rise of Fascism’, Carsten analytically compares Germany to her neighbors. Germany had vast coal and mineral deposits and was a country of great military strength. The Industrial revolution took place in Germany at a higher rate than in any other European nation. “There was rapid economic progress, especially in the heavy industry, railway industry and in banking” (22). Town populations skyrocketed, and industry workers began to unionize in order to fight for better working conditions. Anti-Semitism was discovered as an appealing weapon by radical German politicians like Adolf Stoecker. Emancipation of the German Jews had taken place in the early nineteenth century. The Jews were very active in trading and in the financial sectors of the economy.
They had deep roots in the country’s political leadership and in elite professions such as medicine, law and journalism. Stoecker proclaimed that the Jews, through their irreligious power and massive wealth, were trying to convert Berlin to a Jewish town and form an aristocracy. Such statements made the lower class natives feel threatened by the immigrants. Stoecker gained massive popularity after demanding administrative measures from the government to limit the advance of Jews into the fields of education and law. He even requested social protection of the middle class and workers. Violent anti-Semitic demonstrations broke out in regions like Berlin and Dresden.
The events that occurred during and after the First World War had a direct bearing on the development of Fascism. Carsten uses the example of Italy to show the origin and development of fascism. This is because Italy had the most clear and comprehensive model of Fascism led by Benito Mussolini. At the beginning of the First World War, Italy chose to remain neutral. The local politics were divided as to whether to support the allies or the entente. Italy continued to delay until they saw it favorable to back the western powers against Germany and Austria. Nationalistic insurgence and agitation grew in the country as many nationalists demanded that Italy should join the war on the side of the allies. This would enable Italy to win back its lost province of Alto Andige.
From the beginning of 1922, Fascist rebels transformed their plan from one of attacking socialist agencies and residences of socialist leadership figures to one of aggressively occupying towns. The Fascists encountered diminutive serious struggle from authorities and went ahead to take over numerous cities, including Ferrara, Bologna, Trent, Bolzano, Fiume, and Cremona. Carsten attributes this success due to the fact that, “The fascists were supported by the big landowners and industrialists who feared the seizure of their estates and factories. They also received aid from the army_ a factor which came to be of vital importance in bringing about their victory” (55). The Fascists seized the command center of communist and Roman Catholic unions in Cremona and forced the German-speaking population of Bolzano and Trent to be taught and converted into Italians. This process was referred to as Italianization. After seizing these cities, the Fascists made plans to take Rome.
Come October 24th 1922, the Fascists held their yearly assembly in Naples. Mussolini instructed Blackshirts to be in charge of public houses and trains and to congregate on three specific areas around Rome. A protest would be led by four well-known Fascist leaders representing its different factions: General Emilio De Bono, Italo Balbo, a Blackshirt leader; Cesare Maria De Vecchi, a monarchist Fascist and Michele Bianchi, an ex-syndicalist. Mussolini remained in Milan to wait for the results of the proceedings. The Fascists were able to seize power over numerous post offices and trains in northern Italy while the Italian government, led by a left-wing alliance, was internally estranged and not able to react to the Fascist confrontation.
The Italian government had been in a constant state of chaos, with multiple governments being formed and then being overpowered. The Italian government initially tried to thwart the Fascists from going inside Rome. However, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy realized that the peril of violence in Rome in an attempt to disband the Fascists was extremely high. Victor Emmanuel III decided to appoint Mussolini as Prime Minister of Italy. He went to Rome on 30th October to acknowledge the appointment. Fascist propaganda aggrandized this incident, known as "March on Rome", as “seizure” of authority because of the Fascists’ valiant missions.
Carsten goes as far as to give the historical account of German anti-Semitism in the era of Adolf Hitler and the implications throughout Europe. The most significant factor that elevated the dislike of Semites by Hitler is the belief that they cost Germany victory against its enemies in world war one. "The core of his hatred lies at the defeat of Germany in WWI… Hitler blamed the Jews for defeat of the country, the collapse of the monarchy and the ruination of millions" (Riecker 47). On an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Riecker reported that “Hitler saw the state 'poisoned' from within. Hitler lived in Munich, where Jews played a leading role in the revolution against the monarchy on Nov. 9, 1918. So suddenly the delusion came to his mind, that the Jews where the reason for the 'inner poisoning' of Germany and that they had stolen the victory from Germany. Hitler accused the Jews for the Russian revolution and said that they were out to promote Marxist theories in Europe.
He maintained that Jews were in an elaborate plan to take over the world together with the Marxists. Hitler’s derogatory and incisive remarks were the foundation for discrimination and prosecution of nearly six million Jews worldwide. The growing tension and animosity sparked the Second World War. After his ascent to power in 1930’s Hitler, turned on Jews and started a nationwide discriminatory campaign against Semites. Hitler aimed at making life for the Jews so unpleasant that they would be forced to emigrate. Jewish shops were boycotted, and Jews were banned from using social amenities such as public parks and swimming pools. On Crystal night, over eight thousand Jewish businesses were torched down, four hundred synagogues destroyed and over twenty thousand Jews placed in concentration camps. This and other subsequent events were the climax of Hitler’s animosity against the Jews. More than six million people were killed during this period, in and around countries that surround Germany. This came to be known as the Holocaust.
‘The Rise of Fascism’ is a clear, articulate and comprehensive book. All the relevant facts about the origin and development of the fascist movements are well discussed. There is a smooth and clear flow of events in a chronological manner that further holds the attention of the reader. This is possibly because the book was written with the needs of students and budding historians in mind. The book is an in-depth guide through the fascist struggle. It allows the reader to understand why fascism became such a popular movement and political ideology in Europe after the First World War. The factors that contributed to its popularization are explained in all possible angles. Carsten goes on to show the formation of fascist governments all over Europe and its effects. The governments built on foundations of aggression are analyzed using various yardsticks such as development, law and order, social welfare and national unity.
Carsten’s expertise and knowledge of facts are matched by very few historians. This could be attributed to his background and the extensive years of research, he has undertaken on the subject of fascism. Carsten was born in 1911 and had a first-hand experience of most events, which he talks about in the book. Carsten was a Jew born in the affluent and influential Borns family. They were part of Berlin’s Jewish aristocracy. Professor Carsten was a distinguished lawyer and economist, but he devoted most of his time to politics in Berlin within the communist fold. Carsten considered himself a Nazi refugee mainly as a result of his work and not his Jewish origin. Vast amounts of information mentioned in the book, especially in Germany, are his personal observations and recollections.
He talks about the inter-student political discussion at the time, meetings where Otto Strasser, Adolf Hitler and other nationalists spoke and the general political atmosphere at the time. The writer was cautious not to bring his personal judgment and opinions in the book. The personal recollections are meant to color the reader’s imagination and present the political atmosphere during the period. The writer achieves these goals and succeeds in maintaining the objectivity and reliability of the book as a historical record.
‘The Rise of Fascism’ by Professor F.L Carsten was excitedly received by the academic and literary world. The book has been lauded for producing in-depth and objective insights into the origin and development of Fascism. The reviews and critiques by most newspapers and other scholars were all positive as can be attested by the blurb. The review by The Historian says that, “Professor Carsten surveys the major and minor European fascist groups which flourished during the world wars including such movements as were active in Romania, Austria, Hungary, Finland, Britain and Belgium. In doing so, he has produces a useful, brief, addition to the growing number of studies on this subject.” Foreign Affairs talks about ‘The Rise of Fascism’ as “a short, responsible survey of how Fascism came to power in Italy and Germany, with some valuable comparative data on fascist movements in other European countries.” The American Historical Review simply calls it “the best scholarly description of European fascism available.” These favorable reviews shoe that ‘Rise to Fascism’ is an authority in the field of European fascism and a must-have student companion for any student of History.