Regime Changes After WWI: The Appeal of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini

From the readings of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Stalin’s exhortation to business executives and Mussolini’s definition of fascism, it’s clear that all three of these leaders that they had incredible charisma and were capable of rallying the public behind them as leaders as well as behind their movements. Hitler’s charisma is undeniable, as he draws the people together after the ravages that Germany faced after the loss of WWI (although Hitler as well as a majority of German people would proclaim that the war was not lost as their army was never defeated and that the coming of WWII would be a continued fight against the injustices Germany suffered under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles) and gave them a common enemy in the Jewish people.  Hitler aligned the Jewish people of Europe with Marxism, repeatedly called them liars and proclaimed that their victory would mean the destruction of mankind if they were allowed to continue unchecked.[1]  He blames the growing Jewish influence on the fact that common people are more susceptible to emotion and that their simplicity is allowing an enemy into the German state and undermining its core values and principles.    He calls for a resistance to the Jewish threat, accusing the Jews of being the overall aggressors who see enemies not only in the people who attack them, but in those that resist their advances as well.[2]  He accuses the Jews also of attempting to undermine the “superior” German race by blood – by stealing away young women and thereby removing her from her true people.[3]  That the “Jewish propaganda” is working is blamed on the fact that the common “good” people are too simple to understand the true threat, and accuses those who accept the propaganda of laziness and conceit.[4]

Any leader who desires a radical outcome must have the support of the people. Stalin did it through fear.  Hitler, by contrast, instituted fear as well but also united the people behind him by pointing out the problems that he found eminent in German society and rallying the people against a common enemy.  By providing a target against which to vent the collective German rage, Hitler was able to rise to power.

Stalin does something similar in his manifesto to Bolshevik business executives, extoling the virtues of the Communist system and pointing the Russian people towards a common goal – and a common enemy in the form of Western Capitalism. By decrying the values of the Communist system over the Capitalist corruption, Stalin continually reminds his audience that Russia is advancing, and that their production must be increased to meet the demand in order to strengthen Russia and to clearly demonstrate her superiority over the democratic capitalistic societies that she competed with.[5]

Mussolini, like Hitler, finds Marxist Socialism to be the enemy, proclaiming that fascism is a far superior system of totalitarian government. Repudiating the notion of perpetual peace, Mussolini advocates war as a symbol of courage and nobility, while pacifism is a display of a weakness of character.[6]   According to Mussolini, democracy is weak by putting the power into the hands of the people and decries the value of universal suffrage, demeaning the value of equality or happiness of the common people.[7]  Rather firm authority is necessary for the progression of society, and that authority can be found in the form of fascism which Mussolini believes to be higher than any other proposed form of governance.  By instituting discipline, maintaining order, a coordinated effort at expansion and severe measures to be taken against those who would oppose the fascist regime, fascism can gain ground and become a living doctrine to promote and enhance the faithful people who follow it.

Each of these three extreme movements was unsurprisingly popular following WWI for a wide variety of reasons. As we’ve seen after the recent elections here in the US, time of change is also cause for upheaval.  The people of Europe after the tragedies that marked WWI were ready for change.  Some embraced revolution, as in the Russian overthrow of autocracy in favor of Socialism and Communism.  Germany, who was displeased with the way they were treated after the war, needed to rebound, rebuild their economy and set their sights on not only economic competition, but a desire to revenge the honor of the German people, and found common enemies and a loud, charismatic voice in Adolph Hitler.  The people of Italy, unhappy with the territory they were granted at the end of WWI by agreements made with previous allies, desired to become a European power and take their place among the other powers of the continent.  To do that and see their goals realized, they granted support for Mussolini and his growing fascist regime.  In all three of these countries, change was desired – and the person/movement with the loudest voice and most willing followers ultimately won out in the struggle for control.

[1] Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, Jewish Virtual Library, internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from https://www.jewishvirtual library.org/jsource/Holocaust/kampf.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J. V. Stalin, The Tasks of Business Executives, Marxists.org, Internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1931/02/04.htm

[6] Benito Mussolini, What is Fascism, Modern History Sourcebook, Internet, accessed 14 November 2016, available from http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.asp

[7] Ibid.

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