The course provides a systematic introduction to the history and historiography of two political ideologies, set of movements, and regimes which have greatly shaped Central Europe’s development in the twentieth century: fascism and communism. A main purpose of the course is to critically question the analytical framework of “(uni)totalitarianism” that dominated comparative studies on fascism and communism during the Cold War, and to introduce students to alternative theoretical and methodological approaches focusing on issues of legitimization, consensus-building, resistance and collaboration in the context of totalitarian movements and regimes in inter-war and post-war Europe, such as “the ethnography of the state,” the “sacralisation” of politics, and fascism and communism as “political religions.” It is hoped that, by the end of the course, students will acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the core historical literature on fascism and communism and will grasp the ideological implications of the complex theoretical debates in these fields.
The course employs the comparative method, in an effort to identify both the unique and the common variables at work in the making of fascist and communist regimes. It puts forward a double comparative perspective: “internal” between varieties of fascist and respectively varieties of communist regimes; and “external,” between fascist and communist regimes. Although Italian Fascism, German National-Socialism and Soviet Stalinism are the most representative historical case studies cited in the latter comparison, the course does not restrict the discussion to these “three tyrannies” but focuses on other historical examples from East-Central Europe, as well.
The course consists of a combination of lectures and seminars, and is structured in introduction, two main parts, and conclusions. The introduction presents the history of the concept of “totalitarianism” and influential academic analyses of totalitarian regimes authored by Hannah Arendt, Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski; and briefly reviews influential social-psychological theories of collective behavior in early twentieth-century Europe. Part one provides an overview of various attempts at defining “generic” fascism put forward by prominent scholars such as Ernst Nolte, George L. Mosse, Stanley G. Payne, Roger Griffin, and Emilio Gentile. It also explores the history of inter-war fascist movements, parties, and regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. While academic research has almost unilaterally focused on the “paradigmatic” case studies of Italian fascism and German National Socialism, the course pays special attention to what has generally been called “peripheral” or “minor” fascisms in East-Central Europe, in an effort to integrate them within mainstream fascist studies.
Part two (classes fifteen to twenty-two) explores the main features of Stalinism and the institutionalization of communist regimes in East-Central Europe. To this end, it delineates stages of development of Leninist regimes; critically assesses typologies of communist leadership based on various strategies of legitimization, such as charisma, control and coercion; and compare “palingenetic” political communities built on the mythical core of communist ideology. On this basis, the conclusions pursue an in-depth and informed comparison of fascist and communist regimes. The purpose of this wider comparison is to integrate the study of fascism and communism within the larger framework of mass politics in inter-war and post-1945 Europe, approached from novel theoretical and methodological perspectives.