Portland State University. Department of History
Bernard V. Burke
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
Modern history -- 20th century, Fascism, National socialis
1 online resource (4, 176 pages)
The history of World War II has led many Americans to view Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany as European variants of a single Fascist ideology. However, in the early years of the Mussolini and Hitler regimes, the conceptual category of international Fascism was by not so well-established, particularly where the Nazis were concerned. American and British diplomats stationed in Germany in the early 1930s only occasionally interpreted the rising Nazi party as an offshoot of Fascism, but frequently referred to it as a possible form of or precursor of Bolshevism in Germany. Published and unpublished American foreign policy documents, published British diplomatic documents, and a wide array of secondary sources have contributed information showing how perceptions of Nazism and Bolshevism were influenced by matters that clouded the issues. The similarity of American and British views on the subjects of Bolshevism, Fascism, and Nazism can be attributed to the new understanding among the policy elites of the two nations as they became the leading status quo powers after World War I. The United States in particular had gone through tremendous organizational changes during and after the war, and was entering into a new era of professional and bureaucratized foreign policy that differed from its ad hoc diplomacy of the past.
American foreign policy of the interwar period combined a strong interest in business expansion with a relative lack of desire for international political entanglements. American political commitments of the 1920s, particularly in Germany, were backed primarily by loans and investment, and through reparations revision plans designed by unofficial diplomats recruited from the private sector. As American financial commitments to Germany became more dependent on German repayment, and as the Depression tightened its grip, the rise of the Nazis became an ever greater source of alarm. This concern was related not only to their unclear and ill-defined political ideas, but to the threat they seemingly posed to financial stability -- a threat that increased their resemblance to the Bolsheviks in the minds of many diplomatic observers.
Various other factors were important in developing the Anglo-American view of Nazism as related to Bolshevism. These included the almost obsessive intensity of anti-Bolshevism in the United States and Great Britain throughout the interwar period; the close association of Bolshevism with economic chaos in the minds of Anglo-American leaders, with a concomitant tendency to see Bolshevism developing wherever economic chaos occurred in Europe; and the strong admiration for Mussolini's Italy in both Britain and the United States, which precluded possibilities of seeing much in common between Italian Fascism and Nazism during this period.
Some important sources of conceptual confusion were inherent in the policies of Germany's post-World War I Weimar Republic. Leading German diplomats and politicians of the republic, such as Gustav Stresemann, used Anglo-American fears of Bolshevism as a cornerstone of their policy to gain revisions and modifications of the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty. In the early 1930s, the "Bolshevism bogey" was used by Ambassador Frederic Sackett, a political appointee of Herbert Hoover, to get Hoover's attention so that he would modify reparations policy in favor of Sackett's friend, the embattled Chancellor Heinrich Bruning. The internal factions of the rising Nazi party, including the left-leaning wing led by Gregor Strasser, appeared to give some credence to the idea that the Nazis could harbor communistic elements.
After Hitler's rise to the chancellorship in 1933, American and British observers began to note more resemblances between the Hitler and Mussolini regimes. However, many of their earlier observations about the similarities of Nazism and Bolshevism have validity in terms of the more totalitarian nature of these regimes as compared to Italian Fascism and its other less extreme variants.
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Walker, Lisa Kay, "Anti-Bolshevism and the Advent of Mussolini and Hitler: Anglo-American Diplomatic Perceptions, 1922-1933" (1993). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 4629.