The Second World War and the subsequent Cold War saw a rise in ideologies of fascism and communism throughout Eastern and Western Europe. Starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 in Russia, Communism quickly spread across Europe, with several countries of the Western block being forcibly converted to this ideology. In many respects, fascism appeared as a reaction to a quick communist spread across the nations, posing a viable alternative to communist rule. This paper hypothesizes that post-war Europe was largely influenced by the spread of communist and fascist regimes, which later significantly diminished with the rise of democracy in European countries.
During the World War against fascism, the communist parties of the developed capitalist countries actively mobilized the people for an unyielding struggle against fascism, which is a critical sociopolitical and military context for the issue. They made an important contribution to the final victory in the war, received the support of the broad masses of the people, and their influence reached unprecedented proportions. Based on the analysis of the post-war international situation and political changes in their countries, communist parties put forward a hypothesis about the possibility of abandoning the armed struggle, using a peaceful, democratic way through parliamentary effort to make a gradual transition to socialism1. The Communist parties of various countries, one after another, practically disbanded the guerrilla armed forces that they organized and led during the Second World War and began to carry out activities in and outside parliament. The Communist parties were also engaged in the democratic movement, strengthening the cohesion of the working class.
During the post-war period, many communist parties from different countries cooperated with socialist parties, developing a program of joint actions. To a great extent, the unity of the trade unions was achieved, and the Communist parties took a leading position in them. In Italy, the trade unions, led by the Communist, Socialist, and Christian Democratic parties, cooperated with each other, founding the General Confederation of Labor. Until June 1947, The Italian Communist Party controlled over 80% of trade unions at the provincial level and above2. Thanks to the efforts of the French Communist Party, the French trade unions also gradually merged.
Many communist parties in developed countries took an active part in parliamentary elections and the formation of governments. After the Second World War, the French Communist Party experienced a steady increase in its votes several times during parliamentary elections. In November 1946, in the elections to the National Assembly, it received 28.2% of the vote and 183 seats in and became the first party in the Assembly in terms of the number of seats3. In the period from September 1944 to May 1947, The French Communist Party participated in five governments; eight leaders of the Communist Party were deputy Prime Ministers and members of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, this situation could not last very long. With the penetration of democratic ideas from the United States and the increase in the confrontation between the US and the USSR, communist parties gradually lost their influence to democratic regimes emerging across Europe at that time.
The Fascist parties survived in many European countries throughout the interwar era. However, only in extraordinary cases they managed to start, like in Italy or Germany, a government of their own. In addition, most of these fascist parties never industrialized into frame actions, particularly inside the country civilizations of Southeastern and Eastern Europe.4 In Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Norway, fascist parties played an unimportant role. However, in Spain, the powerful fascist regime was established by General Francisco Franco. The regime was supported by the rural middle class, colonial circles, the military, and the feudal elite. Along with Italian fascism and German National Socialism, Franco’s regime aimed to establish a powerful dictatorship that was seen as a central pillar of the country’s prosperity5. With Germany’s defeat in 1945, fascism was largely abandoned across European states, which became more and more democratic.
The communist and fascist regimes played an important role in determining the development of Europe in the 20th century. The opposition of the two regimes led to the unleashing of the Second World War, where a striking blow was delivered to fascist ideologies. While at the beginning of the Cold War, in which the United States and the Soviet Union were the key adversaries, communist regimes played a vital role in structuring the post-war lives of European citizens through the establishment of trade unions and social ideas later, they gave way to democratic ideals imported from the US. Thus, the American influence had an important role as the United States pushed against the ideas of communism and presented them as harmful, significantly shaping the sociopolitical agenda. There were also significant issues with perception, such as the Red Scare during the late 1940s and early 1950s, which was hysteria over the perceived threats posed by Communists. Both Cold War adversaries created unfavorable and threatening images of one another to create fear among the population and encourage potential allies in Europe to get on their sides.
The fascist regimes, born out of a necessity to offset the communist spread, were overthrown across Europe, though the grains of their ideology persisted in some countries in the Cold War period. Later, however, with the triumph of democracy, the influence of fascist regimes diminished in Europe. Thus, the communist and fascist governments that earlier determined the political landscape of Europe gave way to the democratic development of European countries under the auspices of the US as the only country able to oppose the communist spread of the USSR.
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- 1. David Mason, Revolution in East-Central Europe: The Rise and Fall of Communism and the Cold War (New York: Routledge, 2019), 21.
- 2. Mason, Revolution in East-Central Europe, 22.
- 3. Ibid., 23.
- 4. Wilfried Loth and George Soutou, eds., The Making of Détente: Eastern Europe and Western Europe in the Cold War, 1965-75 (New York: Routledge, 2014), 67.
- 5. Hugh Trevor-Roper, “The Phenomenon of Fascism.” In Fascism in Europe, ed. S. J. Woolf (London: Routledge, 2020), 20.