Brian Jenkins

British academic

Brian Jenkins is Research Professor in the Department of French at the University of Leeds.

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  • What characteristic distinguished Germany and Italy, where fascism took power, from countries like France and Britain, where fascist movements were highly visible but remained far from power? We need to recall that fascism has never so far taken power by coup d'état, deploying the weight of its militants in the street. Fascist power by coup is hardly conceivable in a modern state. Fascism can not appeal to the street without risking a confrontation with future allies —- the army and the police —- without whom it will not be able to pursue its expansionist goals. Indeed fascist coup attempts have commonly led to military dictatorship, rather than to fascist power (as in Romania in December 1941). Resorting to direct mass action also risks conceding advantages to fascism's principal enemy, the Left, still powerful in the street and workplace in interwar Europe. The only route to power available to fascists passes through cooperation with conservative elites. The most important variables, therefore, are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascist, along with a reciprocal flexibility on the fascist leaders' part, and the depth of the crisis which induces them to cooperate.
  • Neither Hitler nor Mussolini took the helm by force, even if they used force earlier to destabilise the liberal regime, and later to transform their governments into dictatorships. They were invited to take office as head of government by a head of state in the legitimate exercise of his official functions, on the advice of his conservative counsellors,under quite precise circumstances: a deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarisation that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control, often at a moment of massive popular mobilisation; an advancing Left; conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left, and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement.

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