Ernst Nolte

German historian and philosopher

Ernst Nolte (11 January 1923 – 18 August 2016) was a German historian and philosopher. Nolte's major interest was the comparative studies of fascism and communism (cf. Comparison of Nazism and Stalinism).


  • The negative vitality of a historical phenomenon represents a great danger for the discipline of history. A permanent negative or positive image necessarily has the character of a myth, which is an actualized form of a legend. This is true because a myth like this can be made to found or support an ideology of state ..."
    • “Historical Legend and Revisionism?” 1980 lecture, reprinted in Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? New Jersey: Humanities Press, (1993), pp. 3-4.
  • Those who desire to envision history not as a mythologem but rather in its essential context are forced to a central conclusion: If history, in all its darkness and its horrors, but also in its confusing novelty, is to have meaning for coming generations, this meaning must be the liberation from collectivist thinking.
    • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article entitled “Die Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will” (“The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but not delivered”), (June 6, 1986), Reprinted in Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? Translated by James Knowlton and Truett Cates, New Jersey: Humanities Press, (1993), pp. 22.
  • Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an ‘Asiatic’ deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be potential victims of an Asiatic’ deed? Was the Gulag Archipelago not primary to Auschwitz? Was the Bolshevik murder of an entire class not the logical and factual prius of the ‘racial murder’ of National Socialism? Cannot Hitler's most secret deeds be explained by the fact that he had not forgotten the rat cage? Did Auschwitz in its root causes not originate in a past that would not pass?
    • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article entitled “Die Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will” (“The past that will not pass: A speech that could be written but not delivered”), (June 6, 1986), reprinted in Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? translated by James Knowlton and Truett Cates, New Jersey: Humanities Press, (1993) p. 22
  • It is a notable shortcoming of the literature about National Socialism that it does not know or does not want to admit to what degree all the deeds—with the sole exception of the technical process of gassing—that the National Socialists later committed had already been described in a voluminous literature of the early 1920s: mass deportations and shootings, torture, death camps, extermination of entire groups using strictly objective selection criteria, and public demands for the annihilation of millions of guiltless people who were thought to be ‘enemies’.
    • Forever in the Shadow of Hitler? translated by James Knowlton and Truett Cates, New Jersey: Humanities Press, (1993) p. 34

Three Faces of Fascism: Action Française, Italian Fascism, National Socialism (1965)


Translated from the German by Lelia Vennewitz, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966

  • Fascism is anti-Marxism which seeks to destroy the enemy by the evolvement of a radically opposed and yet related ideology and by the use of almost identical and yet typically modified methods, always, however within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy. This definition implies that without Marxism there is no fascism, that fascism is at the same time closer to and further from communism than is liberal anti-communism, that it necessarily shows at least an inclination toward a radical ideology, that fascism should never be said to exist in the absence of at least the rudiments of an organization and propaganda comparable to those of Marxism.
    • pp. 20–21
  • Mussolini himself undoubtedly wished to be regarded as a Marxist. Whenever possible he extols the memory of the ‘father and teacher’ who alone represents the ‘compass’ of the proletarian and Marxist movement. Even the master’s most disputed doctrines, the theory of progressive pauperization, for example, finds in him a stout defender, and there is scarcely one concrete political decision which he does not justify by invoking Marx. Even in his demand for Italy’s entry into the war he uses Marx as a key witness.
    • p. 153
  • It is not Sorel but Marx whom [Mussolini] calls ‘the magnificent philosopher of working-class violence.’ It cannot be denied that Mussolini soon acquired the reputation of a barricadero and a Blanquist. His reputation was due less to certain theoretical convictions than to his temperament, when he conducted an anticlerical campaign of unparalleled fury in the Trentino , or when he pursued social warfare between farm laborers, sharecroppers, and property owners to the point of bloody excesses in the Romagna, or when he was the only prominent Marxist to defend the wild popular uprising of the Settimana Rossa (Red Week) in 1914. Wherever it was a matter of taking a theoretical stand he remained well on the Marxist track.
    • pp. 153-154
  • If communism is described as the splitting off of the intransigent wing from the reformist section of the Socialist party which is willing to co-operate, Mussolini may with good reason be called the first and, from one standpoint, only European Communist; for in all the other European countries this rift occurred under the influence of Russian bolshevism, which formed in 1902 as well as in 1914 in entirely different circumstances.
    • p. 154
  • Mussolini laid the foundations not only for Italian postwar communism (he boasted of this paternity as late as his first chamber speech as a Fascist deputy in 1921), but also for the impotence of the embryonic Social Democracy led by Turati, and this impotence was perhaps the most immediate cause of the fascist victory.
    • p. 154
  • Mussolini participated with equal vigor in the dispute over the method of class warfare. What made this dispute necessary was the fact that nowhere in Europe in 1914 did conditions display that ‘maturity’ which according to Marxist doctrine was essential to the proletarian revolution: namely the polarization of society into a small number of exploiters and the ‘enormous majority’ of the industrial exploited.
    • p. 155
  • The fact that Mussolini emphasizes the ‘ideal’ with a vigor unknown to Marx and Lenin does not, however, place him outside the framework of Marxist orthodoxy. The unclear form which Marx gave his being-consciousness statement avenges itself everywhere in Marxism; and if Marx and Lenin dramatically show ‘idealism’ the door, it finds its way in again through the back door under such disguises as ‘revolutionary ardor’ or ‘determination of the working class.’
    • p. 161
  • The difficulty, the ‘borderline’ element, in Mussolini’s internationalism does not lie where all the panegyrists and apologists try to find it. It is to be found in the abstract radicalism and naïve youthfulness of his internationalism. At nineteen he proclaimed: ‘Socialism knows no nationality’, the young teach of French language and literature in Oneglia writes: ‘The oppressed have no fatherland: they regard themselves as citizens of the universe’, the editor of La Lotta di Classe following in the footsteps of Hervé calls the national flag a ‘rag to be planted on a dunghill.’
    • pp. 163-164
  • Although Italy entered the war in accordance with Mussolini’s will, and although the war finally ended as he wished, his inner course during this period is nevertheless marked by a series of defeats. Hostility toward Germany steps to the fore as his dominating motive. Unrequited love and a surprisingly strong sense of national weakness combined to produce an emotion of genuine sincerity. To the runaway pupil, Marxism is German and Prussian, actually nothing more than Pan-German domination; no one, he feels, has demonstrated as clearly as the German Social Democrats that ‘everything which is treason, disgrace, deceit is genuinely German.’
    • p. 174
  • The most personal and intense instance of Mussolini’s coming to grips with Marxism is his confrontation with Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution. During his stay in Switzerland, Mussolini had had contact, if not with Lenin himself, with men around him; he had read some of Lenin’s writings; Angelica Balabanov, Mussolini’s former tutor, was now with Lenin in Russia… But it is typical of Mussolini’s prevailing interests of the moment that, like his dialogue with Marxism, even the duel with Lenin appears at first as merely one further aspect of the struggle against Germany.
    • p. 176
  • The duel with Lenin did not turn out as Mussolini desired and expected. The falsest accusation of all, however, was that, for Lenin, violence was not the exception but the prevailing system. Was it not Mussolini himself who had always equated revolution with war? Did he not conduct a tireless campaign in his paper for the totalization and intensification of the war? He ceaselessly takes the field against Germans remaining in Italy and German property, he demands concentration camps and confiscation; he wants to put workers in uniform and have foreigners distinguished by a badge; inquadrare becomes his favorite word; he ruthlessly demands all-out attacks on German cities and even justifies assassination: ‘I for my part approve of assassination—inasmuch as it helps me to conquer.
    • p. 177
  • In a more drastic sense we can speak of political revolution only when it causes a change in the political system, that is, when no possible configuration within the system can coincide with it. In this sense fascism brought about a revolution, but it did not do so all at once—we cannot really speak of a ‘fascist state’ before 1925.
    • p. 191
  • Otto Strasser’s socialism was much more durable and much more carefully thought out. No doubt Marx would have called him a petit-bourgeois socialist. In his best-known publication on his program he spoke of a Reich corporative chamber and the guilds, of hereditary fiefs and the reagrarianization of Germany. Strasser called for autarky and domestic currency, the war of revolution against Versailles, and a military aristocracy. But there was more than mere demagogy in his demands for splitting up of large estates, for profit participation, for a people’s state of Germanic democracy. On the whole it was a genuinely socialist program, at least to the extent to which it was imbued with the emotional appeal of the expansion and attainment of freedom.
    • p. 336

Marxism, Fascism, Cold War, (1982)


Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Humanities Press 1982

  • Bakunin went so far as to see in ‘Marx’ ‘authoritarian communism’ only the mirror miage of the reactionary Bismarck empire.
    • p. 23
  • On the contrary, for the doctrine of totalitarianism the ‘liberal constitutional state’ is the self-evident norm, from which Marxism and Fascism (or national socialism) are distinguishable as essentially identical, namely, totalitarian phenomena.
    • p. 76
  • Marx succumbed to error in believing that the number of the industrial proletariat would constantly rise and reach a huge majority; in fact the process of industrialization, from a certain point in time, allowed the new group of ‘stiff collar proletarians’ to increase more, and the process led them, in spite of all their anti-capitalist resentments, to an alliance with the old middle strata and the grand bourgeoisie. Thus it came to the paradox ‘that national fascism is on the one hand a political consequence of this development predicted by Marx, and on the other hand a movement which has as its most effective slogan ‘Down with Marxism’.
    • p. 125
  • As the classic form of fascism, national socialism also reaches Inside through its deepest roots, though in a disguised and dissimulating fashion, into the realm of the subversive-utopian element of ‘man’.
    • p. 129

Fascism & Communism (2004)


University of Nebraska Press, 2004

  • The theory of totalitarianism certainly provided a way out in offering a distinction between ‘democratic’ anticommunism and ‘totalitarian’ anticommunism, but it did not prevail for long, and following this, from Right to Left, from press to university, all spokespersons agreed to concentrate on the examination of National Socialism and to focus on ‘Stalinism’ only in passing, without speaking of a ‘world communist movement’ at all.
    • p. 9
  • I am still sometimes surprised by the contemporary Left’s show of aggressivity, and I can’t even think about it without finding something ridiculous in it. It is really so difficult to note that an internal necessity pushes us toward the historico-genetic conception of the theory of totalitarianism if we subscribe to the basic points of the Marxist interpretation of the twentieth century without accepting the claim of Marxism, and thus of communism, of having the market on absolute truth?
    • p. 24
  • National Socialism could not be deduced exclusively from a reaction to the Bolshevik movement, that on the contrary there existed, even before the war, a brutal German nationalism, and that explicit intentions of extermination of the Jews were even expressed in the program of one party.
    • p. 27
  • Actually, there are obviously profound reason why what appears banal from a certain point of view meets with so much resistance in the case we are concerned with. The long held conviction that Marxist socialism and even Leninist Bolshevism were absolutely different from fascism and totally opposed to it must be mentioned first. Of course, today ‘Stalinism’ has been abandoned everywhere, but the old conviction remains in diverse versions and in diverse watered down forms, from reformed communists to well into the liberal camp.
    • p. 48

Quotes about Nolte

  • Ten years later, in The European Civil War (1987), the German historian Ernst Nolte brought ideology into the equation. The First World War had spawned the Bolshevik Revolution, he maintained, and fascism should be seen as a ‘counter-revolution’ against communism. More pointedly, since fascism followed communism chronologically, he argued that some of the Nazis' political techniques and practices had been copied from those of the Soviet Union. Needless to say, such propositions were thought anathema by leftists who believe that fascism was an original and unparalleled evil.
    • Norman Davies, Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory, London: Penguin (2006) p. 470.
  • Professor Nolte, a respected scholar of fascism, provoked an ideological uproar in 1986 by suggesting in an essay that Nazisim had been a logical response in Germany to an ‘existential threat’ posed by the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. He also argued that Hitler’s extermination of Jews and other minorities was comparable to the mass murders engineered by Stalin in the Soviet Union, where victims were singled out by economic and social class as enemies of the Communist state.
    • Sam Roberts, “Ernst Nolte, Historian Whose Views on Hitler Caused an Uproar, Dies at 93,” New York Times, (August 19, 2016)
  • Nolte asserted that the core of National Socialism was ‘neither in criminal tendencies nor in anti-Semitic obsessions as such. The essence of National Socialism [was to be found] in its relation to Marxism and especially to Communism in the form which this had taken on through the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution.’
    • Richard J. Evans , In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape the Nazi Past, New York, NY: Pantheon. Evans (1989) p. 28
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