The Many Flaws of Fascism: Explaining the Nazi Defeat

JOSEPH LOCASCIO

Fascism gave way to the combined might of democracy and communism in World War II. Considering the vile nature of the Nazis’ regime, it is hardly surprising that their vision of modernity was not a long-lived one. Indeed, Jarausch concludes, in part for this reason, that it was “No wonder that democratic modernity ultimately prevailed.”[1] The horrors of Hitler, however, cannot alone explain the spectacular failure of Nazism. In the present essay, I identify three main reasons why the Germans lost the Second World War: first, the inherent weaknesses of fascism, i.e., of the Germans’ ideology, which Jarausch terms their “modernity”; second, the Russian effort on the eastern front; and third, the discrepancy between the Third Reich and the Allies in natural resources, economic resources, and men. I hasten to add that though I condense and divide the myriad reasons for Germany’s defeat into a cluster of three factors, it is important to note that each factor is inextricably bound-up with the others. Thus, the logical train of this paper is as follows: the ideological weakness of fascism translated into weakness in the Reich’s war effort. This manifested decisively on the Russian front, and in the Germans’ disadvantages in resources necessary for successful prosecution of the war. I present the three main factors in turn, showing the connections between and among them.

From shortly after the First World War, the competition among Mussolini’s fascism, Lenin’s communism, and Wilsonian democracy made cooperation in international relations more difficult.[2] The ideological struggle constituted, in Jarausch’s terms, a “clash of internationalisms,” [3] or of “modernities,”[4] that came to a head in WWII. This war brought out the very worst in fascism, and illustrated the German modernity’s weaknesses when compared to its communist and democratic competitors.

Fascism’s ideological flaws translated into German battlefield errors in a few different ways. To start, the Nazis’ chilling doctrine of mass murder did not “leave any space for potential collaborators.”[5] The Germans’ repressive actions in territories that they had conquered fueled resistance movements that drained Axis resources, and distracted from the main tasks of the war.[6] These resistance movements (see the French maquis) also proved important in helping the Allies retake land that the Nazis had occupied.[7] Furthermore, brutal alienation of occupied populations meant German failure, crucially, to take advantage of discontent with the regimes that had ruled them before the Nazis did.[8] As Jarausch points out, the “SS Einsatzgruppen made it abundantly clear that they had not come as friends.”[9] Though it was not difficult to be better salesmen than the Nazis were, the Americans and the British exploited the greater appeal of their democratic modernity very well,[10] avoiding the disadvantages for Germany supplied by Hitler’s repression, inter alia. And the contributions of Hollywood’s propaganda campaign were not insignificant to the Allies’ turning the tide.[11] Indeed, Jarausch concludes that a main reason for Hitler’s demise was the Allies’ greater adeptness in “psychological warfare”: “they employed modern advertising methods and appealed to more humane values.”[12]

A second way in which fascism led to poor battlefield performance was Hitler’s quashing of dissent from his lieutenants. Indeed, as Jarausch contends, “Mistaken strategies…and obsequious subservience were no accident, but rather the logical result of the basic character of Nazi ideology.”[13] Though Hitler was no general, his “charisma permitted no correction of his political and strategic errors,” meaning that alternatives to his point of view were never fully considered.[14] In this way the fascist cult of personality around the Führer contributed to Nazi defeat. Open discussion to correct mistakes proved a great asset to the Americans and to the British.[15]

Hitler’s vision of modernity led to his downfall, in a third way, by compelling the Germans to invade Russia. Considering that the Second World War was decided on the Russian front with Stalin’s victory,[16] it is fair here to blame Hitler’s modernity for positioning Germany for defeat. After all, it was the ideological Master Plan East that sketched the need for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.[17] And informing Generalplan Ost was the Germans’ doctrinal racial superiority complex, showing itself in hatred for the Slavs, and in anti-Semitism; for Hitler regarded Russia’s Bolsheviks as a cabal of Jews dominating the Russians.[18] Furthermore, it was a main tenet of the ideology of Nazism to destroy communism, represented by the USSR.[19]

Having seen that Hitler’s modernity, fatally flawed, pressed the Germans to fight the Russians, and thus ultimately led to Nazi defeat in WWII, let us examine the Soviets’ decisive war effort, enhanced significantly by their modernity, i.e., their collectivist communism. As Jarausch says, the “Red Army ultimately triumphed because the Communists had…developed an invincible version of military modernity.”[20] Soviet invincibility manifested in a number of ways. First, Stalinism was able to mobilize an enormous amount of men, and the “Soviet military operated with an utter disregard for individual lives,” inevitably wearing the Wehrmacht down.[21] Second, the Soviet education reforms had produced Russians capable of developing simpler, more durable equipment (see the T-34 tank and the katyusha rocket-thrower) than the Germans’, while Stalin’s Leninist Five Year Plans had created an industrial base through which he could mass produce such equipment quite efficiently.[22] Third, the Soviets used communist propaganda to inspire patriotic fighting for the rodina (the motherland), and to stoke resistance in response to the mortal threat presented by Nazi aims at ethnic cleansing.[23] Fourth, “the emancipatory core and rationalist bent of Marxist ideology” provided another motivation for fighting for the Soviet cause.[24] Beyond efforts related to communist modernity, the Russians decisively used “home field advantage” against the Germans by overextending their supply lines; by moving factories out of the reach of the Luftwaffe;[25] and by exploiting the stopping power of their winter.[26] What is more, the Russians benefitted from the superior strategic sense of Georgy Zhukov, shown at Stalingrad, among other places.[27]

Inextricably bound-up with Russia’s performance, as well as with its modernity, the Allies had a great advantage in resources for the entirety of the war. Indeed, it is important to note that the Nazis’ “lack of resources” was a “logical result of the basic character of Nazi ideology,”[28] i.e., of fascist modernity. Jarausch reaches this conclusion having explained that “The Allied victories during 1942/43 revealed the superiority of Communist and democratic modernity in a drawn-out struggle of attrition.”[29] For attrition blunted the two great strengths of the Germans: surprise and speed. The importance of these attributes comes into focus considering the dearth in materiel, men, and natural resources that were needed to counteract them.[30] After all, the Wehrmacht had only so many tanks—it was their speed and the element of surprise that made them devastating.[31] Once mobilized, however, the Allies simply had much more to bring to bear, blunting these factors that Germany had leveraged so successfully in the past—the Allies’ modernities could field more people and more equipment, and produced larger economies.[32] In fact, the Nazis invaded Russia with fewer planes, tanks and men than the Soviets had.[33] They had no chance in a war of attrition. Furthermore, WWII became, unfortunately for the Nazis, not only a war of attrition, but also a struggle that was fought on many fronts. Thus the Germans, after their striking early victories, could not count on another key element of their past success, attacking enemies one by one, in order to avoid their enemies’ combined capacities.[34] Finally, as to natural resources, it is difficult to overestimate the negative effect that paucities—in grain, iron ore and, especially, oil—had on the Nazis.[35]

This essay has argued that the ideological weakness of fascism translated into weakness in the Reich’s war effort. This manifested decisively on the Russian front, and in the Germans’ disadvantages in resources necessary for successful prosecution of the war. Other factors, also related to the Soviets’ effort and to natural resources, though not necessarily to fascism, contributed to Nazi defeat as well. Nevertheless, we must conclude with Jarausch that the main “reasons for the victory of the anti-fascist alliance…lay in the greater efficacy of the Communist and democratic visions of modernity.”[36] Nazism’s defeat can hardly be surprising considering its disregard for human life, which was present from its inception,[37] and which ultimately showed this modernity to be “self-defeating.”[38]

[1] Jarausch 2014, p. 438

[2] Jarausch 2014, p. 367

[3] Jarausch 2014, p. 367

[4] Jarausch 2014, p. 448

[5] Jarausch 2014, p. 403

[6] Jarausch 2014, p. 396

[7] Jarausch 2014, p. 438

[8] Jarausch 2014, p. 388

[9] Jarausch 2014, p. 388

[10] Jarausch 2014, p. 395

[11] Jarausch 2014, p. 450

[12] Jarausch 2014, p. 434

[13] Jarausch 2014, p. 449

[14] Jarausch 2014, p. 449

[15] Jarausch 2014, p. 450

[16] Jarausch 2014, p. 439

[17] Jarausch 2014, p. 408

[18] Jarausch 2014, p. 403

[19] Jarausch 2014, p. 402

[20] Jarausch 2014, p. 439

[21] Jarausch 2014, p. 396

[22] Jarausch 2014, p. 387

[23] Jarausch 2014, p. 449

[24] Jarausch 2014, p. 449

[25] Jarausch 2014, p. 387

[26] Jarausch 2014, p. 387

[27] Jarausch 2014, p. 427

[28] Jarausch 2014, p. 449

[29] Jarausch 2014, p. 430

[30] Jarausch 2014, p. 389

[31] Jarausch 2014, p. 371

[32] Jarausch 2014, p. 393

[33] Jarausch 2014, p. 386

[34] Jarausch 2014, p. 371

[35] Jarausch 2014, p. 385

[36] Jarausch 2014, p. 426

[37] Jarausch 2014, p. 422

[38] Jarausch 2014, p. 448

Works Cited

Jarausch, Conrad. N.d. Taming Modernity: European Experiences in the Twentieth Century. Forthcoming.