The six o’clock news often display images of demonstrations where the participants wave nazi flags and do the well-known Roman salute. The medias often portray neo-Nazism as a subculture that appeals to bored and uneducated white kids. In reality, these movements are well organized and promote a political agenda. The causes of the resurgence of these organizations in Germany and Russia, the two countries where such groups are the most visible, are more complex than what is usually told. The cultural and historical context added to the political instability caused by the reunification of Germany and the weak traditions for democracy in Russia contributed to the resurgence of fascist movements in those two countries. The literature that tackles this issue promotes different but compatible explanations. This review will be ordered thematically; the sources that provide information about the reasons for the resurgence of nazi movements in Germany will be reviewed first, followed by those about Russia. These works will also be compared with sources covering fascism as seen in Europe during the 1920s and the 1930s. The causes of its appearance in the last century have had more time to be analyzed and can provide a different angle to review what has been written about neo-Nazism.
A good portion of the studies about the resurgence of fascism in Germany explain this situation by blaming anti-Nazi laws that, as they claim, actually contribute to giving the impression that they are the ones being persecuted (Banning Nazis, 11; Alexander, 32-7). This alone is not enough to explain their increase in popularity, or their existence for that matter, even though this kind of publicity can be a factor. Indeed, when one compares the current situation with what happened in the past, these movements tend to use censorship to their advantage. For example, Corneliu Codreanu’s Iron Guard movement in Romania (also known as Legion of Archangel Michael) gained popularity when the government banned the organization. Milza’s analysis also states that the same can be said of Gyala Gömbös’ fascist organization in Hungary and many other fascist organizations during the 1920s and 1930s that were also attacked this way by the government only to return stronger.
Another trend to explain the resurgence of such organizations in Germany focuses on the appeal of the Nazi subculture to teenagers. This trend is reflected by a first hand observation of Nazi groups in Germany published by Speigel International. This primary research observes that not only the “neo-Nazi look” and clothes appeal to a good amount of young Germans but also the ideologies this movement promotes. It is reported that these German teenagers were often the victims of foreign criminal gangs. Then, these young Germans saw these nationalities as one uniform and undesirable group. This research underlines the problem of failed attempts by the government to integrate these foreigners who often live in their own micro-society. This explanation does not put much thought behind the reasons of this criminality and this reclusion lived by these immigrants in Germany. Instead it focuses on the perception of these groups and the catchy themes they use to recruit. Again, xenophobia is a factor in the resurgence of Nazism and fascism. It is just not the main one.
Not enough documents actually address the issue of the instability that Germany’s political institutions suffer. They are often weak because most governments in Germany take power by making contradictory coalitions with opposing factions. Even though Germany’s political problems are under control and nowhere near as advanced as in Russia, the stagnation of democratic institutions was an important factor in the very creation of fascist organizations in Europe during the last century.
A good majority of studies on the resurgence of neo-Nazi organizations in Russia emphasize on anti-Semitism. The best examples of this trend can be witnessed through Petrou, Kipp, Gorodetsky, Wistrich, Shlapentokh, Ephross and Lungen’s works as well as a couple of articles published in the Economist. These sources focus almost entirely on Russia’s widespread anti-Semitism and its effects on neo-Nazi organizations. Hitler was a strong anti-Semite but it was not the driving ideology that allowed him and his party to legally take power. Most adherents supported him for his promise to restore Germany among the world powers and to put an end to the Treaty of Versailles. But Russia, according to the mentioned sources, seems to have a long history of strong anti-Semitism dating to several centuries ago. Anti-Semitism seems to be a common and accepted fact throughout the Russian society even though it is at various levels (Shlapentokh, 279). Judging by these sources, anti-Semitism would be fuelled by mass xenophobia caused by recent events such as Chechen terrorist attacks and the NATO invasion of Kosovo (Ephross, 29). Russians have always felt responsible for Serbia. Most sources that address the issue of Anti-Semitism have been written during Yeltsin’s administration and at first glance they can seem out of date. This might be partly due to Vladimir Putin’s repeated attempts to fight anti-Semitism (Russian Anti-Semitism, 38), but one can doubt that a centuries old tradition of racism totally disappeared overnight when he took office. Sources on that matter seem conflicted about the true effects of Putin’s work to thwart anti-Semitism. Most of his efforts seem to be aimed at members of the Russian bureaucracy while hoping it will have an effect on the population. But if anti-Semitism were as strong as these authors claim, Putin’s efforts would actually backfire and so far it is not the case.
Even if this contributes to a growth in the number of Russian neo-Nazi organizations, anti-Semitism alone cannot be the main reasons why such organizations advocate the creation of an authoritarian nationalist regime. History taught us that when democracies fail, it means they could not resolve a particular crisis. Is the Jewish community being held responsible for the totality of Russia’s problems? Russia has recently come out of a millennium of authoritarianism. The Soviet Empire followed the tsarist Russian Empire without ever allowing any democratic traditions to take roots in the country. Breslauer’s work points out that Yeltsin’s presidential regime had no precedent and was applied abruptly. Milza’s Les fascismes defends that when fascism took over several European countries, they all replaced weak newborn democracies that could not resolve their country’s crisis. Russia fits the newborn democracy profile, yet this subject is hardly touched by any of the works tackling the issue of neo-Nazism. As Breslauer noted, the Russian parliament was very hostile toward Yeltsin’s reforms and Yeltsin ruled with the use of decrees. The parliament was democratically elected, yet Yeltsin decided that for the greater good, he had to go above their heads (Breslauer, 295-318). One could wonder if this might have given a bad example and shown to radical organizations that democracy was not important to begin with. An article also hints at a possible return to an authoritarian regime without going into the details (Russian Anti-Semitism, 38). Further research should look deeper into this claim. After all, Vladimir Putin is controlling more or less successfully Russia’s chaos. Although this has been achieved with a certain level of “legal authoritarianism”.
The article about “Eurasianism” reveals a new radical nationalist philosophy that does not promote anti-Semitism in Slavic countries. Instead, it distinguishes American Jews from “other better Jews”. It supports the idea of a strong authoritarian regime to rule over Eurasia by claiming it would be culturally compatible with the Slavic culture (Shlapentokh, 279). This points back indirectly to the Russia’s weak democratic traditions. One could rightfully wonder if authoritarianism is culturally compatible with the Slavic culture or if the Slavic societies have in fact never given a real chance to democracy.
Almost all of the literature concerning neo-Nazism and neo-fascism in Russia and Germany focuses nearly exclusively on radical anti-Semitic organizations. Milza’s work proves that nazi and fascist organizations during the last century were not always anti-Semitic, and when they were, it was not the main focus of their political programme. The best example of this is that Mussolini had nothing against Italian Jews until he was forced to ally himself with Hitler. The literature on this subject would have benefited from giving more attention to other radical nationalist organizations that do not necessarily advocate the extermination or the expulsion of their Jewish citizens. One could wonder if such a thing now exists in Germany and Russia. It would explain why even though Nazism’s popularity increased, it is still not a mass movement.
The causes of the resurgence of Nazism as seen in the reviewed articles are varied but incomplete. They do provide relevant information and interesting leads but they do not explain entirely the resurgence of nazi organizations in Russia and Germany. Historical accounts that illustrate the reasons for the creation of fascist movements can end up being very helpful to verify if today’s context shares any similarities with what happened in Italy and Germany when fascism was created. Further research should head more in the direction of neo-fascism feeding on socio-political problems or determine if today’s resurgence of radical organizations in Germany and Russia is indeed caused almost exclusively by heightened anti-Jewish sentiments, thus preventing them from achieving the state of mass movements while having a strong support.