Are Communism and Fascism the Same?
Because both communist movements and fascists created centralized dictatorships with significant state control, there is a widespread misconceptions that these ideologies are similar. They are not.
The ideas of communism and fascism are fundamentally opposed to each other. We have all heard about nature and nurture. Are we a product of how we have been raised or a product of our genetic inheritance? The reality is that we are both. However, communists place extreme emphasis on nurture, while fascists tend to put extreme emphasis on nature. Especially in Nazism there is a belief in superior human beings. A belief in natural gifted leaders, such as Hitler.
Communism is collectivist. It is about the party, not about the Führer. Both emphasize the common good but in different ways. Because communists believe in the primacy of nurture, they will push the common good mainly through re-education. In fascist ideologies such as Nazism, you see the “common good” is pursued by exterminating and removing “lesser people.” Nazis killed disabled people, sick people and undesirable races. Communists, by contrast, focused on social classes, not races.
Communism as expressed in various ideological material typically sees flat power structures as ideal even if it was often not like that at all in the various countries that had communist revolutions. However, fascism was always clear on a belief in a strict hierarchy, almost like a military organization of society.
Collectivism vs Social Darwinism
Fascism is social darwinistic. Like free market advocates, fascists have a strong belief in competition and in the survival of the fittest. Internally, a fascist state tends to be confusing as there are a lot of overlapping organizations doing the same thing. The reason for this is due to the belief that competing organizations will lead to better results. Subordinates are often encouraged to compete against each other. For example, Hitler often gave the same task to different people. He believed that whoever was more ruthless would succeed and get the job done. It was an idealization of a dog-eat-dog world Communism, however, is built upon the idea of cooperation.
Impact of Culture and History on Implementation
If you look at communist leaders such as Stalin, it did not look like they were much about cooperation at all. It was more like, do what I say our get a bullet. The confusion here likely stems from the fact that while the USSR was driven by a communist-inspired revolution, the mindset of people was in large part still that of czarist Russia. What we associate with communism is often simply the old czarist Russian way of doing thing. The extreme centralization, secret police, gulags, etc were not inventions of the USSR but of the Czar. The new communist rulers simply adopted the practices of earlier rulers. You see the same in China. Much of what Mao did was simply a continuation of what the Chinese emperors had done over hundreds of years.
This is important to stress. Nothing happens in a vaccuum. It was not like Marx gave a detailed blue print which was implemented to the letter in every country that underwent a communist revolution. Instead every country was heavily influenced by the practices that already existed in that country. It has been argued e.g. that North Korea is run on a race-based nationalism based on Japanese fascism, rather than any form of communism: The Cleanest Race.
Thus personality cults as we saw in Mao’s China, Stalins USSR and current North Korea can develop even in a system which is supposed to be more about party than Führer. But we can see how in both the USSR and China, the personality cult was downplayed in favor of the party later. The point is that these countries already had personality cult based rule before communism.
Another fundamental difference that people often forget, when comparing communism and fascism is that fascism is an extreme form of conservatism. You can see this in their view of family life. It is very much along the lines of christian conservatives. Women are supposed to be at the kitchen-bench and give birth to children. This connects well with the strongly biological view of people found among various fascist ideologies. Since women are deemed different biologically, they should also do different tasks.
Communism de-emphasize gender differences, thus while the USSR can hardly be called a feminist state, women played a more significant role. Women were far more active as soldiers in the USSR than in fascist states like Germany e.g.
We can also see this later in how countries run by communist parties, tend to have a lot more women in traditional male occupations such as doctors and engineers. Child care services are more emphasized in communist run countries than in Fascist ones which emphasize the mother as the primary caregiver.
Fascism Replaced Democracies, Communism Replaced Dictatorships
A very important point often forgotten when people compare fascism and communism is that they typically assume power under very different circumstances and in very different types of countries. Communist revolutions have typically happened in the most backwards, poor and oppressed countries. Thus while communist regimes can be criticized for being autocratic they usually replaced regimes that was often worse than the communist dictatorships that came later.
The same cannot be said of Fascism. Fascists often took power in well developed countries and destroyed democracy in countries which already had fairly well developed democracy.
Where there has been democracy, social democrats have usually had a stronger appeal than communists because social democrats suggested a move towards socialism through gradual democratic reforms. Fascism in contrast has never aimed for democracy. In all its forms it hates democracy and wants to replace it with dictatorship.
Communism in contrast is more akin to the French revolution or the Arab spring. The original goals might have been of a more democratic rule, but in the midst of a violent revolution, the worst guys will always rise to the top. Just like Maximilien Robespierre’s reign of terror in France, or Ruhollah Khomeini who ended the Iranian revolutions goal of Iranian liberal democracy. Same with the Arab spring where a revolt to promote democracy simply ended up with more oppression. People will however not claim that liberalism is autocratic in nature simply because a multitude of revolutions by liberals ended in dictatorship. The key insight is to understand that turning into a democracy by overthrowing a dictatorship with violence is extremely hard. Most democracies develop gradually through a combination of peaceful means and many smaller revolutions or uprisings.
Democracy can develop even in communist dictatorships. Mikhail Gorbachev e.g. is an example of a communist ideologue who began an attempt democratization of the USSR. But as you can see with today’s Russia, the road to democracy has many twists and turns. Putin’s Russia is more free than the USSR, but it is still not a full democracy.