The period of the early 20th century, in particular, from the period of the First World War to the start of the Second World War, witnessed a growth in radical political parties, such as communism, fascism and national socialism. In order to understand how this phenomenon occurred, it is first necessary to define what “radical” means in this context: namely, from the perspective of mainstream political ideologies, these movements were extreme to the extent that they proposed a radical change of how society was organized. In essence, understanding the precise reasons for how these movements emerged can be traced to historical tensions between these extremist movements and the mainstream political order, a tension that manifested itself in a variety of different ways.
In one sense, such radical political parties were only possible to the extent that the standard forms of political governance failed. (Fischer, 109) From this viewpoint, their emergence was the result of the precondition of their antitheses: only to the extent that a larger dissatisfaction with these standard political orders existed could these parties gain life. In the case of communism, the growth of the movement was the result of the failure of capitalist society to address the needs of the working class. (Dugin, 18) In the case of national socialism, the movement emerged in part from a racially based discourse, whereby the German race was deemed superior, while minorities, in particular the Jews, were blamed for various social failures, such as the economic collapse of the German economy in the 1920s. (Dugin, 18) These movements were therefore conditioned by what were perceived to be systematic errors in the dominant ideology.
At the same time, precise historical events, rather than long-standing systematic failures also inspired these movements. Clearly, when considering the time period, the First World War was a crucial event. In particular in Germany, after the loss of the First World War, many of the German soldiers who had fought in the war felt betrayed by the German government, who accepted the Treaty of Versailles. (Smart, 4.1) This became a rallying cry for the Nazi party, which came to embody an attempt to restore German honor after their defeat. From the perspective of communism, the movement eventually gained power in Russia, also after the disastrous results of the First World War. (Szporluk, 344) In essence, systematic insufficiencies in political governance were fully exposed in the First World War, thereby allowing for the growth of these movements.
A third neglected factor related to the above is that perhaps this proliferation of radical parties inspired each others growth. Although national socialism and communism clearly lie on opposite ends of the political spectrum, what occurred in this period was a broadening of this spectrum, which, in one sense, allowed extremist and marginalized voices to be heard. The systematic failures of the dominant ideology shifted politics to extreme right and left positions: these positions, although in tension with each other, nevertheless re-defined the political landscape. Politics, in a sense, was no longer centralized, but now diffused, thus allowing for the spread of more radical ideologies in a facile manner.
In this sense, the emergence of radical political parties in this historical era is ineluctably linked to various systematic political failures that occurred. It is important, in this regard, to think of such extremist voices as attempting to answer very real social problems that existed. Although the ultimately ethical character of these parties is in question, they represented a political alternative to the dominant order. The radical, in other words, is defined by the mainstream: to the extent that the latter fails, the former appears.
- Dugin, Alexander. The Fourth Political Theory. London: Arktos, 2012.
- Fischer, Conan. The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Classes in Weimar
Germany. Oxford, UK: Berghahn, 1996.
- Smart, Dean. Conflict in the Modern World. Cheltenhan, UK: Nelson Thomas.
- Szporluk, Roman. Russia, Ukraine and the Breakup of the Soviet Union. Leland: