The Man and the State in the Fascist Dream

This week, the readings explore ideas of masculinity, femininity and sexuality under Fascist regimes. It is perhaps Thomas Kühne and Valentin Săndulescu works that gave most credence to my assertion that the ideology and physicality of men were used as symbols of Fascist regimes. The need to both see and identify the Fascist state is a tool of transmittance of the Fascist ideology that validates the legitimacy of the state and indoctrinates others under its guiding hand; a motivator for Mussolini among other leaders and a sentiment I have previously explored here: ).

The man and the state in the fascist dream are one, they are an inseparable unit where one gives living breathing life to the next. The idealist Fascist cause that George L. Moose argued satisfies “a deep need for activism combined with identification, it [Fascism] seemed to embody their vision of a classless society.” If we consider Fascism as a revolutionary form of systemic revolt there is no need to depart from the arguments of Gilbert Allardyce’s “What Fascism Is Not” and Federico Finchelstein, “Introduction: Thinking Fascism and Populism in terms of the Past”, which was read and discussed in week two. Both authors asserted a form of Fascism that is obsessed with newness, a breaking of the past and as Roger Griffin (quoted by Finchelstein) pointed out “a longing for a new order, a new nation, not just a reformed old nation”.  This week’s article by Săndulescu gives us an illustrative historical example in Codreanu’s Legion of Archangel Michael in Romania where a ‘new nation’ is constructed through a ‘new man’.

The ‘man’ of the Fascist cause was one already under the command of the regime – the solider. The favourability of Fascists regimes towards the militarization of the state positioned the solider to serve as an ambassador to its brand and transmit the very essence of the state within and outside its boarders, with the assurance of loyalty and service to the Fascist cause. “The ideal man” wrote Kühne,” embodied by the soldier, was tough and aggressive, in control of his body, mind, and psyche.” The soldiers of a militarized state had passed what Kühne referred to as “school of manliness that transformed ‘weak’ (i.e., feminine) boys into ‘hard,’ real men.” The trope of the hardened man gave the state a body that could interact with the world and demonstrate the strength of the nation. When Hitler’s Nazi’s marched, the state marched, when they were struck down the state was struck down, and when they ‘progressed’ towards an Aryan race the nation ‘progressed’ by virtue of their action.

It is here that the physicality of the solider meet the ideology of the state which served as a unifying force for the collective cause. Kühne explained that the “army served as the “school of the nation,” merging men of different civilian identities, classes, religions, and regions into a homogenous body of citizens able to replace or even dismiss their particularist civilian identities on behalf of a communal, soldierly one. ” Whichever difference may have emerged among men in Aryan Germany or the ‘new’ Romania would surely be connected by the Fascist dream.

Gender, Sexuality, and the State

By: Christine Collins

Ideas on gender and sexuality differed between Soviet Russia and Fascist Germany. One consistency weaved throughout the readings is how authoritarian regimes embraced varying forms of gender and sexuality not on the basis of morality and social norms, but rather to serve broader political purposes. 

Attitudes towards homosexuality in Russia have remained unwelcome in regimes from Stalin to Putin. As noted by Healey, despite Soviet toleration for homosexuality in Gulags, other prisoners recount these male-on-male relationships “with near universal disgust.” Notwithstanding the re-criminalization of homosexuality by Stalin in 1933, queer relations were accepted in Gulags and even tolerated over heterosexual relations since they did not disrupt the Soviet economic model. Conversely, it was observed that homosexual relations preserved order, and went so far as improving labour productivity. It can therefore be understood that homosexuality was tolerated in Stalin’s Gulags while at the same time rejected by the Soviet Union as a result of its contributions to economic output, and therefore broader communist ideological goals. 

Defining male and female gender roles was central to Nazi Germany’s ideology and propaganda efforts. Marhoefer describes how “gender nonconformity put some women at risk…but not all women who had affairs with women transgressed gender norms.” In sum, Nazi Germany was not so much considered with lesbianism as a sexual act, but rather how lesbian social characteristics could contradict female gender-conformity. Nazi ideologues considered women who demonstrated masculine social characteristics as “violating not just gender norms, but racial and political norms as well.” 

The ideal man as described by Kühne was embodied by the solider: tough, in control of his mind, and unconditionally devoted to sacrificing individuality for the state. Why then couldn’t these characteristics be similarly appreciated in German women? What made a woman with a short-haircut decidedly “un-German”? The key lies in the role of women in Nazi Germany: to bear children and raise strong soldiers. One could thereby infer that since lesbians did not serve the state by producing children, they were condemned by fascism for political rather than moral reasons. 

By this logic, an observer may assume that any digression from embodying a strong, independent German man in public would similarly be frowned upon. However, the readings once again demonstrate that gender norms were interpreted in such a way as to create a unified state. Instead of frowning upon a father pushing a stroller as dabbling in women’s work, an SS journal claimed, “a man doesn’t lose a bit of his manliness by [caring for his children], but simply proves his love for his wife and his children.” Considering German identity is a recent phenomenon wherein the Third Reich has attempted to weave multiple histories into a unified state, the image of the united German family works to further political goals rather than question gender norms. Masculinity was thereby interpreted in a manner that encouraged a common, Aryan identity of the German family, thus strengthening the Nazi regime. 

The Inextricable Link Between Gender and Race Within Fascist Germany

In remembering the Holocaust, the Final Solution and genocidal nature are often what comes to mind. While Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish peoples was certainly paramount to his regime, it was hardly where the oppressive practices of the regime ended. It is therefore important to widen the scope in considering victimhood of the Third Reich. Additionally, it is important to ask how such oppression was accomplished. In looking to the Nazi regime’s attitudes towards and campaigns against queer peoples, it becomes clear that gender and race are actually very closely linked in the regime’s final goal of racial purity as well as in the daily regulation of peoples lives. 

In “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943,” Marhoefer works towards a more inclusive understanding of Nazi victimhood than has previously manifested in commemorations of the Holocaust. She particularly looks at the memorial in Tiergarten for the way that it problematically excludes Nazi’s lesbian and overall gender nonconforming victims. Marhoefer discusses the way that by only considering state oppression, it ignores the lesbian and gender nonconforming victims who might not have been criminalized in the same way as gay men, but nonetheless faced violence and hostility. Moreover, anxieties over lesbianism and gender nonconformity in Nazi Germany were specifically linked to concerns over the regime’s goals of racial purity. Indeed, if women were permitted to love women or if women were to embody masculinity, how could the Aryan race be secured? Not only did lesbians threaten gender norms but they were perceived as acutely un-German, as Marhoefer writes. While lesbianism may not have been subject to criminal law, it was nonetheless under constant surveillance by party members and neighbours which often incited hostility and violence. 

The relationship between gender and race can also be seen in Kühne’s exploration of the malleability of masculinity in “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.” That masculinity was necessarily protean under the Nazi regime brings to mind the theme of pragmatism which has emerged throughout the course. The way that soldiers could inhabit both traditionally feminine and masculine sensibilities was central to their role in building the Aryan race. To take an example, it was important for soldiers to represent a certain hardness that was contrasted with Jewish weakness. It was also important for soldiers to be hardened in emotions and morals so that they could be decisive and quell any concerns about killing in service of the larger goal of racial purity. 

By considering the wide reach of victimhood under Nazi Germany, we can move away from the limited study of the strictly hegemonic, though very real, state oppression and come to a more nuanced understanding of the way that violence under Nazi Germany was disseminated and against whom. 

The ways that the differences between sexuality and gendered nature were treated by the authoritarian regimes in the early 20th century show how effective that they could be as tools in the control of people and the building of a so called united people.

The articles regarding Germany and Russia, show that despite fairly diverse opinions on sexuality and gender in the Russian revolutionary period, before Stalin, or the Wiemar republic became fiercely quashed and controlled by the regime with the rise of authoritarianism. Though in both cases was mainly targeted against male homosexuality and subversion, with female equivalents even in the more influential circles was not seen as a threat due to the lack of influence and power attributed to females.

Though that in the examples of the soviet gulag and gestapo investigation the state was mainly indifferent to female homosexuality and the case of the soviets saw it as a passive benefit to the maintenance of order. The wider society was less willing to be so with other citizens being willing to use there distrust of such activity as evidence of subversive activity against the state. This was seen by despite the openness of such relations in private circles or the prisons, but in wider society and upon reintegration these relations and attitudes were again buried to ensure less of a prejudice and suspicion in normal life

The Fascist Nightmare that is Masculinity

By Daniel Williams

To say that masculinity is an inconsistent and fluid thing would be an understatement, according to Thomas Kühne in his article Protean Masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich. It examines various cases of masculinity within the Third Reich, and addresses how concepts of masculinity varied dependent on a lot of factors within German hierarchy.

It presents various concepts of masculinity, including the masculinity shown among male-only contexts, and explores some of the many complications that arise as a result of the nebulous concept of masculinity. And whereas fascism is extremely anti-individualist, attempting to ensure that fascism (and by extension the state) is the highest identifier of a person, masculinity’s diverse patterns and complex identity is a massively problematic issue for Fascists. Due to this, fascist groups promoting a single, fascist-approved sense of masculinity makes a great degree of sense. One wonders if the case is not that fascists feared femininity, but instead feared that over-varied masculine identities were problematic for the state.

As exemplified in how certain high-ranking Nazis, who had already ‘proven’ their masculinity, could take on aspects that would be seen as feminine without issue, it seems the case that femininity was not itself an issue for the fascist regime. Further, comradeship in a traditionally ‘soft’ sense seemed promoted rather than looked down on, to a degree at least. Instead it seems that comradeship was seen as furthering the goals of all, by preventing the failings of the individual from becoming the harm of the many. In this way, softness is paradoxically connected with anti-individuality and as a result fascist ideology.

Tenderness and hardness, in the same person, expected at the same time and with similar importance. Fascism’s contradictions extend even to the realm of what a man can and should be. Even deeper, it is suggested that this was in the goal of adjusting to an all-male society, enabling men to be entirely independent from true femininity by being themselves capable in multiple roles. Folding the laundry, for instance. But the darker aspect of this rejection of femininity is seen in sexist and destructive attitudes towards real women.

Th question now then, is how can society rectify the issue of ambiguous masculinity to prevent the active abuse of such ambiguity by those who would seek to manipulate it. There is, tied closely within the realm of right-wing populist messages, a sense that masculinity is being stifled, and that a rejection of modern male ‘femininity’ is required. Oddly, while preying on different concerns over masculinity, it still relies on the manipulation of concepts of ambiguous masculinity.

This practice is not new in any respect. Masculinity being a highly intangible concept, it is not uncommon to be challenged and reformed in various ways in order to influence the minds and actions of men. It seems that until a true, solid and somehow universal concept of masculinity can be established, the ambiguity of the concept (much like the ambiguity of fascism itself) will be an issue.

Masculinity’s Many Faces in Illiberal Regimes

Once again, the theme of fascist use of pragmatism in order to control and shape the public and military was apparent in this weeks readings. On the extreme side, Barbra Spackman in Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy illustrates the fascist fascination with ‘manly’ behaviour and traits was illustrated best through the description of what great lengths Mussolini took to appear ultra masculine and virile. Mussolini taking extreme measures such as shaving his head, having no references to family or fatherhood, and what I found the most ridiculous; keeping the lights on at night to show his devotion, all to keep up his manly appearance and demonstrate his virility.

Thomas Kuhne also highlighted similar core ‘ideal’ traits of masculinity such: physical, emotional, and moral ‘hardness’. More importantly, Kuhne introduces the concept of ‘protean masculinity’, which he argues allowed soldiers to have both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ or ‘tender’ masculinity. According to Kuhne, soldiers were able to remain ‘tough’ while also adopting more ‘feminine’ roles without undermining the soldier’s manliness. This fluidity was seen in acts where soldiers showed tender masculinity in the loss of a comrade. Protean masculinity allowed for greater adoption and inclusion of less ‘manly’ traits, this concept was the pragmatic way for the fascist regime to create an ‘ideal man’ while also accounting for the realities of war, loss, and suffering on soldiers. Interestingly, Protean Masculinity has to be situated within a group and hierarchy. Those that expressed more ‘soft’ masculinity were able to due to the perception that they were the exceptions to the rule of masculinity and hardness, which meant they conformed to the rules and more importantly to the dominance of the alpha males. In my opinion, this also brings up the fascist idea of putting the nation above yourself. By accepting the hierarchy and seeing themselves as exceptions to the rule, soldiers were buying into the narrative. Kuhne raises the point that Protean Masculinity was “In essence, it was all about fitting in. Accepting the priority of the group’s “we” over the individual “I” granted the latter some leeway. This did not mean that all men were equal when it came to assessing their degree of manliness, or that various emotional states were considered equal.”

Lastly, I found it interesting that there was a somewhat common theme of men coming back to society facing a difficult adjustment, German soldiers and Russian prisoners alike. Both had faced a group hierarchy that changed them and in some cases their masculinity. The idea of prisons being ‘homogenic’, that is prisons being the source of many instances of same-sex behaviours lead to many Russian’s, once no longer prisoners, being singled out by the public as at that time homosexuality was tied to Stalinization, something which was to be looked down upon. The article by Healy really showed how inhumane pragmatism could be under these regimes. This can be seen in the case of same sex relations within the gulags being counterproductive in the eyes of the Gulag managers, which lead to homosexual relations having a blind eye, as these relations were not as counterproductive to the camps.

The Romanian Ideal Masculinity and the German Pragmatic Masculinity – Andrew Devenish

If we can take Nazi Germany and the fascist movement in Romania under Codreanu as representative of fascism in general, then gender, and more specifically masculinity, seems to be very important to fascism. While the Sandulescu reading focuses on the ideals of masculinity and the “new man” in Romanian fascism, the fascist ideal of masculinity, Kuhne touches on the practical implementation of those concepts of masculinity under the Nazi regime, especially among soldiers, and with the concept of comradeship, or Kameradschaft.

According to Sandulescu, Codreanu’s “new man” is the ideal in his fascist movement of the type of man that is going to save Romania. He is heroic and strong, and every mean in the Legion is supposed to try and become him, through education by the Legion. The goal of this education is to produce the right kind of masculinity for the fascist movement.

Kuhne talks about the ideal fascist version of masculine in a more practical sense in his article. Nazi Germany also had a proper masculinity that one was not supposed to stray from, and an important component of that masculinity was comradeship. Distinct from friendship, comradeship came about in the military and was emphasized as a collective sense of self for the German soldiers. AS Kuhne points out, this often resulted in more “feminine” displays and behaviours than one might have expected from a society that had very rigid views of masculinity, and explicit rules about what was acceptable for that masculinity. Therefore, what can be seen is the practical implementation of the German fascist masculinity juxtaposed with the ideal described by Codreanu for the Romanian Legionary fascist masculinity. While the German soldiers’ comradeship allowed for some flexibility and fluidity in what was considered acceptably masculine, and was a collective idea, Codreanu’s “new man” was a more individualistic masculinity, emphasizing how each man had to step up and be a hero, and did not allow for any flexibility or fluidity in its “ideal” form as written by Codreanu.

Gendering of the “Ideal Citizen”

A theme that has run throughout the readings for this class is Fascist regimes using and mobilizing groups of people for the benefit and support of their own ideologies. It was evident in the way the Nazi regime manipulated the colonies of the British Empire to fight in their name when they had no desire to unify those colonies under their ideology. It can also be seen in the tourist trips and showing of the success of regimes in tourism in the hopes of illustrating the glory of living within these regimes.

This is also evident in the reading for this week. Gender and sexuality was also used as a way to promote the “ideal citizen” under fascist ideologies.

In Russia, under Stalin the forced labour camps took extreme measures to ensure that men and women in the camps were separated and women were not reproducing. Homosexuality was re-criminalized under Stalin, however, as the Healy reading points out queer spaces in the gulag were tolerated. They were tolerated because it promoted work and they could keep down the maintenance cost of labor. Post Stalin there was change in the attitudes of the toleration of homosexuality within the camps. It showed that the toleration when it benefited the organization of these regimes and the “ideal” figure and society that they wanted to promote, that it was essentially fine. Especially that it wasn’t excepted at the time but allowed because it enabled the gulag.

Where as in Romania, they idealized this figure of the “new man” in which they framed the ideal man of a new Romanian through education. To ensure that the intellectual riots were suppressed and as well as othering the Jewish populations. They stated that any man could be a “new man” through education, which was done in a controlled area. They used the gendering of the strong, powerful well educated men to entice and control the climate of protest and othering of the Jewish population.

There was significant control that these regimes were implementing through gendered and sexuality lenses. They would promote different behaviours even if it did not appeal to them, or make it exclusive to a certain group of people to ensure the “ideal” society or person.

What I wonder though is to what extent was this actually tolerated. In a way saying that these behaviours were tolerated in spite of a collective attitude towards them. We’re they as tolerated as we believe and what did this tolerating enable these people to achieve within these regimes?

Works Cited

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017).

Valentin Sandulescu, “Fascism and Its Quest for the ‘New Man’: The Case of the Romanian Legionary Movement.” Studia Hebraica 4 (2004): 349-61.

Pragmatic Protean Masculinity

By: Nadiya Alexandra

Male gender norms and expectations were vital for the success of militarism. Much like in last week’s discussion, the ‘fascist ideology themes’ that stick out most to me are militarism and race. This argument also ties into our frequently discussed theme of pragmatism, which I think applies even in Thomas Kühne ‘Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.’ ‘Protean masculinity’ allowed men in the Third Reich to be both hard and soft. While at first, this seemed like a rather progressive view, in the light of militarism, it is just pragmatic. Male hardness was required to carry out an aggressive war effort, while typically feminine softness and caring was required to foster a deep comradery in the troops. The most important point in my opinion is that the fluidity in protean masculinity “did not undermine the hegemony of hard martial masculinity; it made it liveable.” 

Kühne’s protean masculinity seems to encompass every quality that the German regime needed for its troops to be as successful as possible on the battlefield. Besides the stereotypical qualities of physical and moral strength, one of the most important qualities for the regime was the ability to rid oneself of “scruples and pangs of conscience, civilian sentiments of humanness.” This was especially important in the murdering of Jews, including women and children. This “epitome” of manliness may have been needed to carry out the massacres, but it was also not realistic. It was interesting that Kühne noted that “weaklings” who were not able to do this, were not ousted from the group. Again, I think there was a very pragmatic reason for this, the Germans could not afford to oust all the “weaklings” as they also needed strength in numbers to carry out the war effort. 

Allowing soldiers to show care and warmth for each other was on one hand important to promote team work in units and ensure survival of the units, but, more importantly, it reinforces the point that this made martial masculinity liveable. Even if the fascist regime may have wanted men to be heroes “in the warlike sense…social sense…hero of labour,” (Valentin Sandulescu, “Fascism and its Quest for the ‘New Man’: The Case of the Romanian Legionary Movement.”) I do not think definition could apply to many people. Therefore, fascist militarism had to compromise and on one hand promote hardness, but on the other be inclusive to a certain extent. 

One minor point that I interpreted differently from Kühne’s article is the representation of the cover of NS-Frauenwarte, May 5, 1940. The three male figures are in the forefront of the picture. Kühne describes the woman in the background as having a barely-there effect. However, to me the woman has a very important role in the painting. Everything that is being done by the men in the picture, would be to protect and nurture the woman. Without this aspect of the painting, nothing the three men in the forefront are doing would make sense. 

Otherwise,  I enjoyed Kühne’s nuanced explanation of what it meant to be ‘a man’ in Nazi Germany. The fluidity of masculinity was essential to make martial masculinity liveable and inclusive. This reinforces the view that German fascism was very pragmatic.

Homosexuality and State

Sexuality under authoritarian regimes has been approached with surprising results. If masculinity prevailed in Nazi Germany [and to a lesser extent in Romania], the non-conformity to gender role for women has created suspicion and further investigation from the Gestapo. Although lesbianism was not forbidden by the Nuremberg Law, it nevertheless was used as a starting point to look for any activities that could be perceived as against the state. In the case of Ilse Totzke, her “ non-conformity” to normal female representation led to testimonies and denunciations by neighbours, just on the fact that she was not part of the community. Her actions and contacts with Jewish people were less a concern for them than for the Gestapo which patiently build a case to deport her, based on these accusations.

In another place and time, homosexuality was tolerated in Soviet gulags in a twisted way to control the population. If homosexuality was criminalized starting in 1933-34 and subject to penalties and captivities, it was nevertheless accepted in gulags in a very ambiguous way. If the Soviet state did not encourage same sex relations between prisoners, it worked in their favour on a logistic standpoint: same sex relations are infertile therefore the population did not expand and the care for infants and mothers is not weighing on the economy. Ostracized by the society, prisoners re-created a new society based on dominant and submissive sexual relations which in a way reflected the social divide that existed on the outside. But when the gulags started to close in the 1950s, prisoners found it difficult to blend with the outside population and many intellectuals violently rejected the facts, blaming the government for accentuating the difference between “socially friendly” prisoners [common criminals] and “socially alien” prisoners[opposed to the political regime].

These two examples show how much homosexuality was used by the state according to its instant needs. Ilse Totzke was not targeted at first by the Gestapo due to her sexual orientation or appearance but because she represented a threat for the collective society. Her fate was sealed once her anti-state actions became tangible. Homosexuality ban in the Soviet Union followed an ambiguous route between the 1930s and the 1950-60s, alternating between tolerance and rejection as it suited the Soviet power. Both cases illustrate the difficulty to live in a society that based its normality on gender role and where any deviation could threaten the stability of the regime.

Sources :

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017).

Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167- 1195.