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I read quite a few Russian materials about WWII and noticed that Russians commonly refer to German soldiers of WWII as фашисты (fascists). Here are some typical examples:

(1) Фашисты заняли правобережье Наро-Фоминска и форсировали реку Нара. (Source)

(2) Он завещал: «Сынок, я бил фашистов под Сталинградом, а ты добей гада в его берлоге!». ... С 14 лет воевал в партизанском отряде, когда фашисты заняли Украину. (Source)

(3) В Краснодаре покажут бой за освобождение города от фашистов. (Source)

This seems very weird because fascists are actually what the pro-Mussolini Italians called themselves at that time, whilst the pro-Hitler Germans called themselves Nazi or national socialists, and there were significant differences between the Italian Fascism and the German Nazism. In particular, the pro-Hitler Germans were focused on purity of their race and made a genocide of European Jews, whilst the focus of Mussolini's ideology was the state rather than the nation. The word Fascism originated from the Italian word fascio (a bundle), which came to symbolize strength through unity, the point being that whilst each independent rod was fragile, as a bundle they were strong.

In the English-speaking world, Nazi is a far more common term to refer to the pro-Hitler Germans of that epoch than fascist is, whilst the opposite seems to be true in the Russian-speaking world. I understand that there were some similarities between the German Nazism and the Italian Fascism, but I am puzzled as to why Russians preferred and still prefer to call the pro-Hitler Germans of that time not what those Germans called themselves, but what Italians called themselves, especially given the differences between the ideologies of the German and Italian states of that time.

Curious, I looked in the transcript of the famous speech of 22 June 1941, the date of the German attack on the USSR, by Molotov, the then-current foreign minister of the USSR, and found that in that speech, he had used the term fascist three times, and the terms Nazi and national socialists - exactly zero times. Based on that speech, my impression is that it was the preference of the Soviet government from the very first day of the Soviet-German war to refer to the German leadership as fascists rather than as Nazi or national-socialists, but I am puzzled as to why the Soviet government had such a preference.

I guess that ordinary Russians of that time simply copied the terminology of their leaders and started to refer to all German invaders, including privates, as fascists, and this tradition seems to have been retained in the Russian language. My impression is that the first associations that come to mind of almost every modern Russian in response to the word фашисты are men equipped with Schmeisser submachine guns and helmets with a "coal scuttle" shape and wearing swastikas on their greenish grey uniforms as well as riding BMW motobikes.

My question: What was the very root cause of preferring the term фашисты (fascists) over нацисты (Nazi) in referring to the German aggressors of WWII in the Russian language? In particular, why did the Soviet leadership have that preference?

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  • It's a USSR/RF tradition to call 'fascists' all the supporters of the regimes USSR/RF dislike. I remember seeing and/or hearing 'fascist' applied to Spanish Francoists, Germans irrespective of the party they support, Josip Broz Tito who was a Communist, Israeli politicians (!), Augusto Pinochet, the Ukrainian government, whomever. The word 'fascist' came to mean 'supporter of a savage, cannibalistic ideology', it was thoroughly imprinted into the mass consciousness by the SU, so nobody's going to abandon that practice, it's very convenient and useful a label. Your question is too political... – Yellow Sky Dec 6 '19 at 18:33
  • Just a common mistake. To add irony to the story, nowadays the Russian state is actively promoting strength through unity, effectively positioning as a fascist entity. So, when it condemns the Nazis on the May 9-th calling them fascists, it sounds very bizarre and ironic. Nazism is actively discouraged by the Russian government and only promoted by political marginals, but fascism is openly promoted by the state through propaganda, political decisions etc... – Evgeniy Dec 6 '19 at 22:20
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    So, now it is very convenient for the Russian leadership to "forget" that Nazism and fascism are not the same thing. As to the Soviets, I think they didn't care for the nationalistic leanings of Hitler, the most outrageous crimes were yet to come, and what they did dislike most was their far-right attitude, exactly caught by the word "fascist". It was the same in Italy, Spain, Germany etc, and it was opposite to the leftist idea: "power of the noble" (corporations etc) vs. "power of the commoners". So, they just used the term rather correctly. – Evgeniy Dec 6 '19 at 22:25
  • This is not Schmeisser: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP_40 – Anixx Dec 9 '19 at 17:27
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First of all, people call those they don't like "bastard" and "son of a bitch", even if they were not actually born out of wedlock and their mother was a woman rather than a female dog.

"Fascist" is as good a label as any.

If someone calls another person a bastard, the other people could agree or disagree with them, but this would be either "yes he's a bastard all right" or "no, he's a decent man".

It would hardly be "he's a bad person but his mother was married to his father, so you're wrong".

It's not in any way unique to Russian language. You can hear people these days call "fascists" pretty much anyone they don't like in any language (at least in any European language).

That said, there is no universally accepted definition of fascism and many scholars share the view that German Nazi ideology was indeed a variation of fascism (whatever the latter would mean).

I emphatically don't want to discuss whether or not it is true, but this point of view does exist and is (and had been) shared by many people, including those outside the Soviet leadership circles.

As for the term нацист or its equivalents: they were just not a thing in Russian language back then.

The official name of the ruling party in Germany was Национал-социалистическая немецкая рабочая партия. Every single word in this name was devoid of negative connotations in Russian back then so neither of them would work as a negative label.

If the word нацист would make it into Russian earlier it would probably have gained traction, but it didn't happen.

So the Soviet leadership didn't call the Nazi нацисты because they didn't know this word.

They called them фашисты ("fascists") or, if they wanted to be more specific, немецкие фашисты ("German fascists") because they, first, believed that the state ideology in those days' Germany was a fascist one, and, second, they needed a good label.

The word нацист didn't make it into Russian until after the WWII.

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    Just to add to Quassnoi's answer, I think the word fascist entered the world languages widely during the civil war in Spain of 1936. In Russian language it was already so much fused into language at the time of the beginning of WWII that nobody cared for introducing a new word Nazi for Germans. The difference between Nazi and fascists was so small comparing to their similarities (both anti-communist). The term German fascist was used as Quassnoi mentions. Also the word нацист is more difficult to pronounce than фашист in Russian language. – farfareast Dec 7 '19 at 3:49
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    Thanks a lot for such a detailed answer. I question this claim of yours: "So the Soviet leadership didn't call the Nazi нацисты because they didn't know this word." I quote from a book of 1934: "Организованные нацисты нападали на прохожих евреев ... Спокойно выслушали даже буйные нацисты речь старой коммунистки, „алтерс'-президентин Клары Цеткиной, приехавшей для этого из Москвы." The publisher name is Советская Россия. You can easily find this book by googling the above quotations. I also found some other Soviet materials of the pre-war and war time referring to Germans as Nazi. – Mitsuko Dec 7 '19 at 16:27
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    @Mitsuko: the book you're talking about is "The Book of Life" (Книга жизни) by Simon Dubnow en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Dubnow. He was a Russian speaking Jew who left USSR in 1922 and had been living in Germany between 1922 and 1933, then moved to Latvia. He published his book in Riga from 1936 to 1940 (before Latvia became a part of the Soviet Union). The word Nazi itself is of German origin and apparently it had been used by the Russian speaking community abroad, but it would have little effect on the main body of the Russian speakers (and Soviet leadership in particular) – Quassnoi Dec 7 '19 at 18:22
  • @Mitsuko could you please share the links to those other attestations of the word нацист in pre-WWII Soviet press? Thanks! – Quassnoi Dec 7 '19 at 18:23
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    Quassnoi, here are some links: link1, link2, link3, link4 – Mitsuko Dec 8 '19 at 13:38
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Как возник термин "фашисты".

"Правда" от 21 июня 1941 года не называет никого ни фашистами, ни нацистами, а всегда использует нейтральные термины вроде "германское командование", "германское министерство иностранных дел" и т. д. (Слово "немцы" в "Правде" тоже не встречается.)

В речи Молотова от 22 июня 1941 года руководство Германии названо "германскими фашистскими правителями", "германским фашистским правительством" и "кликой кровожадных фашистских правителей Германии", а страна - фашистской Германией (дважды). Термин "нацисты" не употребляется ни разу. Речь Молотова была написана коллективно, в том числе принимал участие в её написании и Сталин.

После этого в печати и в публичных выступлениях использовались только слова "фашисты", "фашистский" и никогда "нацистский" (кроме цитирования международных документов).

Сталин в своей речи от 3 июля 20 раз использовал слова "фашисты", "фашистский" и никогда - нацистский (ещё назвал Германию гитлеровской). Вот почему Германию в СССР в течение всей войны и после неё называли фашистской, а не нацистской.

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  • очень интересно, спасибо за ответ! А можете привести пример цитирования международных документов? – shabunc Dec 9 '19 at 21:20
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    Например, "сообщение о Берлинской конференции трёх держав" (напечатано в "Правде"), правда, уже после войны - virezkipress.ru/board/mezhdunarodnye_soveshhanija_i_konferencii/… . – user31264 Dec 10 '19 at 5:25
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"Fascism" is a strong label in Russian language. It is stronger than "Nazism" or "Racism". It is much stronger in Russian than in English, for example. But how come this label came into widespread use?

I think it is mostly related to anti-communism crackdown in Italy, Spain and Germany in 1920s and 30s. While communism was viewed mostly negatively in the West, it also enjoyed a good degree of public sympathy. Communist parties proliferated in Western Europe - until fascist governments put an abrupt and often violent end on this development. Germany, in particular, which is a birthplace of communism, had virtually exterminated it by mid 1930s.

In Soviet Union, this anti-communism development was viewed with great concern and dismay. It should be noted that for Germany, crackdown on communism was associated with fascist aspect of Nazi ideology rather than Nazism. By mid 1930s anti-Semitic crackdown was not as strong yet.

So, in 1930s Soviet Union fascism was already viewed as an enemy #1. For Germany's NSDAP, its Nazi stance was considered an extension of its fascist ideology rather than vice versa. Fascism had become a "sticky label", and by 1941, when Germany had attacked USSR, Germans were commonly regarded as "fascists". The great war had only cemented the very negative connotation of this word.

Even today, publicly labeling someone as "fascist" has an extreme gravity to it. Most other labels can be shrugged off, but every politician or social group has to make necessary effort to clear him/her/itself of such label.

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Классическим марксистским определением фашизма считается определение, представленное в резолюции XIII пленума Исполнительного комитета коммунистического интернационала (1934 г.) и повторенное на VII Конгрессе Коминтерна (1935 г.) - Георгием Димитровым, докладчиком по этому вопросу.

«Фашизм — это открытая террористическая диктатура наиболее реакционных, наиболее шовинистических, наиболее империалистических элементов финансового капитала…
Фашизм — это не надклассовая власть и не власть мелкой буржуазии или люмпен-пролетариата над финансовым капиталом.
Фашизм — это власть самого финансового капитала. Это организация террористической расправы с рабочим классом и революционной частью крестьянства и интеллигенции.
Фашизм во внешней политике — это шовинизм в самой грубейшей форме, культивирующий зоологическую ненависть против других народов».

Это определение и послужило основой для обозначения среди коммунистов всех подобных движений: нацистов в Германии, франкистов в Испании, "Новое государство в Португалии и пр.

В этой парадигме итальянские фашисты лишь первый случай проявления фашизма.

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Just to add to the answers above. I understand that "nazi" was avoided because of the "socialist" connotations. Another common term in use was "hitlerites," followers of Hitler, in Russian, of course. See for example Stalin's speech https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1941/11/06.htm in which the term appears 28 times.

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  • any claim should be supported by some evidence if one wants to sound convincing. – shabunc Dec 9 '19 at 19:25
  • " I understand that "nazi" was avoided because of the "socialist" connotations." - what does it mean ? :))) No matter how they(NSDAP) called themselves, for a populism and the manipulation of the people in the Germany - the word нацисты (Nazi) doesn't have any slightest socialist connotation in the Russian language; нацисты - also used in Russian. –  Пилум May 10 at 21:29
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Because, the fascism is dictatorship of bourgeoisie, in general; and the communists adhere to this point of view... here no realistic, essential difference between "fascists" and "german nazy".

These soldiers (if they didn’t even belong to the Nazi party too) all the same inevitably served the interests of this regime in all senses and defended its goals.

By this reason Russians, Soviet named IT as 'fascists', they didn’t care about this pseudo-difference absolutely; (and this obvious thing actually doesn't have much to do with Russian linguistics...)

in the same way and for this reason you can come across such a naming for the Franco(against which some Soviet communists fought in Spain), Pinochet regime, the Greek "black colonels", etc.

"фашисты (fascists) over нацисты (Nazi) " - and this terms was first in politics, for ultra rightwinged; in addition, the Nazis weren't only allies (natural and by the fact) for the fascist's ideology and Mussolini regime , but Hitler himself also took a lot from Mussolini ideologically.

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Because Germans were national-socialists.



Russians are socialists too. E.g. Russian "РСДРП"(Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) it is practically German "NSDAP"(National Socialist German Workers' Party)!

In fact Soviet Union was an fascistic "corporate state". E.g. soviet "trade unions" was nothing wore than fascistic "corporations": «профсоюзы – приводные ремни партии к массам»

So because during Soviet-Nazi war Soviets became national-socialists too: they completely forgot that Germans "are proletarians too", and explicitly stated "Kill a German not "a capitalist" -- Russians call Germans "fascists". As well as everyone they want to murder... E.g. if you are using latin alphabet you are "fascists": https://lenta.ru/articles/2004/11/16/language/

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    I want you to warn that any political views and manifestations are irrelevant here and thus will be removed completely. We are here for discussing linguistic issues, not who n your opinion started any war. Also - your answer is wrong on many levels but that's fine, people can upvote if they agree and down-vote if they disagree. – shabunc Apr 1 at 10:25
  • "Germans" were proletarians too "," - indeed they weren't in this historical situation; - the fascist social-darwinists managed to idiots and zombify the whole all people, with the Nazism (it's like just the nationalistic soc-darvinian robots-killers), and they also led them to power, and those extremely few left-winged that remained were practically killed in the concentration camps and outside them. There is practically nothing to talk about here. Nationalism is bourgeois heroin for the peoples, and fascism is dictatorship of bourgeoisie. –  Пилум Apr 6 at 23:47
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    All your others insinuations and primitive demagogy about the USSR and the Russians are not even worth commenting on here. –  Пилум Apr 7 at 0:04

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