Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3471: Fascism/Anti-Fascism

Department: History

HIST3471: Fascism/Anti-Fascism

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 60 Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To understand what fascism means to fascists, Marxists and ‘liberals’ (that is, from centre-left to centre right) in Britain, Europe and America between the 1890s and the present day.
  • To understand the concept of totalitarianism, and differing ideas of the relationship between German fascism and Soviet communism.
  • To determine whether anti-fascism is only to be understood as active (violent) resistance; and to examine other forms of anti-fascism.
  • To determine whether the term ‘fascism’ is relevant to present politics, and to understand the contemporary relationship between authoritarianism, populism, (ultra-)nationalism and fascism.


  • In the summer 0f 1989 a historian employed by the US state Department and formerly by the RAND Corporation, Francis Fukuyama, explored whether we had ‘reached the end of history’, in the sense that there were no longer ‘any fundamental “contradictions” in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure’. Certainly fascism ‘was destroyed as a living ideology by World War II’. Peace, capitalism, and liberal democracy would, in due course, spread their blessings to the whole earth. It hasn’t turned out that way. In October 2018, perhaps the most impressive living historian of modern Europe, Timothy Snyder, argued that President Donald Trump was a fascist who ‘borrows from the old tricks of fascism’, above all the grotesque idea that ‘the powerful are victims’. As in the 1930s, it feels as if democracy is struggling to live, and fascism is endeavouring to destroy it.
  • This is therefore a module which will examine fascist ideas and ideas about fascism and anti-fascism first and foremost. We will cover the period from the 1890s to the present day in Britain, Europe, and America. We will need to know something of how fascist governments governed and how their populations responded, but the principal focus will be on how different groups understood fascism, and how to oppose it.
  • The first term will cover the 1890s to 1945. Where are we to look for the origins of fascism? France? What did fascist intellectuals regard as central to the doctrine? ‘Blood’, race, and nation? Corporatism, that is, a transformation of economic life and class conflict? We will then look at Marxist and liberal accounts of fascism. Marxists saw fascism as some variant of capitalism in crisis; liberals offered a wider canvas. When we turn to anti-fascism, we will consider the disagreement between those who see it as action – physically confronting fascists in the streets, for instance – and dismiss anything else, and those who have a broader sense of anti-fascism as something that might involve non-violent resistance - for instance, through education. We will also examine inter-war Britian, and how the growth of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists was contained.
  • The second term will cover 1945 to the present day. What was written about, and done about, Nazis and other fascists at the end of the Second World War? Was there a process of ‘de-Nazification’? Next, how has it been possible for neo-fascist movements to once again arise? What have they ‘remembered’ and what have they ‘forgotten’ of their inter-war forebears? To what extent are they seen as ‘legitimate’ parts of ‘democratic’ political systems? How should Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice government in Poland or Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in Hungary or Donald Trump’s presidency and Republican Party in the USA be described: authoritarian, populist, nationalist, racist or fascist? As in the first term, we will also look at forms of post-war anti-fascism, such as the British Anti-Nazi League, established in 1977, concluding with the notion of ‘Antifa’, and Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017), two rather different manuals on how to defend democracy. The examination of Britain will continue in the second term by looking at Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement (renamed the British Movement in 1968), and the British National Party
  • A key part of what we will be doing across both terms is exploring the relationship between fascism and communism. For some they are polar opposites. For some they are essentially the same thing. This latter view is most powerfully expressed in the idea of totalitarianism, and perhaps most notably in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). For some the German conservative historian Ernst Nolte came close in the Historikerstreit of 1986 to excusing Nazism by claiming it was reacting to the prior monstrousness of Soviet communism. As he notoriously wrote, ‘Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an “Asiatic” deed merely because they and their ilk considered themselves to be potential victims of an “Asiatic” deed? Was the Gulag Archipelago not primary to Auschwitz?’
  • This module will be taught through two hour seminars, and assessed by summative work and a pre-released examination paper. There will be an emphasis on primary sources such as those found in, for instance, Roger Griffin (ed.), Fascism (Oxford Reader series, 1995) or David Beetham (ed.), Marxists in the Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Inter-war Period (1983). But we will also view feature films, such as Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s It Happened Here (1964), and documentaries, such as Mikhail Romm’s Soviet film, Ordinary Fascism (1965) or Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985); and read novels, for instance Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1908) or Vasily Grossman’s astonishing Life and Fate, written in the Soviet Union in 1959.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of a range of primary sources relating to fascism and anti-fascism between the 1890s and the present day in Britain, Europe and the United States of America.
  • Knowledge of the key historiography relating to fascism and anti-fascism, and related terms such as totalitarianism, authoritarianism, ‘Bonapartism’ and populism.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Challenging students’ assumptions about the past and reflecting on the nature of the discipline (and, where appropriate, interdisciplinarity) at an advanced level
  • Appreciating how historical knowledge is produced, what forms it takes, and the purposes it serves
  • Reflecting on students’ own historical consciousness and practice
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 4 in Term 1; 5 in Term 2, 1 in Term 3 (revision session) 2 hours 20
Preparation and Reading 180
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words (not including bibliography and footnotes) 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen examination [paper to be made available not less than seventy-two hours before the start of the examination] 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

A written assignment of 1000-2000 words to be submitted in Michaelmas Term

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University