Introduction and Definition
Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology that considers individual and other societal interests inferior to the needs of the state, and seeks to forge a type of national unity, usually based on ethnic, religious, cultural or racial attributes. Moreover the various scholars attribute different characteristics to fascism, but the following elements are usually seen as its integral parts such as: nationalism, authoritarianism, militarism, corporatism, collectivism, totalitarianism, anticommunism and opposition to economic and political liberalism. There are plenty of debates among scholars and other individuals regarding the nature of fascism and the kinds of political movements and governments that may be able to be called fascist, so the extent which German Nazism maybe considered a form of fascism was debate and also most scholars see fascism as on the political right or allied with right-wing moments. In addition, some scholars see fascism as the radicalization of the center or as a populist revolt of the middle classes or even a derivative of anarchism. Fascist movements sometimes claim they represent a “Third Way” between left and right between Marxian socialism and Capitalism. However, fascism has been defunct in the western world as a major political ideology since the defeat of the Axis power in World War II and there is considerable stigma attached to the name and to the concept and also it is not uncommon for people to label their political opponents pejoratively as “fascists”. But, a small number of openly fascist political continue to exist, such as the Italian fascism.
Actually, the term fascismo was first coined by the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini which is derived from the Italian word fascio that means “union” or “league” and from the Latin word fasces, for the fasces which consisted of a bundle of rods tied around an axe, were an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrates and the symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity which when a single rod is easily broken while the bundle is very difficult to break. Moreover, fascism (fascismo) was used by the political movement that ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini who defined fascism as being a right-wing collectivistic ideology in opposition to socialism, liberalism, democracy and individualism. Mussolini was born July 29, 1883 and he was the prime minister and dictator of Italy form 1922 until 1943, when he was overthrown then he established a repressive fascist regime that valued nationalism, militarism, anti-liberalism and anti-communism combined with strict censorship and state propaganda. Mussolini became a close ally of German dictator Adolf Hitler, whom he influenced and Mussolini entered World War II in June, 1940 on the side of Nazi Germany then three years later, the Allies invade Italy in April 1945 Mussolini attempted to escape to German controlled Austria, only to be captured and killed near Lake Como by Communist Resistance units and he dead April 28, 1945.
The Origin of Fascism
Despite the many forms that fascism takes, all fascist movements are rooted in two major historical trends. First, in late 19th-century Europe mass political movements developed as a challenge to the control of government and politics by small groups of social elites or ruling classes. For the first time, many countries saw the growth of political organizations with membership numbering in the thousands or even millions. Second, fascism gained popularity because many intellectuals, artists, and political thinkers in the late 19th century began to reject the philosophical emphasis on rationality and progress that had emerged from the 18th-century intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. Furthermore, these two trends had many effects. For example, new forms of popular racism and nationalism arose that openly celebrated irrationality and vitalism—the idea that human life is self-directed and not subject to predictable rules and laws. This line of thinking led to calls for a new type of nation that would overcome class divisions and create a sense of historical belonging for its people. For many people, the death and brutality of World War I showed that rationality and progress were not inherent in humanity, and that a radically new direction had to be taken by Western civilization if it was to survive. World War I also aroused intense patriotism that continued after the war. These sentiments became the basis of mass support for national socialist movements that promised to confront the disorder in the world. Popular enthusiasm for such movements was especially strong in Germany and Italy, which had only become nation-states in the 19th century and whose parliamentary traditions were weak. Despite having fought on opposite sides, both countries emerged from the war to face political instability and a widespread feeling that the nation had been humiliated in the war and by the settlement terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition, many countries felt threatened by Communism because of the success of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.
The first fascist movement developed in Italy after World War I. Journalist and war veteran Benito Mussolini served as the guiding force behind the new movement. Originally a Marxist, by 1909 Mussolini was convinced that a national rather than an international revolution was necessary, but he was unable to find a suitable catalyst or vehicle for the populist revolutionary energies it demanded. At first he looked to the Italian Socialist Party and edited its newspaper Avanti! (Forward!). But when war broke out in Europe in 1914, he saw it as an opportunity to galvanize patriotic energies and create the spirit of heroism and self-sacrifice necessary for the country's renewal. He thus joined the interventionist campaign, which urged Italy to enter the war. In 1914, as Italian leaders tried to decide whether to enter the war, Mussolini founded the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia (The People of Italy) to encourage Italy to join the conflict. After Italy declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in May 1915, Mussolini used Il Popolo d'Italia, to persuade Italians that the war was a turning point for their country. Mussolini argued that when the frontline combat soldiers returned from the war, they would form a new elite and bring about a new type of state and transform Italian society. The new elite would spread community and patriotism, and introduce sweeping changes in every part of society.
Mussolini established the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Veteran's League) in 1919 to channel the revolutionary energies of the returning soldiers. The group's first meeting assembled a small group of war veterans, revolutionary syndicalists (socialists who worked for a national revolution as the first step toward an international one), and futurists (a group of poets who wanted Italian politics and art to fuse in a celebration of modern technological society's dramatic break with the past). The Fasci di Combattimento, sometimes known simply as the Fasci, initially adopted a leftist agenda, including democratic reform of the government, increased rights for workers, and a redistribution of wealth.
In the elections of 1919 Fascist candidates won few votes. Fascism gained widespread support only in 1920 after the Socialist Party organized militant strikes in Turin and Italy's other northern industrial cities. The Socialist campaign caused chaos through much of the country, leading to concerns that further Socialist victories could damage the Italian economy. Fear of the Socialists spurred the formation of hundreds of new Fascist groups throughout Italy. Members of these groups formed the Blackshirts—paramilitary squadre (squads) that violently attacked Socialists and attempted to stifle their political activities.
Mussolini’s Ruse to Power
The Fascists gained widespread support as a result of their effective use of violence against the Socialists. Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti then gave Mussolini's movement respectability by including Fascist candidates in his government coalition bloc that campaigned in the May 1921 elections. The elections gave the newly formed National Fascist Party (PNF) 35 seats in the Italian legislature. The threat from the Socialists weakened, however, and the Fascists seemed to have little chance of winning more power until Mussolini threatened to stage a coup d'état in October 1922. The Fascists showed their militant intentions in the March on Rome, in which about 25,000 black-shirted Fascists staged demonstrations throughout the capital. Although the Italian parliament moved swiftly to crush the protest, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to sign a decree that would have imposed martial law and enabled the military to destroy the Fascists.
Instead the king invited Mussolini to join a coalition government along with Giolitti. Mussolini accepted the bargain, but it was another two years before Fascism became an authoritarian regime. Early in 1925 Mussolini seized dictatorial powers during a national political crisis sparked by the Blackshirts' murder of socialist Giacomo Matteotti, Mussolini's most outspoken parliamentary critic.
Fascist Consolidation of Power
Between 1925 and 1931, the Fascists consolidated power through a series of new laws that provided a legal basis for Italy's official transformation into a single-party state. The government abolished independent political parties and trade unions and took direct control of regional and local governments. The Fascists sharply curbed freedom of the press and assumed sweeping powers to silence political opposition. The government created a special court and police force to suppress so-called anti-Fascism. In principle Mussolini headed the Fascist Party and as head of state led the government in consultation with the Fascist Grand Council. In reality, however, he increasingly became an autocrat answerable to no one. Mussolini was able to retain power because of his success in presenting himself as an inspired Duce (Leader) sent by providence to make Italy great once more.
The Fascist government soon created mass organizations to regiment the nation's youth as well as adult leisure time. The Fascists also established a corporatist economic system, in which the government, business, and labor unions collectively formulated national economic policies. The system was intended to harmonize the interests of workers, managers, and the state. In practice, however, Fascist corporatism retarded technological progress and destroyed workers' rights. Mussolini also pulled off a major diplomatic success when he signed the Lateran Treaty with the Vatican in 1929, which settled a long-simmering dispute over the Catholic Church's role in Italian politics. This marked the first time in Italian history that the Catholic Church and the government agreed over their respective roles. Between 1932 and 1934 millions of Italians attended the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution in Rome, staged by the government to mark Fascism's first ten years in power. By this point the regime could plausibly boast that it had brought the country together through the Risorgimento (Italian unification process) and had turned Italy into a nation that enjoyed admiration and respect abroad.
For a time it seemed that Italy had recovered from the national humiliation, political chaos, and social division following World War I and was managing to avoid the global economic and political crises caused by the Great Depression. Mussolini could claim that he had led the country through a true revolution with a minimum of bloodshed and repression, restoring political stability, national pride, and economic growth. All over the country, Mussolini's speeches drew huge crowds, suggesting that most Italians supported the Fascist government. Many countries closely watched the Italian corporatist economic experiment. Some hoped that it would prove to be a Third Way—an alternative economic policy between free-market capitalism and communism. Mussolini won the respect of diplomats all over the world because of his opposition to Bolshevism, and he was especially popular in the United States and Britain. To many, the Fascist rhetoric of Italy's rebirth seemed to be turning into a reality.
The Fall of Italian Fascism
Two events can be seen as marking the turning point in Fascism's fortunes. First, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933, which meant that Mussolini had the support of a powerful fascist ally. Second, Italy invaded Ethiopia in October 1935 (see Italy: The Ethiopian Campaign). In less than a year the Fascist army crushed the poorly equipped and vastly outnumbered Ethiopians. Mussolini's power peaked at this point, as he seemed to be making good on his promise to create an African empire worthy of the descendants of ancient Rome. The League of Nations condemned the invasion and voted to impose sanctions on Italy, but this only made Mussolini a hero of the Italian people, as he stood defiant against the dozens of countries that opposed his militarism. But the Ethiopian war severely strained Italy's military and economic resources. At the same time, international hostility to Italy's invasion led Mussolini to forge closer ties with Hitler, who had taken Germany out of the League of Nations.
As Hitler and Mussolini worked more closely together, they became both rivals and allies. Hitler seems to have dictated Mussolini's foreign policy. Both Germany and Italy sent military assistance to support General Francisco Franco's quasi-fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936. The Italian troops in Spain suffered several dramatic losses, however, undermining Mussolini's claim that his Fascist army made Italy a military world power. Then in November 1936 Mussolini announced the existence of the Rome-Berlin Axis—a formal military alliance with Nazi Germany. Fascism, once simply associated with Italy's resolution of its domestic problems, had become the declared enemy of Britain, France, and the United States, and of many other democratic and most communist countries. Italian Fascism was fatally linked with Hitler's bold plans to take control of much of Europe and Russia. The formation of the pact with Hitler further isolated Italy internationally, leading Mussolini to move the country closer to a program of autarky (economic self-sufficiency without foreign trade). As Italy prepared for war, the government's propaganda became more belligerent, the tone of mass rallies more militaristic, and Mussolini's posturing more vain and delusional. Italian soldiers even started to mimic the goose-step marching style of their Nazi counterparts, though it was called the Roman step.
Although the Italian Fascists had ridiculed Nazi racism and declared that Italy had no “Jewish problem,” in 1938 the government suddenly issued Nazi-style anti-Semitic laws. The new laws denied that Jews could be Italian. This policy eventually led the Fascist government of the Italian Social Republic—the Nazi puppet government in northern Italy—to give active help to the Nazis when they sent 8,000 Italian Jews to their deaths in extermination camps in the fall of 1943. Mussolini knew his country was ill-prepared for a major European war and he tried to use his influence to broker peace in the years before World War II. But he had become a prisoner of his own militaristic rhetoric and myth of infallibility. When Hitler's armies swept through Belgium into France in the spring of 1940, Mussolini abandoned neutrality and declared war against France and Britain. In this way he locked Italy into a hopeless war against a powerful alliance that eventually comprised the British empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the United States. Italy's armed forces were weak and unprepared for war, despite Mussolini's bold claims of invincibility. Italian forces suffered humiliating defeats in 1940 and 1941, and Mussolini's popularity in Italy plummeted. In July 1943, faced with imminent defeat at the hands of the Allies despite Nazi reinforcements, the Fascist Grand Council passed a vote of no confidence against Mussolini, removing him from control of the Fascist Party. The king ratified this decision, dismissed Mussolini as head of state and had him arrested.
Most Italians were overjoyed at the news that the supposedly infallible Mussolini had been deposed. The popular consensus behind the regime had evaporated, leaving only the fanaticism of intransigenti (hard-liners). Nevertheless, Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) commandos rescued Mussolini from his mountain-top prison, and Hitler then put him in control of the Italian Social Republic—the Nazi puppet government in northern Italy. The Nazis kept Mussolini under tight control, however, using him to crush partisans (anti-Fascist resistance fighters) and to delay the defeat of Germany. Partisans finally shot Mussolini as he tried to flee in disguise to Switzerland in April 1945. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Italian soldiers endured terrible suffering, either forced to fight alongside the Nazis in Italy or on the Russian front, or to work for the Nazi regime as slave labor.
The rise and fall of Fascism in Italy showed several general features of fascism. First, Italian Fascism fed off a profound social crisis that had undermined the legitimacy of the existing system. Many Europeans supported fascism in the 1930s because of a widespread perception that the parliamentary system of government was fundamentally corrupt and inefficient. Thus it was relatively easy for Italians to support Mussolini's plans to create a new type of state that would transform the country into a world power and restore Italy to the prominence it enjoyed during the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.
Second, Italian Fascism was an uneasy blend of elitism and populism. A revolutionary elite imposed Fascist rule on the people. In order to secure power the movement was forced to collaborate with conservative ruling elites—the bourgeoisie (powerful owners of business), the army, the monarchy, the Church, and state officials. At the same time, however, the Fascist movement made sustained efforts to generate genuine popular enthusiasm and to revolutionize the lives of the Italian people.
Third, Fascism was a charismatic form of politics that asserted the extraordinary capabilities of the party and its leader. The main tool for the Fascistization (conversion to Fascism) of the masses and the creation of the new Fascist man was not propaganda, censorship, education, or terror, or even the large fascist social and military organizations. Instead, the Fascists relied on the extensive use of a ritualized, theatrical style of politics designed create a sense of a new historical era that abolished the politics of the past. In this sense Fascism was an attempt to confront urbanization, class conflict, and other problems of modern society by making the state itself the object of a public cult, creating a sort of civic religion.
Fourth, Italy embraced the fascist myth that national rebirth demanded a permanent revolution—a constant change in social and political life. To sustain a sense of constant renewal, Italian Fascism was forced by its own militarism to pursue increasingly ambitious foreign policy goals and ever more unrealizable territorial claims. This seems to indicate that any fascist movement that identifies rebirth with imperialist expansion and manages to seize power will eventually exhaust the capacity of the nation to win victory after victory. In the case of Italian Fascism, this exhaustion set in quickly.
A fifth feature of Italian Fascism was its attempt to achieve a totalitarian synthesis of politics, art, society, and culture, although this was a conspicuous failure. Italian Fascism never created a true new man. Modern societies have a mixture of people with differing values and experiences. This diversity can be suppressed but not reversed. The vast majority of Italians may have temporarily embraced Fascist nationalism because of the movement's initial successes, but the people were never truly Fascistized. In short, in its militarized version between World War I and World War II, the fascist vision was bound to lead in practice to a widening gap between rhetoric and reality, goals and achievements.
Finally, the fate of Italian Fascism illustrates how the overall goal of a fascist utopia has always turned to nightmare. Tragically for Italy and the international community, Mussolini embarked on his imperial expansion just as Hitler began his efforts to reverse the Versailles Treaty and reestablish Germany as a major military power. This led to the formation of the Axis alliance, which gave Hitler a false sense of security about the prospects for his imperial schemes. The formation of this alliance helped lead to World War II, and it committed Mussolini to unwinnable military campaigns that resulted in the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. The death, destruction, and misery of the fighting in Italy was inflicted on a civilian population that had come to reject the Fascist vision of Italian renewal, but whose public displays of enthusiasm for the regime before the war had kept Mussolini in power.
^Speech by Vladimir Lenin: Greetings to the Italian Socialist Party
Roger D. Griffin, B.A., Ph.D. Professor, Department of History, Oxford Brookes University. Author of International Fascism: Theories, Causes, and the New Consensus, The Nature of Fascism
Aristotle A. Kallis, “The Fascism Reader”, Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE
The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism. By George L. Mosse. Howard Fertig. 230 pp.
Beetham, David. Marxists in Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Inter-War Period.