IAS online test series
 Home » Subject » Political Science » Notes » Political Ideologies: Fascism

Political Ideologies: Fascism

Fascism is an effective political ideology whose central theme is the notion of an organically combined national community, exemplified in a belief in 'strength through unity'. The individual, in a factual sense, is nothing; individual identity must be completely absorbed into the community or social group. To simply elaborate, Fascism is an authoritarian Nationalist political ideology that promotes nation above the individual, and that stands for a centralized autocratic government controlled by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regulation, and powerful suppression of opposition. It often claims to be concerned with concepts of cultural decline or decadence, and seeks to achieve a national rebirth by subduing the interests of the individual, and instead promoting cults of unity, energy and transparency.

Concept of fascism:

The term "fascismo" was invented by the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 - 1945) and the self-described "philosopher of Fascism" Giovanni Gentile (1875 - 1944). It is derived from the Latin word "fasces", an ancient Roman symbol consisting of a bundle of rods tied around an axe, used to suggest "strength through unity". It was formerly used to refer specifically to Mussolini's political movement that ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943, but has consequently also been used to describe other governments. Fascism can be applied to the formation of new revolutionary nationalist movements which rose to power in Europe between the World Wars (Payne, 1998).

It is considered by many thinkers that fascism is a highly nationalist, militaristic, totalitarian political ideology in which one person has absolute power. World War I was the major event that procreated fascism. The war was the first major war fought between industrialized nations, which were armed with technology such as machine guns and chemical weapons. The result was complete destruction. Millions of people died, entire countries malformed, and those who survived were often deeply disillusioned. For many people, the war presented that contemporary ideas had failed and that a new way was required. The majority of European fascist states developed from the amalgamation of and as a consequence to a multitude of significant events, including an troubled society with destabilised governments, the detrimental effect caused by the impact of World War and, by some, the disappointment caused by signing the Treaty of Versailles. Fascism was the movement and political response which offered European people the ability to reconstruct their nation and escape the existing dilemma.

Fascism emerged in Italy in the 1920s. Italy had battled on the winning side of World War I, but it had agonised greatly. Many Italians were annoyed and disappointed that the country gained very little for the price it paid. Some war veterans felt alienated from society: They had grown accustomed to the fears of war, and now normal life seemed unreal and incomprehensible. Some of these war veterans began to rally together, trying to re-create the companionship of the war. Their meetings led to the increase of fascism. In its original form, fascism was neither racist nor anti-Semitic. Undeniably, some early Italian fascists were Jewish. Although Italy was the origin of fascism, it expanded to other countries. In the mid to late twentieth century, the Spanish government under General Francisco Franco was fascist, as were the Argentinean government under Juan Peron and some of the governments in Eastern Europe before World War II. The Japanese government before and during World War II also shared some fascist thoughts.

The fascist model is that of the 'new man', a hero, inspired by duty, honour and self-sacrifice, prepared to devote his life to the magnificence of his nation or race, and to give unquestioning obedience to a top leader. In many respects, fascism establishes a revolt against the ideas and values that dominated Western political thought from the French Revolution onwards in the words of the Italian Fascist slogan: '1789 is Dead'. Values such as rationalism, progress, freedom and equality were upturned in the name of struggle, leadership, power, heroism and war. In this respect, fascism has an 'anti-character'. It is explained by what it opposes: it is anti-rational, anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois, and anti-communist. Fascism signifies the dimmer side of the Western political tradition, the central values of which it changed rather than uncontrolled. Fascists stated that freedom means complete submission, democracy is associated with dictatorship, progress suggests constant struggle and war, and creation is identified with annihilation.

Fascism has been a complex historical phenomenon, and it is tough to identify its fundamental principles or a 'fascist minimum'. For example, although most commentators treat Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship in Italy and Hitler's Nazi dictatorship in Germany as the two principal manifestations of fascism, others regard Fascism and Nazism as dissimilar ideological traditions. Italian Fascism was basically an extreme form of statism that was based upon unquestioning respect and absolute loyalty towards a 'totalitarian' state. Fascist philosopher, Gentile (1875-1944) indicted that 'everything for the state; nothing against the state; nothing outside the state'. German Nazism was created largely on the basis of racialism. Its two principal theories were Aryanism (the belief that the German people constitute a 'master race' and are destined for world domination) and a virulent form of anti-Semitism that portrayed the Jews as inherently evil and aimed at their eradication.

Fascist ideology based on national unity behind a single revered ruler and for the idea that citizens must serve the state (as opposed to most forms of liberal democracy, which have an inverse view of this relationship). Fascism is principally remembered for its oppressive treatment of citizens, infringements on personal freedoms and cruel crushing of opposition. It usually requires unusual of personality around a single central figure, hero worship, and a strong emphasis on a particularly militaristic view of national security. A consecutive theme in fascist regimes is the concept of palingenetic ultranationalism, or that there must be an "organic" rebellion that will lead to a national renaissance to a more pure era that will do away with corruption and weakness within the nation. Seldom are there many specifics given on what this may look like or how to reach this "rebirth" but it is however strongly identified with fascism, to the point where some say it is the primary difference between fascist regimes and other right-wing dictatorships. In this way, fascism could be considered an extreme take on reactionary political viewpoints.

While the theory of fascism makes society to be ordered in a corporatist fashion, favouring collective bargaining for all groups in society, such as workers, farmers, employers, clergymen, etc., in practice, this transformed to the fascist states simply favouring and strengthening the largest and most sympathetic businesses, exercising heavy state control on them in return. In contrast to communism, these businesses will remain formally under private ownership, with their profits going to the owners rather than the state.

Fascist authoritarianisms are usually not just content with a silent, dutiful population, but expect the people to actively come out and support the government. A successful fascist dictatorship will rely more on public opinion than on absolute oppression. This is another point where fascism differs from other right-wing dictatorships, which usually rely on little more than oppression and try to ignore public opinion.

The French Revolution and its political inheritance had profound influence upon the expansion of fascism. Fascists interpreted the French Revolution as a largely negative event that resulted in the entrenchment of liberal ideas such as liberal democracy, anticlericalism, and rationalism. Challengers to the French Revolution initially were conservatives and reactionaries, but the Revolution was also later disparaged by Marxists and racist nationalists who opposed its universalist principles. Racist nationalists in particular condemned the French Revolution for granting social equality to "inferior races" such as Jews. Mussolini condemned the French Revolution for developing liberalism, scientific socialism, and liberal democracy, but also recognized that fascism extracted and utilized all the elements that had preserved those ideologies' vitality, and that fascism had no desire to restore the conditions that precipitated the French Revolution. Though fascism opposed core parts of the Revolution, fascists sustained other aspects of it. Mussolini declared his support for the Revolution's demolishment of remnants of the Middle Ages such as tolls and compulsory labour upon citizens, and he noted that the French Revolution did have benefits in that it had been a cause of the whole French nation and not only a political party (Blamires, Cyprian, 2006).

It was appraised that the French Revolution was responsible for the entrenchment of nationalism as a political ideology both in its development in France as French nationalism and in the formation of nationalist movements particularly in Germany with the development of German nationalism by Johann Gottlieb Fichte as a political response to the development of French nationalism (Alexander J. Motyl, 2001). The Nazis blamed the French Revolution of being dominated by Jews and Freemasons and were deeply disturbed by the Revolution's intention to completely break France away from its past history in what the Nazis claimed was a repudiation of history that they asserted to be a trait of the Enlightenment. Though the Nazis were highly critical of the Revolution, Hitler in Mein Kampf said that the French Revolution is a model for how to realise change that his claims were caused by the rhetorical strength of demagogues. Additionally, the Nazis idealized the levee en masse (mass mobilization of soldiers) that was developed by French Revolutionary armies, and the Nazis sought to use the system for their paramilitary movement (Blamires, Cyprian, 2006).

Major persons who greatly influenced fascism, the French revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel influenced by anarchism and contributed to the synthesis of anarchism and syndicalism together into anarcho syndicalism (Mark Antliff, 2007). Sorel encouraged the legitimacy of political violence in his work Reflections on Violence (1908) and other works in which he supported radical syndicalist action to accomplish a revolution to overthrow capitalism and the bourgeoisie through a general strike. In Reflections on Violence, Sorel stressed need for a revolutionary political religion. In his work "The Illusions of Progress", Sorel condemned democracy as reactionary, saying "nothing is more aristocratic than democracy" (Mark Antliff, 2007). By 1909, after the catastrophe of a syndicalist general strike in France, Sorel and his followers left the radical left and went to the radical right, where they sought to merge militant Catholicism and French patriotism with their views, advocating anti-republican Christian French patriots as ideal revolutionaries. Primarily, Sorel had officially been a revisionist of Marxism, but by 1910, announced his rejection of socialist literature and claimed in 1914, using an aphorism of Benedetto Croce that "socialism is dead" due to the "decomposition of Marxism" (Sternhell, Zeev, Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, 1994). Sorel became a follower of reactionary Maurrassian integral nationalism beginning in 1909 that influenced his works. French right-wing monarchist and nationalist Charles Maurras held interest in amalgamation of his nationalist principles with Sorelian syndicalism as a means to confront liberal democracy. Maurras stated "a socialism liberated from the democratic and cosmopolitan element fits nationalism well as a well-made glove fits a beautiful hand" (Douglas R, 2000). Sorelianism is considered to be a forerunner to fascism. This combination of nationalism on the political Right with Sorelian syndicalism on the Left, around the outbreak of World War I. Sorelian syndicalism, dissimilar other ideologies on the left, held an exclusive view that the ethics of the working class needed to be raised. The Sorelian concept of the positive nature of social war and its insistence on moral revolution led some syndicalists to believe that war was the decisive manifestation of social change and moral uprising (Sternhell, Zeev, 1994).

Fascism wanted to accommodate Italian conservatives by making major modifications to its political agenda; cancelling its previous populism, republicanism, and anticlericalism, implementing policies in support of free enterprise, and accepting the Roman Catholic Church and the monarchy as institutions in Italy (De Grand, Alexander, 2000). To plea to Italian conservatives, Fascism approved policies such as promoting family values, including promotion policies designed to reduce the number of women in the workforce, limiting the woman's role to that of a mother. The fascists barred literature on birth control and increased penalties for abortion in 1926, pronouncing both crimes against the state. Though, Fascism accepted a number of positions designed to appeal to reactionaries, the Fascists sought to maintain Fascism's revolutionary character, with Angelo Oliviero Olivetti saying "Fascism would like to be conservative, but it will be by being revolutionary (Zeev Sternhell, Mario Sznajder, 1994). The Fascists supported ground-breaking action and committed to secure law and order to appeal to both conservatives and syndicalists. Earlier to Fascism's accommodation of the political right, Fascism was a small, urban, northern Italian movement that had about a thousand members. After Fascism's accommodation of the political right, the Fascist movement's membership soared to approximately 250,000 by 1921 (Cristogianni Borsella, 2007).

International flow of fascism:

The happenings of the Great Depression caused an international swell of fascism and the creation of several fascist administrations and regimes that adopted fascist strategies. The significant fascist regime was Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. With the upsurge of Hitler and the Nazis to power in 1933, liberal democracy was dissolved in Germany, and the Nazis mobilized the country for war, with expansionist territorial aims against several countries. In the decade of 1930s, the Nazis executed racial laws that deliberately discriminated against, disenfranchised, and persecuted Jews and other racial and minority groups. Hungarian fascist Gyula Gombos rose to power as Prime Minister of Hungary in 1932 and visited Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to consolidate good relations with the two regimes. He attempted to establish his Party of National Unity throughout the country; created an eight-hour work day, a forty-eight-hour work week in industry, and sought to entrench a corporatist economy; and followed irredentist claims on Hungary's neighbours. The fascist Iron Guard movement in Romania flown in political support after 1933, gaining representation in the Romanian government, and an Iron Guard member assassinated Romanian prime minister Ion Duca. During the crisis in 6th February 1934, France faced the greatest domestic political disorder since the Dreyfus Affair when the fascist Francist Movement and manifold far right movements rioted masse in Paris against the French government resulting in major political violence. Several para-fascist governments that copied elements from fascism were formed during the Great Depression, including those of Greece, Lithuania, Poland, and Yugoslavia (Stanley G. Payne, 2005).

Integralists marching in Brazil:

Fascism also had influence outside of Europe, especially in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. In China, Wang Jingwei's Kai-tsu p'ai (Reorganization) faction of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China) sustained Nazism in the late 1930s. In Japan, the Tōhōkai, a Nazi movement was made by Seigo Nakano. The Al-Muthanna Club of Iraq was a pan-Arab movement that supported Nazism and exercised influence in Iraqi government through cabinet minister Saib Shawkat who formed a youth paramilitary movement (I. Gershoni, James P. Jankowski, 2010). Several short-lived fascist governments and well-known fascist movements were formed in South America during this period. Argentine President, General Jose Felix Uriburu anticipated that Argentina be reorganized along corporatist and fascist lines. Peruvian president Luis Miguel Sanchez Cerro founded the Revolutionary Union in 1931 as the state party for his autocracy. Upon the Revolutionary Union being taken over by Raul Ferrero Rebagliati who sought to mobilise mass support for the group's nationalism in a manner similar to fascism. He began a Blackshirts paramilitary arm as a copy of the Italian group, although the Union lost heavily in the 1936 elections and faded into obscurity (Stanley G. Payne, 2001).

In Paraguay in 1940, President General Higinio Morinigo started his rule as an authoritarian with the backing of pro-fascist military officers, appealed to the masses, exiled opposition leaders, and only abandoned pro-fascist policy after the end of World War II (Cyprian Blamires, 2006). The Brazilian Integralists led by Plinio Salgado, claimed as many as 200,000 members although following coup attempts it faced a suppression from the Estado Novo of Getulio Vargas in 1937. In the 1930s, the National Socialist Movement of Chile gained seats in Chile's parliament that caused in the Seguro Obrero massacre of 1938.

During the period of Great Depression, Mussolini supported active state intervention in the economy. He condemned the contemporary "supercapitalism" that he demanded began in 1914 as a failure due to its alleged corruption, support for unlimited consumerism and intention to generate the "standardization of humankind" (Gunter Berghaus, 2004). However, Mussolini appealed that the industrial developments of earlier "heroic capitalism" were valuable and continued to support private property as long as it was productive. With the beginning of the Great Depression, Fascist Italy began large-scale state intervention into the economy, establishing the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, a huge state-owned firm and holding company that provided state funding to failing private enterprises. The IRI was made a permanent institution in Fascist Italy in 1937, followed Fascist policies to create national autarky, and had the power to take over private firms to maximize war production (Cyprian Blamires, Paul Jackson, 2006).

In the end of 1930s, Italy passed manufacturing cartels, tariff barriers, currency restrictions, and immense regulation of the economy to attempt to balance payments. Though, Italy's policy of autarky failed to accomplish effective economic autonomy. Nazi Germany similarly followed an economic agenda with the aims of autarky and rearmament and imposed protectionist strategies, including forcing the German steel industry to use lower-quality German iron ore rather than superior-quality imported iron (Cyprian Blamires, Paul Jackson, 2006). In Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany both pursued territorial expansionist and interventionist foreign policy agendas from the 1930s through the 1940s ending in World War II. Mussolini called for irredentist Italian claims to be reclaimed, establishing Italian domination of the Mediterranean Sea and securing Italian access to the Atlantic Ocean, and the creation of Italian Spazio vitale in the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions. Hitler called for irredentist German claims to be reclaimed along with the creation of German lebensraum in Eastern Europe, including territories held by the Soviet Union that would be colonized by Germans (Aristotle A. Kallis, 2001).

In the repercussion of World War II, the triumph of the Allies over the Axis powers led to the downfall multiple fascist regimes in Europe. The Nuremberg Trials convicted multiple Nazi leaders of crimes against humanity involving the Holocaust. However, there remained multiple philosophies and governments that were ideologically related to fascism.

Peronism related with the regime of Juan Peron in Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and 1973 to 1974, was strongly influenced by fascism. Prior to rising to power, from 1939 to 1941, Peron had developed a deep appreciation of Italian Fascism and modelled his economic strategies on Italian Fascist economic policies (Blamires, Cyprian, 2006). Ideology powerfully influenced by fascism is Ba'athism. Ba'athism is a revolutionary Arab nationalist dogma that pursues the amalgamation of all claimed Arab lands into a single Arab state. Zaki al-Arsuzi, one of the principal creators of Ba'athism was strongly influenced by and supportive of fascism and Nazism. Several close associates of Ba'athism's major ideologist Michel Aflaq have acknowledged that Aflaq had been directly stimulated by certain fascist and Nazi theorists. Ba'athist regimes in power in Iraq and Syria have held strong similarities to fascism, they are radical authoritarian nationalist one-party states. Due to Ba'athism's anti-Western stances, it chosen the Soviet Union in the Cold War and admired and adopted certain Soviet organizational structures for their governments, however the Ba'athist regimes have persecuted communists (Blamires, Cyprian, 2006).

Historian Stanley Payne in the 1990s appealed that a prominent and Hindu nationalist movement Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) holds strong similarities to fascism - including its use of paramilitaries and its irredentist claims, calling for the creation of a Greater India (Stanley G. Payne, 2005). Cyprian Blamires in World Fascism: A Historical manual defines the philosophy of the RSS as "fascism with 'Sanskrit characters'" - a unique Indian variant of fascism (Blamires, 2006). Blamires notes that there is indication that the RSS held direct contact with Italy's Fascist government and admired European fascism. However these interpretations are extensively criticized (Gregor, Anthony James, 2006).

America also represented some features of fascism. United States is a nation whose leaders frequently plunge their nation into, and force them to pay for, serial wars overseas, whereas stealing their freedom at home.

Fascism emphasizes:

  • Action: Human beings find meaning and purpose by acting, not by reasoning or thinking.
  • Community spirit: People need to be part of a community. Individualism is dangerous because it turns people away from their community.
  • Nationalism: The community that matters the most is the nation. People should work together to promote the glory and power of the nation.
  • Militarism: The nation must have a strong, powerful military. The nation displays its power by expanding its territory.
  • The future: Fascists love the speed and power of technology. They look optimistically to the future.
  • One party: The nation must be unified and speak with one voice. Therefore, only one political party is allowed, and that party rules with absolute power.
  • Violence: The government rules its people through violence or the threat of violence.

Fascism usually involves in the following elements:

  • Nationalism (based on the cultural, racial and/or religious attributes of a region).
  • Totalitarianism (state regulation of nearly every aspect of public and private sectors).
  • Statism (state intervention in personal, social or economic matters).
  • Patriotism (positive and supportive attitudes to a "fatherland").
  • Autocracy (political power in the hands of a single self-appointed ruler).
  • Militarism (maintaining of a strong military capability and being prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests).
  • Corporatism (encouragement of unelected bodies which exert control over the social and economic life of their respective areas).
  • Populism (direct appeals to the masses, usually by a charismatic leader).
  • Collectivism (stress on human interdependence rather than on the importance of separate individuals).

Some historians regard fascism as a specifically inter-war phenomenon, linked to a historically unique set of circumstances. These circumstances included the First World War's legacy of disruption, lingering militarism and frustrated nationalism. In many parts of Europe, democratic values had yet to replace older, autocratic ones; the threat to the lower middle classes of the growing might of big business and organised labour; the fears generated amongst propertied classes generally and elite groups in particular by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia; and the economic insecurity of the 1920s which deepened into a full-scale world economic crisis in the early 1930s. According to this view, fascism perished in 1945 with the final collapse of the Hitler and Mussolini regimes, and it has been suppressed ever since by a combination of political stability and economic security. The late twentieth century however witnessed a revitalisation of fascism in the form of neo-fascism. Neo-fascism has been particularly influential in Eastern Europe, where it has sought to revive national rivalries and racial hatreds, and has taken advantage of the political instability that resulted from the collapse of communism. However, it is doubtful whether fascism can meaningfully adopt a 'democratic' face, since this implies an accommodation with principles such as pluralism, toleration and individualism.

Types of Fascism: There are several kind of fascism. Italian Fascism: It is the dictatorial political movement which administrated Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the headship of Benito Mussolini (1883 - 1945). It is the original model which motivated other Fascist ideologies, and is generally denoted as Fascism. It grew out of Mussolini's desire to re-affirm Italian national identity and pride after several centuries of disagreement leading up to the amalgamation of 1870. Analogous movements appeared throughout the world (including Europe, Japan, and Latin America) between World War I and World War II.

Nazism refers to the philosophy and practices of the German Nazi Party (or National Socialist German Workers' Party) under the headship of Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) between 1933 and 1945. It was a powerfully nationalist, totalitarian, racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist movement, which grew up in the repercussion of German humiliation after World War I, which was partly blamed on Germany's Jews. Hitler published his political beliefs in "Mein Kampf" in 1925 and, stimulated by the Italian Fascism of Mussolini, assumed dictatorial powers as Chancellor in 1933. His conviction in the superiority of an Aryan race and the possibilities of eugenics (racial purification), his ferocious anti-Semitism and anti-Communism, mutual with his militaristic and expansionist ambitions led to World War II, with its atrocities and genocide, eventual military defeat and the subsequent rejection of Nazism as a feasible dogma.

Another category of fascism is clerical Fascism. It is an ideology that combines the political and economic principles of Fascism with theology or religious tradition. The term initially arose in the 1920s referring to Catholic support for the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, but has since been applied to various regimes and movements, particularly in Europe and South America.

Neo-Fascism is any post-World War II creed that includes noteworthy elements of Fascism, or that expresses specific admiration for Benito Mussolini and Italian Fascism, again particularly in Europe and South America. It includes various Neo-Nazi movements, which can be found almost worldwide. Neo-fascism or 'democratic fascism' claims to have distanced itself from principles such as compelling leadership, totalitarianism and overt racialism. It is a form of fascism that is often related to anti-immigration campaigns and is linked with the growth of insular, ethnically or racially based forms of nationalism that have jumped up as a reaction against globalisation.

It is believed that fascism generally succeeds in countries with strong nationalism and weak egalitarianisms. Strong nationalism attracts people to fascism's ultranationalist goals. "Weak democracy" has two connotations, both of which enable fascism to flourish. A democracy is weak in that it is incompetent and unresponsive. Subsequently, citizens become dissatisfied with it and are willing to abandon it for another regime type. A weak democracy also refers to a democratic tradition that is fairly new and not strongly entrenched. This also enables fascism to prosper because it is easier to replace this type of democracy with another government.

It can be appraised that the basis of the Fascist policy is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism, the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Individuals and groups are allowable in so far as they come within the State. Instead of directing the game and guiding the material and moral progress of the community, the liberal State restricts its activities to recording results. The Fascist State is awake and has a will of its own. For this reason it can be described as "ethical".

To summarize, Fascism is a political ideology which is of deep-seated as an authoritarian nationalist. Fascists has aimed to organize a nation according to corporatist perspectives, systems and principles, including the political structure and the economy. Fascists support the formation of a totalitarian single-party state that hunts for the mass mobilization of a country and the establishment of a perfect "new man" to make a governing elite in the course of indoctrination, physical learning, and family rule including eugenics. They believe that a country requires strong leadership, extraordinary collective identity, as well as the will and aptitude to commit violence and wage warfare so as to keep the country strong. Fascist administrations suppress and forbid opposition to the state (Ball and Dagger). Fascism is a type of far-reaching authoritarian nationalism that evolved in early 20th-century Europe, influenced by national syndicalism (Turner, Henry Ashby, 1975). Fascism was invented in Italy during World War I and expanded to other European countries. Fascism opposes liberalism, Marxism and anarchism and is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left-right spectrum (Roger Griffin, 1995). Although the major thoughts and dogmas of fascism can be traced back to the nineteenth century, they were bonded together and shaped by the First World War and its repercussion, in particular by a potent mixture of war and revolution. Fascism emerged intensely in Italy and Germany, manifest respectively in the Mussolini regime (1922-43) and the Hitler regime (1933-45).