Fascism was a major political belief in the early 20th century, and the word was used officially by a number of political parties, notably the Italian Fascist Party. The name itself was derived from the fasces, the axe in a bundle of rods that represented the power and authority of ancient Rome.
In 1922 the Fascist Party came to power in Italy, and the Nazi Party became a part of the German government in 1933. During World War II a large number of Fascist movements were installed either by Nazi Germany or with its support.
Outside Europe and after World War II, some pseudo-Fascist groups also operated, mainly on the political fringes, with some mainstream political parties and politicians often accused of fascist tendencies by their enemies.
Fascist movements have tended to be formulated around four major ideas: totalitarianism, economic socialism, extreme nationalism, and xenophobia. Most successful fascist movements have tended to be formed around charismatic leaders who preside over a totalitarian state wherein people are indoctrinated into believing in the leader and trusting in his judgment—fascist leaders have invariably been male.
On an economic level, fascist movements have tended to adopt socialist policies and have generally been both antiliberal and anticonservative in their views. On the issue of nationalism fascist movements surround themselves with symbols of national identity such as flags, badges, and the adoption of certain historical characters and events as important in the creation of national identity. The extreme xenophobia of fascist movements has often led to racism, racist ideas, and racist violence.
Although many historians see fascism as a reaction to an existing political situation, others see it as a historical trend, possibly with its origins from the Jacobins at the time of the French Revolution.
Certainly Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and other fascists dated many of their ideas from the late 19th century. There had been a development of racist ideas by the French diplomat Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau (1816–82), who is credited with the modern concept of racism.
This gained greater impetus with the ideas of Social Darwinism, in which evolution made the white or Aryan the most developed form of human. This was to be an influence on Friedrich Nietzsche, composer Richard Wagner, and the early fascists in Europe.
Although certain elements of the beliefs of the Jacobins were similar to the policies of some fascists, the mainstream European fascist movement has its origins in the reaction against the events of 1789 and the revolutions in 1830 and especially 1848 as well as the fear of the spread of ideas from the Paris Commune of 1870.
Some commentators felt that the people who were rising to power were not as worthy as the old aristocracy, and Darwinism was used to argue that they were at a lower stage of biological evolution. In spite of this many fascists saw themselves as "revolutionary" in a noncommunist manner.
More mainstream fascism viewed the revolutionary movements as tending to have their origins in the cities, and the peasants in the countryside, viewed as more racially pure, should be the true inheritors of the new society. By the late 19th century and the rise of anti-Semitism, it was clear that many protofascists were becoming increasingly anti-Jewish, although a few certainly rejected such ideas.
These disagreements can be seen in the eventual implementation of fascist policies. Although Nazi Germany had an avowed policy of anti-Semitism, which led to the Holocaust, Fascist Italy did not introduce anti-Jewish measures until 1938, and this may have been as much to ensure an Italian-German military alliance as for ideological reasons.
The first fascist party to come to power was the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista) in Italy. It was led by Benito Mussolini, who became the prime minister of Italy after his March on Rome in 1922.
The actions of Mussolini inspired those of some other politicians in Europe, and during the 1920s, especially the last years of the decade, a number of mainstream political figures announced their support for Mussolini. In Germany the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party, which became the Nazi Party) of Adolf Hitler began to emerge as a political force in the late 1920s.
It had links with Mussolini, and Hitler usually flattered his Italian counterpart, even though he secretly had little time for him. Supporters in France were grouped in the Faisceau of Georges Valois, which operated from 1925 until 1928.
However, it was the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 that was to provide the fascist movements in Europe and elsewhere with their greatest number of recruits. The failure of mainstream political parties to deal with the social legacy of World War I, rising unemployment, and the growing despair of many people throughout the world led to support for extremist political viewpoints, from the left and the right.
This terminology persisted with right-wing politicians often denounced by their opponents as "fascists." Several political figures, worried about the rising influence of communism, sought out a fascist alternative.
On January 30, 1933, mainstream German political parties invited Hitler to become chancellor of the country. He rapidly used his position to take over the government, which was confirmed when new elections to the Reichstag on March 3 led to the Nazis' dominating the new parliament and expelling the communists.
Over succeeding months the Nazis took more and more power, leading to the banning of other political parties on July 14. On December 1 the Nazi "revolution," as it was called, saw the Nazi Party and the German state merged.
Other fascist parties were emerging at the same time. Those who came to run their countries included the Vaterländische Front (Fatherland Front) of Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria; the União Nacional (National Union) of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal; and the Elefterofronoi (Party of Free Believers) of Ioannis Metaxas in Greece.
The Nasjonal Samling (National Union) of Vidkun Quisling in Norway had much support in the early 1930s, although its membership dwindled in the late 1930s. Quisling himself was to collaborate with the Germans in World War II. In Spain in 1933 the Falange (Phalanx) was founded by the young and charismatic José Antonio Primo de Rivera.
Although it never came to power in its own right—indeed, Primo de Rivera was killed at the start of the Spanish civil war in 1936—its members did ally themselves to Francisco Franco, and many of them served in the Spanish governments during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Other European Fascist Movements
With many of the early fascist thinkers being French, there was a major fascist movement in France. Much of it centered on the writings of Charles Maurras (1868– 1952). He believed that a union of the monarchy and the church could save Europe from anarchy and formed his movement, Action Française (French Action).
The Croix de Feu (Cross of Fire), later renamed the Parti Social Français (French Social Party), was led by Colonel François de La Rocque and became one of the major right-wing parties in 1936–38, with a membership between 700,000 and 1.2 million.
By 1939 these included 3,000 mayors, 1,000 municipal councilors, and 12 parliamentary deputies. In neighboring Belgium the Rexist Party of Léon Degrelle won 10 percent of the parliamentary seats in the 1936 elections.
In eastern Europe the violently anti-Semitic Falanga of Bolesław Piasecki in Poland was an important political party but did not manage to dislodge the government of Józef Piłsudski. In Hungary the Nyilaskeresztes Párt (Arrow Cross Party) of Ferenc Szálasi was largely ineffectual until 1944, when Szálasi was appointed puppet prime minister of Hungary by Admiral Miklós Horthy.
Romania also had its own fascist movement, known as the Garda de Fier (Iron Guard), which also operated under the names the League of Christian Defense, the Legion of the Archangel Michael, and All for the Fatherland.
These groups, led by Corneliu Codreanu, were disbanded in 1938, with Codreanu himself arrested in the following year. There were also fascist groups in the Baltic, with Viktor Arajs in Latvia and Vihtori Kosola, whose Lapua Movement tried to stage a coup d'état in Finland in 1932.
As well as fascist movements within countries, there were also groups that recruited from exiles. The Ustaša (Insurgence) movement was led by Ante Pavelic ́ from Croatia, who fled Yugoslavia in 1929 and only returned after the German invasion in 1941. Similarly, there were many Russian fascist groups whose recruits were White Russian exiles.
Some of these operated from China, with branches in Manchuria and in Shanghai. Others had support from Russians in the United States. The largest of these were the Russian Fascist Party (VFP) of Konstantin Rodzaevsky and the All Russian Fascist Organization (VFO) of Anastasy Vonsiatsky.
Outside Europe several fascist groups were founded in the Middle East and in South Africa. The Syrian People's Party, the Syrian National Socialist Party, the "Phalange" youth movement in Lebanon, the Futuwa movement of Iraq, and the Young Egypt movement also had fascist sympathies. In South Africa fascists found ready recruits among the Afrikaner community, which had become particularly politically active with the 100th anniversary of the Great Trek.
The military dictatorship of Admiral Tojo Hideki in Japan was also regarded as fascist, and many secret societies, pressure groups, and the like were fascist in their views and their organization. These included the Anti-Red Corps, the Great Japan Youth Party, the Greater Japan National Essence Association, the Imperial Way Faction, the New Japan League, and the Taisho Sincerity League. In China the Blue Shirts certainly absorbed some fascist ideas.
In the United States the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Legion were important mass movements that attracted many fascists. There were also the supporters of Father Charles Coughlin, whose radio broadcasts attracted widespread attention throughout the country.
He became increasingly pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic and had the support of those members of the German communities in the United States who were members of the German-American Bund, which organized youth camps and mass rallies until 1941.
In Latin America there were several indigenous fascist movements such as the Unión Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Union), which came to power when Luis Sánchez Cerro became president of Peru in 1930–31. Other groups included the Ação Integralista Brasileira (Brazilian Integralist
Action Party), which had up to 200,000 members until it was suppressed in 1938; the Nacis of Jorge González von Mareés in Chile; and the Gold Shirts of Nicolás Rodríguez in Mexico. In addition, there were people from of the German community who were members of local branches of the Nazi Party.
Fascism During World War II
When the German army and its allies conquered much of Europe during the first part of World War II, there was a flourishing of fascist movements, and many prewar fascists held government positions. Quisling became prime minister of Norway in 1940, and from 1942 to 1945 his name became the byword for collaborators, although there is much evidence that Quisling himself was not averse to challenging German "orders."
In France the regime of Marshal Pétain incorporated many prewar fascists, and there was also a resurgence in fascism in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Denmark a very small group of fascists formed themselves into the Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Arbejderparti (Danish National Socialist Workers' Party).
Members of the German minority in eastern Europe were prominent in their support for the Nazi Party. In Latvia Viktor Arajs gave his name to the "Arajs Commando," a militia group that had been involved in the murder of several thousand Jews.
In contrast, in Allied countries World War II saw the internment of fascists. Senior members of the British Union of Fascists were arrested when war broke out, and the movement was banned in 1940. In South Africa some members of pro-German organizations were also imprisoned. Pressure from Britain and also the United States after 1941 led to crackdowns on Nazi and fascist movements throughout South America.
After World War II fascism was largely discredited in Europe, and it was many years before neofascist groups started emerging in Britain, France, Italy, and Austria, with small gatherings of neofascists in Germany.
After the collapse of communism in eastern Europe fascist groups started organizing in the former East Germany, Romania, and Russia. In Austria, France, and Italy they had electoral success, but they remained on the fringe in most other countries.
Outside Europe movements such as that of Juan Perón in Argentina had obvious similarities with European fascist parties, as did the military governments in other parts of Latin America, particularly in Stroessner's Paraguay and Augusto Pinochet's Chile. Fascist groups also continued to operate in South Africa until the establishment of black majority rule in 1994.
The strength of fascist movements relied heavily on unquestioning support for a specific leader. Hitler's title, "Führer," and Mussolini's title, "Duce," led to Franco's resurrecting the old Spanish title caudillo. This lack of internal opposition, on account of total ruthlessness in suprressing it, clearly helped them form relatively successful totalitarian regimes.
Oswald Mosley led the British fascist movement unchallenged during the 1930s and again after World War II. However, when he moved to France British fascists were left without a strong leader, and their movement fragmented.
Some fascist leaders, such as José Antonio Primo de Rivera in Spain and Oswald Mosley in Britain, were aristocrats who were well connected. However, many other fascist leaders were the children of government employees.
Hitler's father was a customs official, Franco's father was a naval paymaster, Himmler's father was a schoolmaster, and Ferenc Szálasi's father was a soldier. Of the self-employed, Goebbels's father was an accountant, Mussolini's father was a blacksmith, and Salazar was the only one from a very poor background.
In economic terms many fascists had conservative economic programs, getting support from small businessmen, especially small farmers and shopkeepers. However, most fascist groups introduced economic policies that tended to benefit the wealthier people rather than their working-class supporters.
Their support for big businesses, many of which had supported the fascist groups before they came to power, was shown by lavish government contracts, especially war contracts, making wealthy industrialists even richer.
Hitler regarded much of his economic policy as being socialist, and he practiced widespread corporatism by organizing the major sectors of the economy into corporations. By contrast, the working class was hurt often with falls in real wages and reduction in the power of trade unions.
On the issue of nationalism, Primo de Rivera wrote, "Spain is not a territory, neither is it an aggregate of men and women—Spain is, above all, an indivisible destiny." This echoes Hitler's slogan "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer." Certainly one of the major traditions in fascism involves invoking the identity of one's own country, often idolizing a particular historical period when the country in question dominated its neighbors.
Fascist Italy took on much of the symbolism and indeed some of the terminology of ancient Rome. The invasion of Albania in April 1939 was, as far as many Italians were concerned, Italy taking back a territory it had controlled in ancient and indeed in medieval times, when much of it was a part of the Venetian Empire.
In Germany Hitler harked back to the power of medieval Germany, with the "Third Reich" being seen as a logical successor to the "First Reich"—the medieval Holy Roman Empire—and the "Second Reich"—the German Empire built by Bismarck. Nazi Germany adopted as its heroes men like Charlemagne, Goethe, and Frederick the Great.
The nationalist symbolism adopted by French fascists tended to involve an almost cult worshipping of Joan of Arc and Bertrand du Guesclin, who both fought the English during the Hundred Years' War. It is no accident that most of the fascist heroes from history were military leaders, and most fascist groups adopted the trappings of paramilitary organizations, such as the adoption of the Blackshirt uniform in Britain.
The Germans used brown shirts, and most other fascist groups adopted blue shirts. All developed a clear, simple party symbol: the fasces, the swastika, the flash of lightning, an arrow, or a variation on the standard cross.
The last characteristic of many fascist groups was xenophobia and in many cases racism. Jean Renaud from French Solidarity wanted to prevent foreign migrants' turning France into what he called "a depository for trash." Others adopted similar policies, especially against Jews and Gypsies (Roma), who were the targets of Nazis and fascists from many other countries.
Nazis also regarded Slavs as racially inferior, as Croatian fascists did the Serbs. Before World War II there was organized repression by the Nazis of Jews, Gypsies, and other groups. During the war itself the Nazis began a systematic extermination of these people in the Holocaust.
Nazi propaganda also made frequent derogatory mentions of African Americans, and many fascists, especially postwar ones, have been antiblack. Some of the anti-Jewish beliefs were encapsulated in the views of Christianity of the period, viewing the Jews as the murderers of Jesus.
In this regard it is curious that although many fascist ideologists tended to be agnostic or atheist in their views on religion, most European fascists and the vast majority of their Latin American counterparts were Christians and appealed to Christianity to justify many of their views.