Political Theories for Students. Editor: Matthew Miskelly & Jaime Noce. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
Fascism is a twentieth-century political ideology and movement based on nationalism and militarism, which emphasizes the importance of the state and the individual’s overriding duty to it. It opposes communism and liberalism, and seeks to regenerate the social, cultural, and economic life of its country by instilling its citizens with a powerful sense of national identity and an unquestioning loyalty to the state and its leader. Agencies of state control, such as secret police, and sophisticated propaganda techniques are important factors in the suppression of opposition and the advancement of fascist doctrines.
Drawing on nineteenth century theories, such as those of Friedrich Nietzsche and Georges Sorel, fascism arose out of the political and social destruction which followed World War I (1914-1918) and the Russian Revolution (1917), and reached its peak in the inter-war years between 1922-1939. Fascism was officially founded by Benito Mussolini, whose Fascist regime controlled Italy between 1922 and 1945, and derived its name from the fasces of ancient Rome, an axe tied up in a bundle of sticks which symbolized authority and justice. Italian Fascism proved to be the model for subsequent movements throughout Europe, most notably that of Germany. Under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, Nazism developed the nationalist principles of fascism into a blueprint for conquering Europe and establishing a racial hierarchy. The Third Reich’s attempts to create a “new order” led directly to the carnage of World War II, and to the German “master race” inflicting terror and genocide on those who it deemed to be inferior.
Although the era of fascist domination ended in 1945, with the Allied victory over Italy and Germany, the influence of its ideology, as documented in Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) and Mussolini’s Dottrina del Fascismo (“Doctrine of Fascism”), continues to exist on the political fringes of all Western democracies.
Within this common framework, however, there are certain characteristics which, although figuring prominently in some fascist movements, are absent in others. Arguably the most important of these differences lies in the militarist and nationalist doctrines of the various regimes, which range from an intense pride in national unity and traditions, through to a belief in racial superiority, ending ultimately in the overt racism, anti-Semitism and ethnic cleansing adopted by the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler. These ideological inconsistencies have resulted in constant debate as to whether the authoritarian and nationalistic movements that arose in countries such as Spain, Romania, Austria, and France can be accurately described as fascist, or were merely foreign models of the original Fascist regime of Italy. If taken to its most basic and literal meaning, the term fascism applies only to the Italian regime which was founded and named by Mussolini although it is generally extended to encompass all comparable ideologies and movements. What is indisputable, however, is that to most people, fascism is primarily associated with the regimes of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Unfortunately, the well-documented manner in which its regimes mercilessly persecuted their national, political, and racial enemies has replaced much of fascism’s political meaning with more common use as a term of abuse and a generic symbol of evil and violence.
Despite this widespread demonization, and fascism’s inability to regain the political dominance it enjoyed from 1922 until the defeat of Germany and Italy in World War II in 1945, it would be foolish to dismiss its continuing influence and potential. The resurgence, especially in Eastern Europe, of authoritarian regimes with strong nationalist support, and the existence of fascist and neo-fascist movements on the political fringes of most Western democracies, only serves to highlight the need for continued study of fascism, in the hope of gaining greater understanding of its ideology, aims, and appeal.
Although fascism, as a political system, did not thrust itself upon the world until after World War I, the roots and influences of its political theory stretch back as far as the early nineteenth century. As a reaction to the values and ideals created during the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution that had swept across Europe during the eighteenth century, many intellectuals developed philosophies and concepts which would later be adapted to form the foundations of fascist ideology. Among those who opposed the new prevailing attitudes of rationalism, democracy, and liberalism, were the writers Johann von Goethe (1749-1832) and Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854), who denied the claims that human nature could be explained in terms of general laws and dismissed the growing belief that politics and economics should aim for greater democracy and universalism. Along with other thinkers, known collectively as the Romantic Movement, Goethe and Schelling placed great emphasis on the importance of nationalism and tradition, and displayed a fervent hostility towards society’s increasing adoption of material values.
The Romantic Movement’s philosophy was developed into a rejection of democracy as the ideal form of decision making by thinkers who adapted the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), in particular his belief in the “general will.” Rousseau, a Swiss political philosopher, claimed that a natural, harmonious decision will emerge within a society on any issue, but this decision is not necessarily the one that would be chosen by a democratic majority. He added that, on certain occasions, the people may not be aware of this “general will” and it was the duty of those in authority to invoke it. This theory has been linked to the fascist ideology of the strong, authoritarian state, making all decisions on behalf of its people and in the interests of the nation. In fairness to Rousseau, however, it is doubtful whether he intended for his theory to be interpreted in this way—his other assertions, in contrast to fascism, were that mankind was not inherently evil, and that ordinary people had the right and ability to bring about changes within their society.
During the course of the nineteenth century, the embryonic ideology of fascism gathered momentum and support in many European countries, with the continued rejection of liberal and democratic systems in favor of a return to traditional values and nationalism, under the guidance of a powerful, authoritarian state.
In France and Germany, nationalism progressed beyond its positive function of providing individuals with a shared heritage and a common identity and tradition. By coloring reason with emotion, and by selective interpretation of scientific and intellectual developments, the desire for national unity shifted sharply in the direction of racism. In France, Maurice Barres (1862-1923) introduced his theory of enracinement, which essentially suggested the existence of a mystical link between a country’s living and dead citizens, placing great emphasis on the importance of a nation to uphold the traditions and values of their ancestors. The views of Barres, along with those of his compatriots Comte Joseph de Gobineau (1816-1882) and Charles Maurras (1868-1952), founded the ideology on which Action Français(AF), considered by many historians to be the first fascist movement, was based. Formed in June 1899, AF united support from all sections of French society against the liberalism and universalism of the Republican government. With the influence of leading members, such as Georges Sorel (1847-1922) and Georges Valois (1894-1945), AF sought to reinstate the monarchy as the means of reuniting the nation and thereby placing France in a stronger position to defeat external and, more importantly, internal enemies. In France at this time, just as in other Western European countries, the major internal enemy was considered to be the Jews. Viewed as the materialistic and scheming epitome of capitalism, Jews became the convenient focus of the growing nationalist movement and proved an effective common enemy, upon whom society could blame their economic and political failures and disillusionment. However, neither AF nor any of its subsidiaries were able to turn this strong nationalist support into political success. What they had achieved was the setting in motion of a chain of ideas and events which, only a few years later, would see their ideology of extreme nationalism and strong control of the state become the foundations of a new and powerful political system. Ironically, it would be not in France that fascism eventually obtained its political power, but in Italy and Germany (thus, the fascist regimes that French thinkers had so greatly influenced, almost succeeded in destroying France during World War II).
In Germany, as in France, the path of nationalism had moved from a healthy pride in their heritage and traditions to one of racism, anti-Semitism, and, ultimately, to fascism. The route of German fascism, however, would be influenced by thinkers who placed greater emphasis on the values of national and racial supremacy and military strength.
Before 1870, Germany was divided into many smaller states, the most important of which was Prussia. It was not until after the Prussian armies had defeated France at the Battle of Sedan in 1870 that the unification of Germany was realized, and Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) became the first Chancellor of the new Imperial German Federation. Yet, as far back as the sixteenth century, Germany possessed a strong sense of nationalism, evident in the popularity of the philosopher and religious reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546). These values were later expanded upon by thinkers of the Romantic Movement, and by 1873, when German journalist Wilhelm Marr (1819-1904) published his highly successful book, The Victory of the Jew over the German, the seeds of anti-Semitism and the desire for racial purity were becoming generally promoted and accepted. The breakthrough, in terms of electoral support, came in 1887 when the independent, anti-Semitic candidate Otto Bockel was elected to the Reichstag (German parliament). Yet, his election was not as influential, in terms of fascist ideas, as the manner in which he carried out his campaign. In place of the normally low-key affair, Bockel organized mass rallies, consisting of marching bands and torchlight processions, all accompanied by the singing of nationalist songs and Lutheran hymns. This was a method that would be further developed and successfully employed by future fascist leaders.
Growth In the Twentieth Century
The arrival of the twentieth century still found the growing number of nationalist and militarist movements relegated to the fringes of political power. Even the formation of the Pan-German League, with such popular commitments as emphasizing the will of the people and increasing German economic prosperity by expanding into Eastern Europe, led to minimal electoral support. After the elections in 1912, it was the socialists who had succeeded, for the first time, in becoming the German parliament’s largest party. The majority of right wing groups, moderate and extreme, felt that radical measures were required to revive their popularity. Suggestions ranged from the establishment of a new, popular party to the setting up of an authoritarian regime; some activists even advocated the creation of a dictatorship. Two years later, with the onset of World War I, the nationalist and militarist movements seemed to have lost their momentum, as Germany united behind their government in expectation of a glorious victory, and the increased political and economic power that would inevitably follow in its wake. Indeed, had a swift victory occurred, then the course of world history may well have been very different. This was not the case, however, and as the war continued the German people faced increasing hardship, which in turn led to signs of unrest and dissent. The nationalist movements seized on this as their opportunity, and in September 1917 witnessed the formation of the German Fatherland Party (GFP), the first mass party within Germany to be founded on the developing fascist ideology. By proposing the annexation of states along Germany’s eastern borders, and by deflecting criticism from the government and military by blaming the ailing war effort on the Jewish population, the GFP had, by July 1918, amassed a membership of 1.25 million.
By October 1918, the leaders of the German military were aware that defeat was inevitable and, in order to shirk from the responsibility of their failure, plans were drawn up which transferred the reins of power from the Imperial hierarchy to a new, democratic government. On November 9, 1918, one day after Kaiser Wilhelm I (1859-1941) had been secretly escorted to Holland, Germany was officially declared a republic. The first duty of the new leadership was to unconditionally surrender to the victorious Allies and, two days after succeeding to power, Matthias Erzberger (1875-1921) signed a formal armistice on behalf of the new government. The humiliation felt by the German people and military was intensified by the conditions imposed on their country by the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles. Among the requirements was that Germany must accept full responsibility for starting the war, and that the regions of Alsace and Lorraine should be returned to France. It also ordered major demilitarization and limitations of the German armed forces, changes to Germany’s eastern boundaries, the removal of all German colonies, and a commitment to the paying of restorative compensation to the Allies. The war had shattered German society and they now required someone on whom to place blame, both for the defeat and for the humiliating aftermath. The Germans found two convenient scapegoats in their newly formed democratic government and the Jews. What the German people now sought was the rebirth of their country and the restoration of their national identity and pride, but they no longer believed that the politics of liberalism and democracy would provide this. The German state was collapsing and the people demanded radical changes.
Ironically, one of Germany’s enemies in the war, Italy, experienced a similar feeling of national despair and frustration. Although Italy had emerged on the winning side, the cost of their victory had been a national, social, and economic crisis that resulted, just as in Germany, in the desire for a strong, nationalist political party to lead them out of the post-war chaos and confusion. The combination of intense public disillusionment and the general collapse of the old political order contributed to a rapid growth in the popularity of the developing Fascist movement and its leaders. The head of one such movement was quick to observe that a political void now existed, and within one year of the war’s conclusion, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) had added the term Fascism to the political dictionary, and laid the foundations of the first Fascist political party.
Just as in Germany, the political, economical, and social effects of World War I proved to be the most significant factors in the development and popularity of Italian fascism. However, the political ideology of the National Fascist Party, and the reasons for its subsequent rise to power, had roots which lay far deeper in Italy’s history.
Corresponding very closely to the development of Germany, Italy as a unified nation did not exist until 1870. Prior to this it had consisted of an assortment of independent city-states, interspersed with several kingdoms under the control of autocratic foreign dynasties. The first half of the nineteenth century had spawned a national independence movement, known as the Risorgimento, which sought to establish a united and independent Italian state. The major figures of this nationalist movement were Camillo Cavour (1810- 1861), Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) and Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872). Garibaldi and his Redshirts, a renowned army of one thousand red-shirted volunteers, conquered the major kingdom of Naples in 1861 and throughout the 1860s Italy gradually moved closer to unification. The process was completed, under the guidance of Cavour, in 1870. Unfortunately, although Italy was now officially united, in terms of politics, economics, and geography a great deal of division remained. Italy was, in effect, a dual economy, with the more advanced, industrialized areas being concentrated in the north, while the rural economy of the south was beset with problems of illiteracy and underemployment. Politically, Italy was governed by a succession of elitist coalitions, which were unstable and short-lived, causing the people to feel increasingly alienated and resulting in major public unrest. The instability of the new political system was intensified when the Vatican, who objected to losing the Papal States during the unification process, refused to cooperate with the new state, and announced a papal ban which prohibited any participation in politics.
Italy’s defeat by the Ethiopians at the Battle of Adowa in 1896 further exposed the weakness of the Italian state, and proved yet another blow in their quest for national glory and stability. The Italian people’s discontentment with their leadership became increasingly apparent and, in the years immediately preceding World War I, there was a rapid development in the popularity of both socialism and a new, organized nationalist movement.
While the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) was establishing itself as the largest political party within the coalition government, a small group of intellectuals and writers were laying the foundations of the Italian Nationalist Association (ANI). Officially formed in Florence in 1910, and containing key figures such as Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938), Enrico Corradini (1865-1931) and Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), the ANI adopted a doctrine which focused on the creation of a strong, authoritarian state and a commitment to providing rapid economic growth. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the ANI and their nationalist beliefs were gaining support from all sections of society, including many disillusioned socialists. One of these was Benito Mussolini, whose conversion to nationalism and decision to support, rather than oppose, the war resulted in him being dismissed as editor of the socialist party newspaper, Avanti!. Upon returning wounded from the war, Mussolini set up his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (The People of Italy), in which he criticized the government and opposition political parties, while promoting his own nationalist and militarist views.
Birth of Fascism
The official birth of fascism is generally accepted as occurring on March 23, 1919, when Mussolini met with the “Fascists of the First Hour” at the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan. This gathering, which brought together elements from the extreme right and left of Italian politics, including groups such as the Italian National Association and the Futurists, led directly to the formation of the Fasci di Combattimento, the first self-styled Fascist movement. As its symbol, the group adopted the fasces, an ancient Roman emblem of authority and punishment, consisting of a bundle of rods bound together with a protruding axe head. Although the membership of the Fasci di Combattimento was drawn from all points of the social and political spectrum, most had served in the war, which was of crucial importance to Mussolini, who firmly believed that only a “trenchocratic” regime would be capable of creating a regenerated Italy. He was also of the opinion that the use of violence was necessary to achieve major political goals, whether directly or as a means to suppress the opposition. The Fasci di Combattimento was controlled by an elected central committee, the order of the hierarchy being determined by the number of votes gained by each successful candidate. Mussolini secured the number one position. This, however, was his only successful election in 1919, as in the November national elections the newly formed fascist movement attracted minimal support. Mussolini and the Fascist Central Committee, attributed their failure to the electorate’s distrust of policies which advocated extreme left- and right-wing measures. In order to redress this imbalance, the Fascist movement distanced themselves from many of their left-wing programs and embarked on a definite shift towards the right.
This further drift towards extremism manifested itself most visibly in the increased level of violence, and in the para-militarism of these attacks. Originally employed on a small scale, in order to intimidate opposition groups and defend those attending Fascist meetings, these tactics soon changed with the setting up of the squadristi. These were fascist squads, composed mainly of disillusioned ex-servicemen, who increasingly took on a paramilitary role and favored the use of more threatening tactics. To visually reinforce their militarism, the squadristi adopted the black- shirted uniform and the one-armed salute employed during the war by the arditi, who were the elite troops of the Italian army. Although Mussolini exercised overall command, at a local level each of these squads was under the control of Fascist leaders known as ras, the name being taken from the Ethiopian word for chieftain. By early 1921, Mussolini had growing concerns about the ruthless tactics being employed by the squadristi, and the power and influence that certain of the rashad achieved. Although he was in favor of using violence to achieve specific goals, Mussolini was, at that time, attempting to portray Fascism as a stable and credible political force, and was concerned that the excessive brutality of many squads would undermine his plans. His solution was to formalize the status of the Fascis di Combattimento as an official political party.
When the Fascis di Combattimento was first formed, Mussolini deliberately avoided setting it up as an official political party for two reasons. First, Italy’s recent political past had caused most Italians to become disillusioned with traditional party politics and the ineffectual parliaments that they consistently created. This persuaded Mussolini and the Central Committee to seek an alternative, less rigid, vehicle for their policies. Secondly, an unofficial and flexible nature of the organization had been able to attract disaffected members from other political persuasions, which allowed Mussolini to present Fascism as an inclusive and holistic political movement. With this achieved, and with the ras now threatening his position, Mussolini convened a meeting of the Fascist Constitutional Congress in Rome and, after some shrewd negotiations, successfully pushed through his plan to envelop the Fascist movement within an organized political party, the National Fascist Party (PNF). With Mussolini at the helm, the PNF rapidly attracted mass support from all sections of Italian society and, in particular, the armed forces. There was also an underlying sense of cooperation between the fascists and those in political authority, which led to many of the squadristiattacks on socialists going unpunished, even quietly applauded by those with business interests. This newly found acceptance of Fascism was further enhanced when the Prime Minister, Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928), invited Mussolini and the PNF to join the nationalist electoral coalition, which allowed them to compete in the May 1921 General Election as a respectable, parliamentary-style party. As a result, the PNF won thirty-five seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Italian parliament), providing them with a great deal of political influence and, more importantly, the appearance of a constitutionally respectable political party. At the end of 1920 the Fascis di Combattimento and its associated fascist movements had a total membership of just over 20,000, but by December 1921 the PNF had boosted this to almost 250,000. After centuries of intellectual and political development, Fascist ideology had finally secured itself a stable, organized, and united political base; a powerful, charismatic, and politically astute leader; and an increasing body of electoral support comprising a cross section of society. For the first time, Fascism appeared to be on the threshold of political power.
Fascists Gain Control
Throughout 1922 Italy suffered continued political and economic instability, culminating in a general strike which threatened to cripple the Italian economy and invoke considerable public unrest. Mussolini seized on this as the opportunity to strike at the heart of the weak, divided government and secure Fascist control of Italy. In a carefully prepared exhibition of strength and showmanship, Mussolini and the PNF threatened to overthrow the existing regime by dispatching Fascist squads to simultaneously occupy key sites and buildings in all the major cities, while Mussolini, at the head of 30,000 squadristi, led the “March on Rome.” However, on the morning of October 28, 1922, the date set for the threatened coup, King Victor Emmanuel III (1869-1947) struck a deal with the Fascists and, instead of his proposed march into Rome, Mussolini arrived at the royal palace by train on October 30, 1922 and was duly appointed the youngest prime minister in Italian history.
The Fascist regime that took control of Italy that day would remain in power for more than two decades, and throughout that time, as the regime sought to consolidate its authority and achieve its vision of a powerful, regenerated Italy, the underlying Fascist ideology underwent considerable evolution. Its vision of a new dawn, where the Fascist state would provide strong leadership, economic and social development, and a renewed sense of national pride was replaced by the nightmare of human tragedy and inhuman atrocities which were carried out in the name of fascism. When that evil chapter of history was finally brought to a close in 1945, Italy’s Fascist regime had been removed from power and Mussolini had, for a time, been installed as a Nazi puppet ruler in northern Italy, before being captured and shot by Italian partisans on April 28, 1945. In effect, Italian Fascism became a victim of its own success. The theories and achievements of the PNF between 1922 and 1936 became the model for subsequent fascist movements and Mussolini’s charismatic style inspired future Fascist leaders. Unfortunately, one of those movements was Nazism, and one of those leaders was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), and due to a favorable combination of circumstances, fascism was able to assume a far greater degree of unchecked power and dominance in Germany than it had done in Italy.
Fascism’s Development in Germany
Although German fascism had been greatly influenced by its Italian counterpart, its origins and development were firmly rooted in German history. The aftereffects of World War I were particularly embarrassing for a nation with such a proud military past as Germany, especially the humiliating conditions imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles. In addition, post-war problems such as massive unemployment and crippling inflation placed the ruling Weimar Republic under increasing pressure from both left and right. The political opposition to the democratic leadership was comprised of two totalitarian parties, the Communist party and the misleadingly named National Socialist German Workers’ Party, more commonly known as the Nazi Party. Far from being socialist, Nazism encapsulated, in theory and in practice, the most extreme of fascist doctrines, with an ideology based upon oppression, racism, violence, and inhumanity.
By 1923, the economic and social crisis in Germany had virtually destroyed the authority of the democratic Weimar government and, on November 8, the Nazis organized an unsuccessful attempt to gain power. Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and 600 armed storm troopers raided a Munich beer hall, in which several leading government figures were addressing a public meeting. However, the Nazis’ military and popular support was insufficient to succeed with their coup d’etat and, following a violent clash with armed police, Hitler was arrested and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. He served only nine months in Landsberg Prison, and it was during this time that Hitler formulated and dictated his book Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). Upon his release from Landsberg, Hitler discovered that economic conditions had improved, resulting in an increased air of confidence in the democratic leadership and a sharp decline in popular support for fascism. Hitler and his associates, presumably heeding the lesson learned in Munich, acknowledged that the time was not right and quietly set about rebuilding and reorganizing the party. It was not until the national election of 1930 that they achieved any notable electoral victories, their cause aided by Germany having almost been brought to its knees by the economic crisis and crippling unemployment that resulted from the Depression that swept over Europe and the United States.
In the years between 1925 and 1929 Hitler reinforced his position as the Führer, or irrefutable leader, of the Nazi party and continued to develop the radical fascist doctrine which would shape the Third Reich. Hitler held dictatorial power over the party and set about creating a paramilitary wing, known as the Sturmabteilung (SA), drawing recruits from the unemployed, criminals, and down-and-outs of Bavaria. This period also witnessed important changes in the functions of the Schutzstaffel (SS) who were originally formed to act as bodyguards for Hitler but, under the guidance of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) assumed responsibility for supervising and policing the party, and for ensuring that Hitler’s patriotic propaganda was able to permeate every area of German society with little resistance. It was becoming apparent that German fascism intended to control all aspects of national life, yet its proposals to restore Germany’s economic and military pride proved extremely popular with the electorate, and seemed to instill the nation with a renewed sense of purpose. Therefore, when economic disaster struck again following the Depression, and the democratic Weimar Republic was unable to resolve the crisis, it was the Nazi Party’s stable, unified appearance, its commitment to German rebirth, and its powerfully charismatic leader, which helped them become Europe’s second fascist government. Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933, and the Third Reich began its twelve-year reign of terror and oppression, during which time its “achievements” included plunging Europe into a war which cost over thirty million lives.
The Third Reich, which had been created to reign for a thousand years, effectively ended with the suicide of its Führer on April 30, 1945 in Berlin, with the victorious Soviet troops only streets away. The triumph of the Allies in World War II and the deaths of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini effectively brought the era of fascist rule to a close. In an attempt to eradicate the memory of fascism in Europe, and to ensure that it could not rise from the rubble, the Allies banned Fascism in Italy and set up a program of de-Nazification and re-education for the German people. Fascism had to be seen to be punished, and in addition to the Nuremberg Trials of 1946, which imposed death sentences or incarceration on many of the surviving Nazi leaders across Europe, there was a desire for retribution, resulting in tens of thousands of fascists and fascist sympathizers being summarily executed. Germany, having come so close to conquering the rest of Europe, stood defeated and helpless as it was divided into the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) under the control of the Soviet Union, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) which was initially controlled by the western Allies of Britain, France, and the United States. It would remain a divided nation, tainted by the shadow of Nazism, until its celebrated reunification in 1990.
Fascism In Other Countries
Outside of Germany and Italy, fascism was unable to convert its significant influence and public support into political power. Many regimes and movements were denied the political space in which to fully develop their fascist ideas, but did incorporate specific aspects of fascist theory into their doctrines, with varying degrees of success. Yet again it was the aftereffects of World War I, coupled with the rise to power of Mussolini and Hitler, that encouraged many of these movements to emerge and develop during the 1920s and 1930s. In Spain the fascist Falange Party, founded in 1933 by Ramiro Ledesma Ramos (1905-1936), wielded sufficient influence to become incorporated into General Francisco Franco’s (1892-1975) regime, which emerged victorious from the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The Falange was later subordinated to Franco who, although the dictator of a brutal and totalitarian state which ruled until 1975, is more accurately described as being an authoritarian conservative rather than fascist. France had always possessed a strong sense of nationalism, so it came as no surprise that many fascist movements evolved from the extreme right of French politics. However, unlike Italy and Germany, French fascists formed and supported several movements, rather than focusing their energy and ideas into promoting a single, united fascist party. As a result, groups such as Le Faisceau(“The Fasces”), the Francistes, and the Croix de Feu (“Cross of Fire”) (which was banned in the same year as its formation only to be reformed as the Parti Social Francais) each separately attracted a great deal of political and popular support, but no individual movement was able to amass a power base capable of threatening the political establishment. British fascism, in the form of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), was viewed as a novelty by the public, and posed no threat to the liberal democratic traditions. After its formation in 1932, the BUF and its founder Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) attracted significant publicity, but a government ban on the wearing of paramilitary uniforms was enough to ensure the BUF’s collapse. Despite differing in many respects, the movements that evolved in Spain, France, and Britain shared an ideology that mimicked that of Italian Fascism and sought to bring about change through the use of nationalist and militarist policy. However, in eastern and southern Europe, the path of fascist thought was following the route taken by Nazism, with the emphasis on racism and anti-Semitism.
The Iron Guard was a violent fascist movement in Romania that developed and promoted its ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic beliefs from 1930 until its destruction by the Romanian army in 1944. In Hungary, the nationalist dictator Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya (1868-1957) ruled from 1920 and, when the country came under German control in 1944, the reins of power were handed to the radical fascist Arrow Cross Party, albeit only briefly. From 1932 onwards, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) established a dictatorial regime in Portugal, into which he incorporated many fascist characteristics such as the one-party state, a secret police force, and widespread propaganda. However, the virulent anti-fascist period that followed the defeat of Germany and Italy in 1945, and the disclosure of the atrocities that had been carried out in the name of fascism, ensured that any party or movement holding a similar ideology came to be viewed with a mixture of loathing, fear and suspicion. Even those regimes who remained in power after the war, such as in Spain and Portugal, diffused their fascist traits and adopted a style more akin to authoritarianism than totalitarianism. It appeared that fascism had not only been discredited, but any movement acquiring the label of “fascist” became instinctively despised and relegated to an existence on the most extreme of political fringes.
Political Landscapes Change
The socioeconomic recovery after 1945 removed many of the conditions that had been such a major factor in the rise and advance of fascism, and the consensus among historians was that fascism had simply been a phenomenon of the inter-war years, a case of a political movement being in the right place at the right time. What no one could foresee was the rapidity with which the world’s political landscape would change. Within a few years of their united triumph, the wartime Allies became absorbed in their own ideological battle, the Cold War, and the eradication of fascism was no longer their priority. The superpowers’ preoccupation with each other allowed fascists the political space to regroup, develop new ideas and strategies, and emerge as a significant influence in many European countries. The first instance of this re-emergence, known as neo-fascism, occurred as early as December 1946, when former members of Mussolini’s regime developed the Italian Social Movement (MSI) which, in the 1948 general election, secured six seats in the Chamber of Deputies. At around the same time, in Germany, the link with fascism was maintained, firstly by the Socialist Reich Party (SRP), and then by the National Democratic Party (NDP) which continued to promote its extreme nationalistic views into the 1980s. In recent years many neo-fascist movements have infiltrated extreme right-wing groups in an effort to gain wider support and increased influence. Front National, under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen (1929-), executed this tactic so successfully that they established themselves as a legitimate third party in French politics, obtaining widespread support for their fascist program, in particular their anti-immigration policy. In Italy, Gianfranco Fini (1951-) guided the National Alliance (AN) into a coalition government in 1994 and two years later Fini had become Italy’s most popular politician. This trend in the upsurge of neo- fascism has been mirrored in many countries, as witnessed by a widespread increase in extreme nationalist groups and racial violence against ethnic minorities, immigrants, and asylum seekers. Although racism and fascism are not synonymous, many of these movements do possess a core fascist ideology, based on promoting national identity and pride, and on singling out racial scapegoats for any social and economic difficulties. To reach its political pinnacle, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini required the political and economic instability that arrived in the wake of World War I, and unnerving comparisons may be made with the horrifying policy of “ethnic cleansing” that was carried out following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s. Fascism, as an identifiable political theory, has existed for less than a century, yet the violence, murder, and brutality for which it is already held directly responsible make it essential that close study is made of its causes and its future development. In the words of Primo Levi (1919-1987), a writer, chemist, and survivor of Auschwitz, from his work, If This Is a Man: “We cannot understand it, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again.”
Theory in Depth
Although strands of fascist ideology had been evolving throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the First World War and the destruction left in its wake, that proved to be the active catalyst that fused these fragmented ideas into a coherent and powerful political theory. In most countries this emerging philosophy was confined to several extreme nationalist movements, which existed on the political fringes, and in a few others it exerted varying degrees of limited influence within major political parties. However, within a handful of countries, where socio-economic crisis was combined with strongly held national traditions, disillusionment with the existing leadership, and the emergence of an inspirational figurehead, the core components of fascist ideology were adopted to develop a radical and powerful political system. The unrestricted power enjoyed by fascist regimes, and the illiberal policies they introduced, while ultimately remembered for the mass atrocities to which they led, also reshaped their societies, resulting in the majority of their citizens enduring an everyday life which came to be dominated by oppression, fear, and violence. However, such was the appeal of the fascist philosophy and propaganda that, in Germany and Italy in particular, the majority of people were willing to sacrifice their individual freedoms and ambitions for the greater good of their nation.
The ability to convince each individual that the nation belonged to them, and that they in turn belonged to the nation, was one of the doctrines which lay at the heart of the fascist political system. In fact, it could be argued that this is the central tenet of fascist ideology. Fascist philosophy is anti-liberal, in that it views the nation as the most important political and social unit, and that the individual’s value is measured only by the extent to which he contributes towards the well-being and success of the national community. In all fascist writings and speeches, the recurrent message is one of national rejuvenation, rebirth, or regeneration, and it is this belief in organicism—that a nation is an entity in its own right, an organism that can decay or be revitalized—that instilled in a nation’s people a sense of duty to protect and nurture their nation, irrespective of the cost to themselves. This “illiberal nationalism” exploited the basic human desire to conform and belong, and provided individuals with a sense of importance and purpose, believing that they would be the generation that would restore the nation to its rightful place of prominence and glory. This type of nationalism breeds powerful emotions and feelings of kinship between those who view themselves as being ethnically and culturally united in their endeavors, but inevitably generates equally intense feelings of hostility and distrust towards those considered as outsiders. Therefore, racism was an inherent factor of fascist ideology, and although this did not necessarily have to result in the persecution of specific groups or races, unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in the countries where fascism was able to gain political control. In Germany, the Nazis systematically victimized and murdered countless Jews, Gypsies, blacks, homosexuals, and anyone who did not conform to the fascist regime’s definition of “ethnically pure” was subjected to abuse, oppression, and violence, not only from the authorities, but also from within the community, including their neighbors, work colleagues, and even those whom they had considered as friends. In Italy the Fascist regime conducted a less extreme campaign of propaganda and violence aimed, more generally, at persuading all immigrants and foreigners to return to their own nations.
The extreme nationalism contained in fascist ideology was at the core of its main aim, that of creating a “new order.” This was the term used by fascists to describe their vision of how they would implement their doctrines and values in order to transform society. Regardless of how the theory and practice of fascism varied from regime to regime, and from country to country, the total commitment to establishing some form of “new order.” was inherent to all. The typical fascist view, most notably implemented within Italy, was that the creation of the new order, and the new Fascist man which it would cultivate, should be an inclusive process, instilling into as many of its citizens as possible strong feelings of national pride and a desire to work together towards restoring their nation to a position of greatness. Unfortunately, both for its own people and for the world at large, the Nazi regime took a very different approach towards creating the “new” Germany, and enforced programs and policies that went far beyond the basic fascist premise of asserting national virtues, traditions, and superiority.
The Nazi model of fascism was contaminated by a pseudo-scientific component, developed from the theory of Social Darwinism, which was used to promote and justify its overtly racist, anti-Semitic, and morally reprehensible policies. Although Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) principle of “survival of the fittest” had long been a recurrent theme in fascist theory, the Nazi regime replaced natural selection with their own criteria for deciding who was, or was not, fit to survive within their “new order.” Society in fascist Germany therefore became multi-layered, with the regime and its agencies at the pinnacle, followed closely by all individuals who were considered to be racially pure (that is, Aryan) and who enjoyed the social and financial rewards which this status bestowed. However, for those who were placed lower down this discriminatory hierarchy there was no inclusion into the proud national community, only the misery of continual oppression, persecution, and terror. The most appalling and barbaric treatment was reserved for those unfortunates who found themselves in the lowest classification and whom, not only the fascist regime but also many of the German people, considered to be sub-human. This ill-fated group, including Jews, Gypsies, and the mentally handicapped, among others, were so despised that they were commonly labeled “the useless eaters.” By use of indoctrination, which was an another important facet of all fascist movements, this depersonalization of the nation’s “internal enemies” was accepted by the public who, either through fear or through consensus, condoned the systematic abuse, torture, and murder of countless innocents, whose only crime was to differ racially, culturally, or physically from the fascist blueprint of the “new man.”
Bringing About a “New Order”
In order to successfully implement the societal changes necessary for the creation of a “new order,” fascism relied heavily on its commitment to a strong, authoritarian state and to the widespread use of indoctrination and propaganda. Both of these factors were mutually advantageous, the propaganda helping to ensure the continued dominance of the totalitarian regime, which in turn applied its absolute control over the lives of individuals to maximize the effectiveness of the indoctrination. Fascism has often been accused of containing more style than substance, yet its mastery of propaganda techniques and its skill in the art of political theater provided it with a greater mandate for the implementation of its policies than most other ideologies could ever hope for. The techniques employed by fascism, to ensure public conformity and to inspire enthusiasm for the creation of a “new order,” were highly sophisticated, both in their conception and their execution.
Drawing on psychological theories, such as Gustave Le Bon’s (1841-1931) study of crowd behavior, and the primitive, but highly persuasive, effects of symbolism and tradition, fascism was able to convert vast numbers of people to its ideals and values without having to present a rational and coherent body of ideas. Instead, it spawned charismatic leaders who commanded total obedience and assumed grandiose titles, such as Führer and Il Duce, thereby acquiring an air of infallibility. To cultivate this sense of hero-worship towards its leadership, fascism was responsible for the introduction into politics of stage-managed public appearances and carefully written speeches which contained powerfully emotive slogans and “catchphrases” designed to reinforce national unity and support for the state, while imploring every individual to offer greater sacrifice and effort in the struggle to achieve a “new order.” The success of this approach was assisted by programs of indoctrination, which permeated every section of society through the education system, youth groups, the workplace, the frequent public mass rallies, and the extensive presence of fascist symbolism. State control of the media provided fascism with yet another valuable method of exerting its influence, and it made full use of the opportunity by transmitting powerful propaganda films and radio shows, and ensuring strict pro-fascist censorship of the press. From dawn until dusk, those who lived under the power of fascism found that every activity involved in their daily life was, in some way, influenced or controlled by fascist ideology and policies. Many willingly welcomed this as being necessary for the eventual success of their nation, while others, who were less committed to the values of the regime or the concept of a “new order,” accepted it, though rather less eagerly.
Then there were those who were not persuaded by the propaganda, and refused to accept fascist authoritarianism, whether on political, moral, or racial grounds, and opposed it, either openly or within their private circles. Fascism, however, was eventually well prepared for this with state controlled secret police and an extensive network of official and unofficial informants enabling it to suppress most incidents of opposition by means of fear and violence. The secret police organizations, such as the SS and the Gestapo in Germany, had full access to an individual’s private life, and they were quick to assault, imprison, or even murder, anyone who dared to denounce the regime or its leadership. It was a fearful and lonely existence for those who opposed fascism and for those not considered worthy of inclusion into the “new order,” as most citizens supported and obeyed the leadership and would readily report any acts of disobedience or denunciation. There were frequent instances of teachers informing on their students and traders reporting on their customers, but what illustrated the immense control that fascism exerted over its subjects was the distressing number of dissenters who were reported by friends, neighbors, and, in some cases, their own families. This coercion proved successful in suppressing a great deal of the resistance to fascist policies, although it also made it impossible to accurately assess the levels of dissent that existed. Did the majority of German and Italian people genuinely support their fascist regimes, as some commentators profess, or were they merely reluctant to oppose it for fear of the terrifying consequences?
Fascism’s commitment to eliminating all opposition was only one manifestation of its intense hostility towards all forms of liberalism. The fascist state was a rejection of all that liberal democracy stands for, and involved the abolition of the principles of pluralism, individualism, parliamentary democracy, and the concept of natural rights. The centralized, single- party state was the foundation on which fascism sought to rebuild the “new order” and, within this reorganized society, there was no place for opposition parties or democratic elections. All other political parties were banned, and in the case of the Communists and Socialists, many of their members were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Fascism had long held a deep-rooted hatred and fear of communism, as exemplified by this comment, made by Heinrich Himmler, the man who led the SS, during a lecture to his officers in 1937: “We must be clear about the fact that Bolshevism is the organization of sub-humanity, is the absolute underpinning of Jewish rule, is the absolute opposite of everything worthwhile, valuable and dear to an Aryan nation.” Yet, without communism, it is unlikely that fascism would ever have gained political power in either Germany or Italy, as it was the fear of the threatened spread of Bolshevism from post-revolutionary Russia, westward into Europe, that increased the electoral support for fascist movements. Many people believed that fascism’s strong authoritarian and militarist approach was their nation’s prime hope of protection. The electorate were proved correct and fascism emphatically extinguished any threat posed by those on the political left, and continued this violent persecution throughout the duration of their dominance. Yet, beneath the intense hostility, fascism and Communism shared a common ideological enemy—Capitalism—and it was this opposition to both Communism and Capitalism that has seen fascism sometimes referred to as the “Third Way.”
This “Third Way” was most apparent in the economic thought and policies of fascist regimes which, although exhibiting slight variations, tended to follow a similar model, that of corporatism. Unlike Marxist theory, fascism did not concur with the belief that class antagonism was the primary agent of social change, neither did it agree with the capitalist emphasis on economic motives as the basis of a nation’s success. Fascist theory sought to eliminate class conflict and bring about social change by creating a national unity based on the shared values of language, culture, race, and tradition, and by glorifying traits such as heroism, bravery, and strength, rather than materialism. It allowed the ownership of private property, and developed its economic policy along the lines of a partnership between the owners, the workers and the state, through the setting up of syndicates and corporations. In practice the workers interests were given low priority and they received little support from their unions, which had become state-run organizations following the abolition of all free trade unions, while the employers were rewarded with the granting of state investment and government contracts. Notwithstanding this unsuccessful attempt at corporatism, fascism possessed no stable or coherent economic policy, but instead relied on a series of temporary, short-term measures, while state intervention continued to escalate, as fascist economies increasingly relied on the work provided by their rearmament policies. War, therefore, was not only an important political and ideological factor of fascism, but was also crucial economically.
In economic matters, as in many others, fascism displayed its tendency towards male chauvinism. With the ideology’s emphasis on war, strength, and heroism, it followed that women were relegated to the role of home-maker and mother of the nation’s future workers and warriors. Germany, in particular, adopted an extremely repressive attitude towards women, excluding them from all leading positions within the party and prohibiting them from becoming judges or public prosecutors. After 1933, the regime extended these restrictions and dismissed many married female doctors, teachers, and civil servants to concentrate on, what Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) described in 1934 as “the task of being beautiful and bringing children into the world.”
Militarism and fascism are often considered to be synonymous, which is unsurprising considering the events and atrocities for which their unholy alliance will forever be remembered. To fascists, military strength and victory in battle lay at the very core of their personal and national identity. It encapsulated the ideals and virtues which they glorified above all others, and would ultimately, in their opinion, lead to the successful creation of an heroic “new order.” Only through war, against internal and external “enemies,” could fascism assert its core values and ensure continued public support as it strove to achieve its ideological goals. All fascists agreed with Mussolini’s view that war was inevitable and often preferable, and believed that the annexation of weaker nations by the strong, to form powerful empires, was the highest form of human development. In addition, the military values of patriotism, unity, and discipline could equally be applied to fascism, and military symbolism was widespread in fascist societies. By putting them into uniform and involving them in organized movements, fascism gave individuals a sense of belonging, and reinforced the belief in a national cause that was of far greater importance than their individual lives.
Fascist foreign policy, therefore, tended to be extremely aggressive, driven by the desire to expand their territory and assert the superiority of their nation. In Italy, where Mussolini was aware that his army had serious weaknesses, they used shows of military strength as a means of manipulating public opinion, whereas the German fascists possessed the capability and the conviction to expand their “new order” throughout Europe, and were ruthless in pursuit of their goal. The consequence of this determination to create a great and glorious Germanic empire was the attempted genocide of the Jewish race, a barbaric program of ethnic cleansing and racial war, and the brutal butchery of over 30 million soldiers and civilians in World War II. That fascism came so close to succeeding in its mission is terrifying to contemplate, especially when considering that this destruction was only the first phase in the blueprint of the “new order.” Subsequent plans for fascist domination included the deportation of millions of Slavs to Siberia to provide the German people with increased Lebensraum (living space), and the extension of the fascist model of Social Darwinism to include the areas of health and social welfare, the level of assistance to be determined on the grounds of race and fitness. Although the Allied victory in 1945 successfully halted these developments, the extent of public acceptance and support for such abhorrent policies served to illustrate the ever-present danger of underestimating the influence and appeal of fascist theory.
Although the end of World War II saw the defeat of fascism’s political power and the widespread condemnation of its illiberal and racial theories, it has continued to exist as a political undercurrent, as numerous groups have modernized and adapted its ideology in an effort to revive its popularity. Unlike the movements of the inter-war years, neo-fascism and neo-Nazism has to compete with a relatively stable, liberal democratic Europe, not one that is in political and economic crisis. So, although the fundamental ideology remains the same as it was before 1945, neo-fascists have had to repackage their ideas and promote them in a far subtler manner than their predecessors. This often involves the infiltration of mainstream political parties and movements, especially those on the extreme right, where they attempt to introduce their nationalist and racial values into areas such as anti-immigration policy and the issue of asylum seekers. Fascism has become a marginalized and fragmented movement, which has, in general, lay dormant since its military defeat in the Second World War, but as the campaign of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s illustrates, if given the correct political or economic stage, fascism will be waiting in the wings.
Theory in Action
The failure of many democratic governments to effectively tackle the political, social, and economic consequences of World War I, the Great Depression, and the perceived threat from the spread of communism fueled the creation and development of fascist movements throughout the world. The Falange Espanola in Spain, the Iron Guard in Romania, and the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary all shared many of the fascist doctrines and displayed much of its political style. In one of Europe’s most well established and advanced democracies, that of France, it was estimated that, in 1934, almost 370,000 people were members of the various French fascist movements and, in Britain, support for Oswald Mosley’s BUF was sufficient to bring about a government ban on the wearing of paramilitary uniforms. Yet, despite this widespread influence and depth of support, fascist ideology only managed to manifest itself in the form of a truly fascist government in two countries, Italy and Germany, and the era of its dominance would last only twenty-three years.
The “March on Rome” in October 1922 was a demonstration rather than a glorious bid for power, but it resulted in King Emmanuel III inviting Mussolini and his party to form the world’s first Fascist government. It was a relatively smooth takeover and, due to the limitations on their power invoked by a coalition government, the Fascists made very few changes to the Italian state in the first three years. Upon becoming prime minister, Mussolini successfully secured a parliamentary vote allowing him to rule by decree for a year. It was during this time that he established the Fascist Grand Council, a forum with the official function of coordinating the activities of the party and the government, but which Mussolini intended to eventually supercede the parliament as the center of power. The gradual move towards absolute control continued with the introduction in 1923 of the Acerbo Law which granted two-thirds of parliamentary seats to any party that obtained a majority of the vote in a general election providing they had polled at least 25 percent of the total votes. Mussolini and the PNF duly obtained control of two-thirds of parliament at the next general election, in April 1924 and, with Fascist membership having spiraled from 300,000 in 1922 to 783,000 by the time of the general election, the initial limitations to Fascist power were disappearing. Having already outlawed the Communist Party, immediately after taking office in 1922, Mussolini then abolished what little remained of the socialists and trade unions after their crushing electoral defeat, before introducing further measures designed to increase the authority of the PNF within the parliament, and to strengthen his position as Il Duce.
The year 1925 witnessed the creation of two major agencies of state control. First of all, Mussolini, in order to maintain control over the blackshirted squadristi, incorporated them into the Fascist Voluntary National Militia (MVSM), a paramilitary force whose main function was the violent oppression of left-wing opposition, but who also assisted in the theater of Fascist politics by performing in ceremonial events. Shortly afterward, in response to several assassination attempts on his life, Mussolini created a state-controlled secret police force, the OVRA, who were responsible for monitoring Italian society for evidence of dissenters, who were then tried by the Special Tribunal for the Defense of the State. Although this illustrated the repressive nature of the Fascist state, the vast majority of dissidents were sentenced to exile, with relatively few being incarcerated and even less condemned to death. Unlike the Nazi regime which would later gain power in Germany, the development of the centralized fascist state in Italy was based more on acceptance than it was on fear and, except in the case of left-wing political opposition, there remained a degree of toleration of criticism and dissent.
By 1930, most of the political opposition had stood down or been abolished, and Italy had become a single-party state, with Mussolini at the helm. To fortify his position as Il Duce, Mussolini granted additional powers to the Fascist Grand Council, and any members of the PNF who were perceived as a threat were removed and replaced by impressionable sycophants. However, throughout his reign, Mussolini’s authority over the state was limited by the country’s economic weakness, his reliance on the backing of the king and his political advisers, and the need for continual compromise with the existing establishment. Although he overcame these constraints in creating a dictatorship, he was never able to achieve the level of absolute power and control which was later to be enjoyed by Hitler in Germany. To ensure his continued supremacy, and to advance the implementation of Fascist policies, Mussolini therefore had to rely more on the force of persuasion than on the power of coercion. In his development of propaganda techniques and political theater, Mussolini created what was to become a familiar pattern for subsequent dictatorships, elements of which have evolved to become incorporated and accepted into most areas of modern mainstream politics.
An extremely charismatic leader who was highly skilled in the use of propaganda, Mussolini ran most of the important government offices himself and made use of any opportunity to reinforce his revered public image. Such was the importance he placed on public persuasion and manipulation that, in 1935, he set up an official governmental ministry for the promotion and development of propaganda. Influenced by Gustave Le Bon’s theories of crowd psychology and Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) belief in the “will to power” and the Ubermensch (overman or superman), Mussolini displayed a charismatic style and dynamism that proved a convincing advertisement for his rejuvenation of Italy. Mass rallies, orchestrated military displays, the renaming of Labor Day to Birth of Rome Day, and the resetting of 1922 to Anno Primo (Year One) all instilled the Italian people with the belief that their nation was destined to return to the glorious days of the Roman Empire.
On a smaller but no less significant scale, Mussolini placed great emphasis on his personal image in order to elevate his status as Il Duce to that of an all-powerful and all-knowing ruler of his people. Every public appearance was carefully choreographed to ensure his physical appearance and gestures were appropriate for each specific situation, and experts were employed to ensure the correct use of setting, lighting and music, especially for photographs, which were invariably taken from below to disguise his diminutive stature.
Fascism Permeates Life
Throughout Italian society the ideology and symbols of Fascism were inescapable. It appeared that almost every official, from local to government, wore a different uniform each day, and all street corners were clothed in nationalist images and the painting of Fascist slogans. The teaching of Fascist values and ideals and the promotion of the qualities required to create the new Italy invaded all aspects of daily life—in schools, at work, in leisure pursuits, in the press, and in the media. The principal target of manipulative policies were the young, who embodied the desired Fascist attributes of strength, energy, and loyalty, and they were exposed to indoctrination, not only in school but also in the Fascist promotion of sport and physical fitness, and in political youth organizations, such as “Little Italian Girls” and “The Sons of the She Wolf.” For these groups, the focus was on cultivating the importance of militarism and conformity, with boys as young as seven receiving training in military drill and gun skills, and the program’s popularity resulted in over five million young members by the 1930s. Sport also played an important role in the advancement of Fascist propaganda with its wide appeal, its ability to divert the public’s attention from other matters, and its manifestation of Fascist belief in national pride and a sense of belonging. These sentiments were echoed in the media, who were tightly controlled and prohibited from printing or broadcasting anything which the Fascist censors considered would shed a poor light on the image of either Mussolini or his regime.
One area of policy that could not disguise its consequences with censorship or propaganda was the complex relationship that existed between the Fascist regime and the economy. Initially, the inconsistent economic and social policies introduced by Mussolini failed to address the deep-rooted crisis that consumed Italy in the aftermath of World War I. The continual rise of unemployment was exacerbated by the Fascists’ unsuccessful attempts to manipulate the value of the lire, which they carried out in the hope of improving their economic competitiveness. The arrival of the international depression in 1929 deepened Italy’s problems and, by 1932, wages had halved in real terms, becoming the lowest in western Europe. Although Mussolini readily acknowledged the drop in the Italian standard of living under Fascism, his response of “fortunately, the Italian people were not used to eating much and therefore feel the privation less acutely than others” did not fill his supporters with any measure of confidence.
The decision amongst the PNF was for an increase in government intervention, with the immediate result that strikes became illegal, and in exchange employers were forced to offer improved wages and conditions to their workers. Italy then moved towards becoming a corporate state, in which each industry came under the control of a corporation consisting of representatives of employers, workers, and government officials, though ultimately these corporations were under the control of Mussolini. In practice, the labor force received very little consideration and the state effectively stepped back and encouraged employers to manage their own affairs, the only apparent measure of intervention occurring when the state rewarded big business with state investment and government contracts.
There then followed a period of consolidation, during which measures introduced by the Fascist Regime—such as the “Battle for Grain,” in which offering farmers incentives to increase production ensured almost total self-sufficiency in wheat production—created substantial improvements in the country’s economic and social conditions. Mussolini also introduced a vast program of public works, under which the Pontine Marshes were drained, public buildings were improved, ancient monuments were restored, and hydro-electric power was developed to counterbalance Italy’s lack of coal and oil. This phase of Fascism also witnessed the creation of the autostrada (motor ways), and the improvements he made to the railways and airlines gave rise to the myth that Mussolini’s power was so great that he could even make the trains run on time.
Italian Foreign Policy
One of the most significant and enduring legacies of Italian Fascism was Mussolini’s signing of the Lateran Treaties with Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in 1929. This gave official recognition of the Vatican as an independent state and confirmed Catholicism as the state religion, in the process bringing to an end a half-century of discord between the state and the Church. These successes, and the growing confidence that they instilled in Mussolini’s regime, led to the development of an aggressive foreign policy, beginning with the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and culminating in the “Pact of Steel,” signed in 1939 to cement the alliance between Italy and Nazi Germany.
Militarism, and the belief that war was essential to the creation of the new order, was a central element of Italian Fascist ideology and figured highly in Mussolini’s plans from the moment he secured power. He temporarily seized the Greek island of Corfu in 1923, but it was his invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 that won him acclaim from within all sections of Italian society and inspired him to proclaim the beginning of the new Italian Empire. However, some of the barbarous methods employed to secure victory included chemical warfare and mass executions of native tribesmen, a radical departure from previous campaigns. Shortly afterwards, the sanctions imposed on Italy by the League of Nations, in response to Italian military aggression, led to Mussolini forging closer links with Germany, who had stood by Italy over the Ethiopian invasion. The “brutal friendship” was affirmed by the signing of the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936 and later tightened by the “Pact of Steel” in 1939. Both countries joined in supporting Francisco Franco’s nationalist revolt in the Spanish Civil War and, as the specter of World War II rapidly approached, it was apparent that Mussolini and Italian Fascism were becoming increasingly influenced by the ruthlessness and success of Nazism.
Adopting Hitler’s belief in its purely nationalistic nature, Mussolini curtailed his promotion of “universal fascism,” in which he had invested a considerable amount of capital and effort to encourage foreign forms of fascism, including the British Union of Fascists. Of greater concern to the Italian people, and to governments throughout Europe, was the introduction, in 1938, of anti-Semitic laws into official Italian policy. Until this development, anti-Semitism had no place in Italian Fascism, with the PNF including a number of Jews among their membership, and its introduction proved unpopular throughout Italian society and provoked opposition from many organizations, including the Vatican. By the time the Second World War broke out, a great deal of division existed within Italy—and within the PNF—over the association with Germany, and cracks began to appear in Il Duce’s veneer of invincibility.
World War II
When war broke out in September 1939, Mussolini, who was fully aware of his country’s military weakness, initially reneged on the “Pact of Steel” because he had previously informed Hitler that Italy would not be prepared for war before 1942. This declaration of neutrality only lasted until June 1940 when Mussolini, exhibiting his capacity for opportunism, sensed that a German victory was imminent and feared missing out on a share of the spoils. Still harboring hopes of extending his Italian Empire into the Balkans and Africa, Mussolini’s aspirations had outgrown his military capabilities and German forces had to come to the Italians’ rescue, both in Albania and North Africa. For the remainder of the war, Italy tagged along as the weaker member of the Axis partnership, with Italy’s interests becoming subordinate to those of Germany, resulting in the erosion of Mussolini’s authority.
Support for the Fascist regime collapsed in the face of constant military defeats and, with the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy by the Allies in 1943, there was a rapid growth of partisan resistance throughout Italy, plunging the country into civil war. As a result, many of the Fascist Grand Council turned on their leader and, on July 25, 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed, then arrested, Mussolini, and surrendered Italy to the Allies. In an attempt to regain control over Italy, Hitler rescued Mussolini from imprisonment and installed him as the puppet ruler of a brutal Social Republic in the north of Italy. With the aid of the Black Brigades, which were the vicious secret police force controlled by the Nazi SS, Mussolini endeavored to recreate his original vision of a Fascist state, but his personal stature had now crumbled and there was a total lack of support for his philosophy. The demise of Il Duce and Italian Fascism reached a violent conclusion when, on April 28, 1945, while fleeing from the approaching Allies, Mussolini was captured and shot by Italian partisans, who then strung his body upside down in Milan as a powerful symbol of the death of Italian Fascism.
Fascist Government Rule in Germany
The only other fascist regime to assume the power of government was the National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist Party of German Workers), who became universally known as the Nazis. After rising to power through democratic means in January 1933, the party wasted no time in diminishing the authority of the Reichstag, and establishing the creation of a Nazi state. One month after the elections the parliament buildings were destroyed by fire and Communist agitators were accused of arson. Using this as vindication, the Communist and the Social Democratic parties were subject to mass attacks and violent suppression, with neither offering any resistance. By the time the Enabling Act was passed in March 1933, removing all legislative powers from the Reichstag and passing them to Hitler’s Cabinet, all opposition parties had been abolished and it became a criminal act to even attempt the creation of any new party. The Enabling Act, which had effectively granted dictatorial powers to Hitler and signified the end of the German Weimar Republic, was reinforced in December 1933 with the passing of a further law, which declared the Nazi party “indissolubly joined to the state.” Hitler’s development of the Nazi state involved eliminating all working class and liberal democratic opposition, so he exploited the aftermath of the Reichstag fire not only for the suppression of the Communist and Social Democratic parties, but also for abolishing many constitutional and civil rights.
Thereafter, the Nazi party and the state became indistinguishable and Germany was under the control of a totalitarian regime. Party members who were of “pure” German blood and were over eighteen years of age were required to swear allegiance to the Führer after which, according to Reich law, they became answerable for their actions only in special Nazi Party courts. At its peak, the Nazi Party had an estimated membership of seven million and although the majority had willingly joined, a great many more were forced to join against their will, including many civil servants who were required to become members.
As with Mussolini in Italy, Hitler’s powerful personal charisma, aided by his meticulously organized public appearances and the saturation of everyday life with Nazi symbols, posters, and indoctrination, established him as the infallible, hero-worshiped savior of the German people. Despite the fact that his repressive totalitarian regime had abolished many of their basic liberties, and that just about every area of their lives was pervaded and controlled by state police organizations, many of the German people responded with uncritical loyalty to their leader and a frightening willingness to obey all state-issued directives. The Nazification of German society was greatly assisted by the efforts of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda under the control of Joseph Goebbels, which was highly effective at promoting the Hitler regime as a “well-oiled Nazi machine,” by means of mass rallies, military parades, and sophisticated manipulation and censorship of the media.
That being said, the ordinary German citizen still lived a relatively normal life—as long as that ordinary citizen didn’t happen to be a Jew or a gypsy and didn’t question the policies of the Nazi regime. Most people in Nazi Germany did not live in constant terror. Many had normal families, satisfying careers, and social lives closely resembling that of 1930s Americans. Author Walter Laqueur, in Fascism: Past, Present and Future, notes that people were “not told what games to play, what movies to watch, what ice cream to eat, or where to spend their holidays.” In other words, a person could feel “free” as long as he kept his mouth shut and did not show much of an interest in politics. Conversely, if most people kept quiet and did not cause trouble, there was not really a need for the regime to risk agitating the populace by interfering in every aspect of life.
The principle auxiliary organization of the Nazi regime was the Brown Shirts or SA, often termed the “vanguard of National Socialism,” whose functions included the official training of the German youth in the ideology of National Socialism. The SA was also responsible for the organization of the Nazi program against the Jews in 1938, and throughout World War II they ensured the indoctrination of the German army and coordinated the Reich’s home defenses.
Another organization to prove crucial in maintaining state control was the SS, whose special combat divisions were invariably called upon to support the regular army in times of crisis. Assisted by the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the espionage agency of the regime, the SS controlled the Nazi party in the latter years of the war, while the SD also operated the concentration camps for the victims of Nazi persecution. Other auxiliary agencies included the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth organization) who prepared teenage boys for membership within the party, and the Auslands organisation (Foreign Organization) who promoted propaganda and the formation of Nazi organizations among Germans abroad. However, the most brutal and oppressive of all the state agencies was the infamous Geheime Staatspolizei (secret state police), known as the Gestapo, which was formed in 1933 to suppress all opposition to Hitler’s regime. Upon its official incorporation into the state, in 1936, the Gestapo was declared to be exempt from all legal restraints and was responsible only to its chief, Heinrich Himmler, and to Hitler.
By 1935 the last remnants of Germany’s democratic structure were replaced by the Nazi centralized state. The Reichstag no longer performed any legislative functions, but was retained to be used for ceremonial purposes, and the autonomy which provincial governments had previously exerted had been removed and replaced with local governments which were nothing more than strictly controlled instruments of central government. The process of coordination (Gleichschaltung) ensured that all private organizations, such as business, education, culture, and agriculture were also subject to party direction and control. Not even the church escaped the pervasive domination of Nazi doctrines.
Upon taking control of the German economy, the most pressing problem to face the party leadership was unemployment, which at that time was in the region of six and a half million. Included in this figure were large numbers of Nazi party members who rapidly became disillusioned when Hitler failed to fulfill his anti-capitalist pledge to put an end to large businesses and cartels and to rejuvenate German industry by promoting the extensive growth in small businesses. The party rank and file demanded a “second revolution” and Hitler was faced with a choice between appeasing the working classes or forging an alliance with Germany’s industrialists. He decided on the latter course of action and, on the evening of June 30, 1934, which would come to be known as the Night of the Long Knives he issued orders for the SS to assassinate members of the SA, a group who had a mainly working-class membership and who Hitler now feared would attempt to threaten the social stability and agitate the Reichswehr (the regular army), with whom they sought a closer affiliation. A number of prominent SA members, including their leader Ernst Rohm (1887-1934), and over 400 of their followers were killed, most of whom had no intention of opposing Hitler.
Although it proved a powerful warning to other agitators, this ruthless display of state terror did not solve the underlying cause of the unrest, the problem of unemployment. To resolve this issue, Hitler had to regenerate German industry, and he proposed to accomplish this with the creation of the “new order.” In common with the Italian vision, the German “new order” was based on the premise of regenerating the Germany nation and restoring it to a position of strength and leadership in world politics, industry, and finance. In addition, Hitler sought it necessary to ensure that he possessed an adequate merchant fleet, and that he constructed modern air, rail and motor transport systems. To achieve total implementation of his plans required Hitler’s reversal of the economic and political restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, which he was aware would ultimately result in war. Therefore the Nazi economy, by stockpiling raw materials and resources, and insulating itself from the international economy, was reorganized essentially as a war economy. Hitler’s reputation was enhanced when, in the years 1937 and 1938, the German economy made a dramatic recovery and the country achieved full employment, due mainly to the increasing level of rearmament, introduced in preparation for war, and to enable his policy of Lebensraum, which advocated the eastward expansion of German territory.
The creation of the new order also resulted in the banning of strikes, the abolition of trade unions (including the confiscation of their assets), and the termination of all forms of collective bargaining between workers and their employer. In their place, a team of government officials, appointed by the Minister of National Economy, adjudicated on any issues relating to wages and conditions of employment. Official directives also empowered the Ministry of Economy to expand any existing cartels and introduce policies designed to merge entire industries into powerful conglomerates. Private property rights were preserved and previously nationalized companies were “re-privatized,” which returned them to private ownership but subjected the owners to rigid state controls. The introduction of these measures eliminated competition and ensured that the new order was economically dominated by four banks and a relatively small number of huge conglomerates. One of those to prosper was the notorious Interessengemeinschaft Farbenindustrie (I.G. Farben), an enormous consortium composed of over four hundred businesses, many of which exploited millions of prisoners of war and immigrants from conquered nations as slave labor. These cartels also readily supplied the materials and expertise that were employed in the systematic and scientific extermination of millions of innocent people under Nazism’s racial doctrines.
Expansions and Expectations
Above all, Nazism was a nationalist movement, and Hitler’s plans for the Thousand Year Reich were based on the construction of a greater German state that would initially include Austria and the other German-speaking people who had been lost to Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1919, but would ultimately unite all of Europe’s Germans and rise to world supremacy. From 1933 to 1939, Hitler continually proclaimed that he was merely asserting the national rights of Germany, and most Germans agreed with his declaration that the imposed terms of the Treaty of Versailles had been a “shame and a disgrace.” Even those who despised the Nazi party methods, and much of its doctrine, supported its nationalist policies and acclaimed Hitler’s militarist program, which resulted in the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, the Anschluss or union with Austria in 1938, the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and ultimately the start of World War II.
Genocide and Destruction of Lives
The most destructive aspect of German fascism was its racial and anti-Semitic doctrine. Drawing on the roots of German nationalism and anti-Semitism, which dated back to the nineteenth century, Hitler’s regime developed a hierarchy of “racial value” which was placed at the core of their vision of national rebirth and the creation of a “new order.” Human breeding programs were developed, called the Lebensborn experiment, in which SS members were used to sire Aryan (racially pure) children. Legislation was introduced which excluded Jews from the protection of German laws, and the Nuremberg Laws (1935) were passed, which withdrew citizenship from non-Aryans and forbade the marriage of Aryans to non-Aryans. Although several state-sponsored programs were implemented before 1939, such as the notorious Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, it was during the course of World War II that the Nazi regime displayed the full extent of its disregard for human rights and its capacity for murderous efficiency.
Although there is no evidence of a written order by Hitler authorizing the Holocaust, it is believed that he either issued a verbal order or, at the very least, made it clear to leading Nazis that this was his intention for the Final Solution. He did, however, officially endorse The Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring which, by 1944, had enforced sterilization on over 400,000 women who were either mentally handicapped or considered at risk of passing on a hereditary illness. He also personally introduced a program of euthanasia which “put to sleep” more than 70,000 people, mostly children, who suffered from serious physical or mental disabilities. Of course, even these atrocities were overshadowed by the policy of genocide which was pursued against all those considered “without value” by the Nazis. When the Allied forces finally brought the war to an end in 1945, the human cost of German fascism’s attempt to create a “new order” was the extermination of tens of millions of innocent lives and the infliction of terror and torture on countless others, while Europe had been reduced to rubble, and the political, economic, and geographical scars would remain for decades to come.
Analysis and Critical Response
What perceptions and images come to mind when people consider the word fascism? Among the most common replies would probably be Hitler, the swastika, the Holocaust, inhumanity, and racism. These all appear to be perfectly rational and understandable reactions, based on what is known about fascist regimes, and their political, social, economic, and humanitarian ideology. Yet, understandable though they may be, these responses are wholly inaccurate, as what they affirm is the widespread confusion that has long existed between fascism and its notorious cohort, Nazism. The tendency to attribute the evils of Nazism to fascism in general paints a misleading picture of the values and motives of many fascist movements who denounced much of what Nazism advocated. It is important, therefore, when conducting an overall evaluation of fascism, that the abhorrent acts of inhumanity committed by Hitler’s regime do not affect the objectivity of the analysis.
Fascism as a political system was discredited and condemned after the Allied victory over the German and Italian regimes in 1945, and has since been unable to achieve any significant level of political power in its own right. However, considering its once dominant position, it is unsurprising that elements of fascist ideology have continued to exert a major influence in political movements and governments throughout the world. Yet, because of the lingering images of the human destruction and atrocities carried out in its name, these movements seek to avoid the label of “fascist” for fear of being perceived as guilty by association. This has resulted in neo-fascism and extreme nationalism devising far subtler and less apparent means of promoting their values and beliefs to a wider audience, in the hope of regaining a foothold on the ladder of political power. In order to identify and prevent any of these disguised strains of fascism from re-emerging from the shadows, it is important to construct a detailed understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, the conditions that are required for its growth, and the techniques it employs to infiltrate society to attract support.
Fascism’s Limited Spread
Despite inspiring the development of countless groups and movements, fascism has only risen to power on two occasions, the Italian Fascists of Mussolini and Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany. Although it exerted varying degrees of influence in other countries, such as George Valois’ Le Faisceau in France and Oswald Mosley’s BUF in Britain, fascism consistently failed to convert this influence into significant political power. There were a number of reasons for fascism’s inability to successfully cast its net outside of the two Axis states, one of these factors being that, in the years between the First and the Second World Wars, Italy and Germany possessed the ideal combination of political, social, and economic conditions considered necessary for fascism to prosper, and their existing governments were too weak and unstable to provide effective resistance against the growing fascist bandwagon. In addition, the profound dissatisfaction with the apparent decline of their nation, and an intense fear of the threat posed by Communism had already established a desire, within the Italian and German public, for stronger and more nationalistic leadership.
In contrast, the fascist movements that arose in other European countries in the aftermath of World War I were denied the political space in which to develop, due to the long-established liberal traditions within these nations and the relative stability of their governments. However, before Nazism’s inhuman methods had caused fascism to become primarily associated with the atrocities of World War II, it was neither loathed nor condemned in those countries who had resisted it, but was accorded a certain degree of respect. Winston Churchill (1874-1965) is recorded as stating that, if he was Italian he would have been glad to be living under Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Even as late as the mid 1930s, many of Europe’s lead ers continued to accept Italian Fascism as being a legitimate right wing reaction to Communism. Indeed, until Mussolini allowed Italian Fascism to become influenced by Hitler’s philosophy, the state was no more oppressive or violent than it had been under the liberal regime in the years leading up to 1922. It was those near-civil-war conditions that had led to the significant rise in Fascism’s support and enabled it to seize power from the previous government.
Also, at that time, Italian Fascism was strictly opposed to both anti-Semitism and biological racism, and even when Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler persuaded him to adopt these principles in 1938, the majority of his fascist regime and the Italian people rejected it, and on several occasions, the Italian military deliberately sabotaged the carrying out of anti-Jewish campaigns. During World War II the Italian General, Mario Roatta, disobeyed a German order to round up Jews because he viewed this as “incompatible with the honor of the Italian Army” which, in stark contrast to the German military, had pledged equality of treatment to all civilians.
These contradictions portray fascism as an extremely fluid ideology and one which enabled the modification of specific characteristics to accommodate the diverse nature of national traditions and values. Therefore, although all fascist movements asserted the importance of the nation, the need for strong authoritarian leadership, and the desire to create a “new order,” they frequently differed in regard to the methods they employed and the promises they made in order to attract support. Indoctrination and propaganda were other central tenets of fascist ideology, and these were also adapted to target each regime’s specific objectives. Italy tended to focus on promoting the “Italian national spirit” as being a tangible entity, relying on each individual’s support and effort for its survival and, in return, providing them with a sense of belonging and purpose. The majority of Italians did not view themselves as being governed by the state, to them it was a natural and integral organ of their existence, and in pledging their lives to pursue its success, they were willing to sacrifice their individualism. German fascism added a twist to this philosophy which, although in retrospect is viewed as evil and barbaric, at the time was an adaptation intended to reflect the German people’s cultural history of racism and anti-Semitism. For the German fascists it was not enough to simply become a unified nation with a greater standing within the world—they also focused their efforts on asserting German dominance within their own nation, through biological racism and ethnic persecution. This single modification of the classic fascist ideology led directly to the deaths of more than 30 million people. Although many fascist groups, who became generically termed the fifth column, assisted Nazism in these atrocities, a great many more opposed and condemned it just as strongly as those in liberal democracies.
Aims and Goals
The ultimate aim of fascism was to create a “new fascist man,” who would possess the desired strength and courage to earn the right to exist within a “new order.” A major element in the ideology behind this aim was the belief in the necessity and glorification of war, and it was this principle which ultimately led to the defeat of Italy and Germany, thereby ending the era of fascism. In only twenty three years, from Mussolini’s seizing of power in 1922 until the Allied victory in 1945, fascism had indeed succeeded in reshaping society, though not with the outcome that they had intended. The reality that had been produced by fascist ideology included worldwide destruction, the senseless loss of millions of lives, the reduction of the major cities of Europe to rubble, and the permanent alteration of the political and geographical landscape of Europe. But what of the culpable nations? What had fascism achieved within its own countries that could justify the rest of humanity paying such a high price? The answer is…very little.
Economically, fascist countries did show some improvement as the government prepared for war. Many people came to compare the economies of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to capitalist countries such as the United States, but this is inaccurate. There’s a big difference between a free-enterprise economy and one run by a government to achieve its own ends before those of its people.
Italy’s “national spirit” quickly disappeared, revealing a country which still possessed both class and regional divisions, while the introduction of corporatism had failed to shield the economy from the massive cost of the war effort. It had, however, left behind an improved relationship between politics and the papacy, the construction of the countries motor ways, and an increased level of self-sufficiency in food production. Under the Hitler regime, Nazism had succeeded in creating improved economic and social conditions for those groups in the upper levels of the racial hierarchy, but only at a huge humanitarian cost to the remainder of German society. As the full extent of the Nazi atrocities began to emerge in the aftermath of the war, the German people became the focus of the world’s hatred and condemnation. In his attempt to unite Germany and restore it to greatness and glory, Hitler and his regime had achieved the exact opposite and condemned his nation to years of control by their conquerors, during which time it became divided, both politically and geographically, for almost half a century.
There are, however, certain elements of the fascist style of government which have been incorporated into mainstream politics throughout the world. Every government and regime today acknowledge the importance of image in modern politics, and have developed the techniques used by Hitler and Mussolini to manipulate their audience. The carefully worded speeches, the stage-managed appearances, and the effective use of technology and the media have all been updated and employed with increasing sophistication. The majority of governments, even those in the advanced western democracies, favor a charismatic leader who will be considered an international statesman and the singularly authoritative spokesperson for his nation, and even the fascist’s use of symbolism and party slogans has gained widespread imitation.
Since 1945 no country has yet experienced a replica of the conditions which predisposed both Italy and Germany to the rise of fascism, but with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have there has been a negative effect on the political stability of recent decades. In the 1990s there has been an increase in the support of neo-fascist movements and political parties with extreme nationalist agendas. The National Alliance led by Gianfranco Fini became part of an Italian coalition government, in France Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National regularly polls 20 percent in national elections, and the Austrian Freedom Party have amassed up to 28 percent of their country’s electoral vote. Other neo-fascist movements prefer to infiltrate established right-wing parties and exert their influence on immigration policy and on the increasingly popular platform of Euro-fascism, which advocates the strengthening of the European Union into a closely unified “super-state.”
Fascism has no concrete ideology, it has the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances to further its own aims. This capacity for improvisation assisted it to gain power in Italy and Germany, and it now allows neo-fascists and neo-Nazis to avoid the damaging associations of the past by disguising themselves in the cloak of the New Right and other mainstream havens of respectability. The need for political vigilance is succinctly stated in the words of Roger Eatwell: “Beware the men—and women—wearing smart Italian-style suits…the material is cut to fit the times, but the aim is still power.”