Fascism is a form of statist, authoritarian government that promotes a nationalist, militaristic political ideology. Fascism is commonly misunderstood by those not versed on its history. While most do understand that fascism is a form of totalitarian government, there is a common misconception that all forms of totalitarian governments are fascist. This is an incorrect assumption because there are many other components that must be in place in order for a system to be truly fascist. A thorough examination of the history of fascist regimes and the birth of this neosocialist ideology can dispel many misconceptions while also clearly defining what it truly is.
What Is Fascism?
Before delving deep into the history of fascism, it is necessary to offer a clear definition of fascism from an ideological perspective while also defining fascism’s governmental structure. The ideology of fascism is one that is rooted in socialist tenets although it does allow highly regulated capitalism to exist within its economic construct. Fascism is purely authoritarian in nature. More than just government centric, fascism is cult of personality centric. That is to say, the leader of a fascist state will be an all-powerful dictator who is the sole authority in the land. A state controlled media campaign will constantly project the dictator as being all-knowing and at near demigod status. Any threat to the dictator is met with varying degrees of harsh suppression.
The most disturbing aspect to fascism that sets it apart from other authoritarian systems of government is its identity and racial purity component. Fascism commonly promotes that the country’s racial and national identity are superior to all others. This helps promote excessive nationalism in support of wars of conquest.
The Origin of the Word Fascism
The origin of the word fascism is believed to have first evolved around 1921 in Italy. The Italian term fascismo derives from the words fascio which means bundle and fasces which means group. The bundle is commonly presented visually as a bundle of sticks tied together. This is reflective of the socialist origins of fascism. Basically, the sticks tied together reflect the notion of a collective working together in unity. Also symbolized is the governing principle of fascism is to end the struggle of the classes and create a single, unified national whole. Fascism seeks to achieve such results through the use of an oppressive and aggressive police state.
The Early History of Fascist Ideology
It is commonly believed that fascism emerged during the early 20th century, but this is not entirely accurate. Tracing the history of fascism reveals that it was in the 1880s that fascist theories and beliefs first emerged in the form of the fin-de-siècle movement in France. The name of the movement means “end of the century” and it was rooted in the cynical and pessimistic belief that a decadence of society would eventually lead it to collapse. Within this belief system, it was thought that an all-powerful ruling class would be needed to restore order. This notion, along with its antagonism towards various political ideologies, would be hugely influential on future fascist theory.
The Effects of World War I
World War I had an enormous impact on the development of fascism as a political movement and ideology. Much of the birth of modern fascism would come from the socialists of Italy.
The Italian Socialist Party did not believe in intervening in World War I. Those that did believe in intervention split from the party to form the Fasci of International Action. One prominent member of this organization was a young Benito Mussolini. In a sense, this desire for intervention is where the militaristic origins of fascism may be traced.
In Germany, in 1915, a movement dubbed National Socialism started in the shadow of the outbreak of World War I. The ideological leader of this movement was Johann Plenge and he espoused the notion that Germany needed to move away from the French Revolution theories of liberty and move towards one that promotes rigid adherence to German values. From this, the highly nationalist nature of fascism emerges along with the call for a police state.
In 1919 Italy, Alceste De Ambris and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti both wrote The Manifesto of the Italian Fasci of Combat. Many of the precepts and theories of future fascism would be presented to mass audiences via the publication of those manifestos.
Probably the most impacting event of the World War I era was the birth of National Syndicalism which was a nationalist socialist movement. It originated in France and would find its way to Italy. Benito Mussolini joined the National Syndicalism movement after leaving the Italian Socialist Party. This movement was heavily influenced by nationalism and it would eventual morph into the actual political ideology of fascism. Mussolini would become the leader of the fascist movement in Italy and, later, its dictator.
The Aftermath of the First World War
In the aftermath of World War I, number different left wing and right wing political movements derived from Marxism would continually emerge. These movements had varying degrees of popularity and organizational might in Europe. While the vast majority of the movements had a collectivist approach to governance, they varied greatly in terms of how such governance would be instituted. Fascism quickly became a very popular ideology since it combined far right and far left beliefs that appealed to large numbers of people. Also, the fact that fascism maintained strict socioeconomic controls over businesses was incredibly popular as well as the globe was suffering from the catastrophe of the Great Depression. It is believed the economic hardships of the Great Depression contributed greatly to the rise of fascism all throughout the globe.
Fascism in Germany
It can be said that pure fascism existed mainly in Italy. In Germany, it was National Socialism and not pure fascism that would rise to great prominence. Reeling from the loss of World War I and the economic chaos of the Wiemar Republic, Germany gave the Nazi (National Socialist) Party full control over the nation. Under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, the Nazi Party claimed the ability to make Germany the nation that literally could rule the world via territorial expansion and acts of genocide. The actions taken by the Nazis would eventually lead to World War II.
After World War II
In the aftermath of Germany and Italy’s loss in World War II, fascism became a discredited political ideology. It does exist to some degree on the fringe of society, but only remnants of it exist in current, active global governments.