The Origins of Fascism

by Gabriel Cavagionni/Guest

Love and Rage is publishing this as part of our series chronicling the rise of the far right, proto-fascist groups and fascism in general around the world. 

From the beginning of fascism in Italy to Nazism in Germany, fascism has affected Europe and changed the lives of millions of people. It stands out from many other known political ideologies and regimes because it was a form of ultra nationalism that swept across countries like Germany. Fascism is the most extreme form of right-wing nationalism in history and fascists have seen it as a way to combat communism and liberalism, uphold the nation as supreme and support the idea that one is the supreme ruler of all.

Ever since fascism’s origins, the definition of it has been disputed for almost a century by other political parties, scholars and historians. Although there is one definition that can define what is called fascism, there are other definitions that are important to look at besides the actual one. Marxists believe that, according to Kevin Passmore, “Fascism in power is the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, and the most imperialistic elements of finance capitalism” (Passmore 14). According to this 1935 definition, fascism was not created from capitalists because fascists recruited from the petty bourgeoisie which were against big capital. To the Marxists this definition was debated. Some felt it labelled all regimes fascist. Other Marxists disagreed and felt that the capitalists did more than what was intended. Most of them on the other hand though felt that fascism operated in the interests of capitalism. However, one main problem with this definition is that it does not say much to claim fascism does serve the interests of capitalism because as long as it is not destroyed, it can function under any regime (Passmore 15-16).

Another theory as to what fascism could mean comes from the ideas of Max Weber and it is not straightforward. Weberians blame fascism on feudalism where it occurred in eastern Germany, in Italy, Japan, etc. The elites then, spread their ideals through education and prevented countries that did not experience a liberal-democratic revolution. Although this helps people understand fascism more, it shares the same assumption that Marxists have, that elites manipulate the rest of the population. Also it does not take the radical parts of fascism into account. The totalitarian definition of it is in six parts, starting where one man runs a party and has a system of terror. The problem with this definition is that it is one sided and it does not explain a lot about fascism. Even though there are more definitions these are the most important to look at because they contribute best to understand fascism better. The best definition to describe it is that fascism is an ultra-nationalist ideology and practice (Passmore 21-25). In a country such as Germany or Italy, it was an extreme right-wing ideology that celebrates the nation or a race as an organic community transcending all loyalties. It emphasizes a myth of national or racial rebirth after a period of decline or destruction (Lyons 1).

Although there are more definitions of fascism, it also must be taken into consideration that its true meaning may never be known and that these definitions are meant to clear up and better understand what is known as fascism. It is also argued to have three core elements in it. Ultra-nationalism, as mentioned, is more extreme and has more pride involved than regular nationalism, revolution similar to communism which was through violence but a different end goal, and finally rebirth which obviously is a nation (like Germany) that is being born again. Also, ultra-nationalism is viewed by fascists as a wide variety of ideological permutations such as historical factors, religious factors, political factors, etc. However, it can differ such as in Germany where it was by racial and cultural attachments. The second portion is revolution but different from the way communists would start a revolution which was through extreme methods as recently mentioned. While both achieved it by beating up their enemies and through violence, their goals were different in which fascists wanted the nation to be upheld by “Pure Germans” and communists wanted a classless society. Regardless, in this view it accepts that fascists are in a revolutionary struggle to reverse decadence and to inaugurate a national rebirth. Finally, the rebirth portion of it and in a way it could be viewed as a Christian would from the image of Christ’s resurrection. However, this is simply a metaphor for radical change also known as achieving the end goal by means of violence or almost any means necessary. It also means that it can host a range of fascist ideology in spheres such as the military, foreign policy, imperialism, and so on  (Blamires 2-3). As mentioned, this is not to answer what fascism is but to clear it up and help better understand it.

Now that fascism is better defined, its origins and history can be furthered understood. Many people think that fascism came from Mussolini when he originally seized power. Yes, that is true; he seized power in Italy and had these fascist ideals in the aftermath of World War One, from 1919 to when he seized power in 1922 to his death before the end of World War Two. However, he was not the first one to implement to what at the time was considered something new. Actually, and to some this may be hard to believe, fascism originated in Aigues-Mortes, France in the late 19th century and on one hand it has the Enlightenment to thank for it and on another anti-enlightenment thoughts. It all came about by French workers brawling against Italian immigrants, which was common but not usually mortal, but it ended up being a massacre of the Italian immigrants. By coincidence some credit the French writer, Maurice Barrès based on a novel he wrote in 1890, Le Jardin Debérénice. He rejected the liberal and democratic view that the nation was the expression of the rational interests of individual male inhabitants of France. Barrès saw the nation as the product of history and tradition. His novels and his political journals were the ground work for Fascism. (Passmore 1-3) Then in 1919 which was the aftermath of World War One, Mussolini would go on to coin the term “fascism.” This as mentioned is a year after World War One ended and in no time, Mussolini gave speeches and argued that a strong leader is needed in order to run Italy. Within the same year (1919) he organized the fascist movement in Milan, Italy. Known as the black shirts, fascists beat up communists and socialists and threw them out of government. Two years after, he formed the National Fascist Party. In October of 1922, the famous “March on Rome” took place where he and his followers marched into the city. That march ended up putting Mussolini in power (Martz 1-4).

Although by the time World War Two came and Mussolini was overthrown before the war’s end, he did inspire other fascist leaders. In Spain, Francisco Franco revolted against the Spanish Republic. What ended up happening was when the Spanish monarchy was overthrown and the extreme right party Franco was in narrowly lost the election with the populist left wing party, a civil war ensued and before the start of World War Two and with help from Mussolini and Hitler; he seized and held power until his death in 1975. Mussolini even inspired Adolf Hitler, who also helped Franco gain power but many people died in this horrendous civil war just because of one man disagreeing with the populist left. As for Hitler, he and the Nazis were originally known as the German Workers’ Party in 1919 and when it started, Hitler made it become much more. Unlike Mussolini’s original “brand” of fascism, Nazism, as it was known as in Germany was even more extreme. Its views were anti-Semitic and had a goal of protecting “Ethnic Germans” at any cost. From 1933-1945, these beliefs resulted in the deaths of six million Jews along with four million Roma, Slavs and others who Hitler called “undesirables” which is now known as the Holocaust, the most well-known genocide in the 20th century and quite possibly, in history (Darity 4).

As history does time and time again, it either repeats itself, leaves an impact or does both. In this case, Fascism has affected the modern world today. Even though there are no historical fascist movements that are nowhere near close to seizing power in countries, there are however neo-Nazi movements in most Western countries such as the U.S. On the other hand though, just because no historical fascist political parties have gained power such as in the US or Russia for example, that does not mean it will never happen. On the contrary, modern society after all, depends on a network of trust and negotiation, which can be potential of being fragile. If it came crashing down then there is almost a guarantee of neo-Nazis gaining power. A few examples of countries that have far right populism are France, Switzerland, Denmark, the United States and Russia. This is because of the prevalence of racism in the west, the demonization of Islam, fears that globalization is corroding nation-states, the belief that immigrants will undermine some ill-defined national identity, and the conviction that politicians are all corrupt suggest that further victories might be on their way.

In another way some or many people want to believe that democracy is deeply rooted as to make it impossible for the extreme right to gain power. It is true that democracy is deeply rooted however, it does not always connect to the belief that every human being should have equal treatment despite race, beliefs, etc. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of the French presidential election which shows the strength of national-populist racism in certain areas of Europe. On the other hand, he was badly defeated in the second ballot which shows the opposition to the extreme right in the rest of society. The question though is whether or not  national-populists can convince a broader section of the population that it can solve all economic and social problems through the means of ending immigration and the return of women to their homes. Even this sparks other questions and although it may be done peacefully there will be a violent and a counter-violent reaction for those who are not willing to give up their freedoms so easily that they have had for their entire lives (Passmore 155-156).

Overall, fascism throughout history was a promise to many people as a way to fight Communism and Socialism and to replace Liberalism as a form of government. For Hitler it was a way of making Germany pure while for Mussolini, it was a matter of making Italy a great nation once again. With fascism comes racism as Hitler demonstrated with the anti-Semitic laws that targeted Jews and other peoples that Hitler thought of as inferior. Mussolini targeted Africans as his racist part of government in Italy. However, to some people and for others, Fascism is not as what it seems and for some things, a bigger picture needs to be drawn, bigger questions need to be asked such as “What is Fascism?” and further reading into a belief that has impacted the world today.

Works Cited:

Blaimes, Cyprian P. World Fascism. Ed. Paul Jackson. Vol. 1. N.p.: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.

Blamires, Cyprian P. World Fascism. Ed. Paul Jackson. Vol. 2. N.p.: ABC-CLO, 2006. Print.

“Fascism.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 102-05. World History in Context. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Lyons, Matthew N. “What Is Fascism? Some General Ideological Features.” N.p., 1995. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Martz, Carlton. “Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism.” Bill of Rights in Action. Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

Passmore, Kevin. Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

Gabe Cavagionni is a student at MVCC and is majoring in History. He is currently during research on the rise of fascism in Greece, Ukraine and around the world. He is doing this work in order to shed light on the rise of this very dangerous trend.

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