Fascism has sometimes been characterized as nothing more than a form of totalitarianism — that is to say, a grim and faceless state under which individuality is suppressed by state control. Yet fascist movements would never have attracted popular appeal if they offered nothing (or only victimization) to their participants. Particularly, the "totalitarian" model of fascism fails to recognize the roles of romanticism and identity in the fascist movement and the fascist state. To avoid and oppose fascism, though, it is necessary to understand what makes it appealing to its supporters.

Fascism romanticizes and glamorizes the state. Nazi and Italian Fascist propaganda was by no means solely focused on attacking and denigrating the enemies of the state. A great deal of it, rather, served to cast an attractive, heroic image on the nation — particularly the military, but also the working class, national ideals, and the home front in general.

Similarly, Fascist ideology encourages the participant to identify strongly with the nation and the state's goals. For this reason, other institutions with which one might identify — church, university, scholarly societies, labor organizations, or non-fascist political parties — may be suppressed. More often, though, they may be coöpted; their ideology and attention turned, implicitly or explicitly, towards the service and implementation of state goals.

(One might notice that the words "state" and "nation" have been mixed above. One of the other attributes of fascism is that it attempts to conflate the two — to identify the good of the populace and national identity with the particular goals of the state and leaders.)

To summarize the above: fascism is simply patriotism taken to its logical extreme.

The word derives from fasces, tightly bound bundles of wooden rods (sometimes with an ax protuding from them) which were used as a symbol of authority in ancient Rome. The term was created by Benito Mussolini as a name for the political movement that brought him into power in Italy.

Although many of the concepts described in this node are closely involved in the common interpretation of the term fascism, by the strictest definition they are not related to it at all.

Fascism, the word itself derived from the Italian anti-communist combat groups used by Benito Mussolini to oppress the Italian people, literally implies only the practice of violently forcing one's opinion onto others, and the belief that such a practice is justified. The association and confusion with totalitarianism is a common one, but in essence they are not the same at all. Fascism is not a form of government, it is a philosophy that has been adopted by some totalitarian governments. Fascism can be a philosophy adopted by one single individual as well.

Fascism as an ideology was founded by Benito Mussolini. So I think his words are the best definition for what it really is.

These words are found in the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The URL is: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html. The Copyright notice clearly allows electronic copying as long as the source is indicated.

In 1932 Mussolini wrote (with the help of Giovanni Gentile) and entry for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of fascism.

Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism -- born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision -- the alternative of life or death....

...The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others -- those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after...

...Fascism is the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production.... Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied - the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society....

After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage....

...Fascism denies, in democracy, the absurd conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of "happiness" and indefinite progress....

...iven that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy: political doctrines pass, but humanity remains, and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of authority...a century of Fascism. For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State....

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State....

...The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone....

...For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence. Peoples which are rising, or rising again after a period of decadence, are always imperialist; and renunciation is a sign of decay and of death. Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the coordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice: this fact explains many aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose this spontaneous and inevitable movement of Italy in the twentieth century, and would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century - repudiated wheresoever there has been the courage to undertake great experiments of social and political transformation; for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction and order. If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Fascism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Fascism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.

Note that many modern statist ideologies, even while they are vehemently opposed to fascism, share its fascination with the State that is more than a limited government, the State that has "a will and a personality". The character of this personality is supposed to be progressive and liberating, not imperialistic as in fascism; but the personality does remain.

While all of the above may be very illuminating, none of them really gives a modern definition of the word "Fascism" as it is applied to modern ideology and states.

Fascism can most broadly in this day and age be reduced to a concept of "rule through strength" and moreover, rule by an elite of the majority. This elite is without exception formed from members of that aforementioned majority.

Fascism is by nature exclusive of any minority voice, since it operates on behalf the numerical majority. Fascism assumes the absolute unity of the people and is therefore without exception totalitarian in outlook.

Fascism tends to encourage concepts of purity, especially those concepts which are seen as strength-building.

Fascism must inevitably lead to conflict, either internal or external in any state in which it is the dominant ideology, since strength must continually be tested and proven. Should the current regime lose, it did not have the strength (and thus the almost "divine right") to continue.

It can be viewed as ironic that most fascist parties in the Western world are currently themselves tiny minorities. However, fascist ideals retain their popular appeal in many other areas of the globe.

What fascism is and what it is not

"Fascism" (perhaps "fascist") is a political mudslinging word1. In this mode it is of little interest to us, although the roots of the conflict over its definition are enlightening: in the Cold War Western world the left could call the anti-communist right "fascist" and the right equated communism to fascism. On a superficial level these accusations appeared to the speaker to have some justification, but ultimately the over-use of the word led to a dilution of its understanding. The historian has enshrined one of his goals as "objectivity", something which he believes conferred by distance. Yet can such a distance ever be attained in discussing something such as fascism? Like fascism itself, our views are coloured by unconscious and unacknowledged biases and presuppositions.

Fascism is full of inherent contradictions. It is supposedly the doctrine of mobilizing the masses - yet it is anti-democratic; it enshrines the machismo - yet it appeals to women; it is authoritarian (or even totalitarian) yet it organizes rebellion. Simply examining what fascists said they were doing and the values they said they enshrined in isolation from what they actually did is futile. Dismissing the whole infernal thing merely as an irrational blip and pretending the movement sprung from the ether and hopefully will return there is rather a way of avoiding the issue than dealing with it. The other extreme - pretending the concept can be explained by a single characteristic and then proceeding to dismiss all contradictory evidence as a "blip" - is just as useless.

Marxist historians see history as class struggle - and believe that modern society is defined by its split into two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie own the means of production and the proletariat are employed in their use but own none - the rest are lumped conveniently into the "petty bourgeoisie", who try and seek their best interests in a middle road between labour and capital. As Marxians only acknowledge one type of radicalism - Communism2 - they have viewed fascism as reactionary and stressed its links to capitalism. They said that fascism was a natural result of class struggle, something which was bound to emerge when traditional authoritarian conservative dictatorships proved inadequate to crush burgeoning Communism. Their argument that fascism was primarily a movement to defend the interest of capitalists led them to relegate all its other properties to secondary importance or explain them in the context of their first presupposition. Imperialistic territorial expansion and racism within were held to be ploys to divert people's attention outwards and diffuse tension between the reactionary classes. Nationalism supplanted class interests and so destroyed international socialism, thus the international socialist concluded that fascism must be capitalistic.

Another perspective stresses the reactionary properties of fascism and stresses the importance of the feudal élites in encouraging fascism. This is only subtly different to the Marxist theory but is perhaps more far-reaching in its implications. As with the Marxist theory it suggests the élites were capable of manipulating the petty bourgeoisie at will and that the latter were largely merely subjected to the machinations of the former. Whilst it is true that traditional conservative élites (the gentry in Tsarist Russia, agrarian landowners in the Italian Po Valley) often courted fascism, the movement itself frequently violated traditional conservative values (the family, the Church, the government bureaucracy). Thus fascism cannot be understood as merely being the most extreme expression of traditional conservatism. But it is true that the conservative feudal élites frequently found the fascists much more appealing than the international socialists, and thus they patronised them: the Union of the Russian People, commonly known as the Black Hundreds, had tacit government support and received government money.

Perhaps the most broadly-encompassing definition explains fascism in terms of being totalitarian nationalism. Whilst this view does much to explain the fascist ideology it is weak on the causes of the fascist movement, something which the materialist approaches described above are strong on. The proponent of this view is forced to recognise the differences between different permutations of fascism (the racial Utopia of Nazi Germany and the nationalism-for-itself of fascist Italy, for instance). But it is this definition which seems to explain the movement well, and the acknowledgement that ultra-nationalism is the most dominant factor in shaping fascist ideology does much to advance our understanding of it. This does nothing to help us understand the origins of this ultra-nationalism or why it should win support from disparate classes. A debate also emerges over whether fascism is revolutionary or conservative. An informed conclusion seems to be that it was primarily neither, and it would pick and choose elements of each to advance some other cause. Its opposition to competing "isms" (feminism, capitalism, Communism) stemmed from the fact they placed one thing or another above the nation: and the perfect fascist man could have no care but the nation.

Democractic socialism (which has emerged as the guiding ideology in the Western World) was seen as degenerate and weak. Democracy, it was feared, would lead to mediocrity in government. Communism was unacceptable because it placed class interests against those of the nation (and was hopelessly entwined with the democratic movement). And whilst conservatives expressed support for the fascist movement (it was preferable to the socialists) they eventually became its victims. The greed of big business was condemned as decadent and opposed to national interests - and the regulation and trade unions which they had hoped to avoid were eventually foisted onto them. The property rights that conservatives esteemed so highly were by no means protected by the fascist governments when to do so would undermine "national unity". And while authoritarian conservatism seeks to defend its values through the army, the police and the Church, the fascist movement generally has a "manly" vanguard doing what it feels the authorities are incapable of doing. Thus we have the Black Hundreds in Tsarist Russia, the Sturmabteilung in Nazi Germany and the Italian squadristi.

To summarise more cogently the above: Fascism attempts to mobilise the masses in favour of a government by a small élite, who are drawn from the masses. Traditional authoritarian conservatism attempted to rule through existing power structures, but fascism supplanted these with its own nationally-minded mobilisation organisations. It did not respect conservatism insofar as conservative interests were opposed to "national unity". Similarly, it rejected socialism for undermining the national interest. It sought to over-ride class interests, unlike Communism. Its dominant characteristic is ultra-nationalism, be this defined biologically or geographically.

Neo-fascism and national populism

The infamy of the régimes of Hitler and Mussolini means that no political party today that hopes for any sort of legitimacy can call itself "fascist". Yet there are parties in our midst today that bear many of the hallmarks of yesteryear's fascist parties, even if they try to present a more "moderate" front. A cursory examination of their platforms quickly reveals the racialist and neo-fascist thinking behind it. In the United Kingdom, the British National Party (BNP) bases its platform on right-wing populism taken to the extreme. Thus, they have taken up such objectives as opposing European integration, installing tougher asylum laws and taking a "zero tolerance" approach to crime.

It is particularly telling that the BNP won Council seats (in Burnley) where the Conservative Party's vote had collapsed. The BNP hopes to appeal to orthodox conservatives by presenting a moderate platform, yet it can also appeal to disaffected conservatives who believe their old Party does not go far enough (cf. the old fascist movement's supporters believing the authorities could not defend them from the Socialists or Jews). Thus we see that neo-fascism and conservative share some goals and appeal to some of the same groups, but by looking at the BNP's platform we can see that they "think" very differently. This difference in antecedent thinking is ultimately what leads to the difference in the extremity of views between the far-right and the conservative.

Whilst the BNP specifically deny being racist, their platform makes it clear that they think in terms of race and believe in differences between races. They oppose mixed marriages because "all species and races of this planet are beautiful and must be preserved" - it logically follows that their particular goal in running Great Britain would be to preserve the "British races". It defines the nation in terms of race and glorifies the history of the "British races", saying it stretches back 40,000 years: races which have come here since then (Saxons, Vikings, Irish) and have "been assimilated" are also acceptable. They oppose European integration and ownership of domestic British media by foreign companies, because this would allow the influence of other races to effect Britain. Similarly, they are worried about the influence of homosexuals over the military establishment and the government bureaucracy. In fact, as with fascists of old, they do not respect traditional conservative interests where this is opposed to "national unity", with "nation" defined in biological terms.

It is this thinking in terms of race which makes national populists distinct from conservatives, whom generally think in terms of pragmatism or at least make an effort to define their position in terms of such. Whilst the neo-fascist platform borrows from conservatism (as it borrows from the "left" in some respects, attacking for instance the traditional conservative interest of "big business") what makes them neo-fascists is their racialist thinking. National populism and the glorification of the nation and the race are powerful pulls in areas of disaffection with the government's asylum or assimilation policy.

1. "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'" - Politics and the English Language, George Orwell.

2. Communism, or international socialism, is what fascism opposed, not socialism as an economic system. Totalitarianism is necessarily socialist, and "National Socialism" means exactly what it says: socialism within one nation.

Fascism requires the follower to identify with the leader to the point of redefining the leader as a greater self, and thus demolishes boundaries between the two. We can trust fascism to tell the truth about its intentions even when fascists themselves won't.

The truth of power is its influence; its influence is its existence. The meaning of this maxim, plain to most, is that power can be claimed by anyone for anyone, but social veracity can only be found in the effects it has on those who make no such claim in a given instance – and its existence can only be measured by apparent veracity, like any other purely qualitative entity. The power understood here is expressly not a post-structuralist, Foucauldian power array: it is not "power" understood as a vast system of interconnected discourses between loci. It is power, in fact, in the form that Foucault expressly rejected – power as it is popularly perceived; that is, power as an eminently desirable and nigh-karmic measure of merit whose accumulation or loss is unique to a identifiable and sovereign individual or loosely unified group. It is the power owned by someone, usually a leader, and used to control something, usually a system, in opposition to that power wielded against that leader by other potential leaders. That power is usually accumulated in popular fashion, by either skill at convincing others that their individual power in a given system is duly represented by the leader in question, or threatening those same individuals with a loss of power even unto loss of life, or better put, the powerful and only socially apparent recognition of their lives as valuable. This is the common view of fascism; I advance that it is quite the correct one, as fascism's power comes in its own recognition of its obvious simple avarice for power (as commodity) and lust for power (as a semi-sexual prize to be won).

Thus we find the majoritarian element of any given fascist movement: the populist element, to use the proper term. This element is well-studied (by Umberto Eco and Roger Griffin among others) and easily recognized as a common one in all fascism. The leader is given power by the follower's self-identification with him. The leader then proceeds to strengthen himself by brutal means, acquiring power by exploiting already existent systems while redirecting them towards himself. Individuals, identifying themselves with their leader, and usually with a national or otherwise political body with which he is assumed to be synonymous, lose self-identification. They are happy to give power to a grander, more beautiful self-image, as long as that image has been integrated into their own identity and no (self-)crisis is at hand. The leader is the prettiest part of the follower; the follower has been afforded the freedom and duty to go everywhere in limousines, to dress and eat and live like a king, to have sex with all objects of desire, to dictate law unto the follower's inferiors, and most importantly, to wage war against the problems and enemies that trouble the follower day and night. This is how fascism differs from monarchism and other autocracies where the leader is the state in which the follower has a part to play. When one is the follower, the leader is simply the ultimate dolled-up, Saturday-night version of oneself. The leader is a 'father' as oneself would obviously be, if one tried hard enough to apply one's own wise principles; similarly 'friend', 'lover', and any other epithet applied to the leader. One trusts the leader, and knows that all must trust the leader, because one is genuinely confused when any given benign stranger in one's own society does not trust oneself.

In an organically racist fascism, the leader retains that power by strengthening himself at the expense of a perceived foe, whose social identity serves as the dumping-ground for all undesirable traits within the populace. Sartre, Zizek, Carroll and other thinkers have identified 'the Jew' in the world of true Nazism and contemporary antisemitism as just this: the Jew is allowed no identity besides a historical one that relates to the populace the leader desires to capture for his own, specifically the sum total of every unfortunate event or evil quality within the given society. Defined as parasite historically, the Jew is also defined epistemologically in the same way, which makes for an easy task of dealing with dissent by creating mechanisms within individuals which allow them to act as the leader and state in their own lives.

Experiences are redefined within the framework; if the leader has done his job, this does not even require analysis or struggle within the mind of the follower. Friendly or virtuous action by any particular person identified as 'the Jew' is redefined automatically in the follower's mind as duplicitous and conspiratorial. 'The Jew' is a cunning, ancient, and even respected opponent when unseen, pulling the strings which lead to what is likely every problem in the follower's life. However, when 'the Jew' is encountered in the particular, he is weak and can be easily destroyed by 'the Aryan', i.e., the unified follower-leader identity, which has individual strength in face-to-face confrontations identified with all the noble qualities for which 'the Jew' must compensate with his perfect deceit. 'The Jew' can thus be easily rounded up and sent off to die by the follower under the (self-)instruction of the leader, reinforcing the follower's self-identification with the leader and the rejection of non-virtuous intention and behavior in himself. And even as the temporal qualities identified with 'the Jew' are seemingly eradicated – his religion, his appearance, and so on – and the leader-follower praises himself for his skill at elimination, there is no shortage of 'Jews'. They are defeated but still everywhere, pulling every evil string, until even memory fades and a new scapegoat must be identified.

The value of interpersonal relationships, and the real power of one individual to alter the perception of another in a democratic fashion, are both vastly overwhelmed by the power of the leader (understood as individual or collective) and his influence over the definition of common reality. Many have claimed this as a collective, and individual, renunciation of moral authority, but nothing could be further from the truth. The follower reinforces himself by connection with the leader, as the leader must successfully represent himself as the best aspects of the follower to achieve power. The follower then makes his own moral action synonymous with the state, and each time he acts out of accordance with the position of the leader-self, he creates a gap between the leader-self and the present-self which he feels obligated to close by loyal action. The only thing the follower renounces is the superiority of the will of the present self; he agrees to act in accordance not with the will of the leader, but with the will of the self who he considers the leader to be.

When the apparatus of power is created with the leader at its head, there is of course the greatest risk: that the leader will become 'corrupt', that is, he will fail to embody the greater part of the self and cause crises that will shatter the follower's self-image. Fascism in theory and practice, despite conventional wisdom, is premised on identity over ideology. An effort must be made to distinguish the fascism of identity from the 'false democracy' of other twentieth-century systems unthinkingly grouped with fascist states as 'totalitarian'.

Examine, if you will, a non-fascist example of corrupt totalitarianism: the Soviet Union's bureaucracy, which held its power in the name of a theory of philosophy of history. The state apparatus identified itself with great figures who achieved demigod status in the mythology of the age, but expressly disconnected itself from common identity; it mythologized an eternal 'worker' but could not build a satisfactory image of that worker with which all could identify. The ostensible internationalism of Marxist ideology, and the facile claim of a unified U.S.S.R. containing many races and former nations but only one newly created culture, led to the inability of the bureaucracy to identify with those it governed, and thus led to corruption and cronyism on a massive scale.

Specifically, despite the best attempts at 'socialist realism' and a truly Soviet form of art, there was no true ideal of beauty which the leaders and followers alike were supposed to embody. Rather, the followers were aesthetically represented as leaders and were supposed to content themselves with this (obviously false) new self-image, while the bureaucrats 'acknowledged' in false self-deprecation that they held no power compared to the twelve-foot tall, muscular, handsome 'worker' of Soviet murals. Of course, they were totalitarians – constantly deceitful, and necessarily corrupt, totalitarians. The Soviet system was one of an open secret of false democracy, which is where its greatest weakness lay. Fascist systems, on the other hand, make no bones about their utter contempt for democracy in any form. In a world where the leader is identified with the follower, there is not much need for mediation between the two.

Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.

-- Benito Mussolini

Lemons, not bananas

The quote from Mussolini above describes the propagandistic goals of Italian fascism quite well (i.e. the goals that the fascists wanted people to believe that they were aiming for). There seems to be some doubt as to the authenticity of the wording of this quote. Nevertheless, its content is in perfect accordance with the professed ideas of Italian fascism.

But -- and it’s a huge BUT -- the phrase "corporate power" denoted something entirely different in Italy during the fascist era than the phrase “corporate power” does in the US and the English-speaking world today.

A "corporation" poles apart, with medieval roots

"Corporatism" is merely the fascist theory of industrial organisation. Its ideas are in certain ways related to the theories of English Guild Socialism, a movement that could well have influenced Mussolini’s thinking (Benito Mussolini started out his political career as a fiery socialist). Corporatism can also be thought of as a streamlined version of the medieval guild system.

The central idea of corporatism is that all branches of industry should be organised in such a way that employers and workers can cooperate in harmony and mutual understanding. In this way disruptive strikes are avoided and production, wages, and profit will be maximised. In a fascist society everything is produced for the benefit of the State. Corporatism was thought to be equally beneficial to the State as it was to workers and employers, particularly as it was to be supervised by the State. The "corporation" (I’ll use quotes to distinguish the fascist "corporation" from the modern concept) was to consist of an elected body with representatives from both employers and workers. This body was empowered to decide on all matters relating to the workings of an industry.

Luckily, just a political program

Corporatism in Mussolini’s Italy was in reality just a political program and it was not put into practice in earnest. This may be just as well, because -- as many economists have pointed out -- the corporatism along the lines sketched by the fascists is in the long run certain to reduce productivity and increase prices, instead of the other way around. Because if the "corporation" wants to look after the best interests of its workers and employers, then raising prices and producing less would be much more efficient than to increase production. Over time the "corporations" will simply develop into powerful monopolies.

In constant conflict, but in overall harmony

Unfortunately, "harmony and understanding" doesn’t work in the marketplace or in labour relations. Real conflicts of interest remain real conflicts, no matter how much you try to redefine or euphemise them. They must be dealt with in a way that takes their reality into account. Keen competition, political disagreement, and labor conflicts are the way of life in our civilised world. But the way that these things are institutionalised in our societies makes it all work rather harmoniously nevertheless, surprising as it may seem.



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