Introduction to Fascism

What is Fascism?

Fascism is a political ideology that is characterized by authoritarian nationalism, racism and the repression of dissent.

Fascism was first developed in Italy in 1919 by Benito Mussolini and his followers. Mussolini came to power after the Italian army suffered severe losses in World War I. He promised to restore national pride and improve living standards for all Italians. His supporters were mainly from the lower middle class who had become disillusioned with Italy’s liberal government. They also included landowners who had lost their land during the war, business owners who felt they were being taxed too heavily, and veterans who had been denied jobs because they did not have enough education or skills.

Fascism has three main tenets: authoritarianism, nationalism and anti-communism (or anti-socialism).

10 Key Characteristics of Fascist System

  1. Opposition to Marxism
  2. Opposition to Political and Cultural Liberalism
  3. Glorification of the State
  4. Extreme Nationalism
  5. Imperialism
  6. Opposition to Parliamentary Democracy
  7. Totalitarian Ambition
  8. Millitary Values
  9. Acceptance of Racism
  10. Economic Policies that are conservative
  11. Mass Mobilisation
  12. Education as Character Building

In brief,

Opposition to Marxism

The Fascists made no secret of their hatred of Marxists of all stripes, from totalitarian communists to democratic socialists. The Fascists promised to deal more “firmly” with Marxists than had earlier, more democratic rightist parties.

Mussolini first made his reputation as a fascist by unleashing armed squads of black shirts on striking workers and peasants in 1920-21. Many early Nazis had served in the paramilitary groups formed by ex-soldiers to suppress leftist activism in Germany at the end of World War I.

When Hitler came to power, he sent hundreds of Marxists to concentration camps and intimidated “red” neighbourhoods with police raids and beatings.

Despite the fascists violent opposition to Marxism, some observers have noted significant similarities between fascism and Soviet communism. Both were mass movements. Both emerged in the years following World War I in circumstances of political turmoil and economic collapse. Both sought to create totalitarian systems after they came to power.

Opposition to Political and Cultural Liberalism

Although circumstances made political liberalism necessary at times, fascists condemned it for elevating individual rights above the needs of the Volk, encouraging “divisiveness” (i.e., political pluralism), tolerating “decadent” values, and limiting state power.

Fascist propagandists also attacked cultural liberalism, claiming that it encouraged moral relativism, godless materialism, and selfish individualism and thereby undermined traditional morality.

Anti-Semitic fascists associated liberalism with Jews in particular—indeed, one precursor of Nazism, the political theorist Theodor Fritsch, claimed that to succumb to a liberal idea was to succumb to the Jew within oneself.

Glorification of the State

One of the foremost beliefs of the fascists was the glorification of the state and the total subordination of the individual to it. The state is defined as an organic whole into which individuals must be absorbed for their own benefit and that of the state. This “total state” is absolute in its methods and unlimited by law in its control and direction of its citizens in its use of brutal intimidation of the opposition by the militia and the secret police.

Fascism does not greatly distinguish itself from other despot and totalitarian regimes. Associated with it was the theory of social Darwinism, i.e., the doctrine of survival of the fittest and the necessity of struggle for life. This was applied by fascists to the life of a nation-state. Peaceful, complacent nations were seen as doomed to fall before more dynamic ones, making struggle and aggressive militarism a leading characteristic of the fascist state. Imperialism was the logical outcome of this dogma.

Extreme Nationalism

The Fascists advocated extreme nationalism and cultural chauvinism. Fascist ideologues taught that national identity was the foundation of individual identity and should not be corrupted by foreign influences, especially if they were left-wing.

The fascist view of a nation is of a single organic entity which binds people together by their ancestry and is a natural unifying force of people. They sought to solve economic, political, and social problems by achieving a millenarian national rebirth, exalting the nation or race above all else, and promoting cults of unity, strength, and purity.

As Benito Mussolini stated in 1922, “For us, the nation is not just territory but something spiritual.” “A nation is great when the force of its spirit is translated into reality.”

Similarly, Nazism condemned Marxist and liberal internationalism as threats to German national unity. Fascists in general wanted to replace internationalist class solidarity with nationalist class collaboration. The Italian, French, and Spanish notions of integral nationalism were hostile to individualism and political pluralism. Unlike democratic conservatives, fascists accused their political opponents of being less “patriotic” than they were, sometimes even labelling them “traitors.”


Many fascist movements had imperialistic aims. Italian fascists described expansionist imperialism as a necessity. The 1932 Italian Encyclopedia stated: “For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say, the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite is a sign of decadence.”

Similarly, the Nazis promoted territorial expansionism to provide “living space” to the German nation. Hitler hoped that his “drive toward the east” by conquering eastern Europe and Russia would not only prove the racial superiority of Aryans over Slavs but also provide enough plunder and living space to overcome continuing economic difficulties at home.

Mussolini’s imperial ambitions were directed at North Africa, and his armies invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Polish fascists advocated retaking all the lands that had ever been ruled by Polish kings, including East Prussia. Finnish fascists wanted to create a “Greater Finland” at the expense of Russia, and Croatian fascists advocated a “Greater Croatia” at the expense of Serbia. Similarly, Japanese fascists preached military conquest on behalf of their plan for a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

Opposition to Parliamentary Democracy

Before they came to power, Hitler and Mussolini, despite their dislike of democracy, were willing to engage in electoral politics and give the appearance of submitting to democratic procedures. When Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, he abandoned his military uniform for a civilian suit and bowed profusely to President Paul von Hindenburg in public ceremonies. But fascist movements criticised parliamentary democracy for allowing the Marxist threat to exist in the first place.

According to Hitler, democracy undermined the natural selection of ruling elites and was “nothing other than the systematic cultivation of human failure.”

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, maintained that the people could never rule themselves and claimed that every history-making epoch had been created by aristocrats. In Japan, the Tojo dictatorship dissolved all political parties, even right-wing groups, and reduced other political freedoms.

Totalitarian Ambitions

Before fascists came to power, however, they often disavowed totalitarian aims. Although Hitler had not revealed the full extent of his totalitarian aims before he came to power, as Fuehrer (“Leader”) of the Third Reich, he attempted not only to control all political power but also to dominate many institutions and organisations that were previously independent of the state, such as courts, churches, universities, social clubs, veterans’ groups, sports associations, and youth groups. Even the German family came under assault, as members of the Hitler Youth were told that it was their patriotic duty to inform on anti-Nazi parents. In Italy, Mussolini adopted the title of duce (“leader”), and his regime created billboards displaying slogans such as “The Duce is always right” and “Believe, obey, fight.”

Military Values

The Fascists favoured military values such as courage, unquestioning obedience to authority, discipline, and physical strength. They also adapted to the outward trappings of military organizations, such as paramilitary uniforms and Roman salutes. Hitler imagined a God who presided over military conflicts and ensured the survival of the fittest.

Mussolini was famous for slogans such as

“A minute on the battlefield is worth a lifetime of peace,”


“Better to live an hour like a lion than a hundred years like a sheep,”


“Nothing has ever been won in history without bloodshed.”


Similarly, a pamphlet published by the Japanese War Ministry in 1934 declared: “War is the father of creation and the mother of culture.”

Acceptance of Racism:

Although not all fascists believed in biological racism, it played a central role in the actions of those who did. Nazism was viciously racist, especially in its attitude toward Jews. The Nazis blamed the Jews for almost everything wrong with Germany, from the Great Depression and the rise of Marxism to the evils of international capitalism and decadence in art.

The Holocaust, culminating in the “final solution” to the Jewish question, was the cruel outcome of this hatred. From 1933 to 1945, some six million Jewish men, women, and children were exterminated by gassings, shootings, hangings, and clubbing, and about three million Slavs (whom the Nazis regarded as only slightly less racially inferior than Jews), as well as approximately 400,000 Gypsies (Roma), were murdered as well. Mussolini opposed anti-Semitism during the first 12 years of his rule. In the years after 1933, however, he sometimes allowed anti-Semites within his party to condemn “unpatriotic” Jews in the press. In 1938, the Italian government passed anti-Semitic legislation, and later it abetted the Holocaust.

Economic Policies that are Conservative

The economic programmes of the great majority of fascist movements were extremely conservative, favouring the wealthy far more than the middle class and the working class. Although some workers were duped by it before the fascists came to power, most remained loyal to the traditional antifascist parties of the left.

As historian Weiss noted, “Property and income distribution and the traditional class structure remained roughly the same under fascist rule.”

What changes favoured the old elites or specific factions of the party leadership? Their economic theory, known as corporatism, called for organising each of the major sectors of industry, agriculture, the professions, and the arts into state or management-controlled unions and employer associations, or “corporations,” each of which would negotiate labour contracts and working conditions and represent the general interests of their professions in a larger assembly of corporations, or “corporatist parliament.”

Corporatist institutions would replace all independent organisations of workers and employers, and the corporatist parliament would replace, or at least exist alongside, traditional representative and legislative bodies.

In theory, the corporatist model represented a “third way” between capitalism and communism, allowing for the harmonious cooperation of workers and employers for the good of the nation as a whole.

Mass Mobilization

Fascists typically attempted to win popular support and consolidate power by mobilising the population in mass meetings, parades, and other gatherings. The Nazi rallies at Nurnberg, for example, were organised with large banners, paramilitary uniforms, martial music, torchlight parades, bonfires, and fascist salutes accompanied by prompted shouts of “Sieg Heil!”.

Mussolini’s regime in Italy and Salazar’s government in Portugal also held government-organized mass rallies. After 1936, Japanese fascists paid less attention to mass mobilisation than to working directly with the nation’s elites. The dictatorship that followed was based on a coalition of military leaders, industrialists, state bureaucrats, and conservative party politicians.

Education as Character Building

Fascist educators emphasised character building over intellectual growth, devalued the transmission of information, inculcated blind obedience to authority, and discouraged critical and independent thinking that challenged fascist ideology.

According to Nazi writer Herman Klaus, the teacher “is not just an instructor and transmitter of knowledge. He is a soldier, serving on the cultural and political front of National Socialism. Intellectuals must belong to the people or else they are nothing. The ultimate aim of Nazi education was not to make students think more deeply but to make them fight more vigorously.

Specific Examples of What Makes a System Fascist

Fascism is a complex term, with many definitions. It can be hard to pinpoint the exact characteristics that make up a fascist system, but there are some common threads that make it easy to identify.

Some of these characteristics include the glorification of war, violence and militarism. The complete rejection of democracy and the rule of law. A belief in the superiority of one ethnic group over all others and an insistence on the need for their supremacy. The complete rejection of free speech and free press.

While there are many examples that can be used to identify fascism, it is important to note that not all fascistic regimes have all these characteristics.


Fascism is a political ideology that is radical, authoritarian, and nationalist. Fascists seek to elevate their nation through a totalitarian state that seeks mass mobilisation of a nation through discipline, indoctrination, physical training, and eugenics. Based on a commitment to an organic national community in which its individuals are united together as one people in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry and culture.

Fascism emerged in Europe by the early 20th century and spread all over Europe, but as a starting point, the first fascist movement took place in Italy during World War I, before spreading to other parts of Europe. It was made up of several ideas that existed during the twentieth century and developed in diverse ways.

Outside of Germany and Italy, Francisco Franco’s regime in Spain was the most successful of these fascist regimes.

All of these dictatorial parties and regimes were largely expressions of political discontent with economic realities, but they were also responses to the worrisome complexity of modern existence.

Refrences/Essential Readings

  1. Reinhard Kuhnl, “The Rise of Fascism in Germany and Its Causes” (Translated by Michael N. Dobkowski and Isidor Wallimann)
  2. Joseph P. Sottile In The Fascist Era: Imperial Japan And The Axis Alliance In Historical Perspective
  3. Japanese Fascism, Richard Sims
  4. Wikipedia, Statism in Shéwa Japan, Italian Fascism 
  5. Martin Binkhorn, Mussolini and Fascist Italy
  6. Macrohistory And World Timeline, Mussolini and Fascism in Italy 
  7. Alexander De Grand; Fascism and Nazism, The Historical Context 
  8. Raymond F. Betts, Europei in Retrospect: A brief history of the past two hundred years
  9. Perspective on International Relations and World History

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