The ideological status of fascism is controversial; defining such a word is difficult because of the variety of the regimes and movements identified as fascist1. Fascism rooted from the years of World War I and it was at this time that self-styled fascist movements in Italy and Germany came into power. What promoted the rise of fascism in this period were the problems which bedevilled the modern age and which were becoming increasing apparent by the end of the nineteenth century2. Fascism saw its birth at the time of the First World War, and ideas involved were to solve social, economic and political problems with practical explanations. A former socialist by the name Benito Mussolini, were its creator. His vision was to create a birth of Italy and to return Italy to its earlier Empiric glory, with himself sooner to become the Emperor.
Fascism seeks to forcibly subordinate all spheres of society to its ideological vision of organic community, usually through a totalitarian state. Both as a movement and a regime, fascism uses mass organisations as a system of integration and control, and uses organised violence to suppress opposition, although the scale of violence varies widely3. This results to the ideological status of Fascism being controversial. Fascism is often used as a term of abuse and nothing more4. This essay will outline and discuss the main features of fascist political thought, which were mostly exposed in Mussolini’s career as Prime Minister of Italy, and his crusade to develop fascism.
Fascism can be theorised in its negative manner, the main feature of Fascism was that it was violent, its members had no scruples in resorting to violence and that the movement was irrational and addressed itself to the creation of emotion rather than conviction5, nevertheless it was cleverly manoeuvred with great skill which was aimed to preserve a close relationship with the various sections of his followers, so that his decree would be immediately obeyed6. Mussolini’s attempt to explicit fascism attracted a various background of people, however mainly drew its support from five principal sources7.This ranged, and during the winter of 1920-21 the Fascist movement expanded dramatically8. This saw peasants and shop-keepers to industrialists and professionals follow him in support.
All had different ideas of what to except, however they all shared one idea. This was Mussolini’s idea- his love for his country. This provided difficulty for the party, as it did not provide a source for a common ideology. Fascists had several different ideas however due to their extremism they found it hard to develop and survive beyond 1922. This involved, replacing Italy’s monarch, by substituting it for republic; church property to be seized. Fascists of the provinces, mostly peasants and rural workers were attracted by promises of land reform9, this was another foremost idea and lastly to create a national minimum wage.
Nevertheless, when Mussolini was given the role of prime minister and eventually ruling the governing body of the country, it still however retained its royalty. Moreover, there was a feud between the church and Mussolini, yet he tried to be in their favour, so that he gained popularity from the nation. One common factor between the fascists and the church was; the fear and hatred for communists. Similarly Hitler used the same strategy, and used the fear of communism to maintain the control of the country.
The ideas of fascism emerged from World War I, reacting to the leading political ideologies of the time, liberalism and socialism. They opposed such ideas. Liberalism emphasises the individual, whereas socialism, stresses the impact of class conflict. According to fascism both liberalism and socialism divert from social solidarity, which results in a fragile state. Socially, Mussolini condemned Marxism for dividing the nation into classes and causing class war which would sap the strength of a nation.
Thus he demanded that the people should subject themselves to the absolute authority of the state. People could find their own worth only when they were serving the state. As a result, freedom of assembly and thinking were wiped out in Italy10, which was achieved with the clever use of propaganda. Mussolini and his fascist party relied deeply upon an assortment of forms of propaganda, which he believed would gain him the support he needed, and enforce the desired image of a strong state, strong government, and a loyal and happy electorate. Mussolini and his officials utilized various outlets as propaganda tools. Clearly, the media played an incredibly important role in Fascist propaganda, especially the radio and newspapers11.
Up to the years of 1922 saw the violence of the Squadristi, who were committed to wipe out socialists. Violence was accepted and otherwise condemned by others. Mussolini used Squadristi violence to prove he meant his word with the use of violence. However, Mussolini thought the violent actions were radically affecting his image and so disassociated himself.
It wasn’t until success and glory that followed the violence, that he entitled himself as the source behind the force. However, Mussolini soon abandoned his use of violence, as he thought it would jeopardise his position in power. In order to gain power, Mussolini realised that working alongside the king was crucial. During the winter of 1920-21 the Fascist movement expanded dramatically, and it progressed in power and popularity and Mussolini was involved in an utter change over from left-wing political ideas to right-wing.
Fascism evolved in a form of extreme right-wing ideology that celebrated the nation or the race as an organic community transcending all other loyalties. Mussolini, however Hitler foremost, emphasised a myth of national and racial rebirth after a period of decline or destruction. It calls for “spiritual revolution” hostile towards signs of moral decay examples being; individualism and materialism, and searches to eliminate unfamiliar acts which is believed to threaten the organic community. Through nationalism, fascism manipulated, by indirectly managing the feelings of the nation-state. Through nationalism, the fascist regime praised militarism, and prepared a nation for war, making it an acceptable act of beings. The people of the nation were thought to feel good about themselves if there insecurities were immersed in thin air.
With his political ideas, Mussolini sought to create a national consciousness by using the power of the state. According to Fascism, the state is the focal point of human existence, and all citizens should give the state absolute obedience. Mussolini suggested that the state was the only source which gave people their identity and only through the state could people achieve what Mussolini called the “the higher life”. He also argued that the state drew its personality from the personality and will of each individual and then developed its own unique personality and will. Therefore, thought Mussolini, the state has the greater will and should dominate the individuals that live in it.
There was an attempt to form Italian society as a Totalitarian state, in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behaviour12. Totalitarianism can be strongly identified with Fascism; terror and violence is also closely connected with fascism. Mein Kampf was acclaimed by Hitler, as a personal ideology, as he saw fit; state. It stood for ‘My Struggle’. It was written whilst he was in prison, before power was under a Nazi regime. Mussolini on the other hand, created his ideology after he took control of Italy. Despite the different use of fascism in Germany and Italy, both Hitler and Mussolini’s principles were based in similar demeanour, which derived from different reactions to diverse issues the leader met.
Though, Fascism occurred not only in Italy, but under the regime of Adolf Hitler in Germany. German Nazism can often be mistaken to be the same as Italian Fascism. However, Italian Fascism was different to that of Nazism as it emphasised more on the state, whereas Germany was race cultivated. Though both ideologies praised force; youth movements and shock troops represented incarnations of the vitality of force13.
Italian fascism saw the individual as subservient to the state, whereas Nazism saw the individual, as well as the state, as ultimately subservient to the race14. However, both regimes exemplified an overheated nationalism in which the pursuit of glory justified aggression and violence15. Both countries suffered agony and torture in the immediate post World War period, which was a consequence from the either the defeat in the recent war or disappointed victory. Democracy struggled in both countries as social division and economic anxieties mounted16.
“We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality. It is a reality in the sense that it is a stimulus, is hope, is faith, is courage. Our myth is the nation; our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, to this grandeur, which we want to translate into a total reality, we subordinate everything else”17, this was said in a speech by Mussolini which makes apparent that reason and rationality, as other social scientists give opinion on, is not the source of power as is emotion and passion.
National greatness and absolute importance was to be created by images and customs. The notion of will was emphasised by Italian Fascists, as it was thought to believe that the will to power was imperative to human nature. This clearly provides for the survival of the fittest argument. When referring to fascism, Hobbes’ states and argues the constant struggle, endless fighting and war of all against all are all states of nature in the human race. This clearly defies the core reality of fascism, that there is an absolute importance of the nation, nature and war.
Fascism in Italy differed from Nazism due to the relative insignificance attached to race as an ideological force within the movement. Fascism under Mussolini combined a number of disparate forces18. This was seen under three forms, Syndicalism; which is a radical political movement that advocates bringing industry and government under the control of labour unions. The second, Futurism; this was employed as an artistic movement in Italy around 1910 that tried to express the energy and values of the machine age19.
And lastly, the third type of force used was Corporatism; this was corporate doctrines emphasised the organic nature of society and made the state a mediator, adjusting the interests of different social groups20. It was an idea that major economic interests should be incorporated into the system of government21. The vast range of influences to cultivate fascism by Mussolini points to a difficulty in identifying the nature of Italian fascism; it was an opportunistic movement which under Mussolini’s leadership was primarily concerned to gain and maintain power22.
Mussolini’s scrape to become a superpower greatly affected the fascism ideology of nationalism, nevertheless he characterised his failures as victories. His ideology and rulings were given attention to by the British and French, and accented it portray himself as a chief European leader. Mussolini was determine to have his nation ready for war, and prepared a young nation early. This was exposed as a sight of propaganda, but received different opinions. Italian resources were primed for war in Ethiopian and Spain, which gave an insight to the war on imperialism. Expansion of Italian powers subjugated Mussolini and fascists thoughts. This desire soon evolved in the youth movement, which saw young men in uniform. Mussolini believed military victory was the source of power.
What Italian Fascist share with its Nazi counterpart is elitism23. According to elite theorists, fascist believed the elite was an inevitable class, which then later referred to the fact the neither democracy nor socialism were possible. It was felt that the elite rule was natural and desirable. This later described that those from the elite class with rare qualities of leadership would progress to the top. Those with potential would reach prosperity. This was referred to in speech and in theory by Mussolini, as it was his picture of ideal leadership. Nevertheless, for the nation being led to high levels, the elite class was needed.
Economically, fascist believed that corporations were essential to the running of the state. There seemed to be a need for modernisation. This was promoted through technology and industrial life. As with Germany, the economic policies of Mussolini are difficult to define. There are problems between theory and economic practice which leads to opinions which contrast. Which are- either Mussolini had an economic plan or that he did not, but instead reacted to changes without forward planning24, although central planning in the nation was gone against by, it slowly developed in Italy. Mussolini also resisted a free market, as it was thought individuals would work for self gain.
To Conclude, it is clear that there is no particular clear set features of Fascism, except however the idea of nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism and Patriotism were taken to such limits by Fascist regimes, who using these two beliefs made war and aggression defensible. In fact War was seen as something splendid. As mentioned, there is no clear definition as to what fascism is and employed no moral obligations; nevertheless Mussolini mired the definition of the party.
Dictators such as Hitler had set the political agenda of his ideas, Mussolini on the other hand didn’t make apparent what his aims and political ideas were which perplexed the fascist ideology. Mussolini’s greed for success and grandeur warranted the indistinct policies of the government, though it was patent that fascism can be described as a right-wing movement, which initiated itself from the First World War. It is clear the way fascist took the survival of the fittest argument to such boundaries, and the evolution of the nation was of fundamental importance to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
* An introduction to Politics, Second Edition, Barrie Axford; Gary k. Browning; Richard Huggins; Ben Rosamond, Routledge (2002)
* Europe in the Twentieth Century 1905-1970, Agatha Raam, Longman (1984)
* Mussolini, Fascism’s Myth: the Nation, (the Naples speech 24 Oct. 1922) in Fascism, R. Griffin, Oxford (1995)
* Fascist Propaganda and the use of Mass Media, Communication and Culture to Propagate an Ideology, Micki Bloom, http://www.florencenewspaper.it/vediarticolo.asp?news=a7.08.20.15.37
* Fascist Italy: Italy before 1919, http://www.thecorner.org/hist/total/f-italy.htm#meaning-fascism
1 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.271
2 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.272
4 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.272
5 Agatha Raam, Europe in the Twentieth Century 1905-1970, Longman (1984), p.160
7 Agatha Raam, Europe in the Twentieth Century 1905-1970, Longman (1984), p.162
9 Agatha Raam, Europe in the Twentieth Century 1905-1970, Longman (1984), p.163
10 Fascist Italy: Italy before 1919, http://www.thecorner.org
11 Fascist Propaganda and the use of Mass Media, Communication and Culture to Propagate an Ideology, Micki Bloom , http://www.florencenewspaper.it
13 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.272
15 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.272
16 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.273
17 R. Griffin, Mussolini, Fascism’s Myth: The Nation, (the Naples speech 24 Oct. 1922) in Fascism, Oxford (1995), p.44
18 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.274
21 Gary k. Browning, An introduction to Politics, Routledge (2002), p.27