How did fascism emerge?

Fascism emerged not ready made with a huge suite of theoretical texts, party traditions and so forth. In Italy, fascism started emerging, embryonic, after the long ‘risorgimento’ (‘reorganization’) of Italy that began in the 19th century and the ruptures caused by the first world war. A member of the Italian socialists and prolific writer in Italian socialist journals, Benito Mussolini, left the PSI due to disagreements over what Italy’s position should be in the war. The PSI line was neutrality,much like most European socialist parties, which either advocated neutrality or a harder anti war line. Mussolini’s position was in favour of intervention and border revisionism to try and regain historically Italian territories such as Trieste and Fiume. During the war years and especially during the later years of it, Mussolini’s band of fascisti  were more or less a street gang that became connected and partly financed by business owners to break up strikes and oppose the workers movement on top of supporting nationalist goals. The ideological aspects as is seen and explained in The Doctrines of Fascism, came later in the movement. Furthermore, when Mussolini was appointed prime minister, this was done so as an ‘antidote’ to the socialist movement and at the time Mussolini’s Fascist party only had 35 seats in the parliament.The March on Rome, evoking Julius Caesar, was more pageantry than anything else as Italy’s king had agreed to make Mussolini Prime Minister as his organization was viewed as an effective counter to the socialist tide. Oswald Mosley in Britain became a fascist after a tour of Italy, believing it to be the best political system to solve Britain’s most pressing problems of the time. He was fairly popular, but his movement was ultimately unsuccessful, especially when war broke out in 1939, but he remained active in politics afterward and somewhat distanced himself from fascism in his post war political activities. 

In Germany, the National Socialist workers party, even by the time of Hitler’s ill fated beer hall putsch in 1924, was not the mass movement it became later and was a barely known provincial movement in the state of Bavaria. Throughout this module you will encounter more detail about the party base, state system and ideological positions of the party.  Hitler was imprisoned after the failed putsch, during which time he and his associate Rudolf Hess put together the now infamous and at the time widely sold autobiography Mein Kampf, which laid out Hitler’s life up until that point and the development of his essential political views.   In the 1928 election they had only received about 2.6-2.8% of the vote. In the early 30s, with the combination of the severe global economic dislocation of the Great Depression on top of the still fresh difficulties of the 20s before Schacht and Streseman started solving Germany’s main economic problems (ie; hyperinflation), an appealing program for economic recovery and effective utilization of technology and mass politics,  which made them more successful than liberal parties or traditional conservatives on top of their campaign for the 1932 election being very well funded by some elite industrialists, the National Socialist German Workers Party received approximately ⅓ of the vote in the 1932 election and then form government with a coalition of other right wing parties, such as the DVP. With Hitler being appointed Chancellor, clever politicking, the Reichstag fire and following Enabling Act in 1933, as well as the 1934 ‘Night of the Long Knives’, the Nazi party, and in particular Hitler and his faction within the party, had uncontested political power in Germany and began implementing their political project.

Many other states in Europe at the time also had fascist movements, such as Poland, Spain and Romania, with Romania and Spain both turning brown. Famously in Spain, fascism took hold after a brutal civil war and counter-insurgency lead by Francisco Franco against principally Republican and Anarchist forces between 1936 and 1939. The system lead by Franco once he consolidated political power were far more reactionary and dictatorial than even his Italian and German counterparts. Japan’s political system at this time has also sometimes been described as fascist, sharing many similarities between their European counterparts, although this emerged in the post-Meiji state principally as a result of zaibatsu’s and factions in the state, rather than mass political movements or parties, jockeying for influence and implementing their agendas and promoting their militaristic ideology in a manner consistent with the Meiji constitution and the ‘divine’ character of the Emperor. 

Russia too had what has been called ‘proto fascists’, but this was much earlier around the time of the 1905 revolution up until 1917, in the form of ‘Black Hundreds’ (very similar to Mussolini’s or Mosley’s blackshirts) or the Union of Russian People’s, which were right wing populist movements organized to counter the left. However, unlike their later Japanese counterparts, these groups were unable to square the circle of Tsarist autocratic rule, especially as the  the mystical union between Tsar and people that the 1905 revolution had broken in the minds of many, and mass politics on top of their populist land reform agenda alienating traditional conservatives, who were largely large gentry landowners. Ultimately, these ‘proto fascists’ were unsuccessful, but had Nicholas II been savvy enough to co-opt these movements and create an authoritarian mass politics similar to what later emerged in Japan, the entire course of the 20th century may have been radically different.

Tip Box
A term you might want to look more closely at is ‘nationalism’. Many have written volumes on this topic stemming from the basic question “what is a ‘nation’? How are nations organized and on what basic foundations are they formed? What criteria do we use to define what a ‘nation’ is and what ‘nationalism’ is? And based on this definition, what might the differences be between feelings of nationalism and feelings of patriotism? Is the concept of a nation something eternal on the basis of ethnic criteria and exists regardless of political structures or are nations an ‘imagined community’ that is constructed through institutions and historical development? Or is it solely on shared values and nothing else?