On 23 March 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci de Combattimento, a name drawn from peasant revolutionaries from the 19th century. These “fighting bands” as they were commonly called back then, became the foundation of the Italian Fascist Party. Mussolini, who had been committed to Socialism but disenchanted how it did not support defending France during World War I, broke away from his former allies to found this new party. The Fascist Party incorporated many aspects of Communism and Socialism within its ideology (please see my write up on Fascism here) but differed when it came to private property and nationalism. Mussolini believed that using nationalism could unify a nation without having to seize private property but rather convince the owners to serve the state in its goals. And like Communists and Socialists, Fascists did not believe in democracy but one party and, more importantly, one person rule.
Why This Is Important
The Italian Fascist Party would inspire others to follow in the same vein such as Adolf Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, and Salazar in Portugal. And still inspires movements today.
WhyFascism Appealed to Italians
Italy faced many problems in the wake of World War I though it had been on the winning side. It acquired new territory as the Austrian-Hungarian empire was dismantled but the cost of the war left Italy in an economic depression. Italy lost 600,000 in battle, 950,000 wounded and 250,000 crippled for life. The cost of the war on the nation’s treasury was staggering resulting in its currency having reduced value, unemployment spiked and massive inflation set in as well due to the devalued currency. Despite being on the winning side, Italians felt betrayed at Versailles as their delegation was ignored. The government came across as weak and having little pride in Italy. This is what gave Mussolini his opportunity. With millions unhappy with how things were being done by the parliamentary government combined with a feeling of betrayal at Versailles, Mussolini knew he would be able to bring the Fascist Party to power. In October 1922, he led the Fascists on a march to Rome where King Emmanuel III asked him to form a new government. He was appointed head of the Fascist cabinet and appeared to work with the parliamentary government. Backed up by his own brutal police force, he became the de facto dictator of Italy and suppressed a Socialist revolt in 1924. In January, 1925 he proclaimed Italy a Fascist state and he was its leader (Il Duce). He would remain in power until 1943 when he was removed from office.
Pipes, Richards : Communism: A History, Modern Library, New York 2001
Recently a discussion occurred about Fascism. Those who were discussing it could easily point to historical figures such as Franco, Hitler and Mussolini as examples. However what Fascism really means they did not understand. And it appears many are not sure either.
Fascism was a created by Italian leader Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) and led Italy from 1922-1943. Fascism would inspire other totalitarian regimes such as Germany, Spain and Portugal. Unlike Communism, which rejected private property and capitalism, Fascism allowed both but that it had to support the goals of the nation. Communism rejects nationalism but Fascism embraces it and uses it to unite people.
Between us and the Communists there are no political affinities but there are intellectual ones. Like you, we consider necessary a centralized and unitary state which imposes iron discipline on all persons, with this difference, that you reach this conclusion by way of the concept of class, and we by the way of the concept of nations.Benito Mussolini, 1921 , before Chamber of Deputies.
Both disliked liberal democracy and replaced it with a one party state led by a dictator. People were to be molded to better serve the state. Communists and Fascists both believed in total control of their country from top to bottom and such regimes are totalitarian. They went beyond autocratic regimes of the past that simply enforced their will. Even if they never achieved the full aims of total control, they created systems of surveillance and control never seen before (and copied by similar regimes since then) to keep the populace in check. Capitalism under Fascism continued to exist but was subordinated to the needs of the state (which could lead to interesting contradictions) and was understood as a revocable trust.
The Soviet Union proved to be a model to follow for fascists such as Hitler. The Soviet Union was a one party state with all legislative and executive power vested into one person. Hitler and Mussolini might not have liked Communism but admired how they ran things. Both would use the fear of Communists to gain power. For Hitler, this fear was used to broker his ascent into power with the last election of 1932 left no clear winner (the Communists gained seats while the Nazi’s lost seats).
Intellectually Fascism is closer to Communism and has little connection to liberal democracy or conservative political movements. Fascists reject liberal democracy in all of its forms (European parliamentary models, constitutional monarchies, republics). They also reject most conservative political movements since they are often based on reducing government and putting citizens above the state. While Fascists might be sympathetic with autocratic parties (generally aligned with old school military or monarchy), they would ally with them only as a means to get power (Hitler did this).