What is fascism? The term has leapt back into the public consciousness in recent years, as what appeared to be a long dead threat seemingly rears its head again across the world. To meet this threat, activists rose to adopt the mantle of anti-fascism, or “antifa” for short. Yet, their critics claim that these Left-leaning activists have taken advantage of a moment of attention on a relatively small group to openly attack any Right-leaning individuals who they all lump together with the relatively scarce fascists. The claim is that instead of attacking fascists, they attack their political opponents indiscriminately, only then claiming that they were “fascist”, reducing the term to mean little more than “opponents of the Left.”
But this is a term with a deep history and a strong identity, with many forms to consider. While it is possible that the term is being overused, the more likely (and more dire) implication may simply be that we never defeated the fascists as thoroughly as we thought.
So, what is fascism? The primary architect of the philosophy did not leave much in the way of ambiguity. Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1945, spelled out what the ideology was in his seminal work “What is Fascism?” Therein he defines fascism at length, though his definition can be reduced simply to “a political system wherein the strong rule the weak.”
To this end Mussolini set about rebuilding Italian society in his ideal fascist image, getting rid of institutions that he saw as promoting weakness. He promoted fascism abroad as well, notably in Spain and Germany.
Spain saw a bloody civil war emerge as Francisco Franco initiated a coup to establish a society modeled after Mussolini’s Italy. Against him stood a coalition of Socialist and Anarchist anti-fascists intent on stopping this ambition. These partisans are widely considered the first serious opposition group to the ideology of Fascism. Though initially successful, the Spanish anti-fascists were hindered by a lack of support from the liberal democracies while the fascists were bolstered by constant aid from other emerging fascist states. Eventually, the anti-fascists were defeated.
In Germany, Adolf Hitler adopted the basis of Mussolini’s philosophy, but began to develop it further, away from Orthodox Italian Fascism and towards a new brand of fascism: National Socialism, or Nazism. National Socialism is distinct from mainline Italian Fascism as it shifts the focus from ambiguous strength and towards a pseudoscientific ideal of racial purity. To Hitler and his Nazis, the ideal society would not just see strength rule weakness, but would rather see the racially pure rule the degenerate.
To this end, Hitler further co-opted basic Marxist ideas of class, twisting them to fit his needs. Here he began to create the idea of a “Jewish Bourgeoisie (owner class)” that supposedly ran the world forcing “the master race” into submissive degeneration. From this end he posited that a society would only be perfect when freed from the influences of these supposed “manipulators” and freed from the degeneration forced upon it by them.
This led to some of the bloodiest purges in human history, as Hitler and Mussolini sought to rid themselves first of their opposition, then the numerous “degenerate” ethnicities that were blamed by the Nazis for the faults in society. However, since these people were in no way really responsible, the killings did nothing to solve the problems their societies were facing. The brutality they faced worsened as they were made into an increasingly dramatic scapegoat. Naturally, this system was unsustainable, and both countries fell.
Though defeated once by the Allies in World War Two, it seems their moment has come again. Movements echoing the fascist and nationalist appeal held by Mussolini and Hitler nearly a century ago have sprung up anew, espousing many of the underlying philosophies that defined those men and their movements, even if the movements themselves no longer wish to affiliate with them.
These movements have been able to grow as fascism was largely forgotten and ignored by the countries that defeated it. They paid little heed to the small but persistent pockets that remained until those pockets grew large enough to threaten the fabric of the society that they grew in.
Today we see fascism return in a very classical sense, with “nationalist”, “identitarian”, and “race realist” groups emerging as a presence online and even now in public. These groups have held hugely controversial rallies, usually under the pretenses of issues like economic protectionism, immigration, or threats to personal liberties. These rallies have often devolved into brawls, and this has led many modern fascists to complain that they are being unfairly equated to their historical counterparts.
The issue therein, though, is that these complaints often reduce the atrocities of historical fascists to mere senseless acts of violence erasing the ideology that drove that violence. A look today at the common fascist beliefs in a supremacy of Western culture and the threat of “degradation” from postmodernist, Marxist, and Muslim detractors clearly mirrors the classical Nazi belief in the necessity to preserve cultural purity.
It was this belief, not a bout of insanity, that led to the atrocities commit by Fascists in the 20th century. Ignoring the modern prevalence of this belief because its modern practitioners are not yet in the same position of power as they were in the last century is just as foolish and short sighted as those who originally tolerated fascism with no consideration to the consequences of the ideology.
There exists now a stigma against the use of the word “fascist”, based largely in the incomparable brutality of its previous existence. This seems to be based largely in a fear of somehow “diminishing” the legacy of that horror. But more terrifying and real is the truth of how deeply it is now rooted and normalized in modern society.
Many large right-of-center movements evoke it, raising fears of hordes of foreigners seeking to dismantle established society or worse, established minorities preying upon the “helpless” majority. Even nominally center and left-of-center political movements seem blind to it, treating the domination of the globally poor by the globally rich as natural and unstoppable, a non-issue. This is a literal acceptance of the idea that the strong should rule the weak.
It is important that the realities of these ideologies be widely known, as well as the brutal and bloody realities of its realization, today as much as yesterday. If this is accomplished, then a united front to resist their movements can be established, as it has been before. Should that occur, perhaps there is a chance that fascist ideology could be wiped out once and for all.