The question has come up often in history classes... was Franco a fascist? And this has also lead to the question, is Bush a fascist? Today, in the first of a THREE PART SERIES (how exciting) I'm going to look what is fascism and makes one a fascist?
I'm using Robert O. Paxton's "The Anatomy of Fascism" which was published last year. Paxton is one of the leading historians in 20th century fascism, "Years ago he became the first post-war historian to turn comfortable French myths about Vichy upside down. His classic "Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order" (1972) argued that Vichy was less a shield for republican France against Nazism than a repressive and anti-democratic regime that begged Hitler to accept its
co-operation." - The Economist
First, let's define where fascism came from, what would make one a fascist, or a fascist government. Fascism came from the fear of the collapse of the community, society is seen as falling apart and is losing touch in who and what the nation is and should be. In their eyes, the nation is the best. It is the greatest of all nations… and maybe most importantly, the nation should be placed before people's individual rights. The citizens of the state are the chosen people and have been weakened by other groups of people, xenophobia; political parties, social class, minorities, and the lack or loss of community has also weakened the state.
The rise of Left after the First World War was another important factor. Fascism saw itself as the protector of the nation state, the anti-Left. They saw the Left and were horrified by its ideas of equality no matter who or what you were and desire to rid the world of the nation state.
The failures of the liberals gave the fascists even more ammunition. They saw the First World War and the economic crisis of the 1880s (and to a degree the 1930s) as a result of the great liberal ideals of a free market, free school, and freedom of individual rights.
In short, Fascism scorned bourgeois politics, was anti-left, took nationalism to the extreme, and saw the use of violence as an acceptable means of 'saving the country'. And fascists were willing
to give up their individual rights in the name of the country or nation-state. They were willing to use violence to gain power and against people who didn't see eye to eye with them.
Once in power, fascist governments wanted "to engage and excite the public" (Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, p. 217). Fascists were looking to excite the people, to purify the public; the state was the center of attention, not the party. They often ruled by fear and radicalization, not force and work; though they would not have been conceivable without terror. Though, since the Nazi's violence was directed at specific groups of people, "Germans often felt more gratified than threatened by it" (p. 135). The Nazis weren't violent towards most Germans, and the Italians were actually fairly 'peaceful' (only 9 people were sentenced to death in Italy between 1926 and 1940) after Mussolini gained power (though his take over was bloodier than Hitler's). Hitler's success came from "his superior audacity, drive, and tactical agility; his skillful manipulation…. Of the idea that imminent communist "terror" justified the suspension of due process and the rule of law; and a willingness to commit murder" (p. 128-129). Another thing to consider is that, just because Hitler's Nazi party was more powerful in Germany doesn't mean that it was more fascist than Mussolini's Italy.
Fascists were masters at manipulating different groups. They recruited youths, used peer pressure, used fear to scare people into ratting on neighbors… "The Fascist pull forward toward dynamic, leveling, populist dictatorship, prepared to subordinate every private interest to the imperatives of national aggrandizement and purification" (p. 120). Fascists wanted to change society, not in the socioeconomic sense, but a "revolution of the soul" and make their people, their country the most powerful in the world. "They wanted to revolutionize their national institutions in the sense that they wanted to pervade them with energy, unity, and will power, but they never dreamed of abolishing property or social hierarchy" (p. 142). The fascists wanted to subordinate the individual to the community; they wanted the individual to embody the national destiny… to serve the nation to the highest.
The economy was geared toward one thing, preparing and waging war. "Fascist economic policy responded to political priorities, and not to economic rationale" (p. 145). Everything was geared towards war… war was the chance to show that the country, the state, was the most powerful. They were the greatest. That the people of Italy and Germany, truly were great because of the victories on the battlefield.