What is Fascism?

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Benito Mussolini, Leader of the Nationalist Fascist Party who became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 until he decided Democracy was for squares and seized control of the nation as dictator.

People like to throw around words that hurt, words that no one wishes to be associated with because of the troubled history these definitions carry, regardless of their accuracy. Many of us are able to recall the stain from lived experience while others of us unknowingly feel discomfort upon hearing their whisper, ghosts of a time we were fortunate enough not to have witnessed. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear someone called a ‘Communist’ or a ‘Socialist’ for simply being disagreeable rather than because of any formal affiliation with a political faction, for example. These words used to mean something. Rather than an insult insinuating how “un-American” an individual may be, these words used to come with a benchmark of ideals and theories characterized by aggressive political leanings that have, in History, sparked revolutions. These words used to matter.

Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day. –Benito Mussolini in 1928 [1]

The sands of time are no kinder to concepts and words than they are to ruins, and so it is possible to forget or wave away its meaning as a figment of the past. Fascism, like many other features of World War II, has NOT been buried or vanquished like the Third Reich–It’s a symbiotic strain of Nationalist sentiment that still, to this day, rears its ugly head in every day discourse and goes on unnamed and, ultimately, undetected for what it truly is.

Fascism as a political theory falls on the spectrum of far-right radical leanings characterized by severe Nationalist sentiments and in opposition to Liberalism and Marxist beliefs. Fascism operates on the idea that Democracy is failing and that the true way to unite the state is under one party with a powerful, preferable, Dictator to solidify the stability necessary to combat military and economic crisis. To do this, Fascism encourages violence, war, and Imperialism, as a means to help jump start and heal the nation unilaterally and advocates an economic market with isolationist, aggressive restrictions on foreign trade to further the goal of self-sufficiency.

a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion –
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism [2]

On social issues, Fascism attacked and categorized homosexuality as a deviant behavior, condemned forms of birth control utilized by women, [3] and relegated the roles of women as ‘reproducers’ and regarded their role in the work force as responsible for unemployment and incompatible with child bearing. [4]

Though not the creator of Fascism but certainly founder of the Italian movement, Benito Mussolini remains the world’s leading example of Fascism in action. Once a socialist, Mussolini grew despondent towards his party’s preference to remain uninvolved during World War I which he was eager to serve in and was later discharged after a wound sustained by an accidental mortar bomb explosion on the Italian Front. Upon his return, he denounced his former party and founded the National Fascist Party with an emphasis on renewed focus of Italian Nationalism. Mussolini came into power in the last week of October 1922 when, with his band of paramilitary supporters known as the ‘Blackshirts’, marched on Rome demanding the resignation of the current prime minister Luigi Facta and the right to rule–which was handed over by the king Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini then subsequently became the youngest Prime Minister in Italy and used his authority to further his Fascist agenda by establishing, with the help of his secret police and sets of defining laws, a one-party dictatorship with himself at the helm.

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It was a long complicated road. When Mussolini took office, the Parliament was filled with many opposing political factions–leaders intent on curbing the Fascist enthusiasm Mussolini now brought with him (along with some muscled brutes for good measure). In an effort to garner support on the outset, Mussolini targeted new reforms toward the Working Class to reduce the work day which guaranteed 8 hours, ignored profiteering of the Industrial sector during WWI, catered to the wealthy by reducing death duties, and rubbed elbows with the Roman Catholic Church by mandating religious education as obligatory in all elementary schools. All in all, everyone was pleased.

Except, of course, his political enemies. To deal with them, Mussolini initiated a Grand Fascist Council which would decide upon policy reforms while shutting out any dissenters or opposing party factions. This group immediately brought forth a law known as Acerbo Law which sought to change the way members of parliament were elected into seats. Now if a political party, such as the National Fascist Party, received at least 25% of the vote in elections, they were now guaranteed at least 66% of the seats in Parliament ensuring them a solid majority.  Those brutes I mentioned before served as a useful tool in getting the law passed despite its obvious connotations for anyone not a member of the Fascist party. Once passed, the Fascist hold over Parliament was secured with more than 2/3rds of the available Parliamentary seats. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the concerned populace in Italy and a prominent Italian politician by the name of Giacomo Matteotti stood before the Parliament and publicly accused the Fascists of rigging the election in their favor and accused Mussolini of inviting those brutes, outside busy fiercely cracking their knuckles, to the party.

So it was no surprise when, 11 days after this declaration, Giacomo Matteotti turned up murdered and people maybe thought that Mussolini had something to do with it. Since no evidence was found in trial condemning Mussolini in the involvement of the murder, historians still debate the validity of this claim today. Regardless, the Italian public believed and upon numerous journalist outcries and calls for resignation, a number of the non-Fascist Parliament members staged a walkout in protest (Which…well, made things even more Fascist-y than before in Parliament) and begged the King, Victor Emmanuel III, to remove Mussolini from office. The King, for reasons that remain petty and politically mind boggling, didn’t much care for the protestors stance on the monarchy to begin with since they favored a republic and ‘Pah!’d them away allowing Mussolini to solidify his hold.

Swiftly, Mussolini shut down those trash talking newspapers and sent out his army of brutes to silence further dissenters. By 1926, all other political parties had been banned from Italy. A year later, a secret police was formed with the reintroduction of the death penalty to facilitate this ban. Mussolini was now free to exert full control and had no one standing in his way (unless Victor Emmanuel III ever decided to get off his duvet and do something about it). The precursory period before WWII saw the same dance of propaganda, cultural revere, and idolization of Mussolini (Apparently he could play a mean violin?)  as was usual for other growing dictatorships in Europe. This caught the esteem of Adolf Hitler. The two eventually formed an alliance with the instigation of WWII, despite Mussolini’s political allies discouraging him to do so. Mussolini was confident that Germany would soon be victorious, however, and that the war would be short lived.

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It wasn’t. Most of us know exactly how WWII plays out and I’m not going to recite it all here, though needless to say, Italy didn’t do so hot. By 1943, Italy had suffered major setbacks on all fronts, exposed itself to invasion by Allied forces, and resource output ground to a halt with factories lost in frequent bombings and food shortages starved out the population. The stress took a toll on Mussolini himself, being diagnosed with gastritis and duodenitis which both served together to bring on one helluva an IBS rager which forced him to stay home seated on the porcelain throne rather than in government.

Victor Emmanuel III was finally ready to do something. With the help of Count Dino Grandi (Member of the Fascist Grand Council and enemy of Mussolini after opposing Italy’s entry into WWII), they orchestrated the removal of Mussolini by calling for a vote of no confidence among the council which succeeded. Mussolini merely shrugged and showed up the next day viewing them mostly as advisors of which his ousting he did not care to follow. The King then invited Mussolini to his palace where he was ambushed with an arrest and was told that he was being replaced with a new Prime Minister. Mussolini was then imprisoned and moved around in order to hide his location from his best friend forever, Hitler, who was hell bent on re-inserting him to power. He was eventually ‘rescued’ by his pal and encouraged to spearhead a new regime intent on stealing back Italy. Now operating under the tutilage of German forces, Mussolini retired himself to Lake Garda where he ordered a few executions of his betrayers while sipping a bellini while Hitler ran the show on the front.

In April of 1945 (a few days before the suicide of Hitler), Mussolini was stopped along with his mistress on their way to escaping to Spain by communist partisans. The pair were captured and brought to Mezzegra where they survived their last night before being shot to death along with their entire convoy. It didn’t end there. After loading their bodies into a van and heading down to Milan, the bodies were dumped unceremoniously at the Piazzale Loreto. Civilians came out in droves to beat and abuse the corpses which were eventually strung up by the ankles and hung from a gas station so that they made for easier targets in stoning.

With the death of Mussolini and the conclusion of WWII, the National Fascist Party was outlawed in Italy. Many successor neo-Fascist parties arose instead, and some do exist in modern times around the world today though not to the same extent or level of power as Mussolini’s rise in Italy. However easy it is to kill a man or his party, remember that it is not as easy to kill an idea. Though the usage of the term Fascism is deadened by its limits in political relevance today, many policies and ideals characterized by its fervor are still very much alive and well. Fascism still means something and we would all do well never to forget it.

Footnotes:

1. Quote from Mussolini as told to Edwin L James of the New York Times. (1928)

2. Paxton, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism. Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-4094-9.

3. Maria Sop Quine. Population Politics in Twentieth Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies. Routledge, 1995

4. Durham, Martin, Women and Fascism (Routledge, 1998) p. 15.

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2 thoughts on “What is Fascism?

  1. Pingback: The History of Hollywood’s Affair with Politics | Histastrophe!

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