Fascism is extremely often described as authoritarian. When this term is used to refer to its dictatorial and anti-liberal tendencies this is correct, yet it is an oddly crude use of the term. As previously mentioned, Fascism is semi-totalitarian. In this regard the description of Fascism as authoritarian is problematic in as much as authoritarianism is not just distinct from totalitarianism but can in many ways be seen as opposed to it.
Authoritarian regimes are mainly anti-democratic regimes that are neither firmly traditional like classical monarchies or theocracies, nor strongly modern and ideological like one-party states. They can be semi-traditional, Conservative, even certain forms of Liberal, Centrist or Social Democratic. Contrary to totalitarianism they depoliticise society and repress democracy by opposing political mobilisation and populism. They downplay ideology and lack charismatic leadership. Instead the leadership is not based on any form of flexible or pragmatic ultranationalist ideology or all-encompassing party, but bare pragmatic policies such as dealing with a current crisis. A mere military dictatorship lacks ideology and populism
Authoritarianism as a synonym for dictatorial, hierarchical or elitist is an overly broad and seemingly incorrect use of the term, yet one which is still very common.
As mentioned in part I, dictatorship, violence, oppression and torture are common amongst Fascists, but not specifically Fascist. Authoritarianism seems like it doesn’t fit revolutionary and semi-totalitarian Fascism, yet Fascism ends up being secondary amongst the totalitarian ideologies.
Another problem is theocratic or fundamentalist religious Conservatives regimes being called Fascist. Theocracy and confessionalism are too old-fashioned to be Fascist, same with an absolute monarchy.
While Fascism is anti-Marxist and anti-Liberal, it is not truly or consistently anti-Socialist or anti-Capitalist on an economic level. But it almost always will reject unbridled Capitalism as well as democratic or egalitarian Socialism. Fascism always want the economy to serve the state and nation and as such will support government intervention whenever necessary, but at the same time it values private property and private initiative when this benefits society. Therefore, Fascism will tend to promote a state-led economy with room for private initiative, Dirigism.
Whether the Dirigism, Corporatism and National Syndicalism lean more towards free-market or semi-Socialism is determined based on what the regime thinks works best. As such it can also adopt (watered down) state-Capitalism or state Socialism as well as adopt elements of so-called Right-wing Socialism.
Fascist economics are really a third position which can pragmatically lean to either the Left or the Right.
Mussolini had protected landowners from the Socialists after he 1919 elections failure. He managed to win over much of the business community as well by presenting himself as the better alternative and it helped with his march on Rome. After the march Mussolini’s first Fascist minister of finance was the most Liberal one who abolished certain taxes and privatised certain businesses while the state did bail out some banks and allow certain monopolies to be established, neither which is fully Libertarian obviously. The success of the early economic policies helped with Fascism’s consolidation of power.
Gradually firmer statist Corporatism was implanted. Fascist syndicates and labour organisations given legal status and the Labour Charter in 1927 was one of the crowning achievements. It guaranteed annual vacation time, free Sundays and holidays and compensation for unfair dismissal. Mussolini also embraced Keynesian spending and he implemented programs such as food supplementary assistance, infant care, maternity assistance, general healthcare, wage supplements, paid vacations, unemployment benefits, illness insurance, occupational disease insurance, general family assistance, public housing, and old age and disability insurance.
Mussolini’s administration “devoted 400 million lire of public monies” for school construction between 1922 and 1942, compared to only 60 million lire between 1862 and 1922.
Even then, during the battle for land, new land was created and large landowners didn’t see their properties threatened with nationalisation.
With the great depression, the Fascist regime intervened more and saved many companies without nationalising them. At the same time, the rescue efforts did involve them being placed under the oversight off larger state-run organisations like the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction along with mixed entities called instituti or enti nazionali, whose purpose it was to bring together representatives of the government and of the major businesses. Private property was preserved yet a strong Dirigism was established.
As a result in 1934, the Fascist Minister of Agriculture said: “While nearly everywhere else private property was bearing the major burdens and suffering from the hardest blows of the depression, in Italy, thanks to the actions of this Fascist government, private property not only has been saved, but has also been strengthened.”
Yet in the same year Mussolini claimed to have nationalized “three-fourths of the Italian economy, industrial and agricultural,” more than any other nation except the Soviet Union. But that was the economy and not property.
By 1939, Fascist Italy attained the highest rate of state–ownership of an economy in the world other than the Soviet Union, where the Italian state “controlled over four-fifths of Italy’s shipping and shipbuilding, three-quarters of its pig iron production and almost half that of steel,” (again ownership of the economy, not property).
The idea that Fascism simply preserved Capitalism against Communism fall apart though.
Fascist social stances
Fascism adhered strongly to vitalism, heroism and secular neo-idealism. This set it apart from authoritarian Conservatives focused on religion. It actively appealed to disgruntled (moderate) Conservative through certain social policies that also suited its statist aims.
While abortion was already illegal in Italy (as in nearly all states at the time) and punishments were further increased by the Fascist regime in 1926. Strict anti-abortion policies weren’t too Conservative or unusual for the time. Bans were the norm but more moderate punishments were advocated by moderate Leftists in Germany. Stricter laws were not particularly Reactionary but definitely pleasing to Conservatives.
Some countries had completely allowed birth control and its advertisement as well including many states in the USA and even republican France. Advertisement off birth control was also prohibited under the Fascist regime but the state tended the approval of condoms since they were seen as useful in preventing diseases. Overall, the regime was relatively moderate but able to appeal a bit to Reactionaries on this front as well.
The regime kept bans on divorce and recognised Catholics marriages but didn’t actually outlaw homosexuality. Certain homosexuals were exiled during the late 1930s. as part of radicalisation though.
Interesting comparisons are the Austrofascists who went further in restoring Catholic influence over marriage, fighting birth control and opposing Lutheranism and especially Francoist Spain with its complete ban on birth control and laws against the public practice of religions other than Catholicism, adultery and civil marriages. Both regimes went far further in socially Reactionary and Catholic policies. Francoist Spain also went a lot further in preventing women from working.
On the other hand, Nazi Germany did things like loosening divorce and even encouraging pre-marital sex and out of wedlock Aryan births.
Fascist Italy wasn’t nearly as patriarchal and Nazi Germany went from encouraging women to leave the work force in the beginning (while solving male unemployment) to getting them to return to work when focusing on rearmament.
After the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, Mussolini ran into his regime’s first huge conflict with the Papacy.
Fascism’s revolutionary nature was still shown in its desire to be a movement of the youth. Hostility to Catholic youth groups (and the banning of Catholic newspapers) led to an anti-Fascist papal encyclical in 1931 in which Pope Pius XI condemned Fascist ‘Pagan’ worship of the state. Mussolini came close to being excommunicated, reconciled with the Pope yet avoided any photographs off him kneeling to the Pope.
After having been an open and fanatical Atheist as a Socialist and even an openly fanatic anti-clerical early Fascist, Mussolini had received the sacraments after achieving power, gotten his children to receive them and even pressured his wife into them getting a sacramental church wedding. He wanted to be thought off as a devout praying Catholic yet didn’t want to be seen as subordinate to the Pope at the same time (enlightenment absolute monarchist problems?) but according to his wife he remained an Atheist till the final years of his life.
Oh, and Fascist Italy was the first country to recognise the Soviet in 1924. Worth mentioning.
The doctrine of Fascism
Since the Doctrine of Fascism was written with the Fascist regime and Mussolini’s autocratic rule fully realised, it can be viewed as a rather fair description of Fascist ideology. Funny story:
While the original Italian described the twentieth century, the century of Fascism as a century of the Right, the official approved English translation described it as the century of the Left. Guess to Mussolini both were valid? Another version described it as a century that tends towards the Right. Doesn’t this just perfectly sum up Fascism.
It described Fascism as revolutionary and not reactionary, with it not desiring a return to the rule of clergy or aristocracy but also rejecting linear Progressivism, yet showing respect for Catholicism while also describing how Fascism had a more secular non-religious mysticism.
It preached collectivism and statism with subordinate room for individual uniqueness and condemned Marxism, Liberalism, classical Socialism and democracy while accepting the monarchy but not unconditionally.
It proclaimed Nationalism but actually rejected racism. And finally, it focused a lot on Corporatism.
Besides the previously mentioned influence from Sorell that had a role in Fascism’s divergence from the Left as well as Bonapartism, other often mentioned influence was Plato’s statist ideas that also taught a certain degree of meritocracy and state-led class collaboration and of course Nietzsche.
Nietzsche’s concept of the new man had a lot of influence on Mussolini. Yet Fascism’s social Darwinism reached an odd compromise with traditional morality and Christian respect for innocent life (amongst one’s own native population at least) that Nazism and Communism thoroughly rejected.
Fascism can be exhaustively described as:
An ultranationalist, collectivist, militarist, irredentist, populist, meritocratic hierarchical, (broad sense) dictatorial, semi-totalitarian, flexible realist, heroist, anti-egalitarian, anti-Marxist, anti-Liberal, ultimately anti-Conservative, modernist yet non-progressive, semi-pro-traditional revolutionary ideology, that borrows elements of various other ideologies and seeks a renewal of the decadent nation and class collaboration imposed by a new state regime and led by the new man while often supporting national syndicalism, direct action, passionate emotion, myths and ‘heroic’ violence.
Fascism is a third position ideology on the original Left-Right axis off Progressivism vs. Traditionalism, not embracing a moderate version of either or a Centrist middle between the two, but a combination of the extremes off both, combining fanatical support for certain elements of Traditionalism with revolution. Its accidentalism regarding monarchy and aristocracy are part of this third position along with its mix off anti-materialism with anti-clericalism and its secular neo-idealism with nuanced respect for Christian tradition. But (pure/original) Fascism leans Left ideologically in the sense that it desires to be a new and modern movement and while not describing as Progressive, describing itself as revolutionary and not Reactionary.
Fascism had rightfully been linked with Reactionary Modernism and has interesting parallels with the Conservative Revolutionary movement in Germany.
In practice Fascism can often lean more towards the Right as many moderate Reactionaries compromise more on their counterrevolution and especially Conservatives on their conserving than Marxists will compromise on the revolution.
On the issue of economics Fascism is also a third position ideology and generally pragmatic. Regarding the issue of collectivism vs. individualism Fascism is rather Leftist but not as extreme as possible.
Variants of Fascism
Aside from the parties that called themselves Fascist there were several parties in different countries that adopted Fascist ideology plain and simple and are universally acknowledged as Fascist such as Yugoslav National Movement, the French Popular Party (consisting largely of ex-Communists) and the National Syndicalist in Portugal.
There are also the variations of Fascism that can still be classified as Fascist but that developed their own identity and became a specific sub-form of Fascism. Which ideologies can be considered forms of Fascism is hotly contested amongst historians. We recognise Falangism, Legionarism, ‘Showa statism’ in the form adhered to by the Kokumin Dōmei party and later the ruling Imperial Rule Assistance Association and the radicalised Szeged Idea pushed by the Unity Party in Hungary starting in 1932.
All these movements combined revolutionary populism and ultra-nationalism with respect for tradition and a state-led corporatism.
Falangism was a popular sub-form of Fascism that developed in Spain and inspired imitators not just across Latin America and the Philippines but even in Poland and Lebanon. It replaced bundles of sticks with a bundle of spears but the inspiration is obvious. Falangism also supported private property while opposing Capitalism (and Socialism) Its main differences with Fascism was that while it could still be anti-clerical this was only sometimes the case and its support for Catholicism was stronger than in Fascism, and extremely strong in the case of Poland. Spanish Falangism also mixed sone anti-totalitarian rhetoric with its totalitarianism. The Spanish Falangist party had 4 factions. Typically Spanish. (To those who don’t know, the Spanish are actually extremely freedom loving individualists). And finally, unlike Italian Fascism or even the British of Union Fascists led by a former Labourite, it had little roots or connections to Socialism.
Legionarism was the distinct Romanian Fascism of the Iron Guard. It also mixed anti-Capitalism with anti-Communism, anti-banking and anti-bourgeoisie rhetoric. It was the most distinctly religious Fascist movement yet it was criticised for reducing Christ to a symbol of national redemption.
Szeged Fascism pushed a state-led economy in Hungary along with fanatical Nationalism mixed with a not fully Reactionary respect for tradition. The Fascist Hungarian leader Gyula Gömbös actually belonged to the Lutheran minority.
Finally, Showa Statism represented the development of a moderate revolutionary ultranationalist trend in Japan. Meiji democracy was always more semi-constitutional monarchic and slightly authoritarian. It banned radicals on the Left and to an extent the Right. Early militarism enjoyed the support of the Zaibatsu (business elite) and worked within the parliamentary semi-democratic system.
It was the later development of more radical and totalitarian leaning militaristic groups, that formed the one-party state under the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, that pushed a true Japanese Fascism. They were hostile to the Zaibatsu and the tradition parliamentary politicians, supported National Syndicalism, State imposed councils that would ensure class cooperation, forms of state Capitalism, and right-wing Socialism. Key industries were nationalised along with unions and the media.
Neo-Confucian ethics, Samurai culture and the Emperor in his traditional de jure authoritative rule all fitted perfectly.
Then there are parties that were not originally Fascist (although sometimes having some elements in that direction) that eventually developed into Fascist parties under or parties with a Fascist wing due to outside influences such the Rexist Party in Belgium that was deemed proto-Fascist before 1938 and the Slovak People’s Party.
Next, there are the so called semi-Fascist, imitation Fascist and para-Fascist parties, such as the Fatherland Front in Austria, the Irish Blue shirts and the Lapua Movement and especially its successor the Patriotic People’s Movement in Finland which combined a certain degree of Fascist rhetoric, style, populism and ideology with a more Authoritarian Conservative rather than truly revolutionary goals.
Finally, there are were Authoritarian Conservative movements such as Salazar’s in Portugal and Metaxism in Greece that got called Fascist by detractors and Marxists for no good reason, other than perhaps the fact that they support a form off Corporatism (without National Syndicalism) mixed with a very basic classical barebones Nationalism.
It’s the latter 3 groups of parties that often get labelled Clerical Fascist. The label of Clerical Fascism seems especially odd for many of these parties, since while their leaders could claim to be devout Catholics and promoted cultural Catholicism to some extent, many of them did not enjoy the support of the clergy and even faced active condemnation from the Church hierarchy such as the Rexists (with Leon Degrelle even excommunicated). The term Christofascism actually seems more applicable for such. Clerical Fascism most accurately describes the Fatherland Front in Austria (in as much as it can be considered semi-Fascist) considering the fact that Pope Pius XI function as de facto vice-chancellor.
Pétain’s Vichy France and Horthy’s regency in Hungary have been dubbed Fascism by detractors which is problematic cause neither regime was led by a party, movement or clearly defined ideology. Both Pétain and Horthy came to power in ad hoc fashion. Neither had any real totalitarian ambitions. Pétain put parliament in recess but didn’t establish a one-party state or make himself ruler for life. He established an authoritarian regime after being given emergency powers but its future was uncertain. The new constitution Pétain never got to implement actually introduced constitutional review by an independent constitutional court and strengthened the separation of powers.
Both the Vichy and Horthy regime had a pretty strong degree of pluralism. The spectrum of parties and groups involved in the regime did include Fascists (in Horthy’s case only really starting in 1932) and they did work with the Axis to varying degrees. In these regards both the (temporarily?) authoritarian Vichy regime and the semi-authoritarian Horthy regime were similar to the broad democratic coalition government (with suspended elections during the conflicts) in Finland at the time of the Winter War and Continuation War.
Vichy, Horthy and Finland all deserve analysis of their own. But the real fascinating things about Vichy remains that the government wasn’t installed by the Nazis and never fully controlled by it. The North was occupied by the South remained semi-autonomous. That Pétain was given dictatorial powers through democratic supermajorities with immense support from the secular radicals. That Pétain himself was not a devoted Catholic but that he did have authoritarian and Conservative tendencies and that he (initially) could court Catholic support, yet his regime also contained anti-clericals. Pétain wasn’t the one pushing Totalitarianism but Laval, an ex-Socialist who had led a government with support from the Radicals. He wanted to adapt France into a (broad/generic) Fascist new European order and Pétain side-lined him but was eventually forced to make him prime minister due to a specific act of Nazi intervention. Horthy was regent of a kingdom without a king. He was a Calvinist but mostly a secular Nationalist though strangely enough Catholics have been criticised for supporting him (an evil Fascist) as the lesser alternative compared to the Communist dictatorship he replaced. Even though Catholic leaders preferred a Habsburg on the throne again. His regime banned both Communists and Nazis while tolerating Social Democrats.
(And let’s never again mention again dictators like Pinochet, Stroessner and so on, without a real party or movement, being called Fascist simply for being neither Communist nor Socialist dictators.)
(Re-)radicalisation of Fascism
Having reconciled with the Pope in 1931 and having taken over the economy and saved it from the great depression while preserving private property, Mussolini led a respected and stable regime for the next several years. He supported Austria and the Austrofascist regime against Nazi Germany, but when the UK and France condemned his invasion of Ethiopia he slowly started to drift towards Germany and Japan. He then started to slowly embrace racism and anti-Semitism (but without the violence) and eventually also started to reassert his anti-clericalism and talked of replacing the Vatican with a mosque.
After having mocked German racial ideology (and denied biological race in the Doctrine of Fascism) Mussolini infused Fascism with racism and anti-Semitism, even claiming that Italian Fascism had always been anti-Semitic (in spite of having had many prominent Jewish members). Previously minor xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-clerical voices such as Roberto Farinacci suddenly dominated the party line. The Nordicist faction likewise grew in influence.
The Fascist government raised taxes in 1936, and he “introduced new taxes in October 1937, Jude Wanniski wrote in “The Way The World Works.” Fuel taxes were raised in the 1930s, according to Generation History, with the additional revenue spent on programs such as “state bureaucracy, prestige projects” and “welfare measures.”
This was a rather ironic trend. Both Italian and Japanese Fascists becoming both more radical, semi-Socialist and anti-Bourgeoisie during the late 1930’s while at the same time becoming more fanatically anti-Communist. They formed closer and closer ties with the German National Socialists finally forming the anti-Comintern pact, only for Nazi Germany to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union (leading to the joke that the Soviet Union would soon join the anti-Comintern pact).
This leads to an important point; Nazism is not Fascism. It is also not Fascism plus racism and/or anti-Semitism. But that’s another topic altogether.
Analysis of analysis of Fascism
For now, I will just say that Nazism being an (important) Fascist movement being treated as a given is a problem in the analysis of Fascism by both Robert Paxton and Roger Griffin. Yet, both did acknowledge Fascism’s revolutionary nature and how it was distinct from Authoritarian Conservatism. But both still treated Fascism (and Nazism) as Far Right, clearly incompatible with the original Left Right distinction from the French Revolution.
Holocaust survivor and famous historian John Lukacs rejected the idea that Nazism was Fascism. Though he did acknowledge both as populist mass movements (along with Communism). He and Stanley G. Payne have both pointed out the distinctions between Fascism and Nazism and how both (but especially the latter) differed from the classical Right, from the Conservatives. Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn openly proclaimed that Fascism and especially Nazism were Left-wing movement, children of the French Revolution and similar on many points to Communism (horseshoe theory being a lousy explanation of this fact).
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and John Lukacs are 2 Reactionary historians, Stanley G. Payne a more Conservative one while Robert Paxton is far more Leftist, yet all agreed that Salazarism wasn’t Fascist, nor was Vichy overall.
Paul Gottfried’s analysis of Fascism in his article Who isn’t a Fascist for TheAmericanConservative is both interesting yet disappointing. He is a Paleocon, not afraid to have the Right be associated with Fascism. He treats Italian Fascism as a lot of bluff. He distinguishes it and other regimes he views as Fascist from Nazism, clearly hating the latter.
While treating Fascism a rather mild, Latin authoritarian phenomenon with unrealised totalitarian ambitions, he goes to far in downplaying Fascism’s ideological, revolutionary and statist elements actually accepting comparisons with Latin authoritarian regimes. The latter were indeed closer to Italian Fascism than Nazism or Communism and could take inspiration from its anti-Communist crackdown and traditional elements. But that’s about it. Pinochet admired Mussolini but he also admired Franco.