Just what exactly is Fascism? Not only has Fascist become a trite and old insult, even the joke that Fascists are people you dislike has gotten old.
Obviously, Fascism was the ideology started and spread by the Italian fascist movement and embraced by all its open imitators. The British Union of Fascists and the Dutch General Fascist League, they were clearly Fascist.
So, what did all these parties have in common? What defined Fascism exactly?
People speak of violence, dictatorships, torture and oppression as Fascist.
While Fascism is indeed a dictatorial ideology (in a broad sense) and promotes violence and intimidation, so have traditionally Marxist-Leninists (Communists). All humans are mammals but not all mammals are humans.
But when a movement is not violent in the slightest and doesn’t threaten to overthrow constitutional democracy, it probably isn’t Fascist. Though, like Communist parties, pragmatic fascists can refrain from revolution when it is inopportune. But so assume a democratic party is secretly anti-democratic requires proper justification.
A right-winger (or left-winger) who has never expressed a desire to overthrow democracy or use violence, and doesn’t support anyone who does, cannot usually be accused of Fascism. Though some non-fascists movements can be influenced or inspired by Fascism. Fascists has its own moderate disciples just like Communism inspired certain Socialists.
Unfortunately, some on the Left describe every non-Communist (and sometimes Socialist) dictatorship as Fascist. Fidel Castro and Pol Pot were Communists, but Pinochet was a Fascist apparently, simply because he was a violent dictator without being a Communist.
This has the effect of whitewashing Communist dictatorships by suggesting they are the least horrible dictatorships, since they’re the only non-Fascist kind (if the notion that Fascism is worse than Communism is implicitly accepted).
Origins of Fascism: Revolutionary Socialism.
Right-wingers tend to focus on the origins of Fascism. Specifically of Mussolini and his closest partners. They started as leading figures of the Italian Socialist Party. But they split with the party because they support Italian entry into WWI. Abandoning pacifism and embracing militarism and nationalism. But this doesn’t mean Fascism was simply Socialism with Nationalism added (National Socialism). Though it started out as that, Fascism ended up becoming its own movement after WWI, Specifically in 1919.
The context of Socialism at the time of WWI is crucial. Mussolini was a leader within the Italian Socialist Party before WWI, the establishment of the Soviet Union and the de facto split between Communists and Socialists.
Before WWI, the terms Socialism and Communism were far more interchangeable. There was diversity within the Socialist movement but it wasn’t nearly as well defined. Communism was and is a form of Socialism. A very extreme and specific form.
Within Socialism there were a few crucial points of divergence. Revolutionary vs. Reformist Socialism and Marxist vs. non-Marxist Socialism. The Socialist movement was older than Marx. While his specific ideology was fully embraced by some Socialists, others only accepted it in part and some rejected it all together. In general, reformist Socialists did not dogmatically adhere to Marxism while many revolutionary Socialists did. Though some Revolutionary Socialists at most sympathized with Marxism.
Certain Marxist Revolutionary Socialists ended up embracing Marxism-Leninism. Marxism-Leninism specifically promoted the notion of the vanguard of the revolution. This notion abandoned a purely horizontal egalitarian revolution, instead accepting a temporary (hierarchy).
Party discipline and states led by the one party became the principle. Hereby Marxism-Leninism laid the basis for a one-party dictatorship established through violent revolution.
When this was successful in Russia, the Communist International (Comintern) was established and Lenin & co decided that all Socialist Parties had to embrace the same doctrine and party discipline with dissenters being banned. Communist parties grew out of the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Socialists embracing strict dogmatism.
Marxists and Socialists who strayed from the class struggle and revolution were deemed revisionists. Revisionists and Reformists Socialists developed into Democratic Socialists and Social Democrats. Some extremist groups that did not embrace the dogmatism expected by the Soviet Union simply remained (vaguely Marxist) revolutionary socialists.
Communists, Revolutionary Socialists, Democratic Socialists and Social Democrats became the Far Left, Left-wing to Far Left, Left and center-Left respectively.
Anti-Communism must be understood in this context. Right-wingers who had traditionally been anti-Socialist hated Communism as an extreme form off it. More moderate groups softened on Socialists who embrace reform while hatred for Communism became specifically intense as news of the horrors in the Soviet Union spread. Certain Social Democrats and Socialists also became strongly anti-Communist.
Socialists and Social Democrats became known for continuing to promote pacifism and anti-militarism, cosmopolitanism, left-wing democracy while Communists became affiliated with violence and dictatorship.
When one pointlessly reads the Wikipedia article Fascism and Ideology over and over, you’ll notice that Fascism rejected many of the same elements of Communism that Social Democrats rejected: class struggle, materialism and the complete rejection of private property. Yet, at the same time you’ll read however, that Fascism agreed with the Communists in shunning the parliamentary and democratic tendencies of the Reformists and supporting militia’s and one-party states instead.
In other words, Fascists were anti-democratic, revolutionary and violent Social Democrats (plus ultra-nationalism and militarism).
Because of this, Stalin and the Cominterm, actually coined the term Social Fascism to attack Social Democracy. Describing Social Democracy and Fascism as twin brothers, since both wanted to reform and humanize the Capitalist market system and both abandoned class struggle. These similarities are true and made both similar threats to Marxism and its ideal of class revolution.
Fascism however went further in fully rejecting internationalism. This is what they had in common with Nazism and to an extent Stalinist Communism, and also any hypothetical egalitarianism or horizontal collectivism.
Fascism specifically embraced social inequality, but with a duty for the strong state to promote and even enforce class collaboration. Different classes, a social hierarchy, kept in harmony and growing in prosperity under the state. This happens to be very similar to a movement in the early twentieth century known as Yellow Socialism.
This became a central tenet of Fascism embraced by all the imitation parties. This would also set it apart from Nazism.
Nazism did not develop as a break from a Marxist Socialist party, yet it rightly be regarded as a revolutionary socialist (with both Marxist inspired and anti-Marxist elements)mixed with ethnicist Nationalism.
Nazism did not support the continued existence of different classes and social inequality between traditional classes, instead pushing Volkisch equality.