3 minute read

Fascism

An Overview Of The "fascist Epoch"

The period 1918–1945 has become widely known as "the fascist epoch." Certainly by the autumn of 1941, after the recent triumph of Francisco Franco (1892–1975) in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the apparently inexorable success of Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) Blitzkrieg in France, Scandinavia, and Poland, and with victory in Soviet Russia seemingly imminent, there were good grounds for this, however problematic the phrase may have become for later historians. By this time Benito Mussolini's (1883–1945) Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) and Hitler's Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, whose core ideology correspond closely to the generic definition given above) had created the templates of organization and style for revolutionary nationalists to emulate all over the Europeanized world. Even democracies as stable as Switzerland, Denmark, and Iceland, or new nations still confident in their future such as the United States and Australia, hosted minute fascist parties attempting in vain to emulate the performance of mass revolutionary movements. More significant (though safely contained) fascist movements developed where the structural conditions of crisis were sufficiently strong, notably in Finland, France, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Chile, and South Africa, and some abortive fascist movements achieved prominence under Nazi occupation, notably Vidkun Quisling's Nasjonal Samling in Norway, Léon Degrelle's Rex in Belgium, and (in 1944) Ferenc Szálasi's "Hungarist" Arrow Cross movement. Thus José Streel, a leading spokesman of the collaborationist Belgian Rex movement, had not succumbed to delusions of grandeur when he asserted in 1942 that, whether it was called "fascism," "national socialism," or "the new order," "a new force" able to "synthesize the needs of the age" was "everywhere at work giving birth to the revolution of the twentieth century" (quoted in Griffin, 1995, p. 206).

In the final analysis the fascist assault on modern history was abortive. Only two fascisms managed to conquer state power and attempt to turn their revolutionary vision into reality, and eventually both met with crushing military defeat having failed to realize their revolutionary objectives. All other fascisms were successfully marginalized by liberal democracies or fended off by conservative authoritarian states by being either crushed or absorbed. It was nevertheless a tribute to the degree to which fascism had come to be associated with the future of civilization by the 1930s that a number of authoritarian states modeled themselves on the style of fascism.

Still from the 1934 German propaganda film Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Nazism, or National Socialism, was similar to Italian Fascism, with some distinctions. Nazism was based on the concepts of military authority and racial superiority, and its followers advocated a purging of those who did not adhere to certain criteria. THE KOBAL COLLECTION

A number of other authoritarian states chose to simulate the "real thing" by such ploys as organizing "from above" nationwide single parties, youth movements, and other mass organizations, proliferating nationalistic symbols, declaring the inauguration of new eras in the life of the nation or the creation of "new states," staging theatrical political events, and engineering phony leader cults. This pattern was most prominent in Franquist Spain (1938–1975), Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo in Portugal (1926–1974), Philippe Pétain's Vichy France (1940–1944), Ion Antonescu's National Legionary State in Romania (1940–1941), Ioannis Metaxas's dictatorship in Greece (1936–1940), Karlis Ulmanis' authoritarian Latvia (1934–1940), and Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya's authoritarian state in Hungary (1919–1944). It was equally a sign of the times that the ultimate victor was liberalism (or liberal capitalism), apparently the weakest of them all.

Spain and Portugal progressively defascistized themselves once the tide of war started to turn against the Axis powers. Once parafascism is taken into account and with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that interwar Europe was dominated not by fascism at all, but by a titanic struggle between liberalism, conservatism, communism, and fascism, in which fascism, which at one point looked like carrying all before it, eventually came off worst.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Evolution to FerrocyanideFascism - The Origins Of Generic Fascism, An Overview Of The "fascist Epoch", Non-european Fascisms