Many social, political and economic problems plagued the world at the end of World War I, leading people to search for alternative solutions. Coincidentally as the war ended, Fascism was introduced to the masses. Fascism was everything the people looked for and wanted. It placed an emphasis on the nation as the “center and regulator for all history and life, and on the indisputable authority of the leader behind whom the people were expected to form an unbreakable unity.” (Britannica.com, 2.10.01) Before delving into the complication known as Fascism, we must look at the events that led up to its outbreak and instant popularity.
Edmund Burke once stated, “Social change is inevitable and desirable.” He was never more correct in his evaluation. At the start of the Twentieth Century, massive changes began to occur around the world. People were not satisfied with the stagnant nature of their lives, and change began to occur. What was initially a world consisting of Imperials and Empires slowly began to break up and fall apart. The Industrial Revolution brought about so much change that it became impossible to slow it down and prevent the inevitable. Inanimate objects began to take the place of human power, new products replaced old products in terms of production, and rapid development of cities led to urbanization. New class systems developed, leading to tension between people. The Bourgeoisie began to prosper as the employer while the Proletariat earned low wages as employees who were forced to move into the cities to earn a living as agriculture and farming no longer yielded the income it had once before. As urbanization increased, so did the population and the dissension among the people. Factory work became more prominent as the industrial revolution continued as with the newfound resources of iron and steel that led to new inventions such as the steam engine and the need for railroads and ships. The more these opportunities arose, the closer the empires came to collapsing.
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Ancient Empires could not compete with the new Western empires that began to emerge in the late nineteenth century. The new empires were technologically advanced with stable economies and manufacturing systems as a result of the Industrial Revolution. In accordance to the Industrial Revolution, new transportation was available as well as the manufacture of new weapons, forms of communication, and inventions of new equipment that led to advancement in the world of medicine and disease control. The desire for progress in this new world was infectious and continued throughout the century. New developments led to deeper desires and what was once satisfactory no longer was. The quest for expansion as well as the foreign became an addiction that could no longer be curbed. Change became inevitable.
One of the key factors that led to change was the development of nation-states and the human rights they gave their people. Human rights were a big issue in the early twentieth century, a factor that brought about many of the issues that led to dissension amongst the people. Back then human rights was usually called liberalism. Classical Liberalism led to Modern Liberalism as time went on. Classical Liberalism was centered on individualism. Society was composed of individuals, with the idea that people were basically good and could be improved based on the optimism of human nature. At the time, society was based on a free market. There was competition of goods and ideas, a limited government consisting of constitutions, human rights and parliaments, while the people were ruled by the wealthy that would evolve into democratic radicalism and political equality. As time went on, Classical Liberalism evolved into what was called Modern Liberalism. There was no longer a free market nor was individualism praised. Monopolies had resulted from Classical Liberalism leading to Modern Liberalism that was basically socialist type of thinking. Modern Liberalism encouraged socialist ideas such as social welfare and government involvement in what used to be the free market. Capitalism now required state regulation and control, where John Stuart Mill summed it up best: “ The maximum individual liberty consistent with the public good.” Classical Liberalism failed to provide its people with three crucial issues: full rights of citizens, protection of human rights, and the evasion from addressing the problems of social inequality. This led to the socialist movement of the early twentieth century.
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Karl Marx inspired many with his theories. “Socialists viewed economic relations to be as important or even more so than political principles and believed that social class, not citizenship, was the real basis of an individual’s inalienable rights.” Marx’s socialist theories consisted of three main principles: 1) ownership of property determined wealth and poverty – power belonged to property owners (the bourgeoisie) 2) class conflict is therefore inevitable amongst the smaller portion of bourgeoisie in comparison to the larger portion of the proletariat because they share no common interest and 3) the collapse of capitalism followed by a classless communist society. This new belief emerged and was soon taken up almost immediately. Progress proved to give vast improvement to the lives of people. At the same time, social conflicts and nationalist ideologies began to simmer. Modernism is the term that coined this progress. “These new social and economic conditions and the cultural attitudes that emerged from the passionate intellectual debates generated by these changes” is referred to as Modernity.
Modernity eventually led to the revolutions and the combined tension and quest for change that essentially was a cry for power. For the most part, it was a cry for power for the people. New ideas brought about new desires, each more demanding than the previous. This of course led to World War I. So much had been lost and so little had been gained by the end of the war. The masses were shocked at all the damage the war had caused that there was a lack of faith in the governments. Revolutions had risen; most significant were the three major revolutions of China, Russia, and Mexico. Following the war was the Treaty of Versailles and the conditions it entailed, the most noteworthy being war guilt and reparations. It was in essence World War I and the treaty of Versailles that led to the outbreak of Fascism.
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The war left the world in a heap of despair and economic futility. The triangle trade was formed, and the stock market crash of 1929 represented the world and the depression it had fallen into. The economic instability of the world, particularly those of small nations began to drag and chip away at the already weak economic and social conditions. What little faith there was in the existing government was soon abolished, leaving people confused and distrustful. As a result of growing dissatisfaction over the economy, the masses looked to political parties that offered the most practical solutions. “The war had turned people’s hopes of victory to bitter disappointment. Many were bewildered by modernity-with its cities, factories, and department stores, which they blamed on ethnic minorities. In their yearning for a mythical past of family farms and small shops, increasing numbers rejected representative government and sought more dramatic solutions. Radical politicians quickly learned to use wartime propaganda techniques to appeal to a confused citizenry, especially young and unemployed men. They promised to use any means necessary to bring back full employment, stop the spread of communism, and achieve the territorial conquests that World War I had denied them. They borrowed their tactics from the Bolsheviks and their goals from the war.”
Fascism is essentially extreme nationalism. Some of its key aspects involve the complete submission of an individual’s will given to the state, the state being a leader who embodies the state. Combat, conquest, and military qualities are celebrated while democracy, rationalism, and bourgeois values are belittled. Fascism was almost a religion in its own right. It was the preservation of the state and the state or race was the declaration of its destiny. People aimed and lived for the fulfillment of their beliefs in Fascism.
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The following are characteristics of Fascism. Fascism has one leader who incorporates the will of his people, usually with the title of Der Fuhrer, or Il Duce, both meaning “leader.” Fascism was extreme nationalism leading to mass mobilization that brought everybody into nationalism and politics. It was also anti-communism, anti-socialism, and most of all, anti-liberalism. Also common to Fascism was the militarism and political violence it was associated with. Fascism was more like “national” socialism, in that it was a corporation as well as a quasi-cult of youth and sexism in the sense that it appealed to young intellectuals in college and brought about negative change to the female sex. Fascism was all for the return to what has been dubbed the three K’s expected of women, Kinder, Kirche, Kuche, which meant children, church, kitchen respectively. It involved the first women graduates and the career woman, also changing the style of dress, pretty much back to what it used to be before women had jobs, thus releasing jobs for men. Fascism is anti-communist yet borrows communist methods to use against the communists. It has one leader who knows what is good for the people and will go after it.
Fascism also had a need for soldiers and men. The importance of the Fascist party was that they did not play the political game. In fact, they used political power to gain power. Violence played a big part in gaining their instantaneous power, for Fascism involved scare tactics that essentially scared the people. Using that fear, the party would reassure the people of its stability, again reminding them that the party was there to protect its people. Fascism pretends to be socialism also. Socialism being the solidarity of people, all the while arguing for national socialism, also aiming for corporatism, which was essentially organized capitalism centralized by the state-the state being the leader. The fascist movement thereby adopted the motto “might makes right.”
Mussolini, its leader, oversaw Italian Fascism. Mussolini’s goal was to overthrow parliamentary government, and in order to do that, he organized a combat party, named “fasci di combattimento.” He had a paramilitary group dressed in black shirts who fought against anyone accused of undermining the strength of the nation. Italian Fascism was the veneration of war and combat as the true test of a man and of a nation. Mussolini’s party was chiefly another way to bring war into politics with his violent seizure of power. Most of Mussolini’s supporters were war veterans and nationalists and Italian businessmen against the rise of revolutionary social protest financially backed his party. In October of 1922, Mussolini had his people overthrow the government on what has been called “march on Rome.” Before the overthrow occurred, however, the king appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister, and Mussolini began his rule as the legal head of government. He supported and represented the people, fooling everyone. In the time span of four years, Mussolini took over the government. By 1926 he became an unrivaled dictator who was very popular to the masses. Mussolini’s promise to create an empire comparable to that of the Romans was never fulfilled, however he did keep the country clear of depression by military spending.
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The Nazi party in Germany was the most destructive of all fascist movements. Headed by Adolph Hitler, it was run on the concept of Social Darwinism. Racism and Anti- Semitism was incorporated, his objective being conquest. He believed that some races were superior to others, especially those who were German and most northern white European people. Jews were the antithesis of perfection. Racism was the central feature of the Nazi nationalist ideology. All fascist parties more or less glorified an ethnic nation, “particularly that of a glorious ancestry, condemning present-day enemies of their people” but the Nazi party took it a step further. For Nazi Germany, nationalism meant the “restoration of German might in Europe…Nazism combined despotic nationalism and racism into a brutal and destructive message of repression and war.” Hitler became head of the NSDAP, otherwise known as the National Socialist German Workers’ party. He had a street party, the brown shirts of the Nazi party, also known as the storm party or the SA. The SA created a climate of fear around Hitler’s enemies. He then came up with the SS, otherwise known as the protection forces; eventually the SS was used to destroy the SA.
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The SS became the dominant force of the Nazi party, and ultimately was entrusted with the most sacred task, the task being the termination of Jews. Hitler’s word was law in Nazi Germany. He had three main goals. His first was to repeal the military restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, then he planned to annex all German-speaking territories to a greater Germany and then “conquer Lebensraum at the expense of Poland and the USSR.” His final goal was to eliminate all Jews from Europe. For a while, Hitler’s followers were few and far between, but once the Depression hit, the Nazis gained supporters among the unemployed who believed Nazi promises of jobs for all and among property owners frightened by the growing popularity of Communists. By 1936, business was booming, unemployment was at its lowest level, and living standards were rising. Hitler’s popularity soared because most Germans believed their economic well-being outweighed the loss of liberty.
Japanese prosperity ended when the world depression hit. Economic success fell 50 percent, with workers’ living conditions worsening as each year passed. “Grim economic trends brought out the old weakness of civilian government and revealed new opposition to democratic rule…old class antagonism between rural and urban poor and the wealthy revealed itself in popular support for the army, a traditional escape from poverty.” Once again, the military gained influence and policies of expansion began to surface as the Japanese began to look for answers to their economic crisis. The condemnation of democratic leaders and the glorification of war and imperial conquest calling for discipline and national unity emerged, comparable to fascist ideology. The Japanese began to demand for the country to be led by “men of spirit” who possessed the ability to enforce nationalistic ideas and the strength to hold up Japan’s overseas empire. Assassination campaigns were launched to assassinate and rid political leaders suspected to have betrayed Japanese honor and renown. “This extremist nationalist ideology became the inspiration of the new militarist leadership of the 1930s.” New mass support for authoritarian leadership and Imperialism began to draw strength in the 1930s swinging towards military domination, also representative of Fascist ideology. Militarism eventually overtook Japan’s political life. Imperialist policies prevailed although civilian government never completely disappeared, political violence present for a few years before its suppression. By 1936, Japan’s regime was overtaken by the concept of “militarism.” Militarism was the dominance of military leaders, policy of military expansion and warrior culture.
Japan’s militaristic regime did indeed reflect Italian fascism, yet two key ideas of Italian Fascism were not present in Japanese fascism, being a dictator and one-party rule. The Japanese were loyal to their leaders and made personal sacrifices in order to maintain the well-being of their country. Patriotism was essential as was the respect for the military. There were differences between the fascism present in Japan, Germany, and Italy, but for the most part they shared similar ideas. Each country commanded loyalty and used political violence to attain their goals. Each movement called for the rejection of Western influence and to the return to past time. Italy called for extreme nationalism, looking at Mussolini to guide the country back to prosperity. Germany looked at Hitler and his antiliberal nationalism whose plan was to attain national and racial power and security in a more detailed program when compared to Italy’s fascism, however both had secret violence organizations known as the SA, SS, and black shirts. The creation of fear by these organizations gave the parties a stronger hold on the masses. Fear of the organizations led the people to turn to their dictator for answers. Japan differed from these two countries in that aspect. Originally, they too used political violence, but it was soon stopped. The Japanese used their military to gain power. As their military grew, Japan gained more power for they used their military to infiltrate defenses of other countries to overtake their land, which was a main goal of their fascist ideas. Military dominance was comparable to Germany’s racial dominance and Italy’s quest for nationalism. Japan sought a “greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” which essentially meant a greater expansion of Japanese military and economic power. Both Germany and Japan focused on strengthening their dictatorial or imperialistic regimes and homelands while Italy focused on its nationalism.
According to Merriman-Webster Dictionary, a demagogue is a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. In light of this, Fascism was a very useful ideology for demagogues. For Italians, Fascism prospered after World War I when the government seemed to be going downhill and economic conditions were at a low. Mussolini promised the Italians return to their old ways when prosperity was everywhere and there was a stable economy. Each leader of fascism promised their country that their needs and wants would be fulfilled if they gave their support to their dictator, and as soon as they did that, change began to occur for what they thought was the better. Race and ethnicity played an important role in fascism. In some countries, it was the basis of Fascist ideologies. Italian fascism was a form of extreme nationalism, the want for Italian ethnicity. German fascism was essentially the quest for German purity, purity in the form of a completely Aryan race. As a result of that quest for racial purity, those who were not Aryan were persecuted (the Jews).
Japanese fascism took pride in their ethnicity and wished to conquer the world. All fascist parties glorified an ethnic nation, placing an importance on the return to the pure lines of ancestry. The modern mixing of ethnicities was looked down upon and in cases such as Nazism it was condemned. The purging of ethnicities also played a key part in fascism.
Fascism was received so well by the masses in the beginning because of the fact that the First World War had just ended, and the unexpected outcome and losses that followed it were overwhelming. Unemployment was rampant, the economy completely shattered, and confused citizens sought answers anywhere they could. The search for radical answers led to the rise of fascist demagogues who gave the masses the answers they wanted to hear. The promises they made gave them the support they needed to maintain dictatorship of the country. Social protest in fascist society was so difficult because those who protested were executed for their dissent. The motto “might makes right” indeed applied. Germany had their SA and SS parties while Mussolini had his black shirts. These organizations maintained those who dissented in the sense that they made sure everyone followed the leader and supported his ideologies. Political violence was key in these organizations. Unrest was controlled by violence, and the fear of violence led to the complete submission of these people.
Ultimately, Fascism was the return of nations to their roots. Ideologies were reinstated to those of pre-industrial war. People had a taste of the future and in their fear of the drastic change it entailed, they opted for the security of the past. Though it can’t be termed as security, the past offered the comfort of the known. In this sense, Fascism was what made history repeat itself. The world had fought to modernize itself, yet as a result of that modernization, came the return to the past.
Fascism. Britannica.com Inc. 13 Feb 2001 <http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/query=fascism>
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