What is fascism?

by | Feb 13, 2022 | Philosophy

Fascism is a term that was banalized by the left, just like the terms Nazism and Nazi, that stand for National Socialism and National Socialist, respectively. Especially after the rise of far-left groups, such as the Antifa, amongst the youth, the words fascism and fascist are used over and over again to attack their enemies.

But after all, what is fascism? This is a question that most of the people do not know how to answer. It is normal that most of the people do not know what fascism actually is, because most of what is talked about fascism is very superficial, often left-wing biased, as the socialists try very hard to dissociate themselves from the fascists and the national socialists, that are very similar to them, when it come to the values that they defend and the kind of society that they want to create.

The term fascism comes from the term fasces, which means a bundle of sticks. The idea behind that is that one stick alone is weak and might break, but if the sticks are together, they will be more difficult to break. The symbol of fascism is a bundle of sticks tied around an axe, representing the idea of collectivism.

Fascism is a political, social and economic doctrine. The cores of the fascist doctrine are the state and the collectivism. On a more superficial way, fascism could be defined by these words of the Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini:

A fasces image

All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

Back to primary sources

One of the best places to start to understand what Fascism really is, is in the essay ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’, written by the former Italian Duce, Benito Mussolini, and Giovanni Gentile.

Gentile is a less known figure. He was a professor of philosophy, a member of the Italian senate and he served as the minister of Public Education under Mussolini’s government. Giovanni Gentile is the ghost-writer of the essay, ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’. He wrote most of it. Mussolini’s work on this essay can be seen mostly at the end of it, but both figures were the main figures behind the fascist philosophy.

Fascism is an anti-individualistic doctrine. The name and the symbology make it obvious, but here is what Mussolini and Gentile say about Fascism and Individualism:

Giovanni Gentile

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts.

According to the fascist doctrine, the individuals have freedom, but only if it is in accordance with the interests of the state. That also summarizes well how the fascist economics work. Economic freedom does not exist in fascism. In fascism, the economy is handled through a model called corporatism.


The Structure of the Economy under Fascism

Corporatism is a model of managing a centrally planned economy and it is the model of organising the economy of the fascist system. The term comes from the word corpus, in Latin, which means body. In corporatism, the body would be the state as a whole and the ‘corporations’ would be the subdivisions, the parts of this functional body.

Just to make it clear, often we associate the word business with corporation and it can be misleading in this context. In fascism, the corporations are not exactly the businesses, but the parts of this whole body. The businesses in fascism, have to be part of legal unions, authorised syndicates. These unions are controlled by several government agencies; the corporatism.

In fascism, private property and business ownership are allowed, but, as abovementioned, they are allowed as long as they are in accordance with the goals of the fascist state. Let us not forget: In fascism, all within the state, nothing outside the state and nothing against the state. These were the words of the Italian ‘Duce’ himself.

In corporatism there is a marriage between the state and the businesses, but the state is always the one dominating the other part in this relationship. The reason is simple: The state has the monopoly of the force. This is not exclusive of fascism, in any form of government this happens, but in fascism, the monopoly of the force is accentuated.

Italy and Germany, under the governments of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler specifically, were organised under corporatism. The Austrian Economist, Ludwig von Mises, exposes how the German economy was organised in his book, Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow.

Private enterprises existed in Germany, but the owners were no longer the owners. They were called Betriebsführer, which means, shop manager.

Germany was organised in a hierarchy of führers. Hitler was the top führer and then, there were several other führers, with different hierarchies.

Every minor führer had to obey the orders of a government agency called:  Reichsführerwirtschaftsministerium, which was the German Government’s Ministry of National Economy.

The Ministry of National Economy had total control of the economy of Germany. They controlled every other manager, they determined what to produce, in which quantity, how much to pay for the raw materials and where to get them, to whom to sell the products and even the prices. The workers, as well, were all organised by the government. The government determined their wages and even at which factory they would work.

The shop managers, the Betriebsführers, had no right to the profits anymore, as it would have happened in a free market, capitalist society. They received fixed wages, determined by the government. If they needed more money, for whatever reason, they would have to ask the district führer, Gauführer or Gauleiter.

In this system, the prices and wages were no longer prices and wages, they were nothing but quantitative terms in a kind of socialist system, in which the economy is centrally planned by the state.


Economic Autarky

In a fascist economy, there is a national plan of development, there is a goal, determined by the heads of the state. In a free-markets capitalist society, there is no big economic plan of development, the structure of the economy is decentralised and people serve one another while seeking profit.

Another important characteristic of the fascist system is the Economic Autarky. Mussolini and Gentile criticised classical liberalism a lot. They opposed the idea of international cooperation and trade.

Economic autarky could be resumed in a self-sufficient nation. Germany, under Hitler, also pursued that goal of self-sufficiency. In such system, the state has absolute control of every aspect of the production of a nation, leaving no room for innovation, unless it is some innovation coming from the enlightened heads of the top bureaucrats.

Fascism is considered, by many, as the third way, something that rejects both capitalism and socialism, but that at the same time embraces those two opposite economic philosophies. But is fascism a third way? Is there a third way? I will quote Ludwig von Mises who made a brilliant analysis on the idea of a third way:

The idea that there is a third system—between socialism and capitalism, as its supporters say—a system as far away from socialism as it is from capitalism but that retains the advantages and avoids the disadvantages of each—is pure nonsense. People who believe there is such a mythical system can become really poetic when they praise the glories of interventionism. One can only say they are mistaken. The government interference which they praise brings about conditions which they themselves do not like.

Many people support the values of fascism without even knowing what fascism is: Some heavy interventionist state. Defending the same doctrine of fascism is what truly makes people fascists. But, once fascism is implemented, there is a lot of discontentment with this kind of society, which is merely a variant of socialism and that brings the totalitarianism and the poverty of socialism, poverty caused by the destruction of the economy through the impossibility of economic calculation in a system without prices. As abovementioned: In this system, the prices and wages were no longer prices and wages, they are nothing but quantitative terms in a kind of socialist system, in which the economy is centrally planned.


Populism, is it exclusive?

What is more populist than socialism and socialist politicians? All of them are promising an absolute government that will be able to solve all the problems of humanity. They promise houses, education, higher wages, free healthcare etc. Empty promises that cannot be kept due the economic impossibilities of a centrally planned economy and society. The French economist, Frédéric Bastiat, once said:

The state is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.

Populism is not exclusive of fascism. The socialists have always defended almost all the same policies as the fascists. Their agendas, in fact, are very similar. A strong state that will be present in every aspect of the lives of the individuals, controlling the morals and also controlling the economy, the production of goods, some sort of almighty God walking on Earth.

In many aspects the fascists copied the socialists. When we observe that the state has absolute control over the private enterprises in the fascist system, how is that different to the expropriation of the means of production which is one of the main policies proposed by the socialists? In fascism, just like in socialism, there is a collective ownership of the enterprises (represented by the state) and everything is controlled by the state.

There are not so many differences between the fascist societies, such as Hitler’s Third Reich and Mussolini’s Italy and the socialist societies, like the USSR. Apart of the terminologies being different and the fact that the fascists kept the labels of the free economics system, everything else was very similar.

People commonly talk about some specific characteristics of fascism that are not unique to fascism, such as the cult of personality. However, when we look to the socialist countries, we can see that there is the same cult of personality. Statues of Lenin could be found in many socialist countries, such as the USSR, Eastern Germany, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and several other countries. Another cult of personality happened in the USSR, with Stalin. In Cuba, Che Guevara is also an icon, having statues around the country and also the iconic mural in Havana. In China, there are several statues of Mao. In North Korea, there are statues of Kim Il-Sung and there is a clear cult of personality of Kim Jong-un. On a smaller scale, there are several other socialist contemporary politicians that are also worshipped by their followers all around the world. So, the cult of personality is not exclusive of the fascist doctrine.


Racism in fascism

Racism is another topic that often people think is unique to fascism. But racism is something that is not intrinsic to the fascist doctrine idealised by Gentile and Mussolini. Even though the National Socialist Germany had racism as one of its pillars, the fascist doctrine developed by Mussolini and Gentile did not defend racism.

But it is important to observe that Mussolini’s Italy collaborated with the National Socialist Germany and just like Mussolini was an influence for Hitler, Mussolini’s Italy ended up being influenced by the racism of the German National Socialism, passing racial laws discriminating against Jews. It is also important to put this in a chronological context for it to be clear; the fascist doctrine precedes the German National Socialist one. Mussolini influenced Hitler before Hitler came to power in Germany.

On the matter of racism, if we look to many Marxist-Socialist nations in Africa or in the Middle East, we can see that they support racism as well. There is a strong anti-Semitism in Muslim Arab countries, coming from the government and in Africa there were genocides amongst indigenous tribes in far-left, socialist, countries. Several countries in the Middle East and Africa have some sort of far-left government, where their economies and the societies are heavily controlled by an almighty state.

Marx, the father of the most popular form of socialism and communism, was a racist, an anti-Semite himself, as well. Regarding Marx, it is crucial to read his work called ‘On the Jewish Question’, to understand more about his antisemitic stances. Investigating other Marx’ writings like ‘The Russian Menace to Europe’, his correspondence to Engels in 1862 and several of his other writings, we can see that Marx had extremely racist views.

Che Guevara, the hero of the left-wing, was also a racist and a homophobe. He never hid that and he wrote about his racism on his diary, that can be found published under the name The Motorcycles Diary: Notes on a motorcycle American Latin Journey.


To call a spade a spade

It is important to call things by the right names. Fascism, unfortunately, is a doctrine that is not understood by most of the people, yet, people are constantly accusing their political opponents of being fascists. Fascism is a doctrine, with a structured philosophy and a very clear economic plan.

Unfortunately, most of the people remain ignorant on what fascism truly is and we observe the absurd, when many people that declare themselves, anti-fascists, truly defend most of the policies of the fascist doctrine.

At the end of the day, in socialism, just like in fascism we have this situation: All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. There are not so many differences between the national totalitarian state of fascism and the international single state defended by the socialists.

Fascists are around us, but they are not often the people being accused of being fascists by the far-left mobs. Fascists are those holding the real fascist values and, often, they end up being the very same people accusing others of being fascists.


For further reading and references:

The Doctrine of Fascism – Giovanni Gentile/Benito Mussolini

The Corporate State: With an appendix including the Labour charter, the text of laws on syndical and corporate organizations and explanatory notes – Benito Mussolini

The State – Frédéric Bastiat

Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow – Ludwig von Mises

Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth – Ludwig von Mises