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Fascism in Europe was composed of numerous ideologies that were present during the 20th century and they all developed their own differences with each other. Fascism was born in Italy, but subsequently several fascist movements emerged across Europe and they borrowed influences from the Italian Fascism. The origins of fascism in Europe began outside of Italy and can be observed in the combining of a traditional national unity and revolutionary anti-democratic rhetoric espoused by integral nationalist Charles Maurras and revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel in France. The first foundations of fascism can be seen in the Italian Regency of Carnaro, many of its politics and aesthetics were taken from Gabriele D'Annunzio's rule and they were subsequently used by Benito Mussolini and his Italian Fasci of Combat which he had founded as the Fasci of Revolutionary Action in 1914. Despite the fact that its members referred to themselves as "fascists", the ideology was based around national syndicalism. The ideology of fascism would not fully develop until 1921 when Mussolini transformed his movement into the National Fascist Party which then in 1923 incorporated the Italian Nationalist Association. The INA was a nationalist movement that established fascist tropes, colored shirt uniforms for example, and also received the support of important proto-fascists like D'Annunzio and nationalist intellectual Enrico Corradini.
The first declaration of the political stance of fascism was the Fascist Manifesto written by national syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published in 1919. Many of the contents of the manifesto such as centralization, the abolition of the senate, formation of national councils loyal to the state, expanded military and support for militias (Blackshirts for example) were adopted by Mussolini's regime whilst other calls such as universal suffrage and a peaceful foreign policy were abandoned. De Ambris would later become a prominent anti-fascist. In 1932 The Doctrine of Fascism was published written by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile providing an outline of fascism that better represented Mussolini's regime.
Some scholars assert that the term "fascism" should only be used to mean the ideology of the National Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini in Italy, which ruled from 1922 to 1943. However, other European regimes that showed strong similarities to Mussolini's governing are also popularly described as fascist. European regimes often described as fascist or being strongly influenced by fascism include:
These regimes listed did not fully abide by the doctrine of fascism as stated by Mussolini and Gentile. However all regimes listed presented fascist influence through authoritarianism, use of organised paramilitaries/youth movements loyal to the state, propaganda and rhetoric that opposed liberalism, individualism, democracy, communism, etc, and built their economies around corporatism. These are all elements of governing popularised by Mussolini. The use of the Roman Salute and coloured shirt uniforms used by most of these regimes also shows how the aesthetics established by the National Fascist Party became adopted throughout Europe.
There were multiple regimes in Romania that were influenced by fascism. These include the National Christian Party under Octavian Goga (1938), Party of the Nation under Ion Gigurtu (1940) and the National Legionary State which was led by the Iron Guard under Horia Sima in conjunction with the Romanian military dictatorship under Ion Antonescu (1940-1941). The first two of these regimes were not completely fascist however used fascism to appeal to the growing far-right sympathies amongst the populace.
Prior to and during the Second World War, Nazi Germany imposed numerous fascist/fascist related regimes across occupied Europe, these may not fully espouse the form of fascism established by Mussolini however they were authoritarian, nationalist, anti-communist and staunchly pro-Axis powers:
There were also a number of political movements active in Europe that were influenced in part by some features of Mussolini's regime. These include: Le Faisceau, British Fascists, British Union of Fascists, Imperial Fascist League, Blueshirts, Breton National Party, Falange Española, National Syndicalist Movement, Verdinaso, Nationale Front, Greek National Socialist Party, Vlajka, National Fascist Community, ONR-Falanga, Patriotic People's Movement, Pērkonkrusts, Union of Bulgarian National Legions, Ratniks and the Russian Fascist Party (based in Manchuria).
Prominent figures associated with European fascism outside of the Axis include Oswald Mosley, Rotha Lintorn-Orman, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, Joris Van Severen, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, Francisco Rolão Preto, Hristo Lukov, Aleksandar Tsankov, Bolesław Piasecki, Radola Gajda, Eoin O'Duffy, Sven Olov Lindholm, Vihtori Kosola and Konstantin Rodzaevsky.
Other right-wing to far-right political parties such as the German National People's Party, CEDA, Party of Hungarian Life and the Fatherland League lacked the ideology of fascism but adopted some fascist characteristics. Far-right politicians like Alfred Hugenberg, José María Gil-Robles and Gyula Gömbös represent fascism's influence on the right with these leaders adopting an ultra-nationalist and authoritarian rhetoric influenced by Mussolini and later Hitler's successes.
The nationalism espoused by these groups contrasted the internationalist focus of communism; there was little coordination between fascist movements prior to the Second World War however there was an attempt at unifying European fascists. The 1934 Montreux Fascist conference was a meeting held by members of a number of European fascist parties and movements and was organised by the Comitati d'Azione per l'Universalità di Roma which received support from Mussolini. The first conference was open to many perspectives and failed to develop any unity amidst the many ideological conflicts among the delegates. The second conference was equally ineffective and more meetings were attempted.
After the Second World War, most fascist regimes were dismantled by the victors, with only those in Spain and Portugal surviving. Parties, movements or politicians who carried the label "fascist" quickly became political pariahs with many nations across Europe banning any organisations or references relating to fascism and Nazism. With this came the rise of Neo-Fascism, movements like the Italian Social Movement, Socialist Reich Party and Union Movement attempted to continue fascism's legacy but failed to become mass movements.
European fascism influenced movements in the Americas. Both North America and South America would develop fascistic political groups rooted in the local European descended communities. These included the Chilean Nacistas, Brazilian Integralist Action, Argentine Civic Legion, Peruvian Revolutionary Union, National Synarchist Union, Revolutionary Mexicanist Action and the Silver Legion of America along with figures like Plínio Salgado, Gustavo Barroso, González von Marées, Salvador Abascal, Nicolás Carrasco, William Dudley Pelley and Adrien Arcand. Some historians also consider Argentine president Juan Perón and his ideology, Peronism as being influenced by European fascism, however, this has been disputed. Brazilian president, Getúlio Vargas, and his corporate regime known as the "New State" was also influenced by Mussolini's rule. European fascism was also influential in the European diaspora elsewhere in the world, in Australia Eric Campbell's Centre Party and the South African fascist movement, which included Oswald Pirow, being examples of this.
Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were not always allies. While Mussolini wanted the expansion of fascist ideology throughout the world, he did not initially appreciate Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler was an early admirer of Mussolini and asked for Mussolini's guidance on how the Nazis could pull off their own March on Rome. Mussolini did not respond to Hitler's requests as he did not have much interest in Hitler's movement and regarded Hitler to be somewhat crazy. Mussolini did attempt to read Mein Kampf to find out what Hitler's Nazism was, but he was immediately disappointed, saying that Mein Kampf was "a boring tome that I have never been able to read" and claimed that Hitler's beliefs were "little more than commonplace clichés".
Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1922 had praised the rise to power of Mussolini and sought a German-Italian alliance. Upon Mussolini's rise to power, the Nazis declared their admiration and emulation of the Italian Fascists, with Nazi member Hermann Esser in November 1922 saying that "what a group of brave men in Italy have done, we can also do in Bavaria. We’ve also got Italy’s Mussolini: his name is Adolf Hitler".
The second part of Hitler's Mein Kampf ("The National Socialist Movement", 1926) contains this passage:
I conceived the profoundest admiration for the great man south of the Alps, who, full of ardent love for his people, made no pacts with the enemies of Italy, but strove for their annihilation by all ways and means. What will rank Mussolini among the great men of this earth is his determination not to share Italy with the Marxists, but to destroy internationalism and save the fatherland from it.— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 622
In a 1931 interview, Hitler spoke admirably about Mussolini, commending Mussolini's racial origins as being the same as that of Germans and claimed at the time that Mussolini was capable of building an Italian Empire that would outdo the Roman Empire and that he supported Mussolini's endeavors, saying:
They know that Benito Mussolini is constructing a colossal empire which will put the Roman Empire in the shade. We shall put up ... for his victories. Mussolini is a typical representative of our Alpine race...— Adolf Hitler, 1931.
Mussolini had personal reasons to oppose antisemitism as his longtime mistress and Fascist propaganda director Margherita Sarfatti was Jewish. She had played an important role in the foundation of the fascist movement in Italy and promoting it to Italians and the world through supporting the arts. However, within the Italian fascist movement there were a minority who endorsed Hitler's antisemitism as Roberto Farinacci, who was part of the far-right wing of the party.
There were also nationalist reasons why Germany and Italy were not immediate allies. Habsburg Austria (Hitler's birthplace) had an antagonistic relationship with Italy since it was formed, largely because Austria-Hungary had seized most of the territories once belonging to Italian states such as Venice. Italian irredentist claims sought the return of these lands to Italian rule (Italia irredenta). Although initially neutral, Italy entered World War I on the side of the Allies against Germany and Austria-Hungary when promised several territories (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia). After the war had ended, Italy was rewarded with these territories under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
In Germany and Austria, the annexation of Alto Adige/South Tyrol was controversial as the province was made up of a large majority of German speakers. While Hitler did not pursue this claim, many in the Nazi Party felt differently. In 1939, Mussolini and Hitler agreed on the South Tyrol Option Agreement. When Mussolini's government collapsed in 1943 and the Italian Social Republic was created, Alto Adige/South Tyrol was annexed to Nazi Greater Germany, but was restored to Italy after the war.
The most striking difference is the racialist ideology which was the central priority of Nazism, but not a priority of the other ideologies. Fascism was founded on the principle of nationalist unity which opposed the divisionist class war ideologies of Marxist socialism and communism; therefore, the majority of the regimes viewed racialism as counterproductive to unity, with Mussolini asserting: that "National pride has no need of the delirium of race". Nazism differed from Italian fascism in that it had a stronger emphasis on race in terms of social and economic policies. Though both ideologies denied the significance of the individual, Italian fascism saw the individual as subservient to the state whereas Nazism saw the individual as well as the state as ultimately subservient to the race. However, subservience to the Nazi state was also a requirement on the population. Mussolini's fascism held that cultural factors existed to serve the state and that it was not necessarily in the state's interest to interfere in cultural aspects of society. The only purpose of government in Mussolini's fascism was to uphold the state as supreme above all else, a concept which can be described as statolatry.
Unlike Hitler, Mussolini repeatedly changed his views on the issue of race according to the circumstances of the time. In 1921, Mussolini promoted the development of the Italian race such as when he said this:
The nation is not simply the sum of living individuals, nor the instrument of parties for their own ends, but an organism comprisedof the infinite series of generations of which the individuals are only transient elements; it is the supreme synthesis of all the material and immaterial values of the race.— Benito Mussolini, 1921
Like Hitler, Mussolini publicly declared his support of a eugenics policy to improve the status of Italians in 1926 to the people of Reggio Emilia:
We need to create ourselves; we of this epoch and this generation, because it is up to us, I tell you, to make the face of this country unrecognizable in the next ten years. In ten years comrades, Italy will be unrecognizable! We will create a new Italian, an Italian that does not recognize the Italian of yesterday...we will create them according to our own imagination and likeness.— Benito Mussolini, 1926
In a 1921 speech in Bologna, Mussolini stated the following: "Fascism was born [...] out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan and Mediterranean race". In this speech, Mussolini was referring to Italians as being the Mediterranean branch of the Aryan race, Aryan in the meaning of people of an Indo-European language and culture. However, Italian fascism initially strongly rejected the common Nordicist conception of the Aryan race that idealized "pure" Aryans as having certain physical traits that were defined as Nordic such as blond hair and blue eyes. The antipathy by Mussolini and other Italian fascists to Nordicism was over the existence of the Mediterranean inferiority complex that had been instilled into Mediterraneans by the propagation of such theories by German and Anglo-Saxon Nordicists who viewed Mediterranean peoples as racially degenerate and thus inferior. Mussolini refused to allow Italy to return again to this inferiority complex.
In a private conversation with Emil Ludwig in 1932, Mussolini derided the concept of a biologically superior race and denounced racism as being a foolish concept. Mussolini did not believe that race alone was that significant. Mussolini viewed himself as a modern-day Roman Emperor, the Italians as a cultural elite and he also wished to "Italianise" the parts of the Italian Empire which he had desired to build. A cultural superiority of Italians, rather than a view of racialism. Mussolini believed that the development of a race was insignificant in comparison to the development of a culture, but he did believe that a race could be improved through moral development, though he did not say that this would make a superior race:
Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. [...] National pride has no need of the delirium of race. Only a revolution and a decisive leader can improve a race, even if this is more a sentiment than a reality. But I repeat that a race can change itself and improve itself. I say that it is possible to change not only the somatic lines, the height, but really also the character. Influence of moral pressure can act deterministically also in the biological sense.
Mussolini believed that a biologically superior race was not possible, but that a more developed culture's superiority over the less developed ones warranted the destruction of the latter, such as the culture of Ethiopia and the neighboring Slavic cultures, such as those in Slovenia and Croatia. He took advantage of the fact that no undertaking with regard to the rights of minorities such as those that lived in Istria and Trieste's surroundings was made in either the Treaty of Rapallo or the Treaty of Rome and after 1924 Treaty of Rome these same treaties did not make any undertaking with regard to the rights of the minorities that lived in Rijeka. Croatian, Slovene, German and French toponyms were systematically Italianized.
Against ethnic Slovenes, he imposed an especially violent fascist Italianization policy. To Italianize ethnic Slovene and Croatian children, Fascist Italy brought Italian teachers from Southern Italy to the ex Austro-Hungarian territories that had been given to Italy in exchange for its decision to join Great Britain in World War I such as Slovene Littoral and a big part of western Slovenia while Slovene and Croatian teachers, poets, writers, artists and clergy were exiled to Sardinia and Southern Italy. Acts of fascist violence were not hampered by the authorities, such as the burning down of the Narodni dom (Community Hall of ethnic Slovenes in Trieste) in Trieste, which was carried out at night by fascists with the connivance of the police on 13 July 1920.
After the complete destruction of all Slovene minority cultural, financial and other organizations and the continuation of violent fascist Italianization policies of ethnic cleansing, one of the first anti-fascist organizations in Europe, TIGR, emerged in 1927, and it coordinated the Slovene resistance against Fascist Italy until it was dismantled by the fascist secret police in 1941, after which some ex-TIGR members joined the Slovene Partisans.
For Mussolini, the inclusion of people in a fascist society depended upon their loyalty to the state. Meetings between Mussolini and Arab dignitaries from the colony of Libya convinced him that the Arab population was worthy enough to be given extensive civil rights and as a result, he allowed Muslims to join a Muslim section of the Fascist Party, namely the Muslim Association of the Lictor. However, under pressure from Nazi Germany the fascist regime eventually embraced a racist ideology, such as promoting the belief that Italy was settling Africa in order to create a white civilization there and it imposed five-year prison sentences on any Italians who were caught having sexual or marital relationships with native Africans. Against those colonial peoples who were not loyal, vicious campaigns of repression were waged such as in Ethiopia, where native Ethiopian settlements were burned to the ground by the Italian armed forces in 1937. Under fascism, native Africans were allowed to join the Italian armed forces as colonial troops and they also appeared in fascist propaganda.
At least in its overt ideology, the Nazi movement believed that the existence of a class-based society was a threat to its survival and as a result, it wanted to unify the racial element above the established classes, but the Italian fascist movement sought to preserve the class system and uphold it as the foundation of an established and desirable culture. Nevertheless, the Italian fascists did not reject the concept of social mobility and a central tenet of the fascist state was meritocracy, yet fascism also heavily based itself on corporatism, which was supposed to supersede class conflicts. Despite these differences, Kevin Passmore (2002 p. 62) observes:
There are sufficient similarities between Fascism and Nazism to make it worthwhile by applying the concept of fascism to both. In Italy and Germany a movement came to power that sought to create national unity through the repression of national enemies and the incorporation of all classes and both genders into a permanently mobilized nation.
Nazi ideologues such as Alfred Rosenburg were highly skeptical of the Italian race and fascism, but he believed that the improvement of the Italian race was possible if major changes were made in order to convert it into an acceptable "Aryan" race and he also said that the Italian fascist movement would only succeed if it purified the Italian race into an Aryan one. Nazi theorists believed that the downfall of the Roman Empire was due to the interbreeding of different races which created a "polluted" Italian race which was inferior.
Hitler believed this and he also believed that Mussolini represented an attempt to revive the pure elements of the former Roman civilization, such as the desire to create a strong and aggressive Italian people. However, Hitler was still audacious enough when meeting Mussolini for the first time in 1934 to tell him that all Mediterranean peoples were "tainted" by "Negro blood" and thus in his racist view they were degenerate.
Relations between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were initially poor but they deteriorated even further after the assassination of Austria's fascist chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss by Austrian Nazis in 1934. Under Dollfuss Austria was a key ally of Mussolini and Mussolini was deeply angered by Hitler's attempt to take over Austria and he expressed it by angrily mocking Hitler's earlier remark on the impurity of the Italian race by declaring that a "Germanic" race did not exist and he also indicated that Hitler's repression of Germany's Jews proved that the Germans were not a pure race:
But which race? Does there exist a German race. Has it ever existed? Will it ever exist? Reality, myth, or hoax of theorists? (Another parenthesis: the theoretician of racism is a 100 percent Frenchman: Gobineau) Ah well, we respond, a Germanic race does not exist. Various movements. Curiosity. Stupor. We repeat. Does not exist. We don't say so. Scientists say so. Hitler says so.— Benito Mussolini, 1934
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Italian Fascism was expansionist in its desires, looking to create a New Roman Empire. Nazi Germany was even more aggressive in expanding its borders in violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The Nazis murdered the Austrofascist dictator Dollfuss, causing an uneasy relationship in Austria between fascism and Nazism at an early stage. Italian nationalist and pan-German claims clashed over the issue of Tyrol.
In the 1920s, Hitler with only a small Nazi party at the time wanted to form an alliance with Mussolini's regime as he recognized that his pan-German nationalism was seen as a threat by Italy. In Hitler's unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf, he attempts to address concerns among Italian fascists about Nazism. In the book, Hitler puts aside the issue of Germans in Tyrol by explaining that overall Germany and Italy have more in common than not and that the Tyrol Germans must accept that it is in Germany's interests to be allied with Italy. Hitler claims that Germany, like Italy, was subjected to oppression by its neighbours and he denounces the Austrian Empire as having oppressed Italy from completing national unification just as France oppressed Germany from completing its national unification. Hitler's denunciation of Austria in the book is important because Italian fascists were skeptical about him due to the fact that he was born in Austria which Italy had considered to be its primary enemy for centuries and Italy saw Germany as an ally of Austria. By declaring that the Nazi movement was not interested in the territorial legacy of the Austrian Empire, this is a way to assure the Italian fascists that Hitler, the Nazi movement and Germany were not enemies of Italy.
Despite public attempts of goodwill by Hitler towards Mussolini, Germany and Italy came into conflict in 1934 when Engelbert Dollfuss, the Austrofascist leader of Italy's ally Austria, was assassinated by Austrian Nazis on Hitler's orders in preparation for a planned Anschluss (annexation of Austria). Mussolini ordered troops to the Austrian-Italian border in readiness for war against Germany. Hitler backed down and defer plans to annex Austria.
When Hitler and Mussolini first met, Mussolini referred to Hitler as "a silly little monkey" before the Allies forced Mussolini into an agreement with Hitler. Mussolini also reportedly asked Pope Pius XII to excommunicate Hitler. From 1934 to 1936, Hitler continually attempted to win the support of Italy and the Nazi regime endorsed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (leading to Ethiopia's annexation as Italian East Africa) while the League of Nations condemned Italian aggression. With other countries opposing Italy, the fascist regime had no choice but to draw closer to Nazi Germany. Germany joined Italy in supporting the Nationalists under Francisco Franco with forces and supplies in the Spanish Civil War.
Later, Germany and Italy signed the Anti-Comintern Pact committing the two regimes to oppose the Comintern and Soviet communism. By 1938, Mussolini allowed Hitler to carry out Anschluss in exchange for official German renunciation of claims to Tyrol. Mussolini supported the annexation of the Sudetenland during the Munich Agreement talks later the same year.
In 1939, the Pact of Steel was signed, officially creating an alliance of Germany and Italy. The Nazi official newspaper Völkischer Beobachter published articles extolling the mutually benefit of the alliance:
Firmly bound together through the inner unity of their ideologies and the comprehensive solidarity of their interests, the German and the Italian people are determined also in future to stand side by side and to strive with united effort for the securing of their Lebensraum [living space] and the maintenance of peace.— Völkischer Beobachter (May 23, 1939)
Hitler and Mussolini recognized commonalities in their politics and the second part of Hitler's Mein Kampf ("The National Socialist Movement", 1926) contains this passage:
I conceived the profoundest admiration for the great man south of the Alps, who, full of ardent love for his people, made no pacts with the enemies of Italy, but strove for their annihilation by all ways and means. What will rank Mussolini among the great men of this earth is his determination not to share Italy with the Marxists, but to destroy internationalism and save the fatherland from it.— Mein Kampf (p. 622)
Both regimes despised France (seen as an enemy which held territories claimed by both Germany and Italy) and Yugoslavia (seen by the Nazis as a racially degenerate Slavic state and holding lands such as Dalmatia claimed by the Italian fascists). Fascist territorial claims on Yugoslav territory meant that Mussolini saw the destruction of Yugoslavia as essential for Italian expansion. Hitler viewed Slavs as racially inferior, but he did not see importance in an immediate invasion of Yugoslavia, instead focusing on the threat from the Soviet Union.
Mussolini favored using the extremist Croatian nationalist Ustaše as a useful tool to tear down Yugoslavia, led by the Serbs and with a Serbian dynasty, the House of Karađorđević. In 1941, the Italian military campaign in Greece (the Greco-Italian War, called the Battle of Greece for the period after the German intervention) was failing. Hitler reluctantly began the Balkan Campaign with the invasion of Yugoslavia. German, Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Croatian insurgents (under the Axis puppet Independent State of Croatia) decisively defeated Yugoslavia.
In the aftermath, with the exception of Serbia and Vardar Macedonia, most of Yugoslavia was reshaped based on Italian fascist foreign policy objectives. Mussolini demanded and received much of Dalmatia from the Croats in exchange for supporting the independence of Croatia. Mussolini's policy of creating an independent Croatia prevailed over Hitler's anti-Slavism and eventually, the Nazis and the Ustashe regime of Croatia would develop closer bonds due to the Ustashe's brutal effectiveness at suppressing Serb dissidents.
The question of religion also poses considerable conflicting differences as some forms of fascism, particularly the Fatherland Front and National Union that were devoutly Catholic. The occultist and pagan elements of Nazi ideology were very hostile to the traditional Christianity found in the vast majority of fascist movements of the 20th century.