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As there have been many different manifestations of fascism, especially during the interwar years, there were also many different symbols of fascist movements. Fascist symbolism typically involved nationalist imagery.
Organized fascist movements have militarist-appearing uniforms for their members; use national symbols, historical symbols of a nation as symbols of their movement; and use orchestrated rallies for propaganda purposes. Fascist movements are led by a "Leader" (i.e. Duce, Führer, Caudillo and so on) who is publicly idolized in propaganda as the nation's saviour. A number of fascist movements use a straight-armed salute.
The use of symbols, graphics, and other artifacts created by fascist, authoritarian and totalitarian governments has been noted as a key aspect of their propaganda. Most Fascist movements adopted symbols of Ancient Roman or Greek origin, for example the German use of Roman standards during rallies, the Italian adoption of the fasces symbol, the Spanish "Falange" from the Spanish word for "Phalanx".
The original symbol of fascism, in Italy under Benito Mussolini, was the fasces. This is an ancient Imperial Roman symbol of power carried by lictors in front of magistrates; a bundle of sticks featuring an axe, indicating the power over life and death. Before the Italian Fascists adopted the fasces, the symbol had been used by Italian political organizations of various political ideologies (ranging from socialist to nationalist), called Fascio ("leagues") as a symbol of strength through unity.
Italian Fascism utilized the color black as a symbol of their movement, black being the color of the uniforms of their paramilitaries, known as Blackshirts. The blackshirt derived from Italy's daredevil elite shock troops known as the Arditi, soldiers who were specifically trained for a life of violence and wore unique blackshirt uniforms. The colour black as used by the Arditi, symbolized death.
Fascist Italy was not officially racist, unlike its World War II Axis partner of Nazi Germany. But it equally gave importance to the purity of race, as Mussolini at multiple times expressed alarm towards a possible extinction of white people. Consolidation of gained territory in the northeast of Italy led to state-sanctioned persecution and ethnic cleansing of Slovenes, while closer ties with Hitler caused Mussolini to collaborate in sending Italian Jews to die in the Holocaust.
In a 1921 speech in Bologna (Italy), Mussolini stated, "Fascism was born... out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan and Mediterranean race". Mussolini was concerned with the low birth rates of the white race in contrast to the African and Asian races. In 1928, he noted the high birth-rate of blacks in the United States, and that they had surpassed the population of whites in certain areas, such as Harlem in New York City. He described their greater racial consciousness in comparison with American whites as contributing to their growing strength.
Other symbols used by the Italian Fascists included the aquila, the Capitoline Wolf, and the SPQR motto, each related to Italy's ancient Roman cultural history, which the Fascists attempted to resurrect.
The nature of German fascism, as encapsulated in Nazism was similar to Italian Fascism ideologically and borrowed symbolism from the Italian Fascists such as the use of mass rallies, the straight-armed Roman salute, and the use of pageantry. Nazism was different from Italian Fascism in that it was officially racist. Its symbol was the swastika, at the time a commonly seen symbol in the world that had experienced a revival in use in the western world in the early 20th century. German völkisch Nationalists claimed the swastika was a symbol of the Aryan race, who they claimed were the foundation of Germanic civilization and were superior to all other races.
As the Italian Fascists adapted elements of their ethnic heritage to fuel a sense of Nationalism by use of symbolism, so did Nazi Germany. Turn-of-the-century German-Austrian mystic and author Guido von List was a big influence on Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who introduced various ancient Germanic symbols (filtered through von List's writings) most thoroughly into the SS, including the stylized double Sig Rune (von List's then-contemporary Armanen rune version of the ancient sowilo rune) for the organization itself.
The black-white-red tricolor of the German Empire was utilized as the color scheme of the Nazi flag. The color brown was the identifying color of Nazism (and fascism in general), due to it being the color of the SA paramilitaries (also known as Brownshirts).
Other historical symbols that were already in use by the German Army to varying degrees prior to the Nazi Germany, such as the Wolfsangel and Totenkopf, were also used in a new, more industrialized manner on uniforms and insignia.
Although the swastika was a popular symbol in art prior to the regimental use by Nazi Germany and has a long heritage in many other cultures throughout history - and although many of the symbols used by the Nazis were ancient or commonly used prior to the advent of Nazi Germany - because of association with Nazi use, the swastika is often considered synonymous with National Socialism and some of the other symbols still carry a negative post-World War II stigma in some Western countries, to the point where some of the symbols are banned from display altogether.
The fascist Falange in Spain utilized the yoke and arrows as their symbol. It historically served as the symbol of the shield of the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent Catholic monarchs, representing a united Spain and the "symbol of the heroic virtues of the race". The original uniform of the Falangistas was the blue shirt – derived from the blue overalls of industrial workers – which was later combined with the red beret of the Carlists to represent their merger by Franco.
Organized fascist movements typically use military-like uniforms with the symbol of their movement on them.
In Italy, the Italian Fascist movement in 1919 wore black military-like uniforms, and were nicknamed Blackshirts. In power, uniforms during the Fascist era extended to both the party and the military which typically bore fasces or an eagle clutching a fasces on their caps or on the left arm section of the uniform.
In Germany, the fascist Nazi movement was similar to the Italian Fascists in that they initially used a specifically colored uniform for their movement, the tan-brown colored uniform of the SA paramilitary group earned the group and the Nazis themselves the nickname of the Brownshirts. The Nazis used the swastika for their uniforms and copied the Italian Fascists' uniforms, with an eagle clutching a wreathed swastika instead of a fasces, and a Nazi flag arm sash on the left arm section of the uniform for party members.
Other fascist countries largely copied the symbolism of the Italian Fascists and German Nazis for their movements. Like them, their uniforms looked typically like military uniforms with Nationalist type insignia of the movement. The Spanish Falange adopted dark blue shirts for their party members, symbolizing Spanish workers, many of whom wore blue shirts. Berets were also used, representing their Carlist supporters. The Spanish Blue Division expeditionary volunteers sent to the Eastern Front of WW2 in (relatively indirect) support of the Germans likewise wore blue shirts, berets and their army trousers.
Many other fascist movements did not win power or were relatively minor regimes in comparison and their symbolism is not well-remembered today in many parts of the world, although the BUF's Flash and Circle was later used by the non-fascist People's Action Party of Singapore.
Some neo-Nazi organizations continue to use the swastika, but many have moved away from such inflammatory symbols of early fascism. Some neo-fascist groups use symbols that are reminiscent of the swastika or other cultural or ancestral symbols that may evoke nationalistic sentiment but do not carry the same racist connotations.
Opponents of fascism have identified symbols seen in a pejorative manner such as the jackboot.
Some of these symbols are also used by a variety of non-fascist movements and organizations. The swastika has been a notable symbol in Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as in modern pagan religions, such as in Germanic neopaganism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) states:
Nazi Germany glorified an idealized "Aryan/Norse" heritage, consequently extremists have appropriated many symbols from pre-Christian Europe for their own uses. They give such symbols a racist significance, even though the symbols did not originally have such meaning and are often used by nonracists today, especially practitioners of modern pagan religions.