June 4, 2020-
One common definition of the term, frequently cited by reliable sources as a standard definition, is that of historian Stanley G. Payne. He focuses on three concepts:
- the “fascist negations”: anti-liberalism, anti-communism, and anti-conservatism;
- “fascist goals”: the creation of a nationalist dictatorship to regulate economic structure and to transform social relations within a modern, self-determined culture, and the expansion of the nation into an empire; and
- “fascist style”: a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic authoritarian leadership.
The period 1929-45 is notable for the rise of several regimes that were based on continuity of government, on strong rule by a coterie of “dependable” officials, and a critical mass of public support, for those in power.
This was accomplished in the United States, by elections which were judged free and fair, resulting in the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1932, and his re-election in 1936, 1940 and 1944. When Roosevelt died, barely into his fourth term, there was a peaceful transfer of power to his Vice President, Harry S. Truman.
In neighbouring Canada, a similar process resulted in the election of William Lyon Mackenzie King as Prime Minister, in 1921, and his re-election in every contest, save 1930-35, until his retirement from public life, in 1948. King’s tenure was more based on public support for his policies, than on any cult of personality, however.
Across the Atlantic, the harsh terms imposed upon Germany, under the Treaty of Versailles, resulted in severe economic conditions. Coupled with the worldwide economic collapse of 1929, the grief felt by many Germans proved fertile ground for Adolf Hitler, and his National Socialist Party (NAZI). Hitler’s willingness to apply a particularly efficient form of brute force ultimately brought more ruin to Germany, after his Armed Forces staged a sweep across Europe, only to expend their resources and fall to defeat, at the hands of a three-pronged Allied offensive, in World War II. His legacy of infamy is signified by the mass ethnic cleansing campaign, which is known today as The Holocaust.
Was Hitler a Fascist? Certainly, he employed portions of all three of the concepts identified by Stanley G. Payne, as definitive of the Fascist system. His economy, though, did not alienate itself from standard business-oriented conservatism. He conducted a robust, if clandestine, trade with large multinational corporations, based in both North America and neutral European nations. Otherwise, Hitler adhered to both Fascist goals and style of governance.
At this point, I wish to point out the more “orthodox” Fascism, followed by Benito Mussolini. Mussolini began his public life as a socialist, but grew bored with the efforts at seeking an egalitarian society. He turned instead to the concept of Fascism, embracing a total state control of economic structure, a renewal of the “Italian Empire”-his take on ancient Rome. and a social network that promoted the use of violence and an emphasis on masculinity-with himself as the prime example (Il Duce-“The Leader”). He ruled Italy from 1922-1945, managing to establish a fairly efficient transportation system and large homegrown industries. As with Hitler, however, Mussolini’s ambitions outgrew his nation’s resources, and his government fell, before an Allied invasion, from 1943-45.
Mussolini’s protege, Francisco Franco, of Spain, took power, as a Falangist (the Spanish equivalent of Fascist), in 1936, assuming total control of Spain, with both German and Italian military assistance, in 1939. Franco ruled Spain until his death, in 1975. Franco’s Fascism focused promarily on achieving Fascist goals, particularly state regulation of the economy. He did not renounce conservatism, as Mussolini had, as one of Franco’s goals was preservation of the Church and eventual restoration of the Spanish monarchy. He did not pursue as active a cult of personality, as Mussolini, either, though he took the title of El Caudillo (” The Strongman”). Franco’s caution, with regard to World War II, kept Spain out of that conflict, though he supported the Axis Powers in principle. Franco’s brutality relaxed, in the 1950’s, though Spain remained something of an economic backwater, lacking the natural resources and capitalist minds of Italy. With that relaxation, however, a group of younger businessmen and entreprenuers did emerge, leading to the “Spanish Miracle”, for which Franco took personal credit. His long rule was largely due to his more moderate take on Fascism.
Finally, for this section, let it be noted that fascism, like communism, is not limited to the European continent. Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, a military careerist, with considerable informal education, became rather enchanted with the period of Nazi rule in Germany. Although Amin was not enamoured of Communism, he did abide its presence in his country of Uganda, mainly to procure aid from the Soviet Union and East Germany. Amin pursued what he thought of as Fascism, though his economic model was negligible, being mostly focused on enriching himself and a coterie of advisers. He did encourage a cult of personality, with himself at the center, allowing thugs to operate, with impunity, against real and perceived opponents. His one attempt at trying to carve out an empire, proved his undoing. In 1978, Amin sent troops into the neighbouring Tanzanian province of Kagera, with the idea being its annexation by Uganda. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, a no-nonsense man, sent his nation’s Army to take back Kagera, and to finish the job of ridding Africa of Amin.
So Fascism, like Communism, has been several things to several people. Could it happen in our time?