Fascism is a political ideology which is based on far-right nationalism, with an authoritarian power structure and low tolerance for dissent or disagreement.
It stands in contrast to democratic values, which support equality and freedom for all. Instead, fascists believe that some people are naturally better than others and should therefore rule over them.
Examples of Fascism
This is a list of famous examples of fascism across history. As you can see, fascism was at its highest popularity during the 1930’s.
1. Italy’s Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was the first generally recognised fascist leader.
He arose to power in Italy in 1922, following the so-called ‘March on Rome’, in which his supporters (called ‘blackshirts’) came together and showed the existing government their power. In this show of force was an implicit threat of violence if their leader was not made the country’s ruler.
Mussolini set a blueprint for how fascist politicians operate. By creating an alternative power base to the government forces, he could challenge the legitimacy of the state. In other words, while the government had the police and military to enforce their power, Mussolini could do the same with the blackshirts.
Mussolini was also able to take power through a method which other fascists would come to emulate: by appealing to the frustrations and grievances of the population. Italy had joined Qorld War I very late on the side of the Allies but had nevertheless suffered heavy casualties. It had, however, not been awarded great territorial gains at the end of the war, unlike some its allies.
Beyond anger at a perceived injustice during the Versailles Peace Treaty, Italians were also tired of bad governance. Italy has historically had a reputation for poor government services, the causes of which are complex. Mussolini was able to create a reputation for himself of ‘making the trains run on time’ (though the accuracy of this has been disputed), as well as investing in massive public projects.
After World War II, in which Mussolini’s Italy participated on the side of Nazi Germany (see below), Mussolini met a grim fate. He was publicly hanged, and his body dragged on the streets in humiliation. He would not be the last fascist leader to have an unhappy ending.
2. Germany’s Hitler
Adolph Hitler is perhaps the most fascist dictator of all time, his name being synonymous with evil in modern times.
He came to power a decade after Mussolini, in 1933. The two were close allies from the start, forming an alliance called the ‘Berlin-Rome axis’. This later expanded to include Japan, forming the Axis Powers of the Second World War.
Hitler came to power in very similar circumstances to Mussolini. Germans were also angry at how the First World War had ended. Unlike the Italians, they had been on the losing side. While they obviously could not expect territorial gains, they were shocked at how much was taken away from them.
The Versailles Peace Treaty made Germany give large parts of its land in the east to the new Republic of Poland (the so-called ‘Polish Corridor’), which cut off the key city of Koenigsberg from the rest of the country. Germany also had to pay reparations for starting the war, as well as having its most important industrial areas in the west occupied. The German military was also heavily limited.
Hitler had himself served in the war (as relatively low-level corporal), and alongside many other veterans, believed that Germany had been robbed of victory through ‘a stab in the back’ by traitors in the home front. These supposed traitors then came to be associated with Jews, leading to the hateful antisemitism of the Nazis (the political movement led by Hitler).
Beyond just the war, German society was also angry at the mismanagement of the economy afterwards. While the 1920’s had at first seen a booming recovery from the war, the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the resulting Great Depression led to an economic collapse in Germany, with money practically losing its value (this is called ‘hyperinflation’). Again, through massive public investment, Hitler was able claim that the fascists were better at running things.
Hitler and Mussolini’s coalition with Japan eventually started the Second World War, where they committed some of the worst crimes against humanity of all time. These included the Holocaust, a genocide of Jewish people in which over six million lives were lost. No other event has so well demonstrated the violence and oppression at the heart of fascism.
3. Imperial Japan
The third ally of the Axis Powers was Imperial Japan.
Japan had come under the rule of fan Emperor in 1868, with the Meiji Restauration. Before this, the Emperor was a mere figurehead. The country still had a level of democracy in the 1920’s, until nationalistic officers were able to gain power (with the Emperor still at the top) in the 1930’s.
Again, the First World War lay at the roots of fascism. Japan had also joined the war later and was able to even gain former German colonies in China. However, in the Versailles Peace Treaty negotiations, the Japanese had suggested an amendment to the treaty which would declare racial equality in the world. This was successfully opposed to by the Australians.
After realising that they had no hope of being treated as equals by the Western imperial powers, the Japanese decided to build an empire of their won. After the military officers had gained power following a series of assassinations of political leaders, they set about to conquer the rest of East Asia.
Already before the Second World War, the Japanese had invaded and occupied Korea, Taiwan, as well as large parts of China. After their coalition with the European fascist powers, they invaded Western colonial empires in Asia, attacking the French in Indochina, British in Malaysia, Dutch in Indonesia, as well as the Americans in Hawaii and the Philippines.
Eventually, the Japanese attempt to turn the tables on Western domination had the opposite effect, with the country occupied by the United States after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This led to modern Japan, in which the emperor has no real power, and the country is constitutionally forbidden from engaging in war.
Austro-Fascism was a political movement modelled after Mussolini’s one in 1930’s Austria.
It successfully gained power over the Austrian state, establishing single-party rule (meaning that no other political parties are allowed) in 1934.
Austria had also faced catastrophe at the end of the First World War, with the country going from leading one of the largest empires in mainland Europe (the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to being just a tiny state in Germany’s shadow.
The Austro-fascists were, however, unable to change their country’s status and, in fact, made it worse. In 1938, the Nazis in Germany forced the country to join theirs, becoming just another part of the Third Reich (the name of the Nazi Empire). After the war, the country was able to regain its independence as a small state.
5. Brazil’s Integralist Party
Brazilian Integralism was a fascist movement which emerged in the early 1930’s, an era which, as we have seen, was a highpoint for fascism in the world.
The Integralist Party was led by Plínio Salgado, who was directly inspired by Italian Fascism. However, he did not support the racism of Hitler, instead believing that people of all races should be united under fascism.
The Integralists never managed to gain power in Brazil. Ironically, Brazil wat the time was ruled by a different kind of dictator, who suppressed the movement as it was threatening his power. Brazil was only able to become a democratic society very late, however, as the country was ruled by various dictators and the military until 1988.
6. Croatia’s Ustase Movement
The Ustase Movement was a fascist political movement in Croatia during the 1930’s and the second World War.
They were Croatian nationalists and opposed the formation of Yugoslavia. The state of Yugoslavia had been formed after the First World War (again showing the importance of this event for fascism) to hold the ‘southern Slavic’ nations of Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, and others that were formerly under Austro-Hungarian rule.
When Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by the Nazis, the Ustase gained their own Croatian state. They were active collaborators of the Nazis, engaging in mass violence against the other nationalities of Yugoslavia. Eventually though, they were defeated by the communist partisans led by Josip Tito, who became a long-time leader of Yugoslavia after the war.
7. France’s Vichy Regime
Another group of fascist collaborators with the Nazis were the Vichy Regime in France.
After Hitler had conquered France in 1940, they set about establishing a new government which would rule the country under their control. This new regime was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who was based in the city of Vichy, from which the name came from.
The Vichy regime had in fact no real power and were merely the string puppets of Hitler. The Regime faced constant opposition from the resistance fighters of the Free French government, which had escaped the Nazis but had operatives still inside. Eventually, led by General Charles de Gaulle, the Free French forces were able to liberate the country together with the other Allies after the Normandy landings. Many of the collaborators were imprisoned or executed afterwards.
8. Greece’s 4th of August Regime
In Greece, another regime held power during the 1930’s. The so-called 4th of August Regime ruled the kingdom of Greece from 1936 to 1941. It was a military dictatorship led by General Ioannis Metaxas.
The dictatorship was also directly inspired by their Italian neighbours led by Mussolini. Ironically, however, it was Fascist Italy which ended the regime by invading Greece in 1941. Although the Greeks were able to put up formidable resistance to the invaders, the Nazis soon joined and occupied Greece.
9. Portugal’s Estado Novo Regime
The Estado Novo (meaning the ‘New State’) was the fascist government in Portugal from 1933 to 1974.
An earlier dictatorship had been established already in 1926, called the Ditadura Nacional (‘National Dictatorship’). For all of its time, the Estado Novo was ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.
The Portuguese case interesting, as it was the longest surviving of the original fascist regimes of the 1930’s. Despite being an ally of Hitler and Mussolini, Salazar did not join the Second World War. Because of this the country avoided Allied occupation, which would have presumably ended the dictatorship.
Instead, the fascist regime was allowed to become an ally of the West during the Cold War, as fascism was strictly anti-communist, even joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Eventually, the Estado Novo was brought down by a peaceful revolution in 1974, called the Carnation Revolution.
10. Romania’s Iron Guard
Another ally of Nazi Germany during the Second World War was Romania. At that time, Romania was led by the fascists of the Iron Guard movement.
The movement only came to power during the war in 1940, establishing the National Legionary State. They then joined the Nazis in attacking the Soviet Union in 1941, having lost Bessarabia to the Soviets the year earlier. Eventually, Romania was occupied by the Soviet Red Army, which then installed a communist dictatorship in power.
11. Spain’s Generalísimo Francisco Franco
Similar to Portugal’s Salazar, Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco was also able to stay in power for decades.
He originally gained it after winning the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). The war is often seen as a precursor to World War II, with one side (Franco’s) supported by Mussolini and Hitler, and the other side (the Republicans) supported by the Soviet Union and Western volunteers.
Because of the destructiveness of the Civil War, Spain did not participate on Mussolini and Hitler’s side in World War II. Again similar to Portugal, this allowed the country to avoid occupation and for the fascists to stay in power. The country was also allowed to join NATO. Franco even died soon after the Portuguese revolution, in 1975 (perhaps knowing his time was up), and the country transitioned to democracy soon after.
12. The British Union of Fascists
The last example of fascism may also be the least. The British Union of Fascists was a weak and unprofessional political movement which tried to bring fascism into Britain.
Its long-time leader was Oswald Mosley, a former mainstream politician.
The Union had little influence in Britain, which went on to defeat the Nazis under the leadership of Winston Churchill. Disgraced, Mosley ran away from the country after the war, spending the rest of his years in exile.
Fascism was a worldwide phenomenon which was especially popular during the 1930’s. As we have seen, many fascist movements grew out of disappointments with the world order which had risen from the ashes of the First World War. This then led to their attempts to create a new one in the Second World War, which ended in disaster.
While the examples examined here are all historical, fascism still exists today. Not only are there are many people who support the old ideas of the 1930’s, many modern regimes could also be called fascistic. At the end of the day, fascism was not just a particular historical phenomenon, but an ideology with an objective set of characteristics.