What is Fascism

AUTHOR: Benito Mussolini was a member of the Italian Socialist Party prior to WWI, when he disagreed with the parties advocacy for neutrality during the war he was kicked out. He denounced the party and began to work on his fascist movement.

CONTEXT: At the time of writing What is Fascism in 1932 Mussolini had already been in power for 10 years. He wrote a entry for an Italian encyclopedia at this time defining what exactly fascism was. Despite the fact that he and his party had been in power for 10 years the general public was unclear as to what exactly fascism was and this entry was meant to help define it.

LANGUAGE: Mussolini wrote this piece so that the general public could better understand his ideas, he did not use terribly scholarly language that was meant to overwhelm the people, he wanted them to understand. This piece is also persuasive, Mussolini needed public support for fascism so he was trying to gain it in this piece.

AUDIENCE: Mussolini’s audience was the people of Italy, he needed public support to keep fascism and himself in power so he was trying to persuade the people that fascism was a positive form of government.

INTENT: Mussolini’s intent was to define fascism for the people of Italy in his own way which he hoped would help the people see that they should support him and his political ideas.

MESSAGE: Mussolini’s goal in writing this piece was to show people that fascism was a good thing for Italy and that they would benefit from it, his message was the same and worked to accomplish that goal.

Nazism or Fascism

Today we categorize the regimes of the Nazis and Mussolini as both being a Fascist state. In the early years of their regimes however if one looks closely would find that there is a stark difference in ideals of the two Dictators. One’s early ideals were to create the genetically perfect populace. While the second’s focused on empowering the individual and expanding to create a vast territorial empire.

Reading the Fordham university article The 25 Points 1920: An Early Nazi Program It could be understood that the Nazis viewed the well fair and purification of Germany as their main objective. Within these 25 points there is no mention of territorial expansion. At an early glance of these points and the lack of any territorial policies one could not categorize the early Nazi party with the regime of Mussolini.

In 1932 in order to put a defining definition of fascism Mussolini sat down with Giovanni Gentile and wrote Bento Mussolini: What is Fascism, 1932. Mussolini argues that Fascism believes in that the support of the individual takes priority over that of the state. However it is also mentioned within his article that the growth of an empire where during this expansion the people can be invigorated.

While today it is easy to say that these two leaders were similar it is not completely true. Mussolini believed that Fascism is the system to invigorate a people and expand to become an empire. The early Nazi belief was much different in that they only believed in a genetically pure country. It can be argued that the two eventually merged into one and the same but the early parts of the regimes had a different idea of what it meant to be a Fascist.


“Bread and Wine”

The first half of Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine follows Pietro Spina, an Italian socialist revolutionary who has returned to Italy after having been exiled.  In order to evade arrest, he disguises himself Don Paolo Spada, a priest who has been sent to live in a rural village in Southern Italy to regain his health.  This disguise is ironic, as Spina has abandoned the religious fervor he had in his adolescence.  Silone uses this plot line to explore the effects of fascism on Catholics and uneducated peasants.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this section of the novel for me is the villagers’ fixation on the greatness of the past.  In one scene, Cristina Colamartini is explaining why her family did not allow her brother, Alberto to marry Bianchina.  She says that “My grandmother and father would consider it not only a disgrace to themselves, but to their forefathers” (Silone 102).  The Colamartinis hold little respect within the village, and are more concerned with returning honor to their family than their son’s happiness.  It is also revealed that Cristina’s aunt never married because her mother refused to allow her a dowry, and didn’t want to create dishonor by not having one.  The Colamartini’s obsession with returning to a former glory after years of poverty and shame mirrors fascist Italy’s fixation on returning to the glory of the Roman Empire.

In his definition of Fascism, Mussolini writes that the Italy is “…rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude.”  This sense of a rebirth is also captured in Bread and Wine.  Many illusions are made throughout the novel to a devastating earthquake which left the villages of Southern Italy in a state of death and destruction.  The area is shown to still be in a state of rebuilding, and an allusion is even made to a new section of a town built after the earthquake, in which the streets “…recorded glorious dates in the history of the government party” (Silone 140).  In this case, there is both rebuilding from the earthquake and a rebuilding of Italy into a respected yet feared nation.

What is Fascism, 1932

In Mussolini’s What is Fascism, he attempts to portray the fascist agenda and how these ideals can be applied to Italy society. He emphasized how fascism and socialism were opposites on the political spectrum. The nineteenth century overwhelmingly stressed liberal ideals and democratic initiatives towards government. Mussolini wished to break this trend and create an Italian collectivist society that views the state as an absolute; individuals would be regarded solely by their relation to the state. Expansion and empire building were also essential components of Mussolini’s doctrine because he believed that growth of the empire is “an essential manifestation of vitality.”

Mussolini stressed how the nation was in dire need of for a fascist state to provide authority, direction and order. After World War One Europe as a whole attempted to incorporate liberal ideals towards governance. The success of these governments was oftentimes very short lived, leaving countries in a dismal state of affairs. People were forced to consider other form of government that would better tackle the problems of the time. I believe that fascism was easily accepted in Italy because an overwhelming percent of the population believed that it is preferable to exchange the right to some natural freedoms in order to obtain the benefits of political order.

Both Hitler and Mussolini believed that expansion of the nation was a vital component of rebuilding their respective countries. In hindsight, do you believe that the international community should have been able to predict the impending war that would break out? After all, in order to expand the nation the land must be taken from somewhere/somebody, thus causing unavoidable violence.

Mussolini, “What is Fascism”

Benito Mussolini’s “What is Fascism” (1932) outlines that basic principles and guiding ideals of Fascism as he perceived and created this political ideology. He maintains throughout this piece that Fascism and Marxism (specifically Marxian Socialism) are “complete opposite[s].” In many ways this is true. These two ideologies have opposing beliefs and ideals, but each is underlined by many of the same opinions as well.

The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov is a novel based in the USSR during the early 1920s. This book centers on a construction project that was meant to assist in the country’s industrial aspirations. Throughout much of the novel, the protagonist and other characters are consumed by the idea of finding the true meaning of communism. They want to become the best citizens, the best workers and the best communists. Throughout the novel, the characters work tirelessly for the benefit of the state so that they may prove their loyalty and commitment to the communist cause.

While the goals of communism and Fascism are different: one strives for the party and the ideology; the other strives for the state and the country; each places a duty on the people to work tirelessly towards this goal. In working for the party and communist ideology, Soviet citizens bettered the state. By sacrificing for the state, Italians improved the power of Fascist ideology. The rhetoric in each movement and culture reads very similarly: “[the Fascist] rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others—those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after…” This sentiment is very similar to the way in which propaganda promoted working for communism in the USSR, especially in the use of the Stakanovite figure.

There are similarities in how Fascism and communism were presented and understood during this period. How does democratic, Nazi and other political rhetoric follow similar patterns?