Fascism (in Italian, fascismo), capitalized, refers to the right-wing authoritarian political movement which ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. The word fascism (uncapitalized) has come to mean any political stance or system of government resembling Mussolini's, as further discussed below.
The word comes from fascio (plural: fasci), which may mean "bundle", as in a political or militant group or a nation, but also from the fasces (rods bundled around an axe), which were an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of magistrates. The Italian 'Fascisti' were also known as Black Shirts for their style of uniform incorporating a black shirt (see: political colour).
The word fascism has come to mean any system of government resembling Mussolini's, that
- exalts nation and sometimes race above the individual,
- uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition,
- engages in severe economic and social regimentation.
- engages in corporatism, (http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=219369)
In an article in the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiana, written by Giovanni Gentile and attributed to Benito Mussolini, fascism is described as a system in which "The State not only is authority which governs and molds individual wills with laws and values of spiritual life, but it is also power which makes its will prevail abroad.... For the Fascist, everything is within the State and... neither individuals nor groups are outside the State.... For Fascism, the State is an absolute, before which individuals or groups are only relative...."
Mussolini, in a speech delivered on October 28, 1925, stated the following maxim that encapsulates the fascist philosophy: "Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato." ("Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State".) Therefore, he reasoned, all individuals' business is the state's business, and the state's existence is the sole duty of the individual.
Besides totalitarianism, a key distinguishing feature of fascism is that it uses a mass movement to attack the organizations of the working class: parties of the left and trade unions. Thus Fritzsche and others describe fascism as a militant form of right-wing populism. This mobilization strategy involves Corporatism, Corporativism, or the Corporative State  (http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/bus/A0813636.html), all terms that refer to state action to partner with key business leaders, often in ways chosen to minimize the power of labor unions. Mussolini, for example, capitalized on fear of an imminent Socialist revolution  (http://www.thecorner.org/hists/total/f-italy.htm), finding ways to unite Labor and Capital, to Labor's ultimate detriment. In 1926 he created the National Council of Corporations, divided into guilds of employers and employees, tasked with managing 22 sectors of the economy. The guilds subsumed both labor unions and management, but were heavily weighted in favor of the corporations and their owners. The moneyed classes in return helped him change the country's laws to raise his stature from a coalition leader to a supreme commander. The movement was supported by small capitalists, low-level bureaucrats, and the middle classes, who had all felt threatened by the rise in power of the Socialists. Fascism also met with great success in rural areas, especially among farmers, peasants, and in the city, the lumpenproletariat.
Unlike the pre-World War II period, when many groups openly and proudly proclaimed themselves fascist, since World War II the term has taken on an extremely pejorative meaning, largely in reaction to the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis, who were allied with Mussolini during the war.
Today, very few groups proclaim themselves as fascist, and the term almost universally is used for groups for whom the speaker has little regard, often with minimal understanding of what the term actually means. The term "fascist" or "Nazi" is often ascribed to individuals or groups who are perceived to behave in an authoritarian manner; by silencing opposition, judging personal behavior, or otherwise attempting to concentrate power. More particularly, "Fascist" is sometimes used by members of the Left to characterize some group or persons of the far-right or neo-far-right. This usage receded much following the 1970s, but has enjoyed a strong resurgence in connection with Anti-globalization activism.
Fascism, in many respects, is an ideology of negativism: anti-liberal, anti-socialist, anti-Communist, anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, etc., and in some of its forms anti-religion. As a political and economic system in Italy, it combined elements of corporatism, totalitarianism, nationalism, and anti-communism.
The origin and ideology of Fascism
Etymologically, the use of the word Fascism in modern Italian political history stretches back to the 1890s in the form of fasci, which were radical leftist political factions that proliferated in the decades before World War I. The adoption of this term by the Fascist Party reflected the previous involvement of a number of them in radical left politics. (See Fascio for more on this movement and its evolution.)
The Doctrine of Fascism was written by Giovanni Gentile, an idealist philosopher who served as the official philosopher of fascism. Mussolini signed the article and it was officially attributed to him. In it, Frenchmen Georges Sorel, Charles Peguy, and Hubert Lagardelle were invoked as the sources of fascism. Sorel's ideas concerning syndicalism and violence are much in evidence in this document. It also quotes from Joseph Renan who it says had "pre-fascist intuitions". Both Sorel and Peguy were influenced by the Frenchman Henri Bergson. Bergson rejected the scientism, mechanical evolution and materialism of Marxist ideology. Also, Bergson promoted an elan vital as an evolutionary process. Both of these elements of Bergson appear in fascism. Mussolini states that fascism negates the doctrine of scientific and Marxian socialism and the doctrine of historic materialism. Hubert Lagardelle, an authoritative syndicalist writer, was influenced by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who, in turn, inspired anarchosyndicalism.
There were several strains of tradition influencing Mussolini. Sergio Panunzio, a major theoretician of fascism in the 1920s, had a syndicalist background, but his influence waned as the movement shed its old left wing elements. The fascist concept of corporatism and particularly its theories of class collaboration and economic and social relations are very similar to the model laid out by Pope Leo XIII's 1892 encyclical Rerum Novarum. This encyclical addressed politics as it had been transformed by the Industrial Revolution, and other changes in society that had occurred during the nineteenth century. The document criticized capitalism, complaining of the exploitation of the masses in industry. However, it also sharply criticized the socialist concept of class struggle, and the proposed socialist solution to exploitation (the elimination, or at least the limitation, of private property). Rerum Novarum called for strong governments to undertake a mission to protect their people from exploitation, while continuing to uphold private property and reject socialism. It also asked Catholics to apply principles of social justice in their own lives.
Seeking to find some principle to compete with and replace the Marxist doctrine of class struggle, Rerum Novarum urged social solidarity between the upper and lower classes, and endorsed nationalism as a way of preserving traditional morality, customs, and folkways. In doing so, Rerum Novarum proposed a kind of corporatism, the organization of political societies along industrial lines that resembled mediaeval guilds. A one-person, one-vote democracy was rejected in favor of representation by interest groups. This idea was to counteract the "subversive nature" of the doctrine of Karl Marx.
The themes and ideas developed in Rerum Novarum can also be found in the ideology of fascism as developed by Mussolini.
Fascism also borrowed from Gabriele D'Annunzio's Constitution of Fiume for his ephemeral "regency" in the city of Fiume. Syndicalism had an influence on fascism as well, particularly as some syndicalists intersected with D'Annunzio's ideas. Before the First World War, syndicalism had stood for a militant doctrine of working-class revolution. It distinguished itself from Marxism because it insisted that the best route for the working class to liberate itself was the trade union rather than the party.
The Italian Socialist Party ejected the syndicalists in 1908. The syndicalist movement split between anarcho-syndicalists and a more moderate tendency. Some moderates began to advocate "mixed syndicates" of workers and employers. In this practice, they absorbed the teachings of Catholic theorists and expanded them to accommodate greater power of the state, and diverted them by the influence of D'Annunzio to nationalist ends.
When Henri De Man's Italian translation of Au-dela du marxisme emerged, Mussolini was excited and wrote to the author that his criticism "destroyed any scientific element left in Marxism". Mussolini was appreciative of the idea that a corporative organization and a new relationship between labour and capital would eliminate "the clash of economic interests" and thereby neutralize "the germ of class warfare.'"
Renegade socialist thinkers, Robert Michels, Sergio Panunzio, Ottavio Dinale, Agostino Lanzillo, Angelo Oliviero Olivetti, Michele Bianchi, and Edmondo Rossoni, turning against their former left-wing ideas, played a part in this attempt to find a "third way" that rejected both capitalism and socialism.
Mussolini founded the fascist movement on March 23, 1919 at a meeting in Milan's Piazza San Sepolcro. Among the founding members were the revolutionary syndicalist leaders Agostino Lanzillo and Michele Bianchi.
In 1921, the fascists developed a program that called for:
As the movement evolved, several of these initial ideas were abandoned and rejected.
Mussolini's fascist state was established nearly a decade before Hitler's rise to power. Both a movement and a historical phenomenon, Italian Fascism was, in many respects, an adverse reaction to both the apparent failure of laissez-faire economics and fear of the Left. Trends in intellectual history, such as the breakdown of positivism and the general fatalism of postwar Europe, were also a concern.
Fascism was, to an extent, a product of a general feeling of anxiety and fear among the middle class of postwar Italy. This fear arose from a convergence of interrelated economic, political, and cultural pressures. Under the banner of this authoritarian and nationalistic ideology, Mussolini was able to exploit fears regarding the survival of capitalism in an era in which postwar depression, the rise of a more militant left, and a feeling of national shame and humiliation stemming from Italy's 'mutilated victory' at the hands of the World War I postwar peace treaties seemed to converge. Such unfulfilled nationalistic aspirations tainted the reputation of liberalism and constitutionalism among many sectors of the Italian population. In addition, such democratic institutions had never grown to become firmly rooted in the young nation-state.
This same postwar depression heightened the allure of Marxism among an urban proletariat who were even more disenfranchised than their continental counterparts. But fear of the growing strength of trade unionism, Communism, and socialism proliferated among the elite and the middle class. In a way, Benito Mussolini filled a political vacuum. Fascism emerged as a "third way" — as Italy's last hope to avoid imminent collapse of the 'weak' Italian liberalism, and Communist revolution.
While failing to outline a coherent program, fascism evolved into a new political and economic system that combined corporatism, totalitarianism, nationalism, and anti-Communism in a state designed to bind all classes together under a capitalist system. This was a new capitalist system, however, one in which the state seized control of the organization of vital industries. Under the banners of nationalism and state power, Fascism seemed to synthesize the glorious Roman past with a futuristic utopia.
The appeal of this movement, the promise of a more orderly capitalism during an era of interwar depression, however, was not isolated to Italy, or even Europe. For example, a decade later, the Great Depression led to a sharp economic downturn of the Brazilian economy. A sort of quasi-fascism emerged as a reaction to Brazil's own socio-economic problems and nationalistic consciousness of its peripheral status in the global economy. The regime of Getulio Vargas adopted extensive fascist influence and entered into an alliance with Integralism, Brazil's local fascist movement.
Founded as a nationalist association (the Fasci di Combattimento) of World War I veterans in Milan on March 23, 1919, Mussolini's fascist movement converted itself into a national party (the Partito Nazionale Fascista) after winning 35 seats in the parliamentary elections of May 1921. Initially combining ideological elements of both left and right, it aligned itself with the forces of conservatism by opposing the September 1920 factory occupations.
Despite the themes of social and economic reform in the initial Fascist manifesto of June 1919, the movement came to be supported by sections of the middle class fearful of socialism and communism. Industrialists and landowners supported the movement as a defence against labour militancy. Under threat of a fascist March on Rome, in October 1922, Mussolini assumed the premiership of a right-wing coalition Cabinet initially including members of the pro-church Partito Popolare (People's Party).
The transition to outright dictatorship was more gradual than in Germany a decade later, though in July 1923 a new electoral law all but assured a Fascist parliamentary majority. The murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti eleven months later showed the limits of political opposition. By 1926, opposition movements had been outlawed, and in 1928, election to parliament was restricted to fascist-approved candidates.
The regime's most lasting political achievement was perhaps the Lateran Treaty of February 1929 between the Italian state and the Holy See. Under this treaty, the Papacy was granted temporal sovereignty over the Vatican City and guaranteed the free exercise of Catholicism as the sole state religion throughout Italy in return for its acceptance of Italian sovereignty over the Pope's former dominions.
Trade unions and employers' associations were reorganized by 1934 into 22 fascist corporations combining workers and employers by economic sector, whose representatives in 1938 replaced the parliament as the "Chamber of Corporations". Power continued to be vested in the Fascist Grand Council, the ruling body of the movement.
In the 1930s, Italy recovered from the Great Depression, and achieved economic growth in part by developing domestic substitutes for imports (Autarchia). The draining of the malaria-infested Pontine Marshes south of Rome was one of the regime's proudest boasts. But growth was undermined by international sanctions following Italy's October 1935 invasion of Ethiopia (the Abyssinia crisis), and by the government's costly military support for Franco's Nationalists in Spain.
International isolation and their common involvement in Spain brought about increasing diplomatic collaboration between Italy and Nazi Germany. This was reflected also in the Fascist regime's domestic policies as the first anti-semitic laws were passed in 1938.
Italy's intervention (June 10th 1940) as Germany's ally in World War II brought military disaster, and resulted in the loss of her north and east African colonies and the American-British-Canadian invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and southern Italy in September 1943.
Mussolini was dismissed as prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III on July 25th 1943, and subsequently arrested. He was freed in September by German paratroopers and installed as head of a puppet "Italian Social Republic" at Salo in German-occupied northern Italy. His association with the German occupation regime eroded much of what little support remained to him. His summary execution on April 28th 1945 during the war's violent closing stages by the northern partisans was widely seen as a fitting end to his regime.
After the war, the remnants of Italian fascism largely regrouped under the banner of the neo-Fascist "Italian Social Movement" (MSI). The MSI merged in 1994 with conservative former Christian Democrats to form the "National Alliance" (AN), which proclaims its commitment to constitutionalism, parliamentary government and political pluralism.
Nazism and fascism
Nazism may be considered either a type of fascism or a notable offshoot of fascism. It differed from Italian fascism in the emphasis on the state's purpose in serving a racial rather than a national ideal, specifically the social engineering of culture to the ends of the greatest possible prosperity for the so-called "Master Race" at the expense of all else and all others. In contrast, Mussolini's fascism held that cultural factors existed to serve the state, and that it wasn't necessarily in the state's interest to serve or engineer any of these particulars within its sphere. The only purpose of government under fascism proper was to uphold the state as supreme above all else, and for these reasons it can be said to have been a governmental statolatry.
While Nazism was a metapolitical ideology, seeing both party and government as a means to achieve an ideal condition of its people, fascism was a squarely anti-socialist form of statism that existed as an end in and of itself. The Nazi movement, at least in its overt ideology, spoke of class-based society as the enemy, and wanted to unify the racial element above established classes. The Fascist movement, on the other hand, sought to preserve the class system and uphold it as the foundation of established and desirable culture. This underlying theorem made the Fascists and Nazis in the period between the two world wars see themselves and their respective political labels as at least partially exclusive of one another.
Fascism versus socialism
Fascism developed in opposition to socialism and communism, although some early Fascists were themselves former Marxists. In 1923, Mussolini declared in The Doctrine of Fascism:
- ... Fascism [is] the complete opposite of... Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of the history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production....
- Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied - the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society....
- ... "The maxim that society exists only for the well-being and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to be in conformity with nature's plans.... If classical liberalism spells individualism," Mussolini continued, "Fascism spells government."
- --Benito Mussolini, public domain, from The Internet Modern History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html)
While certain types of socialism may superficially appear to be similar to fascism, it should be noted that the two ideologies clash violently on many issues. The role of the state, for example: socialism considers the state to be merely a "tool of the people," sometimes calling it a "necessary evil," which exists to serve the interests of the people and to protect the common good. (Certain forms of libertarian socialism reject the state altogether.) Meanwhile, fascism holds the state to be an end in and of itself, which the people should obey and serve, rather than the other way around.
Fascism rejects the central tenets of Marxism, which are class struggle, and the need to replace capitalism with a society run by the working class in which the workers own the means of production.
A fascist government is usually characterized as "extreme right-wing," and a socialist government as "left-wing". Others such as Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Hayek argue that the differences between fascism and totalitarian forms of socialism (see Stalinism) are more superficial than actual, since those self-proclaimed "socialist" governments did not live up to their claims of serving the people and respecting democratic principles. Many socialists and communists also reject those totalitarian governments, seeing them as fascism with a socialist mask. (See political spectrum and political model for more on these ideas.)
Socialists and other critics of Arendt and Hayek maintain that there is no ideological overlap between Fascism and Marxism; they regard the two as utterly distinct. Since Marxism is the ideological basis of Communism, they argue that the comparisons drawn by Arendt and others are invalid.
Mussolini completely rejected the Marxist concept of class struggle or the Marxist thesis that the working class must expropriate the means of production.
Mussolini wrote in his 1932 treatise, The Doctrine of Fascism (ghostwritten by Giovanni Gentile): "Outside the State there can be neither individuals nor groups (political parties, associations, syndicates, classes). Therefore Fascism is opposed to Socialism, which confines the movement of history within the class struggle and ignores the unity of classes established in one economic and moral reality in the State." 1 (http://www.constitution.org/tyr/mussolini.htm)
Italian fascist leader Mussolini's own origin on the left, as a former leader of the more radical wing of the Italian Socialist Party, has frequently been noted. After his turn to the right, Mussolini continued to employ much of the rhetoric of socialism, substituting the nation for social class as the basis of political loyalty. These rhetorical devices seem to have been the last remnants of Mussolini's non-fascist past.
It is also frequently noted that Fascist Italy did not nationalize any industries or capitalist entities. Rather, it established a corporatist structure influenced by the model for class relations put forward by the Catholic Church. Indeed, there is a lot of literature on the influence of Catholicism on fascism and the links between the clergy and fascist parties in Europe before and during World War II.
Although Italian fascism proclaimed its antithesis to socialism, Mussolini's own history in the socialist movement had some influence on him. Elements of the practice of socialist movements he retained were:
- the need for a mass party;
- the importance of building support among the working class; and
- techniques relating to the dissemination of ideas, such as the use of propaganda.
The original Fascist Manifesto contained within it a number of proposals for reforms that were also common among socialist and democratic movements and were designed to appeal to the working class. These promises were generally disregarded once the fascists took power.
Critics point out that Marxists and trade unionists were the first targets, and the first victims, of both Mussolini and Adolf Hitler once they came to power. They also note the antagonistic relationship which resulted in street fights between fascists and socialists, including:
A more serious manifestation of the conflict between fascism and socialism was the Spanish Civil War, mentioned earlier in this article.
Fascism did not spring forth full-grown, and the writings of Fascist theoreticians cannot be taken as a full description of Mussolini's ideology, let alone how specific situations inevitably resulted in deviations from ideology. Mussolini's policies drew on both the history of the Italian nation and the philosophical ideas of the 19th century. What resulted was neither logical nor well defined, to the extent that Mussolini defined it as "action and mood, not doctrine".
Nonetheless, certain ideas are clearly visible. The most obvious is nationalism. The last time Italy had been a great nation was under the banner of the Roman Empire and Italian nationalists always saw this as a period of glory. Given that even other European nations with imperial ambitions had often invoked ancient Rome in their architecture and vocabulary, it was perhaps inevitable that Mussolini would do the same.
Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy had not again been united until its unification in 1870 by Cavour. Mussolini desired to affirm an Italian national identity and therefore saw the unification as the first step towards returning Italy to greatness and often exploited the unification and the achievements of leading figures such as Garibaldi to induce a sense of Italian national pride.
The Fascist cult of national rebirth through a strong leader has roots in the romantic movement of the 19th century, as does the glorification of war. For example, the loss of the war with Abyssinia had been a great humiliation to Italians and consequently it was the first place targetted for Italian expansion under Mussolini.
Not all ideas of fascism originated from the 19th century; some find their origins in the 20th century; for example, the use of systematic propaganda to pass on simple slogans such as "believe, obey, fight" and Mussolini's use of the radio. Similarly, Mussolini's corporate state was a distinctly 20th-century creation.
Layton describes Fascism as "not even a rational system of thought", and as "unique but not original".
Fascism and other totalitarian regimes
Some historians and theorists regard fascism and "Soviet Communism" (or more specifically, Stalinism) as being similar, lumping them together under the term "totalitarianism". Others see them as being so dissimilar as to be utterly incomparable.
According to the libertarian Nolan chart, "fascism" occupies a place on the political spectrum as the capitalist equivalent of communism, wherein a system that supports "economic liberty" is constrained by its social controls such that it becomes totalitarian.
Hannah Arendt and other theorists of totalitarian rule argue that there are similarities between nations under Fascist and Stalinist rule. They condemn both groups as dictatorships and totalitarian police states. For example, both Hitler and Stalin committed the mass murder of millions of their country's civilians who did not fit in with their plans.
In 1947, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises published a short book entitled "Planned Chaos". He asserted that fascism and Nazism were socialist dictatorships and that both had been committed to the Soviet principle of dictatorship and violent oppression of dissenters. He argued that Mussolini's major heresy from Marxist orthodoxy had been his strong endorsement of Italian entry into World War I on the Allied side. (Mussolini aimed to "liberate" Italian-speaking areas under Austrian control in the Alps.) This view contradicts the statements of Mussolini himself (not to mention his socialist opponents), and is generally viewed with skepticism by historians. Critics of von Mises often argue that he was attacking a Straw Man; in other words, that he changed the definition of "socialism" in his book, for the precise purpose of accommodating fascism and nazism into it.
Mussolini imprisoned Antonio Gramsci from 1926 until 1934, after Gramsci, a leader of the Italian Communist Party and leading Marxist intellectual, tried to create a common front among the political left and the workers, in order to resist and overthrow fascism. Other Italian Communist leaders like Palmiro Togliatti went into exile and fought for the Republic in Spain.
The Marxist concept of dictatorship of the proletariat alluded to by Von Mises is not the same as the dictatorship concept employed by fascists. Dictatorship of the proletariat is supposed to mean workers' democracy, or dictatorship by the working class, rather than dictatorship by the capitalist class. This concept had been distorted under Stalin to mean dictatorship by the General Secretary over the party and the working class. In this, Stalin deviated from Marx, and therefore it cannot be said that the Stalinist form of government is Marxist.
The fascist economic model of corporatism promoted class collaboration by attempting to bring classes together under the unity of the state, a concept that is anathema to socialism.
The interwar fascist states, the USSR, and the Soviet bloc, were police states. Many other one-party states can be said to be police states, but the common denominator is not that they are fascist or socialist. Many one-party states (including some capitalist one-party states) have also been police states. A few examples:
Conversely, there have been multi-party socialist states that have not been police states.
Arguments over this issue are lengthy and contentious, and can be reviewed in the articles on Nazism and socialism, and Fascism vs. socialism.
Fascism and Communism are political systems that rose to prominence after World War I. Historians of the period between World War I and World War II such as E.H. Carr and Eric Hobsbawm point out that liberalism was under serious stress in this period and seemed to be a doomed philosophy. The success of the Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in a revolutionary wave across Europe. The socialist movement worldwide split into separate social democratic and Leninist wings. The subsequent formation of the Third International prompted serious debates within social democratic parties, resulting in supporters of the Russian Revolution splitting to form Communist Parties in most industrialized (and many non-industrialized) countries.
At the end of World War I, there were attempted socialist uprisings or threats of socialist uprisings throughout Europe, most notably in Germany, where the Spartacist uprising, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in January 1919, was eventually crushed. In Bavaria, Communists successfully overthrew the government and established the Munich Soviet Republic that lasted from 1918 to 1919. A short lived Hungarian Soviet Republic was also established under Béla Kun in 1919.
The Russian Revolution also inspired attempted revolutionary movements in Italy with a wave of factory occupations. Most historians view fascism as a response to these developments, as a movement that both tried to appeal to the working class and divert them from Marxism. It also appealed to capitalists as a bulwark against Bolshevism. Italian fascism took power with the blessing of Italy's king after years of leftist-led unrest led many conservatives to fear that a communist revolution was inevitable.
Throughout Europe, numerous aristocrats, conservative intellectuals, capitalists and industrialists lent their support to fascist movements in their countries that emulated Italian fascism. In Germany, numerous right-wing nationalist groups arose, particularly out of the post-war Freikorps, which were used to crush both the Spartacist uprising and the Munich Soviet.
With the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s, it seemed that liberalism and the liberal form of capitalism were doomed, and Communist and fascist movements swelled. These movements were bitterly opposed to each other and fought frequently, the most notable example of this conflict being the Spanish Civil War. This war became a proxy war between the fascist countries and their international supporters — who backed Franco — and the worldwide Communist movement allied uneasily with anarchists and Trotskyists — who backed the Popular Front — and were aided chiefly by the Soviet Union.
Initially, the Soviet Union supported a coalition with the western powers against Nazi Germany and popular fronts in various countries against domestic fascism. This policy was largely unsuccessful due to the distrust shown by the western powers (especially Britain) towards the Soviet Union. The Munich Agreement between Germany, France and Britain heightened Soviet fears that the western powers were endeavoring to force them to bear the brunt of a war against Nazism. The lack of eagerness on the part of the British during diplomatic negotiations with the Soviets served to make the situation even worse. The Soviets changed their policy and negotiated a non-aggression pact known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939. Vyacheslav Molotov claims in his memoirs that the Soviets believed this was necessary to buy them time to prepare for an expected war with Germany. Stalin expected the Germans not to attack until 1942, but the pact ended in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. Fascism and communism reverted to being lethal enemies. The war, in the eyes of both sides, was a war between ideologies.
Fascism and the Catholic Church
Another controversial topic is the relationship between fascist movements and the Catholic Church. As mentioned above, Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum anticipated much of the doctrine that became known as fascism. Forty years later, the corporatist tendencies of Rerum Novarum were underscored by Pope Pius XI's May 25, 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which restated the hostility of Rerum Novarum to both unbridled competition and class struggle.
In the early 1920s, the Catholic party in Italy (Partito Popolare) was in the process of forming a coalition with the Reform Party that could have stabilized Italian politics and thwarted Mussolini's projected coup. On October 2, 1922, Pope Pius XI circulated a letter ordering clergy not to identify themselves with the Partito Popolare, but to remain neutral, an act that undercut the party and its alliance against Mussolini. Following Mussolini's rise to power, the Vatican's Secretary of State met Il Duce in early 1923 and agreed to dissolve the Partito Popolare, which Mussolini saw as obstacle to fascist rule. In exchange, the fascists made guarantees regarding Catholic education and institutions.
In 1924, following the murder of the leader of the Socialist Party by fascists, the Partito Popolare joined with the Socialist Party in demanding that the King dismiss Mussolini as Prime Minister, and stated their willingness to form a coalition government. Pius XI responded by warning against any coalition between Catholics and socialists. The Vatican ordered all priests to resign from the Partito Popolare and from any positions they held in it. This led to the party's disintegration in rural areas where it relied on clerical assistance.
The Vatican subsequently established Catholic Action as a non-political lay organization under the direct control of bishops. The organization was forbidden by the Vatican to participate in politics, and thus was not permitted to oppose the fascist regime. Pius XI ordered all Catholics to join Catholic Action. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of Catholics withdrawing from the Partito Popolare, and joining the apolitical Catholic Action. This caused the Catholic Party's final collapse.  (http://www.cephas-library.com/catholic/catholic_vatican_in_world_politics_chpt_9.html)
When Mussolini ordered the closure of Catholic Action in May 1931, Pius XI issued an encyclical, Non abbiamo bisogno. This document stated the Catholic Church's opposition to the dissolution, and argued that the order "unmasked the 'pagan' intentions of the Fascist state". Under international pressure, Mussolini decided to compromise, and Catholic Action was saved.
Aside from doctrinal similarities, the relationship between the Church and fascist movements in various countries has been very close. An early example is Austria which developed a quasi-fascist au