Fascism in Europe

Benito Mussolini giving the Roman salute standing next to Adolf Hitler

Fascism in Europe was composed of numerous ideologies present during the 20th century which all developed their own differences from each other. Fascism was born in Italy and subsequently, across Europe several movements which took influence from it emerged. Purists assert that the term "Fascism" should only be used in relation to the National Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini in Italy.

However, commonly the following European ideologies are also described as forms of, or strongly related to fascism:

The most striking difference is the racialist and anti-Semitic ideology present in Nazism but not the other ideologies. Fascism was founded on the principle of nationalist unity, against the divisionist class war ideology of Socialism and Communism. Thus the majority of the regimes viewed racialism as counter productive to unity, with Mussolini asserting that "National pride has no need of the delirium of race".[1]

Italian Fascism was expansionist in its desires, looking to create a New Roman Empire. As was Nazi Germany, who looked to expand its borders. The same cannot be said for the other ideologies who focused almost exclusively on internal matters. This led to some countries, such as Spain or Portugal, remaining neutral in World War II, rather than being Axis powers, while Metaxas's Greece fought against the Axis, due to Italy's invasion. It is widely accepted that the Nazis murdered the Austrofascist dictator, causing an uneasy relationship between Fascism and Nazism at an early stage.

The question of religion also poses considerable conflicting differences, some forms of fascism, particularly the Falange and Estado Novo were devoutly Christian. Thus the occultist and pagan elements of Nazism, were directly opposed to the Christian element found in the vast majority of fascism movements of the 20th century.

Early relationship

Mussolini and Hitler were not always allies. While Mussolini wanted the expansion of fascist ideology throughout the world, he did not initially appreciate Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler was an early admirer of Mussolini and asked for Mussolini's guidance in how the Nazis could pull off their own March on Rome.[2] Mussolini did not respond to Hitler's requests; he did not have much interest in Hitler's movement and regarded Hitler to be somewhat crazy.[3] Mussolini did attempt to read Mein Kampf to find out what Hitler's Nazism was but was immediately disappointed, saying that Mein Kampf was "a boring tome that I have never been able to read" and claimed that Hitler's beliefs were "little more than commonplace clichés."[4]

Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1922 had praised the rise to power of Benito Mussolini, and sought a German-Italian alliance.[5] Upon Mussolini's rise to power, the Nazis declared their admiration and emulation of the Italian Fascists, with Nazi member Hermann Esser in November 1922 saying that "what a group of brave men in Italy have done, we can also do in Bavaria. We’ve also got Italy’s Mussolini: his name is Adolf Hitler".[5]

Hitler in the second part Mein Kampf ("The National Socialist Movement," 1926) contains this passage:

I conceived the profoundest admiration for the great man south of the Alps, who, full of ardent love for his people, made no pacts with the enemies of Italy, but strove for their annihilation by all ways and means. What will rank Mussolini among the great men of this earth is his determination not to share Italy with the Marxists, but to destroy internationalism and save the fatherland from it.
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 622

In 1931, Hitler in an interview spoke admirably about Mussolini, commending Mussolini's racial origins as being the same as that of Germans, and claimed at the time that Mussolini was capable of building an Italian Empire that would outdo the Roman Empire, and that he supported Mussolini's endeavors, saying:

They know that Benito Mussolini is constructing a colossal empire which will put the Roman Empire in the shade. We shall put up ... for his victories. Mussolini is a typical representative of our Alpine race...
Adolf Hitler, 1931.[6]

Mussolini had personal reasons to oppose antisemitism: his longtime mistress and Fascist propaganda director Margherita Sarfatti was Jewish. She had played an important role in the foundation of the Fascist movement in Italy and promoting it to Italians and the world through supporting the arts. However, within the Italian Fascist movement, there were a minority who endorsed Hitler's antisemitism, as Roberto Farinacci, who was part of the far-right wing of the Party.

There were also nationalist reasons why Germany and Italy were not immediate allies. Habsburg Austria (Hitler's birthplace) had an antagonistic relationship with Italy since it was formed, largely because Austria-Hungary had seized most of the territories once belonging to Italian states such as Venice. Italian irredentist claims sought the return of these lands to Italian rule (Italia irredenta). Although initially neutral, Italy entered World War I on the side of the Allies against Germany and Austria-Hungary when promised several territories (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia). After the war had ended, Italy was rewarded with these territories under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

In Germany and Austria, the annexation of Alto Adige/South Tyrol was controversial, as the province was made up of a large majority of German speakers. While Hitler did not pursue this claim, many in the Nazi Party felt differently. In 1939 Mussolini and Hitler agreed on the South Tyrol Option Agreement. (When Mussolini's government collapsed in 1943 and the Italian Social Republic was created, Alto Adige/South Tyrol was annexed to Nazi Greater Germany, but was restored to Italy after the war).


Nazism differed from Italian fascism in that it had a stronger emphasis on race, in terms of social and economic policies. Though both ideologies denied the significance of the individual, Italian fascism saw the individual as subservient to the state, whereas Nazism saw the individual, as well as the state, as ultimately subservient to the race.[7] But subservience to the Nazi state was also a requirement on the population. Mussolini's Fascism held that cultural factors existed to serve the state, and that it was not necessarily in the state's interest to interfere in cultural aspects of society. The only purpose of government in Mussolini's fascism was to uphold the state as supreme above all else, a concept which can be described as statolatry.

Unlike Hitler, Mussolini repeatedly changed his views on the issue of race according to the circumstances of the time. In 1921, Mussolini promoted the development of the Italian race such as when he said:

The nation is not simply the sum of living individuals, nor the instrument of parties for their own ends, but an organism comprised of the infinite series of generations of which the individuals are only transient elements; it is the supreme synthesis of all the material and immaterial values of the race.
Benito Mussolini, 1921[8]

Like Hitler, Mussolini publicly declared his support of a eugenics policy to improve the status of Italians in 1926 to the people of Reggio Emilia:

We need to create ourselves; we of this epoch and this generation, because it is up to us, I tell you, to make the face of this country unrecognizable in the next ten years. In ten years comrades, Italy will be unrecognizable! We will create a new Italian, an Italian that does not recognize the Italian of yesterday...we will create them according to our own imagination and likeness.
Benito Mussolini, 1926[9]

In a 1921 speech in Bologna, Mussolini stated that "Fascism was born... out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan and Mediterranean race".[10][11] In this speech Mussolini was referring to Italians as being the Mediterranean branch of the Aryan Race, Aryan in the meaning of people of an Indo-European language and culture.[12] However Italian Fascism initially strongly rejected the common Nordicist conception of the Aryan Race that idealized "pure" Aryans as having certain physical traits that were defined as Nordic such as blond hair and blue eyes.[13] The antipathy by Mussolini and other Italian Fascists to Nordicism was over the existence of the Mediterranean inferiority complex that had been instilled into Mediterraneans by the propagation of such theories by German and Anglo-Saxon Nordicists that viewed Mediterranean peoples as racially degenerate and thus in their view inferior.[13] Mussolini refused to allow Italy to return again to this inferiority complex.[13]

In private, in a conversation with Emil Ludwig in 1932, Mussolini derided the concept of a biologically superior race and denounced racism as being a foolish concept. Mussolini did not believe that race alone was that significant. Mussolini viewed himself as a modern-day Roman Emperor, a cultural elite and wished to "Italianise" the parts of the Italian Empire he had desired to build.[14] A cultural superiority of Italians, rather than a view of racialism.[14] Mussolini believed that the development of a race was insignificant in comparison to the development of culture, but did believe that a race could be improved through moral development, but does not say that this will make a superior race:

Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. [...] National pride has no need of the delirium of race. Only a revolution and a decisive leader can improve a race, even if this is more a sentiment than a reality. But I repeat that a race can change itself and improve itself. I say that it is possible to change not only the somatic lines, the height, but really also the character. Influence of moral pressure can act deterministically also in the biological sense.
Benito Mussolini, 1932.;[15][16]

Mussolini believed that a biologically superior race was not possible, but that more developed culture's superiority over the less developed ones warrants the destruction of the latter such as Ethiopian and the neighboring Slavic, such as Slovene and Croatian. He took advantage of the fact that no undertaking about the rights of minorities in either the Treaty of Rapallo or the Treaty of Rome was given in Istria and Trieste's surroundings, and after 1924 Treaty of Rome in Rijeka; Croatian, Slovene, German and French toponyms were systematically Italianized.

Against ethnic Slovenes he was running especially violent kind of Fascist Italianization policy. To Italianize ethnic Slovene and Croatian children, Fascist Italy brought Italian teachers from Southern Italy to the ex-Austro-Hungarian territories given to Italy in exchange for joining Great Britain in First World War, such as Slovene Littoral and a big part of western Slovenia, while the Slovene and Croatian teachers, poets, writers, artists and clergy were exiled to Sardinia and elsewhere to Southern Italy. Acts of Fascist violence were not hampered by the authorities, such as the burning down of the Narodni dom (Community Hall of ethnic Slovenes in Trieste) in Trieste, carried out at night by Fascists with the connivance of the police on 13 July 1920.

After complete destruction of all Slovene minority cultural, financial and other organizations, and continuation of violent Fascist Italianization policies of ethnic cleansing, one of the first anti-Fascist organizations in Europe TIGR emerged in 1927, co-ordinating the Slovene resistance against Fascist Italy until its dismantlement by the Fascist secret police in 1941, after which some of TIGR ex-members joined Slovene Partisans.

For Mussolini, inclusion of people in a fascist society depended on their loyalty to the state. Meetings between Mussolini and Arab dignitaries from the colony of Libya convinced Mussolini that the Arab population was worthy to be given extensive civil rights, and allowed Muslims to join a Muslim section of the Fascist Party - the Muslim Association of the Lictor.[17] However under pressure from Nazi Germany, the Fascist regime eventually did take on racist ideology, such as promoting the concept of Italy settling Africa to create a white civilization in Africa[18] and handing out five-year criminal sentences for Italians caught in a sexual or marital relationship with native Africans.[19] For those colonial peoples who were not loyal, vicious repression was used, such as in Ethiopia, where in 1937, native Ethiopian settlements were burned to the ground by Italian armed forces.[20] Under Fascism, native Africans were allowed to join the Italian armed forces as colonial forces and appeared in Fascist propaganda.[21][22]

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; however, the Italian fascist movement sought to preserve the class system and uphold it as the foundation of established and desirable culture. Nevertheless, the Italian fascists did not reject the concept of social mobility, and a central tenet of the fascist state was meritocracy. Yet, fascism also heavily based itself on corporatism, which was supposed to supersede class conflicts. Despite these differences, Kevin Passmore (2002 p. 62) observes:

There are sufficient similarities between Fascism and Nazism to make it worthwhile applying the concept of fascism to both. In Italy and Germany a movement came to power that sought to create national unity through the repression of national enemies and the incorporation of all classes and both genders into a permanently mobilized nation.[23]

Nazi ideologues such as Alfred Rosenburg were highly skeptical about the Italian race and Fascism but saw an improvement of the Italian race as possible if major changes were made to convert it into an acceptable "Aryan" race, and said that the Italian Fascist movement would only succeed if it purified the Italian race into an Aryan one.[16] Nazi theorists believed that the downfall of the Roman Empire was due to interbreeding of different races which created a "polluted" Italian race which was inferior.[16]

Hitler believed this, but saw Mussolini as representing the attempt to revive the pure elements of the former Roman civilization, such as the desire to create a strong and aggressive Italian people, but Hitler was still audacious enough when meeting Mussolini for the first time in 1934 to tell him that all Mediterranean peoples were "tainted" by "Negro blood" and thus in his racist view, they were degenerate.[16]

As relations were initially poor, things grew worse after the assassination of Austria's fascist chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss by Austrian Nazis in 1934. Austria under Dollfuss was a key ally to Mussolini and Mussolini was deeply angered by Hitler's attempt to take over Austria, and angrily mocked Hitler's earlier remark on the impurity of the Italian race by declaring that a "Germanic" race did not exist and notes how Hitler's society's repression of Jews indicates that Germany did not have a pure race:

But which race? Does there exist a German race. Has it ever existed? Will it ever exist? Reality, myth, or hoax of theorists? (Another parenthesis: the theoretician of racism is a 100 percent Frenchman: Gobineau) Ah well, we respond, a Germanic race does not exist. Various movements. Curiosity. Stupor. We repeat. Does not exist. We don't say so. Scientists say so. Hitler says so.
Benito Mussolini, 1934[24]

Foreign affairs

Italian nationalist and Pan-German claims clashed over the issue of Tyrol. The region had been administered with Italy (as the province of Italia) by the Roman Empire, but had been populated primarily by ethnic Germans and part of Austrian Empire and then Austria-Hungary for centuries afterward. With the collapse of Austria in World War I, an independent Austria was no longer a serious threat to Italy, but the popularity of Pan-German nationalism in both Germany and Austria remained. The Fascist regime opposed the Nazis expansionist efforts towards Austria and supported Austria's sovereignty and promoted the adoption of fascism in the country.

In the 1920s, Hitler wanted an alliance of the Nazi movement with Mussolini's regime, and recognized that his pan-German nationalism was being seen as a threat by Italy. In Hitler's unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf, Hitler attempts to address concerns among Italian Fascists about Nazism. In the book, Hitler puts aside the issue of Germans in Tyrol by explaining that overall Germany and Italy have more in common than not and that the Tyrol Germans must accept that it is in Germany's interests to be allied with Italy. Hitler claims that Germany, like Italy was subjected to oppression by its neighbours, and he denounces the Austrian Empire as having oppressed Italy from completing national unification just as France oppressed Germany from completing its national unification. Hitler's denunciation of Austria in the book is important as Italian Fascists were skeptical about him he was born in Austria which Italy long considered to be its primary enemy for centuries and saw Germany as being an ally to Austria. By declaring that the Nazi movement was not interested in the territorial legacy of the Austrian Empire, this is a way to assure the Italian Fascists that Hitler, the Nazi movement, and Germany were not enemies of Italy.

Despite public attempts of goodwill by Hitler to Mussolini, Germany and Italy came into conflict when in 1934, when Engelbert Dollfuß, the Austrofascist leader of Italy's ally Austria, was assassinated by Austrian Nazis on Hitler's orders in preparation for a planned Anschluss (annexation of Austria). Mussolini ordered troops to the Austrian-Italian border in readiness for war against Germany. Hitler backed down and defer plans to annex Austria.

When Hitler and Mussolini first met, Mussolini referred to Hitler as "a silly little monkey" before the Allies forced Mussolini into an agreement with Hitler.

Mussolini also reportedly asked Pope Pius XII to excommunicate Hitler.

From 1934 to 1936, Hitler continually attempted to win the support of Italy; the Nazi regime endorsed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (leading to Ethiopia's annexation as Italian East Africa) while the League of Nations condemned Italian aggression. With other countries opposing Italy, the Fascist regime had no choice but to draw closer to Nazi Germany. Germany joined Italy in supporting the Falange fascist Nationalists under Francisco Franco with forces and supplies in the Spanish Civil War.

Later, Germany and Italy signed the Anti-Comintern Pact committing the two regimes to oppose the Comintern and Soviet communism. By 1938, Mussolini allowed Hitler to carry out Anschluss in exchange for official German renunciation of claims to Tyrol. Mussolini supported the annexation of the Sudetenland during the Munich Agreement talks later the same year.

In 1939, the Pact of Steel was signed, officially creating an alliance of Germany and Italy. The Nazi official newspaper Völkischer Beobachter published articles extolling the mutually benefit of the alliance:

Firmly bound together through the inner unity of their ideologies and the comprehensive solidarity of their interests, the German and the Italian people are determined also in future to stand side by side and to strive with united effort for the securing of their Lebensraum [living space] and the maintenance of peace.
Völkischer Beobachter (May 23, 1939)

Hitler and Mussolini recognized commonalities in their politics, and the second part of Hitler's Mein Kampf ("The National Socialist Movement," 1926) contains this passage:

I conceived the profoundest admiration for the great man south of the Alps, who, full of ardent love for his people, made no pacts with the enemies of Italy, but strove for their annihilation by all ways and means. What will rank Mussolini among the great men of this earth is his determination not to share Italy with the Marxists, but to destroy internationalism and save the fatherland from it.
Mein Kampf (p. 622)

Both regimes despised France (seen as an enemy which held territories claimed by both Germany and Italy) and Yugoslavia (seen by the Nazis as a racially degenerate Slavic state and holding lands such as Dalmatia claimed by the Italian Fascists). Fascist territorial claims on Yugoslav territory meant that Mussolini saw the destruction of Yugoslavia as essential for Italian expansion. Hitler viewed Slavs as racially inferior, but did not see importance in an immediate invasion of Yugoslavia, instead focusing on the threat from the Soviet Union.

Mussolini favored using the extremist Croatian nationalist Ustaše as a useful tool to tear down Yugoslavia, led by the Serbs and with a Serbian dynasty, the House of Karađorđević. In 1941, the Italian military campaign in Greece (the Greco-Italian War, called the Battle of Greece for the period after the German intervention) was failing. Hitler reluctantly began the Balkan Campaign with the invasion of Yugoslavia. German, Italian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Croatian insurgents (under the Axis puppet Independent State of Croatia) decisively defeated Yugoslavia.

In the aftermath, with the exception of Serbia and Vardar Macedonia, most of Yugoslavia was reshaped based on Italian Fascist foreign policy objectives. Mussolini demanded and received much of Dalmatia from the Croats in exchange for supporting the independence of Croatia. Mussolini's policy of creating an independent Croatia prevailed over Hitler's anti-Slavism and eventually the Nazis and the Ustashe regime of Croatia would develop closer bonds due to the Ustashe's brutal effectiveness at suppressing Serb dissidents.

See also


  1. Montagu, Ashley. Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 0-8039-4648-1.
  2. Smith, Denis Mack. 1983. Mussolini: A Biography. New York: Vintage Books. p172
  3. Smith, Denis Mack. 1983. p172
  4. Smith. 1983. p172
  5. 1 2 Christian Leitz. Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933-1941: The Road to Global War. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: P. 10.
  6. Richard Breiting, Adolf Hitler, Édouard Calic (ed.). Secret conversations with Hitler:the two newly-discovered 1931 interviews. John Day Co., 1971. Pp. 77.
  7. Grant, Moyra. Key Ideas in Politics. Nelson Thomas 2003. p. 21
  8. Gillette, Aaron. Racial Theories in Fascist Italy. London: Routledge. p39
  9. Gillette. p39
  10. Aaron Gillette. Racial Theories in Fascist Italy. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 11.
  11. Neocleous, Mark. Fascism. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. p. 35
  12. Aaron Gillette. Racial Theories in Fascist Italy. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 39.
  13. 1 2 3 Aaron Gillette. Racial Theories in Fascist Italy. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 188.
  14. 1 2 "Mussolini's Cultural Revolution: Fascist or Nationalist?". jch.sagepub.com. 8 January 2008.
  15. Montagu, Ashley. Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race|publisher=Rowman Altamira|url=https://books.google.com/books?id=tkHqP3vgYi4C&printsec=frontcover
  16. 1 2 3 4 Gillette. p42
  17. Sarti, Roland. 1974. The Ax Within: Italian Fascism in Action. New York: New Viewpoints. p190.
  18. Sarti, 1974. p189.
  19. Sarti, 1974. p190.
  20. Sarti, 1974. p191.
  21. http://www.germaniainternational.com/images/bookgijuinit13.jpg
  22. http://www.germaniainternational.com/images/bookgijuinit14.jpg
  23. http://www.cf.ac.uk/hisar/people/kp/
  24. Gillette. p45
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