Fascism's Words AND Deeds


  John Phelan

What is fascism?

In 1968, the historian S.J. Woolf wrote:

Perhaps the word fascism should be banned, at least temporarily, from our political vocabulary. For like other large words – democracy, reactionary, radical, anarchy – it has been so misused that it has lost its original meaning; or, at least, it has been so overlaid with newer and broader connotations that the narrower, historical sense almost seems to require apologetic inverted commas.

This remains true in 2022.

Fascists themselves are partly responsible for this. “[W]e do not believe in dogmatic programmes,” Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, explained:

…we permit ourselves the luxury of being aristocratic and democratic, conservative and progressive, reactionary and revolutionary, legalists and illegalists, according to the circumstances of the moment, the place and the environment.

At one time he claimed “We are libertarians above all, loving liberty for everyone, even for our enemies,” at another, that:

…the individual exists only insofar as he is subordinated to the interests of the state, and as civilisation becomes more complex, so the liberty of the individual must be increasingly restricted.

If we cannot find fascism in the fascist’s words, we can find it in their deeds. What did they do?


Corporatism – Economic fascism

Political scientist Andrew Heywood wrote that the “distinguishing feature” of “Fascist economic thought,

…is the idea of corporatism, which Mussolini proclaimed to be the ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism…Corporatism opposes both the free market and central planning: the former leads to the unrestrained pursuit of profit by individuals, while the latter is linked to the divisive idea of class war. In contrast corporatism is based upon the belief that business and labour are bound together in an organic and socially unified whole.

To this end, 1926 saw what the historian Denis Mack Smith calls “a limited number of ‘fascist strikes’ [which] were permitted to pressurise the captains of industry into accepting state control.” In July that year:

Mussolini created a special ministry of corporations and explained that a new cooperative machinery, as well as fixing wages and conditions of work, would eventually regulate the whole economy. He thought it possible that one day the corporations would effect what would amount to compulsory recruitment of all Italian citizens for civilian work.

The following year saw the establishment of 22 corporations which represented employers, workers, and government, and were charged with overseeing the development of all the major industries in Italy. Political scientist Roger Eatwell describes how:

In 1930 a National Council of Corporations was set up, which comprised seven large worker and employer organizations. It had no legislative power, but could issue binding orders in matters concerning wages and conditions. By 1934 this had been expanded to include twenty-two sectors of the economy and social life.

In 1939, a chamber of Fasces and corporations was created to replace parliament.


Fascism in deeds, not words.

This is what fascism did. That the program substantially failed reflects more the impossibility of the goal than of any lack of will.

Corporatism was essential to Italian fascism, which “In almost every sense,” according to the historian R.J.B. Bosworth, “constituted the first and truest fascism…”. Mussolini wrote that “the fascist state is corporative or it is nothing” and called the corporations “the fascist institution par excellence”. Corporatism was embraced by the fascists in Britain and France.

We should treat anything Mussolini said with skepticism, but his deeds show that he was no libertarian and was sincere when, by contrast, he argued that:

…the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State…

The fascist’s frequently contradictory statements have enabled others to pin the label on almost anyone. And, as fascists are beyond the pale of polite politics, it has enabled almost anyone to be pushed beyond the pale.

Understanding what fascism really is matters and its deeds reveal this. It is the ideology of the all-encompassing state, seen, in economic policy, in corporatism. Not all who believe in massive state intervention in the economy are fascists, but all fascists believe in massive state intervention in the economy. You cannot be a fascist if you don’t believe in that.



Oct 28 2022 at 12:03pm

Didn’t Orwell write the same thing as Wolff 20 years earlier?

Oct 28 2022 at 1:31pm

The fascist economic vision: Isn’t it essentially communism with some private ownership of the means of production (and God help you, good industrialist, if you have your own ideas of how to run your business)? And how on earth could something like that last very long before the private ownership part was eliminated?

Scott Sumner
Oct 28 2022 at 3:08pm

Good post.  Some other important fascist traits include militarism, nationalism and authoritarianism.

Nov 1 2022 at 4:02pm

Of course, militarism and authoritarianism are common traits among communist/socialist governments also, so I’m not sure they should be listed as distinguishing traits of fascist governments.

Oct 28 2022 at 5:05pm

Perhaps the word fascism should be banned, at least temporarily, from our political vocabulary.  

Racist is another word that should be banned for the same reasons.

the “distinguishing feature” of “Fascist economic thought,…is the idea of corporatism, which Mussolini proclaimed to be the ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism…

It actually began with Italian nationalist Alfredo Rocco’s conception of corporatism as “an instrument for fostering the productive power of the nation”, where corporations were merely “organs of the state” (Halevi).  Mussolini was simply the conduit through which Rocco’s ideas were approved and enforced.  With the onset of the global depression, Italy’s government intervened on an unprecedented scale, thus becoming an accepted orthodoxy for the formation of other fascist regimes at the time, particularly in South America.

Now we’re starting to see a resurgence of European neofascism with the likes of the National Front party in France and the anti-Islamic far-right Alternative party in Germany.  The pendulum swings…

History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done. – Sydney J. Harris

Oct 28 2022 at 8:06pm

Are neo-fascists defined by their economic programme?

Oct 28 2022 at 8:45pm

If we subscribe to the notion that our actions define us, then yes.  Are criminals defined by their crimes?

I beg your pardon.  I should use “person seeking legal status” instead of “criminal” in order to center that person’s humanity.  We need to stop labelling people who commit crimes ‘criminals’

Oct 28 2022 at 9:40pm

Their political enemies probably agree with their economics. It is not for this they call them fascist but for opposing unchecked immigration and for supporting a notion of national identity.

Oct 28 2022 at 10:21pm

Their political enemies probably agree with their economics.

Some, but not all.  Fascism/neo-fascism is something of a dichotomy.  It has no uniform ideology.  It includes both pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist elements.  According to Wikipedia:

The Fascist revolution sought to change the nature of the relationship between the individual and the collective without destroying the impetus of economic activity –– the profit motive, or its foundation –– private property, or its necessary framework –– the market economy. This was one aspect of the novelty of fascism; the Fascist revolution was supported by an economy determined by the law of markets.


Thomas Lee Hutcheson
Oct 30 2022 at 11:43am

But at least in the US context, no one supports unchecked immigration or rejects a national identity.

Oct 28 2022 at 9:38pm

If fascism is to be defined by its economic program, then you must call New Deal and the Democratic Party fascist too.

However, I can’t see how the commanding heights of the national economy can fail to be coordinated with the State. By the actual record, all existing regimes merit the fascist label.

Oct 28 2022 at 10:35pm

Word choice matters, especially in these matters. Someone noted that when seeking accommodations in Italy, if you ask for “camera con doccia,” you’ll get a room with a shower—but if you accidentally ask for “camera con il duce,” you’ll get a room with Mussolini. (Maybe this was Dave Barry?)

JK Brown
Nov 1 2022 at 11:45pm

Last month I discovered the youtube channel TikHistory. He does detailed history videos, with references posted. He has videos where he digs deep into the Italian Fascism as well as the German pattern of socialism, which Mises called Zwangswirtschaft (compulsory economy). He is the first I’ve seen who distinguishes among the socialism variants, Marxist “class-based” socialism, Italian Fascist “nationality-based” socialism and the German Nazi “racial-based” socialism. His citations go back to the thought founders and he does address some of Mussolini’s deviances from the simplified doctrine.

But you have to keep in mind, we are still impacted by the 1943 Communist Party directive to their members in the US to label irritating obstructionists as “fascists”. This has been a very successful program over the last 80 years so that the labeling has become routine even for non-communists.
See video “The Communist Directive 1943: “Label Them a Nazi or Fascist””

Comments are closed.



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What is fascism? In 1968, the historian S.J. Woolf wrote: Perhaps the word fascism should be banned, at least temporarily, from our political vocabulary. For like other large words - democracy, reactionary, radical, anarchy - it has been so misused that it has lost its original meaning; or, at least, it has been so...

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