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From Mussolini to the Proud Boys: A Deep Dive into the Fascist Ideology

Recent right-wing activities, including the rise of groups like the Proud Boys in the United States, have sparked concerns reminiscent of the 1920s and ’30s when fascism took root in Europe. Originating in Italy under Benito Mussolini, fascism is characterized by ultranationalism and oppressive authoritarianism, raising questions about why it became such a brutal ideology and who its most dangerous adherents were.

Origins of Fascism

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Fascism finds its roots in antiquity, with the term “fascism” deriving from the Latin word “fasces,” symbolizing power and authority. Benito Mussolini drew inspiration from the Italian word “fascio” to establish the “Fasci Italiani di Combattimento” (Italian Fasces of Combat) in 1919.

Fear of Bolshevism

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The emergence of the Italian Fasces of Combat was fueled by a deep fear of Bolshevism, the ideology introduced by Vladimir Lenin and his followers in post-1917 Russia, sparking concerns of a communist takeover across Europe.

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Benito Mussolini’s Rise

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Benito Mussolini, the founder of fascism, transitioned from leading the National Fascist Party in 1921 to becoming Italy’s prime minister in 1922. Gradually, he consolidated his power and established the world’s first fascist state.

The Global Spread of Fascism

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Mussolini, known as “Il Duce” (The Leader), played a pivotal role in inspiring and supporting fascist movements worldwide during the inter-war period, addressing massive crowds and contributing to the spread of fascism.

Italo-Abyssinian War

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In 1935, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia, marking the first military aggression by a fascist state against another nation. This act was perceived as a vengeful response to Italy’s prior humiliation in battle against Ethiopia.

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Adolf Hitler’s Admiration

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Adolf Hitler, then rising to power in Germany, admired Mussolini and modeled National Socialism on Italy’s fascist manifesto. In 1939, Nazi Germany formed the “Pact of Steel” alliance with Italy, ultimately leading to the outbreak of World War II.

Fascism Beyond Italy

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Fascism found footing in various European countries during the 1930s. Engelbert Dollfuss led Austria’s right-wing Fatherland Front, while Portugal experienced authoritarian rule under António de Oliveira Salazar’s “Estado Novo.”

Franco’s Spain

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Spain saw the rise of fascism through the Falange, founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933. General Francisco Franco’s nationalist forces triumphed in the Spanish Civil War, solidifying his dictatorship until his death in 1975.

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Fascism in France

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France witnessed nationalist movements like the Croix-de-Feu, which embraced anti-Semitic politics in 1935. After France’s fall in 1940, several French fascists served in Marshal Philippe Pétain’s Vichy regime.

Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists

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Sir Oswald Mosley introduced fascism to Great Britain with the British Union of Fascists (BUF). However, the BUF’s reputation suffered after the violent Battle of Cable Street in 1936, leading to Mosley’s imprisonment and the party’s ban.

Fascist Movements in the United States

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In the United States, groups like the Black Legion, a violent offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, aimed to establish fascism through revolution but were disbanded in 1945. The German American Bund, founded in 1936, sought to promote Nazi Germany’s favorable image among German-Americans.

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Fascism in South America

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South America also saw elements of fascism, notably in Argentina during the “Infamous Decade.” Presidents like José Félix Uriburu, Agustín Pedro Justo, Roberto María Ortiz, and Ramón Castillo were implicated in political scandals and repression.

Characteristics of Fascism

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Fascism is characterized by absolute state power, rule by a single dictator, corporatism, extreme nationalism, and a focus on military superiority. It suppresses dissent and persecutes minority groups.

Emphasis on Youth and Gender

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Fascism promotes youth and virility, with organizations like the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany and the League of German Girls instilling these values. Women’s roles were often limited to being mothers and wives.

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End of Fascism in Europe

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Fascism faced discreditation in Europe after the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, though it persisted in Franco’s Spain. Nevertheless, fascist ideas continued to linger.

Neo-Fascism Today

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Modern far-right ideology incorporates aspects of fascism, with notable movements like the British National Party and the Proud Boys, founded in 2016, carrying forward some elements of this ideology.

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