What is Fascism?
The term fascism is derived from the fasces of ancient Rome, a bundle of rods with a projecting axe symbolizing unity and authority, which was adopted by Benito Mussolini for his new Italian political movement in the 1920s. The other fascist parties created in the years between the First and Second World Wars were those led by Adolf Hitler in Germany and General Francisco Franco in Spain. Fascist governments were also installed in much of central Europe before and during the Second World War. As the full name of Hitler’s party (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party) suggests, some appeal to working-class solidarity, of a largely populist nature, was common to most fascist movements. (The creator of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, had been a junior minister in a Labor government.)
There is no coherent body of political doctrine that can be attributed to fascism because all fascist movements were opportunistic, and depended on demagogic exploitation of local fears and hatreds to whip up public support. The most common themes were nationalism, often expressed in essentially racist tones as away of building national unity in the face of class divisions, anti-communism and a hatred and contempt for democracy—even if its institutions had been used to gain power. This latter view was usually linked to a well developed theme of the need for firm leadership, the appeal being to the strong man (Duce in Italian, Fu¨hrer in German and Caudillo in Spanish) who would solve a country’s problems as long as he was given loyal and unquestioning obedience. Post-war outbreaks of fascism have been few, and unsuccessful, and the tendency to assume that any right-wing group, especially if it has nationalistic overtones, is fascist is a debasement of political vocabulary (see neo-fascism and new right or alt-right (alt-lice)).
Fascism was almost certainly a demagogic response to a particular historical context, and as a label the word has very little place in our contemporary set of political categories. However, in the mouths of modern radicals a fascist is simply anyone whom they think is fairly right-wing. It has also come to be applied to anyone of extreme views, especially if verbal or physical violence is used by such a person as a political weapon. Hence one sometimes hears references to ‘the fascism of the left’ as well as to that of the right.
The Routledge Dictionary of Politics, David Robertson, Third Edition