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fascism (făshˈĭzəm), totalitarian philosophy of government that glorifies the state and nation and assigns to the state control over every aspect of national life. The name was first used by the party started by Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 until the Italian defeat in World War II. However, it has also been applied to similar ideologies in other countries, e.g., to National Socialism in Germany and to the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain. The term is derived from the Latin fasces.

Characteristics of Fascist Philosophy

Fascism, especially in its early stages, is obliged to be antitheoretical and frankly opportunistic in order to appeal to many diverse groups. Nevertheless, a few key concepts are basic to it. First and most important is the glorification of the state and the total subordination of the individual to it. The state is defined as an organic whole into which individuals must be absorbed for their own and the state's benefit. This “total state” is absolute in its methods and unlimited by law in its control and direction of its citizens.

A second ruling concept of fascism is embodied in the theory of social Darwinism. The doctrine of survival of the fittest and the necessity of struggle for life is applied by fascists to the life of a nation-state. Peaceful, complacent nations are seen as doomed to fall before more dynamic ones, making struggle and aggressive militarism a leading characteristic of the fascist state. Imperialism is the logical outcome of this dogma.

Another element of fascism is its elitism. Salvation from rule by the mob and the destruction of the existing social order can be effected only by an authoritarian leader who embodies the highest ideals of the nation. This concept of the leader as hero or superman, borrowed in part from the romanticism of Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Carlyle, and Richard Wagner, is closely linked with fascism's rejection of reason and intelligence and its emphasis on vision, creativeness, and “the will.”

The Fascist State

Fascism has found adherents in all countries. Its essentially vague and emotional nature facilitates the development of unique national varieties, whose leaders often deny indignantly that they are fascists at all. In its dictatorial methods and in its use of brutal intimidation of the opposition by the militia and the secret police, fascism does not greatly distinguish itself from other despotic and totalitarian regimes. There are particular similarities with the Communist regime in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. However, unlike Communism, fascism abhors the idea of a classless society and sees desirable order only in a state in which each class has its distinct place and function. Representation by classes (i.e., capital, labor, farmers, and professionals) is substituted for representation by parties, and the corporative state is a part of fascist dogma.

Although Mussolini's and Hitler's governments tended to interfere considerably in economic life and to regulate its process, there can be no doubt that despite all restrictions imposed on them, the capitalist and landowning classes were protected by the fascist system, and many favored it as an obstacle to socialization. On the other hand, the state adopted a paternalistic attitude toward labor, improving its conditions in some respects, reducing unemployment through large-scale public works and armament programs, and controlling its leisure time through organized activities.

Many of these features were adopted by the Franco regime in Spain and by quasi-fascist dictators in Latin America (e.g., Juan Perón) and elsewhere. A variation of fascism was the so-called clerico-fascist system set up in Austria under Engelbert Dollfuss. This purported to be based on the social and economic doctrines enunciated by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, which, however, were never put into operation.

See totalitarianism.


Origins of Fascism

While socialism (particularly Marxism) came into existence as a clearly formulated theory or program based on a specific interpretation of history, fascism introduced no systematic exposition of its ideology or purpose other than a negative reaction against socialist and democratic egalitarianism. The growth of democratic ideology and popular participation in politics in the 19th cent. was terrifying to some conservative elements in European society, and fascism grew out of the attempt to counter it by forming mass parties based largely on the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie, exploiting their fear of political domination by the lower classes. Forerunners of fascism, such as Georges Boulanger in France and Adolf Stöker and Karl Lueger in Germany and Austria, in their efforts to gain political power played on people's fears of revolution with its subsequent chaos, anarchy, and general insecurity. They appealed to nationalist sentiments and prejudices, exploited anti-Semitism, and portrayed themselves as champions of law, order, Christian morality, and the sanctity of private property.

Emergence after World War I

The Russian Revolution (1917), the collapse of the Central Powers in 1918, and the disorders caused by Communist attempts to seize power in Germany, Italy, Hungary, and other countries greatly strengthened fascism's appeal to many sections of the European populace. In Italy, particularly, social unrest was combined with nationalist dissatisfaction over the government's failure to reap the promised fruits of victory after World War I. The action of Gabriele D'Annunzio in seizing Fiume (Rijeka) was one manifestation of the discontent existing in Italy. Appealing to the masses and especially to the lower middle class through demagogic promises of order and social justice, the fascists could depend upon support, financial and otherwise, from vested interests, who could not muster such popularity themselves.

Governmental paralysis enabled Mussolini in 1922 to obtain the premiership by a show of force. As leader of his National Fascist party, he presented himself as the strong-armed savior of Italy from anarchy and Communism. Borrowing from Russian Communism a system of party organization based on a strict hierarchy and cells, which became typical of fascism everywhere, he made use of an elite party militia—the Black Shirts—to crush opposition and to maintain his power.

In Germany at about the same time a fascist movement similar to that in Italy steadily gathered strength; it called itself the National Socialist German Workers' party (Nazi party). Its leader, Adolf Hitler, won support from a middle class ruined by inflation, from certain elements of the working class, especially the unemployed, and from discontented war veterans; he also gained the backing of powerful financial interests, to whom he symbolized stability and order. However, it was not until 1933 that Hitler could carry through his plans for making Germany a fascist state and the National Socialists the sole legal party in the country.

The military aggression so inherent in fascist philosophy exploded in the Italian invasion (1935) of Ethiopia, the attack (1936) of the Spanish fascists (Falangists) on their republican government (see Spanish civil war), and Nazi Germany's systematic aggression in Central and Eastern Europe, which finally precipitated (1939) World War II.

Fascism since World War II

The Italian Social Movement (MSI), a minor neofascist party, was formed in Italy in 1946. It won wider support when the pervasive corruption of the governing parties was exposed in the early 1990s, and it became a partner in the conservative government formed after the 1994 elections. In 1995, however, the MSI dissolved itself as it was transformed into a new party headed by former MSI leader Gianfranco Fini and including the majority of former MSI members. Fini's right-wing National Alliance rejected fascist ideology, including anti-Semitism, and embraced democracy as one of its principles and has participated in center-right governing coalitions.

In postwar West Germany, neofascism appeared in the form of the temporary growth of the nationalistic National Democratic party in the mid-1960s. Following German reunification, neo-Nazi groups in the country gained increased prominence, with new members being drawn to the organization as a result of social upheaval and economic dislocation, and the nation experienced an increase in related violence, especially attacks on immigrants and foreigners. Neo-Nazi groups also exist on a small scale in the United States, and right-wing nationalistic movements and parties in countries such as France, Russia, and some republics of the former Yugoslavia have political groups with elements of fascism. For many of these parties, however, ethnic and racial animosity is often more significant than fascist philosophy.


See H. Finer, Mussolini's Italy (1935, repr. 1965); R. Albrecht-Carrié, Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini (1961); H. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (rev. ed. 1966); W. Laqueur and G. Mosse, ed., International Fascism (1966); W. Ebenstein, Today's Isms (7th ed. 1973); H. Lubasz, ed., Fascism: Three Major Regimes (1973); O. E. Schuddekopf, Fascism (1973); S. Larsen, ed., Who Were the Fascists? (1981); D. Muhlberger, ed., The Social Basis of European Fascist Movements (1987); G. L. Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


a political ideology forming the basis of political parties and movements which emerged in Europe between the two world wars, which was the basis of the extreme nationalist governments of Italy 1922-43 and Germany 1933-45, and has been continued through parties in many countries since the 1940s. Unlike other political ideologies of the 20th-century, fascism has no large body of systematic intellectual work elaborating its political philosophy, in part because anti-intellectualism is a constituent element of the ideology, so the tenets of fascism are not clearly delineated. One basis, however, is the preference for voluntarism over determinism or materialism, leading to the view that the human will, particularly as exercised by the strong leader, can overcome structural obstacles and make possible what others would see as impossible. This view has affinities with the philosophical writings of Friedrich NIETZSCHE, from whose work German fascists drew.

The following are some of the main constituents in fascist writings and actions: extreme racist nationalism linked with territorial expansion; virulent anti-communism combined with intolerance of most other political ideologies and independent working-class organizations; the open use and glorification of physical violence and terror against these groups; a reliance on a mass party organized around a powerful leadership, and once in power engaged in most areas of civil life and depending on continual mass mobilization to sustain support for the leadership; the glorification of militarism, the cult of the presumed masculine virtues, with women defined mainly as mothers and supporters of men; predominant support from the middle classes who are the main, though not exclusive, mass support.

The experience of fascism varies. The vicious ANTI-SEMITISM of the German Nazi party was not found originally in Mussolini's Italy. In postwar Europe, fascist parties have been less open on anti-Semitism, their racism more commonly being expressed against people of non-European origin. However, British fascists in their party writings claim that postwar immigration into Britain from the Commonwealth was promoted by Zionists to weaken the racial stock, and anti-Semitism has been a persistent feature of fascist organization and thought elsewhere.

Fascism is a specifically 20th-century phenomenon: unlike earlier 19th-century authoritarian and militaristic governments, it depends on the use of mass party organizations both to come to power and to sustain itself in power. The biological notions of race upon which it builds were only developed in the latter half of the 19th century and had widespread acceptance in Europe in the early part of the 20th century, for example in the EUGENICS movement. NATIONALISM, too, was developed as the basis of political organization and mobilization from the mid-19th century Despite these continuities with other general intellectual and political thought, fascism is often thought of as unique in its association of racism, nationalism, mass mobilization and expansionism in such a violent form.

Explanations for the emergence of fascism continue to be the subject of extensive debate. The debates centre around the role of socioeconomic forces linked to the crisis of Western capitalism in the aftermath of World War I; the specific political characters of Germany and Italy with relatively late emergence of national unity and parliamentary democracy; the general problems of industrial modernization which give rise to social crises at particular points of transition, especially from small-scale competitive capitalism to large-scale and wider industrial capitalism; and the psychological motivation of fascist leaders and their supporters (see AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY). See Kitchen (1976) for a general discussion, and Kershaw (1989) for the debates on Germany. See also NATIONAL SOCIALISM, HOLOCAUST.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a political trend that arose in the capitalist countries at the time of the general crisis of capitalism, reflecting the interests of the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the imperalist bourgeoisie. Fascist rule consists of a terrorist dictatorship, headed by the most reactionary forces of monopoly capital and implemented for the purpose of preserving the capitalist system.

The major distinguishing features of fascism are the application of extreme forms of violence to suppress the working class and all those who labor; militant anticommunism, chauvinism, and racism; extensive use of state-monopoly methods to regulate the economy; maximum control over all aspects of citizens’ public and private lives; a system of connective links with that sizable portion of the population which does not belong to the ruling classes; and the capacity to mobilize that same portion of the population through nationalistic and social demagoguery, activating it politically to promote interests of the exploitative class. (Fascism, in fact, has its mass base principally among the middle strata of capitalist society.) Fascism’s foreign policy is one of imperalist conquest.

The common traits inherent in fascism as a political trend do not exclude the existence of different forms of facism; the form frequently depends on the predominance of either political or militarist forces. Military-fascist regimes are those in which the military forces are predominant.

In its struggle to create a mass social base, fascism promoted the “fascist ideology,” which made extensive use of previously existing reactionary views and theories, including the racist ideas of J. A. de Gobineau, G. V. de Lapouge, and H. Chamberlain, the antidemocratic concepts of F. Nietzsche and O. Spengler, and such ideologies as anti-Semitism, geopolitics, and Pan-Germanism.

The central ideas in fascist ideology are military expansionism, racial inequality, “class harmony” (the theory of the “folk community” and the “corporate state”), the “Führer principle,” and the omnipotence of the state machine (the “total state” theory). These ideas were expressed in their most concentrated form in A. Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925). An essential trait of the ideology of fascism is the blatant demagoguery it uses to mask its true contents, as was done—to cite a particular example—in the case of fascism’s exploitation of the popularity enjoyed by socialism among the masses.

Having originated as a reaction to the revolutionary upsurge heralded by the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, fascism became a fierce and dangerous enemy of progressive mankind and, above all, of the international revolutionary workers’ movement. The first organized fascist groups, which arose in Italy in the spring of 1919, were semimilitary squads of nationalist-minded veterans. In October 1922 the fascists—by now a major political force—staged an armed “march on Rome.” The march was used as a pretext by Italy’s ruling circles, who on Oct. 31, 1922, named to the post of prime minister the duce (leader) of the Italian fascists, B. Mussolini. Over the succeeding four years the fascist leadership gradually abolished bourgeois-democratic liberties, establishing an all-powerful fascist oligarchy.

During the 1930’s, Italy was transformed into a corporate state, which facilitated the militarization of the Italian economy. The liquidation of the democratic trade-union movement was accompanied by the loss of hard-won economic and political gains on the part of the working class. Mussolini’s government turned more and more toward a policy of imperialist expansion. In 1935, fascist Italy went to war against Ethiopia. After occupying that country in 1936, Italy allied itself with the interventionists and fought against republican Spain from 1936 to 1939. In 1939 it seized Albania, and in October 1940 it attacked Greece, having already declared war on France in June of that year and having thereby entered World War II (1939–45). In the course of the war, Italy’s fascist regime suffered a crushing defeat in 1943.

The fascist National Socialist Party of Germany was formed in 1919. Officially called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, it reflected the attempt on the part of its organizers to exploit the German workers’ socialist leanings in the interest of extreme reaction. The political situation was becoming critical when Hitler, the Führer (leader) of the German fascists—with the support of a group of large monopolies and in alliance with influential German Army circles—was given a mandate to form a government in late January 1933. Having staged the Reichstag fire and thrown the blame on the Communists, the German fascists in the course of a few months achieved complete “unification” of the country by imposing a bloody reign of terror over all democratic and liberal movements and imprisoning and physically eliminating all actual and potential enemies of the Nazi regime. The Communist Party was banned first, to be followed by the Social Democratic Party and all the traditional bourgeois parties. All public organizations, and above all the trade unions, were dissolved; the parliament was deprived of its prerogatives, and all forms of public control over state administration were abolished.

The instruments of the Nazi-created dictatorship included a terrorist apparatus that became known for its extreme cruelty (the Sturmabteilungen, or SA, the Schutzstaffel, or SS, the Gestapo, the “people’s court,” and other fascist judicial bodies), an organizational apparatus that controlled all forms of public activity (through such organs as the National Socialist Party, the National Socialist Women’s League, the Hitler Youth, the German Labor Front, and the “Strength Through Joy” movement), and a mass propaganda apparatus (headed by the Ministry of Propaganda). In close alliance with the generals, Hitler’s government carried out the forced militarization of Germany. The course was rapidly set toward a militarized economy, to be accompanied by various forms of state-monopoly regulation—for example, state capital investment (chiefly for military purposes), tax policies, a policy of credits and planned inflation, administrative control of economic development, compulsory syndicalization or cartelization of industry, and creation of new types of monopolists’ associations.

Breaking the international agreements that limited rearmament, Germany undertook a series of aggressive actions designed to strengthen the strategic military position of German imperialism in its struggle for world domination. From 1936 to 1939, Germany joined Italy on the side of the interventionists against republican Spain. Austria was forcibly annexed by the Anschluss of 1938, and Czechoslovakia was seized and partitioned in 1938–39. With its attack on Poland in September 1939, Germany launched World War II.

From their position of power in Italy and Germany, the fascists placed under their aegis the many fascist and profascist organizations existing abroad. In some countries these organizations came to represent a serious danger for the bourgeois-democratic regimes. Between the two world wars, fascistic regimes were established in several Eastern and Central European states, including Hungary (the Horthy regime), Austria, Poland (the sanacja regime), Rumania, and the Baltic states. Assisted by Italy and Germany, the fascist movement was growing stronger in Spain; after the bloody Civil War of 1936–39, Franco’s fascist dictatorship was installed in March 1939 with the military and political support of the Italian and German interventionists. Salazar’s fascist dictatorship was by this time firmly established in Portugal.

By the mid-1930’s fascism posed a deadly threat not only for various countries’ labor and democratic movements but for all mankind as well, endangering the very existence of entire peoples. Recognizing the gravity of the threat, all those political forces that were prepared to offer resistance to fascism came together in a broad antifascist coalition. A major role in the organization of resistance was played by the Communist parties, in accordance with the resolutions adopted in 1935 by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. In carrying out the Comintern’s decisions, which called for a unified workers’ and popular front, the Communists took into account the particular circumstances facing them in each country. In the countries that were under fascist rule, the Communists assumed leadership in the antifascist underground movement.

While World War II was in progress, the fascist occupation forces implemented a meticulously worked-out program of mass extermination of people in the captured territories. It has been estimated that approximately 18 million persons, representing all the nationalities of Europe, passed through the Nazi concentration and death camps; 11 million of them were bestially murdered. The fascist terror in the occupied territories and the intentional genocide of millions of people revealed the essential and total inhumanity of fascism, drawing upon it the hatred of all the world’s peoples. The resistance movement, which arose behind the fascist lines, in the occupied territories and within the fascist countries themselves, was to undermine the military might of the fascist army and the stability of the fascist regimes.

Fascism was dealt a heavy blow in 1945, when Germany and its allies were routed by the anti-Hitler coalition—a defeat in which the USSR played a decisive role. In the postwar years, however, the ruling classes in some of the capitalist countries succeeded in keeping the rule of fascistic dictatorships alive, as they did in Spain and in Portugal. In the countries that had led the fascist bloc, the eradication of fascism was incomplete. After the end of World War II, the “cold war” led to the revival of reactionary extremism—including the fascist variety—even in those capitalist states that had been members of the anti-Hitler coalition. No less important is the continued existence in capitalist society, in our own time, of those social and political processes out of which fascism was born and which transformed it, at a given historical stage, into a highly influential force—namely, the development of state-monopoly capitalism, the growing general crisis of capitalism, and the economic and political upheavals that take place in the capitalist world.

In the capitalist countries where the ruling circles cling to traditional methods of government, the extreme right-wing opposition, at times openly fascist or semifascist in nature, has achieved varying degrees of influence; the extent to which it is effective depends on changing economic conditions as well as on the international situation. Frequently such opposition grows stronger at times of acute crisis on the national or international level, diminishing in strength during periods of lesser tension.

Fascist and semifascist elements have sometimes allied themselves with militarist forces for the purpose of seizing commanding positions by means of military coups. A coup d’etat was carried out in Greece in April 1967, and another one in Chile in September 1973. The regimes established in these countries were terrorist military-fascist dictatorships. Much earlier, in 1954, a terrorist dictatorship had firmly established itself in Paraguay. In many other Latin American countries, too, the reactionary military cliques are highly influential in both domestic and foreign policy.

Under today’s new conditions, the fascist forces not unexpectedly have adopted a new image, often seeking to divorce themselves from a compromising association with former fascist movements. “Neofascism” is therefore the term more commonly used in speaking of fascism today. As the general crisis of capitalism becomes more acute, the neofascist forces make extensive use of the so-called strategy of tension by instigating terrorist actions and other types of subversion. The chief goal of this strategy is to create a given impression among the politically unstable segments of public opinion—namely, the impression that the parliamentary governments are completely incapable of guaranteeing public order; this belief on the part of moderately conservative voters would presumably push them into the embrace of the “legal” neofascists.

On the whole, however, fascism was in a much weaker position after World War II than it was in the prewar period. Its overthrow in Portugal in April 1974 and in Greece in July 1974, together with the collapse of Francoism in Spain, are convincing evidence of the weakness of fascist regimes under existing conditions. The array of class forces in the industrially developed capitalist countries does in many cases limit the absolute rule of the monopolist bourgeoisie. The tendency to shift to the right, enforced by the powers that be, is balanced by the countervailing tendency to shift to the left and toward greater democracy as a result of the persistent struggle of the masses, and of the working class above all. As antifascist attitudes become more widespread and as socialism gains in magnetic force, the ruling classes of the capitalist countries often find it dangerous to shift from bourgeois-democratic forms of government to overtly fascistic methods. A united front of democratic forces is the greatest obstacle that can stand in the path of fascism.


Rezoliutsii VII Vsemirnogo kongressa Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala. Moscow, 1935.
VII Kongress der Kommunistischen Internationale. Moscow, 1935.
VII Congress of the Communist International: Abridged Stenographic Report of Proceedings. Moscow, 1939.
VII Kongress Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala i bor’ba protiv fashizma i voiny. Moscow, 1975.
O fashistskoi diktature v Germanii. Moscow, 1934. (Comintern documents.)
Gramsci, A. Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1957–59.
Dutt, P. Fashizm i sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia. Moscow, 1935. (Translated from English.)
Dimitrov, G. Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Bulgarian.)
Dimitrov, G. V bor’be za edinyi front protiv fashizma i voiny: Stat’i i rechi 1935–1937. Moscow, 1937.
Kuusinen, O. Fashizm, opasnost’ voiny i zadachi kommunistiches kikh partii. Moscow, 1934.
Pieck, W. Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from German.)
Thälmann, E. Izbr. stat’i i rechi, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1957–58. (Translated from German.)
Togliatti, P. O zadachakh Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala v sviazi s podgotovkoi imperialistami novoi mirovoi voiny. Moscow, 1935.
Ercoli (P. Togliatti). “Kakova byla sotsial’naia baza fashizma?” Kommunistich. Internatsional, 1926, no. 4.
Ercoli (P. Togliatti). Lektsii o fashizme. Moscow, 1974. (Translated from Italian.)
Zetkin, C. Gegen Faschismus und imperialistischen Krieg. Berlin, 1955.
Niurnbergskii protsess nad glavnymi nemetskimi voennymi prestupnikami: Sb. materialov., vols. 1–7. Moscow, 1957–61.
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Hofer, W. Der Nationalsozialismus: Dokumente 1933–1945. Frankfurt am Main, 1957.
Bukhenval’d: Dok-ty isoobshcheniia. Moscow, 1962.
Vrag vsego mira: Fakty i dok-ty. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from German.)
Zur Geschichte der deutschen antifaschistischen Widerstandsbewegung, 1933–1945. Berlin, 1958.
Die Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, vols. 4–5. Berlin, 1966.
Bezymenskii, L. A. Germanskie generalys Gillerom i bez nego. Moscow, 1961.
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Galkin, A. A. Sotsiologiia neofashizma. Moscow, 1971.
Genri, E. Est’ li budushchee u neofashizma? Moscow, 1962.
Gintzberg, L. I. Ten’ fashistskoi svastiki: Kak Gitler prishel k vlasti. Moscow, 1967.
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Giulio, J. Fashistskaia Italiia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929. (Translated from Italian.)
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NDPnovaia natsistskaia partiia: Sb. statei. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from German.)
Novik, F. I. Neonatsizm v FRG: Pod”emy i porazheniia 1949–1974 gg. Moscow, 1976.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


brutal magician, symbol of fascist oppression. [Ger. Lit.: Mario and the Magician; Haydn & Fuller, 636]
Duce, Il
title of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), Italian Fascist leader. [Ital. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary]
Webley, Everard
sinister figure leads a growing Fascist movement. [Br. Lit.: Huxley Point Counter Point in Magill I, 760]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the political movement, doctrine, system, or regime (1922--43) in Italy of the dictator Benito Mussolini (1883--1945). Fascism encouraged militarism and nationalism, organizing the country along hierarchical authoritarian lines
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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