COUNTRIES

 

The project explores fascist movements across the following countries. Some of these movements were fairly small-scale and never achieved any form of power, while others, most obviously in Italy and Germany, went on to form their own dictatorial regimes.

 

For each country, the project’s participants will consider the internal workings of the specific fascist movement or movements. In particular, this will necessitate a consideration of internal relationships, daily activities and local fascist cultures, including music, songs and dress.

 

Austria

(Janek Wasserman)

A number of radical conservative and nationalist organizations emerged in Austria during the interwar era. These movements sometimes disagreed over questions of ideology and tactics, but frequently made common cause in their fight against the new republic and in their shared antisemitism, anti-socialism, anti-modernism, and nationalism. Most prominent were the Austrian National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), the paramilitary Heimwehr movement, and the right wing of Christian Social Party that is often identified with Austrofascism and the 1934-1938 Ständestaat. Additionally, there were smaller ideological formations that bridged the gaps between the traditional Austrian camps (Lager) of conservative Catholics and German nationalists, such as the circle of activists around Othmar Spann, the intellectuals associated with Joseph Eberle’s journals Das neue Reich and Die schönere Zukunft, and the professors and students at the University of Vienna who took part in fraternities and other clandestine gatherings like the infamous “Bears’ Den.”

 

The success of these groups and that of the republic stood in inverse relationship to one another. In the years 1918-1920 as Austria struggled through the dissolution of its Empire and the humiliations of the Treaty of Saint-Germain, radical conservatives mobilized effectively. The Austrian Nazi Party under Walter Riehl re-formed in 1918. The various provincial Heimwehr movements, notably the Tyrolean branch under Richard Steidle, the Styrian organization of Walter Pfrimer and the Carinthian one led by Ludwig Hülgerth, arose to defend the Italian and Yugoslavian borders, respectively. Major paramilitary formations in Upper Austria (Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg) were soon to follow. Meanwhile conservative Catholics began to group around Eberle’s monthly Das neue Reich, and German nationalist students swarmed to Othmar Spann’s lectures in Vienna on the “true state.”

 

The events of 1927-31 led to a further surge in fascist support. Fears of a socialist majority in the 1927 election led to street conflicts between the Heimwehr and socialists. In the bloody days of June 1927, precipitated by a Heimwehr-perpetrated murder of two people and the subsequent acquittal of the killers, dozens of protestors were murdered by the police under Johannes Schober. The Heimwehr, the “attack dog” of the right-wing Christian Socials, helped restore order. The Austrian state lurched rightwards. Chancellor Ignaz Seipel called for the creation of a Führer state and forced through authoritarian revisions to the constitution. Schober briefly became Chancellor. Starhemberg led a Heimwehr bloc into a coalition with the Christian Socials in 1930. In 1931, as the effects of the Depression rocked Austria, Pfrimer launched an ill-fated putsch with the support of many former Spann students. Even though the Heimwehr pulled apart owing to its centrifugal tendencies, the Nazis, now taking their orders from Germany and Hitler, became a force. Although Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss consolidated power in 1933/1934 after a constitutional crisis and brief civil war, the new Austrofascist state was short-lived (Dollfuss himself was assassinated by the Nazis in July 1934), owing to its lack of widespread support and its inability to subdue a stronger fascist movement to the west, Nazism. The Anschluss of March 1938 put an end to one fascist experiment in order to usher in a new one.

Belgium

(Bruno de Wever)

 

The roots of the fascist movements in Belgium are found in frustrations stemming from the First World War. The earliest fascist organisations were mainly shaped by French-speaking, conservative and Catholic officers who turned against the broadening Belgian democracy after the introduction of the universal singular suffrage (1919) and the electoral success for the political Labour Movement. They recruited within the right wing of the Catholic Party. The most important organization was the Légion Nationale (7,000 members). Another frustrated social group was the Flemish movement that stood up for the recognition of Dutch in Belgium. During the First World War a Flemish-nationalist movement  claimed Flemish home-rule and collaborated with the German occupation. Fascist ideology made progress after the war when they failed to make an electoral breakthrough. In 1931 the League of Pan-Netherlandic Solidarists (Verdinaso) was founded. It was a military and ideologically trained militia (5,000 members). At first the group aimed at the destruction of the Belgian state to form a unification of the Flanders and the Netherlands. Later it became a Belgian New Order movement that endeavoured the fusion of Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of Northern France. In 1933 the Flemish National League (VNV) was founded. It had the same objects in view as the early Verdinaso. The party took part in the elections. In 1936 VNV got 13,6% of the Flemish votes (= 7,1% in Belgium).

 

The revelation of the 1936 elections was Léon Degrelle and his Rex-party with 11,5% of the votes, mainly in Wallonia and Brussels. Degrelle was a young Catholic politician. In 1935 he founded Rex, attracting discontented groups like Catholic conservatives, war veterans, shopkeepers and the unemployed. Degrelle had a talent for public appearances, but he overestimated his political power, making a compromise with the VNV in an attempt to destabilize the Belgian regime. Rex began to disintegrate as a consequence, that obtaining 4,4% in the 1939-elections. The remainder radicalised, becoming a fascist party. Degrelle contacted foreign fascist organizations and Rex was denounced as a German ‘fifth column’.

 

Fascist movements in French-speaking Belgium were divided and alienated on the eve of the Second World War.The anti-Belgian Flemish-nationalist VNV was less hindered by patriotic ambiguities and divisions and managed to maintain its strength. In 1939 the party got 15% of the votes in Flanders despite being labelled ‘German’ during the election-contest. The Flemish right wing of the Catholic Party concluded policy-contracts with the VNV on a local level, which implied that the VNV was not isolated from the broad Flemish-minded Catholic movement. The VNV-leadership counted on a new European war and made contacts with Nazi Germany with the intention to come into power.

Bulgaria

(John Paul Newman)

 

Bulgaria experienced not one but two catastrophic defeats in the decade before the end of the First World War (namely, at the end of the second Balkan war in 1913 and then again in 1918). Like Italy, Bulgaria emerged from the conflict with territory vastly smaller than the aspirations of nineteenth-century blueprints for national integration. And like Germany, the peace terms calling for restrictions to its army’s size mean that large numbers of career soldiers and war veterans found themselves unoccupied in the interwar period, with all the opportunities for alternative paramilitary organisation that this entailed.

Perhaps surprisingly, then, fully-fledged fascist movements, although present in Bulgaria, achieved little popular or political success. A clutch of parties and fractions formed in the interwar period that replicated the style, organisation, and philosophy of Italian Fascism, however. Their leadership often comprised war veterans and army officers. And their vision for the country featured the typical fascist paradox of looking back into the distant past (usually the glories of the medieval Bulgarian empires, the most territorially expansive iteration of ‘Bulgaria’ and therefore an obvious choice) as a means of regenerating the nation in the future.

Fascism was also discussed across the political spectrum, and various groups adopted certain fascist trappings, or else joined the transnational network of radical right-wing groups organised and led by Italy (especially in the Balkans). The numerous ethno-nationalist organisations committed to regaining territories lost in 1918 contemplated a turn towards fascism. The largest of these, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO), under the leadership of Ivan ‘Vanche’ Mihailov in the 1930, embraced the ideas and the networks offered to it by the Fascist International. So too did various circles of military officers, whose interests found corporate form in organizations such as Zveno (The Link) and the Military League. Right-wing civilian politicians such as Aleksandar Tsankov also incorporated fascist elements into their partiesy and political programmes, with mixed results. Early difficulties for the state, including a successful coup carried out by right-wing and militarist groups, then a failed coup and devasting terror attack by the communists, generated primal political scenes around which the country’s radical right could justify programmes of violent national regeneration.

If native fascist parties themselves were small, transnational fascism nevertheless played a significant role in inter Bulgaria as an object of interest and discussion, and numerous civilian, military, and paramilitary organizations and individuals imitated aspects of the fascist style and were connected to transitional fascist networks. They could rightly be termed para or proto fascist.

Croats (Yugoslavia)

(Goran Miljan)

Established between the late 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, the Ustasha – Croatian Revolutionary Organization – UHRO, became notorious for its terrorist acts and violence, as well as for establishing one of the most violent and longest-lasting fascist regimes in World War II Europe. The organization emerged from the activities of the members of the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and its youth section, the Croatian Home Guard. HSP's key political activities evolved around the idea of Croatian historical state rights and independence. An idea whose achievement was to be accomplished by any means necessary, including its members' participation in street violence, murder, and terrorist acts.

Following King Aleksandar's proclamation of dictatorship in January 1929, Ante Pavelić fled the country, soon followed by other members, and established an organization whose primary goal was to achieve independence. Pavelić received substantial support, both in infrastructure and financial matters from Fascist Italy and Hungary. The Ustasha established training camps in Italy and Hungary, which became centres for their terrorist activities, including the assassination of the King Aleksandar in October 1934. During the 1930s, the Ustasha leadership produced some of the central organizational documents such as the 1932 Constitution of the Ustasha: Croatian Revolutionary Organization, which determined its structure, members' obligations, and the Ustasha oath. It was during this period that its leadership and members embraced fascism. The Ustasha organization went through a process of fascistization during the 1930s, while simultaneously adapting it to their political and social context. This process is most evident in the writings of the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelić, in his book Horrors of Illusions – Communism and Bolshevism in Russia and the World (1938).

After the Nazi Germany invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Ustasha member Colonel Slavko Kvaternik proclaimed the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia – NDH on April 10, 1941. Within a month, the regime proclaimed racial and other discriminatory laws defining who could and could not be a citizen of the new Ustasha state. What followed was the establishment of the institutional framework for the destruction of unwanted citizens, supported by the Ustasha policies of genocide and mass violence, a case exemplified by the Jasenovac concentration camp system, which was run independently by the Ustashas. At the same time the Ustashas implemented a process of “national regeneration” through their youth, and social policies intended to “reclaim” Croatia for the “new Croat” – the Ustasha.

Czechs and Sudeten Germans (Czechoslovakia)

(Nancy M. Wingfield)

One of the less-well investigated historical aspects of the First Czechoslovak Republic, long lauded as a “democratic island” in interwar Central Europe, is how the various right-wing, often fascist, political parties, and their followers, helped move the democratic government of the First Republic to right. Beginning in the 1920s and expanding exponentially in the 1930s owing to the worldwide economic downturn, national fascists attempted to create national community by building on earlier cultural and political traditions while also employing modern anti-democratic rhetoric and other tactics that a democracy permitted.  

Historians have passionately argued over whether Konrad Henlein’s Sudetendeutsche Partei (the SdP; founded in spring 1935) was “Nazi” from its origin, or a traditionally German nationalist party that slowly transformed into a Nazi one by November 1937. Because analysis of the SdP has been subsumed under German Nazism, there has been relatively little discussion of the party’s independent development as a fascist party, one that was as anti-Czech as it was anti-Semitic, reflecting its origins in the political milieu of late imperial Austria.                                                

 

Historiographic attention to the Slovak fascists and the German SdP has long overshadowed analysis of the Czech fascist party, the National Fascist Community (Národní obec fašistická or NOF), founded in 1926. Its leader, Radola Gajda, had been one of the main commanders of the Czechoslovak Legionnaires during World War I and was former Chief of the Czechoslovak General Staff. The NOF was inspired by Italian fascism, which it adapted to Czech conditions. This corporatist party sought a strong nation-state and was both anti-German and anti-Semitic. The party functioned during the First Republic through the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  While it never achieved significant political influence, in the 1929 parliamentary elections it was as part of the League against the bound lists of candidates, which won three parliamentary and one senatorial mandates. Standing alone in the 1935 elections, the NOF won six seats. Despite its lack of a large political following, the party was of significant concern to the central government in Prague as archival records show.                                                           

Attacks from the Czech, German, and Slovak nationalist, increasingly fascist, right after 1935 helped move the Czechoslovak government to “authoritarian democracy” by the late 1930s, when it increasingly employed expanded provisions of the “Law for the Defense of the Republic, which dated from 1923. Analysis of the influence these home-grown fascist political parties and nationalist splinter groups had on their followers, the public at large, and the central government in Prague helps explain the formation of the short-lived authoritarian Second Czechoslovak Republic on 1 October 1938 in the immediate wake of the Munich Conference.  

Finland

(Marja Jalava)

 

A number of radical nationalist organizations appeared after the declaration of an independent Finnish state and the ensuing civil war and, such as the Civil Guard (Suojeluskunta, a mixture of Veteran Corps and a militia that acted as a voluntary part of the army), the Academic Karelia Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura, AKS, founded by academics and university students to promote Finnish ethnolinguistic nationalism and the affinity between Finno-Ugric peoples), and Freedom of Export Ltd (Yhtymä Vientirauha, a paramilitary strikebreaking organization funded by major employers’ associations). All were established before Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922 and none were explicitly fascist, yet all fascists in interwar Finland belonged to at least one of them.

 

The second ‘wave’ of Finnish fascism began in the late 1920s. It was headed by the Lapua Movement (Lapuan liike), a fiercely anti-Communist and anti-parliamentary organization that was founded in 1929. Italian Fascism directly inspired it. For instance, the Movement organized the Peasant March of roughly 12,000 men to Helsinki in July 1930 and published a magazine entitled Fascisti. Yet the Movement vigorously insisted it was uniquely “Finnishness,” denying that it was aping foreign ideas. The Lapua Movement was banned in 1932 after an attempted coup d’état, but the same activists soon founded the Patriotic People’s Movement (Isänmaallinen kansanliike, IKL). It was based on similar fascist ideology, but was now a political party and participated in elections. At the peak, it had roughly 100,000 members. With a parliamentary group of 8–14 members of both sexes, it broke the strict gender segregation that was characteristic of fascist movements. One of its most prominent figures was the female politician Hilja Riipinen. The Patriotic People’s Movement had an influential youth organization, called Blue-blacks (Sinimustat), which enjoyed close relations with both Opera Nazionale Balilla and the Hitler Youth. The Blue-blacks were banned in 1936 after some of its members were involved in a conspiracy with the Estonian Vaps Movement to overthrow the Estonian government. Although the Blue-blacks were immediately re-formed as Blackshirts (Mustapaidat), the second ‘wave’ of fascist movements in Finland seemed to be waning, when the first centre-left government with broad parliamentary support was nominated in 1937.

 

The third ‘wave’ of fascist movements appeared after 1941, when Finland allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. In 1942, former members of the Lapua Movement and the Patriotic People’s Movement founded the Finnish State Federation (Suomen Valtakunnan Liitto) as an umbrella organization of fascist and National Socialist movements.

France

(Chris Millington)

France was home to a multitude of extreme right-wing leagues and parties.  Groups such as the monarchist Action Française traced their roots to the period before the First World War.  Others, like the Jeunesses Patriotes and the Solidarité Française were founded after 1918; they bore the hallmarks of interwar European paramilitarism: uniforms, salutes, parades, and the roughing up of their opponents in the street.  Foreign fascism provided a model for some groups.  During the 1920s, Georges Valois’s Faisceau celebrated Mussolini and sought to establish a fascist ‘Combatants’ State’ in France.  The following decade, Jacques Doriot’s Parti Populaire Français gravitated towards fascism and anti-Semitism during 1937; Doriot would become a fervent collaborationist after the fall of France in 1940. 

An important feature of most French groups was their rejection of fascism (even Valois argued that ‘his’ fascism was French and therefore different to the Italian version).  This rejection of fascism – and the survival of French democracy until 1940 - has prompted a number of historians (such as Michel Winock and Serge Berstein) to argue that France was in fact immune or allergic to fascist ideology.  Revisionist historians (like Kevin Passmore and Robert Soucy) consider fascism to have been a major force in French politics. 

The largest of the French ‘fascist’ movements was Colonel François de La Rocque’s Croix de Feu (renamed the Parti Social Français in 1936).  The Croix de Feu was a paramilitary league that opposed Republican democracy, parliament, and the left, and it espoused an ultranationalist and ethnically-homogenous vision of France.  The Colonel, however, rejected fascism as a foreign invention incompatible with the French temperament and he declared on several occasions his commitment to the French Republic.  Historians have thus argued over how best to label the Croix de Feu; much depends on one’s definition of fascism. 

All agree, however, that due to its sheer size, the Croix de Feu is central to the question of a ‘French fascism’.  After 1934, the league grew to a size of 500,000 members.  Its membership included war veterans, young French, and women; this latter group was especially important to the league’s development after 1935 when La Rocque reoriented the movement toward spreading his political doctrine through social work.  When the left-wing Popular Front government banned paramilitary leagues in 1936, the Croix de Feu was re-founded as a political party.  By 1939, the Parti Social Français had as many as one million members, making it not only the largest political movement in interwar France, but in French history.

Germany

(Tim Grady)

Despite projecting an image of youthful vitality and change, the ideological roots of the the German National Socialist movement ran deep in German culture and history. Germany’s nineteenth century völkisch subculture, which included associations such as the antisemitic Alldeutscher Verband and the Hammer, provided an intellectual foundation. However, it was the dislocating effects of the First World War that provided the main catalyst for the rise of Nazism. The war years themselves witnessed the formation of new populist movements, such as the Deutsche Vaterlandspartei, and a whole range of extremist groups sprung up in the wake of an ignominious defeat and revolution. Among the most influential for the Nazis were the paramilitary Freikorps and the virulently antisemitic Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund.

The Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, forerunner to the National Socialists, was itself one of the small, rather insignificant, groups to emerge at the war’s end. The oratorical skills of Adolf Hitler, however, helped differentiate the Nazis from their contemporaries. Mussolini’s Italian fascists provided an early model, but the Nazis’ attempt to stage their own ‘March on Rome’ in Munich in 1923 ended only in farce. After a period of political irrelevance, the Nazis gradually started to rebuild through the late 1920s. With Hitler now firmly installed as Führer, the movement spread nationally. It was better organised and more adept with propaganda. Their breakthrough finally came on the back of the Great Depression. In the 1928 Reichstag elections, the National Socialists had taken only 2.6% of the vote, but two years later amid economic collapse, their share rose to 18.3%. 

With its dramatic rallies or the Stormtroopers’ displays of violence, the movement certainly projected an image of vitality and dynamism. Yet, the underpinning ideology was decidedly vague. The party’s 1920 programme and Hitler’s rambling Mein Kampf provided only a loose collection of ideas that featured intermittently depending on political circumstance. Despite this, some ideological traits, such as a hatred of Marxism or democracy, remained a consistent feature. The movement’s most significant characteristic, however, was surely its strident adherence to the notion of racial difference and violent antisemitism. Thus, when Hitler spoke of creating a Volksgemeinschaft, this was always destined to divide society between insiders and outsiders. Yet, even as the movement became more radical in its actions and ideology, the First World War remained an important touchstone for a movement that viewed itself as ‘the political embodiment of the “front spirit”’ (Bessel, 1993).

Hungary

(Rudolf Paksa) 

 

After the First World War, two revolutionary political systems came to power in Hungary: a democratic revolution on 31 October 1918 and a coup-like change of power on 21 March 1919, after which a Soviet Republic was proclaimed. The first far right movements were organized against these regimes. They rejected both republics as well as any restoration of the Habsburg Monarchy. They were nationalists, antisemites, anti-liberals and militarists who demanded state control over the free market, state care and support for the victims of the war. They called themselves “awakeners” (ébredők) or “race protectors” (fajvédők), and were led by the former military officer Gyula Gömbös, Bishop Ottokár Prohászka, and temporarily by the writer Dezső Szabó. The right-wing radicals were marginalized after Count István Bethlen led a conservative political turn in 1922 but Regent Miklós Horthy appointed Gömbös as prime minister when Bethlen resigned during the Great Depression. Gömbös tried to implement a right-wing radical policy, and Béla Imrédy did the same in 1938/1939. Both tried to copy Mussolini but were overthrown by conservatives.

 

In 1931, the first of Hungary’s rival National Socialist parties was established, led by Zoltán Böszörmény.Böszörmény initially copied the German Nazis (swastika, uniform, program), tryingto adapt Nazism to Hungarian conditions. They made new symbols: the scythe cross for Böszörmény and the arrow cross for the others, who became known as the Arrow Cross Movement. Böszörmény organized an amateur coup supported by the peasantry, but was arrested and his movement disappeared. The Arrow Cross Movement also aimed to gain the support of the peasantry, but with only moderate success, winning.  only two seats in the 1935 elections. Interest in National Socialism increased after 1936, when several new Hungarian National Socialist parties were formed. The most successful was led by Ferenc Szálasi, who tried to create a new ideology he called “Hungarism”. His main goal was to build a one-party totalitarian state. Szálasi considered Hungarism a better ideology than Nazism or Fascism, because according to him it was a “balanced mixture” of racial nationalism, socialism, and Christianity. Szálasi’s party was banned several times, and Szálasi himself imprisoned, but this only made his movement more credible. In the 1939 elections, various Hungarian National Socialist parties ran in a coordinated manner, gaining about 20% of the parliamentary seats, while the ruling party 70%. Szálasi's group was the largest of the National Socialist factions. Béla Imrédy founded his own National Socialist party in 1940 and two large blocs emerged on the far right: the Imrédy party and the Szálasi party.

By 1944 Hungarian politics was divided into pro-German and anti-German camps. The former came to power during the German occupation, persecuting their political opponents. Szálasi’s party was left out of the government as Szálasi was considered an incompatible fanatic. In autumn Hitler demanded that all pro-German politicians had to form a common government, and Szálasi agreed only if he could be prime minister. Szálasi formed a new government on 16 October 1944, not long before the Soviets occupied the country.

Ireland

(Fearghal McGarry)

 

Interwar politics in the Irish Free State were dominated by the aftermath of Ireland’s revolution rather than the legacy of the First World War. The IRA’s independence struggle (1919-1921) was followed by a civil war (1922-23) which divided republican supporters and opponents of the Treaty settlement with Britain granting limited independence to southern Ireland. The pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal, a conservative nationalist party, held power until 1932 when its anti-Treaty opponents, the more nationalistic and less conservative Fianna Fáil party, won power. The emergence of Irish fascism is best understood within the context of these Civil War divisions.

 

The election of Fianna Fáil, which had been supported by IRA paramilitaries, led supporters of the former government to fear political suppression. Their concerns were shared by many within the security forces (which had prevailed against the IRA in 1923), and also by prosperous farmers who feared economic disruption and land redistribution. These interest groups came together to form the Blueshirt movement which initially grew out of a small army veterans’ organisation known as the Army Comrades Association (founded shortly before the 1932 general election). It bore superficial parallels with continental fascist movements, including the adoption of a uniform and raised-arm salute, although its ideology remained inchoate. The ensuing crisis saw parallels with the response in Spain to the election of a republican government in 1932. But Fianna Fáil, led by a socially conservative Catholic, Éamon de Valera, was more in tune with nationalist opinion than his republican counterparts in Spain, and more careful to placate powerful groups such as the Catholic Church, civil service, and security forces.

 

De Valera’s decision to fire his unreliable (pro-Treaty) chief of police, Eoin O’Duffy, in 1933 provided the Blueshirts with a leader of stature. O’Duffy’s leadership saw a shift to the far-right. The movement was renamed the National Guard, adopting a corporatist programme inspired by Catholic political thought and Italian fascism. The Blueshirts grew rapidly in popularity, prompting the government to ban a ‘March on Dublin’ which evoked intentional parallels to Mussolini’s seizure of power. In response, the main opposition parties merged, placing O’Duffy at the head of a new political party, Fine Gael, which retained within it a 30,000-strong Blueshirt auxiliary. Despite this meteoric rise, O’Duffy – an unstable, alcoholic, egomaniac – proved a disastrous leader. Following his resignation within a year, Fine Gael reverted to its democratic conservative nationalist roots, disavowing any links to fascism.

 

Historiographical debate on the Blueshirts, which long centred on whether the movement should be regarded as fascist, has shifted to encompass more nuanced and comparative assessments of the movement’s significance, as well as broader engagement with the question of why Irish democratic structures proved more resilient than those of many other European ‘successor’ states.

Italy

(Marco Bresciani)

Italy, a still predominantly rural country, was shaken by instability and crisis in the aftermath of the Great War, as a winner which was increasingly frustrated with the outcomes of the conflict. In many ways it can be said to have “invented” fascism as Benito Mussolini constituted the Fasci di Combattimento in Milan, in March 1919. Mussolini came from pre-1914 left radicalism, but afterwards he merged Mazzini’s tradition and socialist experience with radical nationalism. Regardless of its ideological heterogeneity, and well aware of the discontinuity marked by the Great War, the new fascist movement was part and parcel of a fragmented universe of groups and movements such as the followers (legionari) of Gabriele D'Annunzio in Fiume and the members of the Italian Nationalist Association (Associazione Nazionalista Italiana, ANI, founded in 1910) and their “blue shirts” (camicie azzurre). Despite their common nationalist ground, a harsh competition sparked among them, but their combined action contributed to the further destabilization of the liberal institutions, already undermined by the post-war cycle of unrest and conflicts (especially in the countryside, but not only). More consequently than the others, Mussolini's “black shirts” (camicie nere) aimed directly at the conquest of the political power. In opposition to the socialist/communist movements, the fascist movement especially developed when it resorted to the fascist squads (squadristi) which destroyed, repressed and neutralized those considered as “internal enemies” (“Socialists”, “Bolsheviks”, “Slavs”). Meanwhile, the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF), officially constituted in November 1921, was able to catalyze not only and especially middle classes, but also an increasing number of workers and peasants.

In October 1922, Mussolini was appointed as head of a government including nationalists and conservatives. Fascism and nationalism tended to intertwine each other, and the ANI merged with the PNF in February 1923. However, the fascist conquest of the power and the building of Mussolini's openly declared dictatorship played out in several years, up to late 1926. In this period, the constitution of Mussolini's government, far from meaning the end of squadristi’s political violence, paved the way to a radical transformation of the relationship between state and civil society. The fascist movement, started as a “neither left nor right” experiment mixing both left and right radicalism, increasingly represented a wide spectrum of right radical and conservatives positions aiming at establishing a post-liberal political and social order. At the same time, vis-à-vis the conflicted and fragmented post-war society, the fascist movement took up the mission of overcoming the structural limits of the Italian nation-building through the mobilization of the “true Italians”, that is the fascists. After the turning point of the Matteotti affair (June 1924), Mussolini energetically headed to the building of the dictatorship between 1925 and 1926, catalyzing around his charismatic power all the different, and continually conflicting, groups and leaders within the PNF.

 

Latvia

(Paula Oppermann)

 

The Peoples’ Association Ugunskrusts (Fire Cross) was established in 1932 and united the radical right in Latvia that had emerged in the intellectual elite of Riga during the 1920s. Its members were mainly (former) fraternity students and veterans of the War of Independence like their leader Gustavs Celmiņš. He declared their activities a continuation of the struggle against enemies of the Latvian people, now embodied by national minorities and left-wing organisations. Celmiņš emphasised that Ugunskrusts was neither like the Italian Fascists nor the National Socialists and officially rejected any cooperation with Germany, unlike Latvia’s National Socialist Association, which remained at the political margins. Celmiņš perceived Germany’s imperialism as a threat for Latvia, and also frequently condemned the economic influence of Latvia’s Baltic Germans, but still admired Adolf Hitler and Germany’s antisemitic politics. Ugunskrusts declared that the Jews, unlike the Baltic Germans, were not only economic, but also cultural and racial enemies. Frequently, and all over Latvia, its members engaged in antisemitic acts such as boycotts, small-scale pogroms and violence against individuals.

 

Ugunskrusts’ violent activities and propaganda threated the democratic order, and the Ministry of the Interior banned it in March 1933. But its members continued their activities and two months later re-registered their organisation as the Party Pērkonkrusts (Thunder Cross). In order to gain support, Pērkonkrusts leaders travelled the country, organised public gatherings, published a magazine, and opened local branches in the countryside. Although they never achieved their goal to become a mass movement, their propagandistic reach of 15,000 magazine subscribers and a large circle of unaligned ideological supporters from all social classes outnumbers their estimated 5,000-8,000 members by far.

 

Pērkonkrusts was also banned in December 1933, but its members continued their activities semi-legally in sports- and veterans organisations. After the coup d’état of the nationalist Farmers Union under Kārlis Ulmanis in May 1934, Celmiņš initially acquiesced to the dissolution of democracy, but soon criticised Ulmanis’ politics who then had him and other Pērkonkrusts leaders imprisoned. They continued sending orders to their followers to prepare for an overthrow of the regime. Except for individual disturbances of public events, however, the activity remained limited to secret meetings. Celmiņš was released from prison in 1937 with the obligation to leave Latvia. He travelled through Europe, established contacts with fascists in countries like Romania and fought in the Finish Winter War. He then went to Berlin, joining the Wehrmacht on the way to Latvia when Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.

Netherlands

(Nathaniel Kunkeler)

Already in 1922 the first Dutch group emerged to associate itself with fascism, a group of Catholic intellectuals around the journal Catholic Political Science (Katholieke Staatkunde). Impressed with Mussolini’s March on Rome and aggressive response to socialist unrest, Dutch fascists in the twenties were keen to mobilise a similarly robust reaction, hoping to utilise both discontent with the new mass democracy and the growing social democratic party. Groups like the Actualists and the Broom published newspapers, held meetings, and organised strike breakers, but remained very small and riven by personal disputes among a few self-aggrandising leaders. In the thirties such small fascist groups continued to exist, joined by Black Front (Zwart Front) and various minuscule factions of the Dutch National Socialist Workers’ Party (Nationaal-Socialistische Nederlandsche Arbeiderspartij), but were quickly eclipsed by one party.

 

Dutch fascism came to coalesce around the seemingly mundane middle-class figure of Anton Mussert, a talented civil engineer in water management from Utrecht, who founded the National Socialist Movement (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, NSB) in 1931. His movement clearly borrowed aesthetic, programmatic, and organisational elements from Italian Fascism and German Nazism, but was in practice ideologically extremely malleable, with much of its propagandistic appeal relying on traditional liberal nationalist values and ideas. In the Netherlands’ strikingly pillarised society, segregating most of the population into Catholic, Protestant, and socialist camps, the NSB advocated cross-class and non-confessional unity to maintain a strong empire and unite all Dutch peoples of the world in one kingdom. Strikingly the NSB eschewed anti-Semitism and racism in its first programme, emphasising historic Dutch religious and ethnic diversity, but as the party grew more popular it attracted more traditionally Nazi-racist elements. By 1935 the NSB was one of the largest parties in the Netherlands by membership, and acquired nearly 8% of the vote in regional elections, an unheard of achievement in the country’s rigid and conformist voting habits, not to be equalled until the 21st Century. Internally the NSB was highly fractured however, its ideological breadth encouraging factionalism while rivals to Mussert’s bourgeois Leader persona pushed into opposing directions, leading to a radicalisation of the party in the latter thirties. During WW2 and the German Occupation of the Netherlands the NSB morphed into a much larger collaborationist party, but one sharply divided between Mussert loyalists who (naïvely) hoped for Dutch fascist sovereignty in the New Order under his leadership, and those attracted to the Greater Germany ethos of the SS which assumed an ever-greater role in the Nazi administration of the Netherlands.

 

Romania

(Roland Clark)

In 1910 Nicolae Iorga and A.C. Cuza formed the National Democratic Party on an antisemitic platform that built on four decades of antisemitic organizing and a hatred of what they called ‘politicianism’, or corrupt party politics. Iorga and Cuza split during the war, but Cuza managed to bring antisemites together in 1922 under the banner of the National Christian Defense League (LANC). The real energy behind Cuza’s movement came from the antisemitic student movement, however. Rioting students grabbed the attention of the media for months, culminating in an attempt by five of them to assassinate prominent Jewish leaders in 1923. Led by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu and defended by LANC lawyers, they were acquitted despite confessing to the crime. Codreanu was on trial again in 1925, this time for murdering a police prefect. He was acquitted once again, as was Nicolae Totu, one of Codreanu’s supporters who murdered a Jewish schoolboy in 1926. In 1927Codreanu formed a break-away movement called the Legion of the Archangel Michael. Legionaries presented themselves as a ‘spiritual’ movement based on youth and a disinterested service to the nation. LANC and the Legion vied for the antisemitic vote until by 1933 the Legion had effectively won control of student politics while LANC remained firmly entrenched in its traditional regional strongholds.

Attempts by the authorities to prevent the Legion from contesting the 1933 elections resulted in increased violence, along with the suppression of the Legion’s short-lived paramilitary wing, the Iron Guard. Three legionaries responded by assassinating the prime minister, Ion Gh. Duca, in December 1933. Numerous small fascist parties appeared during the mid-1930s, while the Legion shifted its rhetoric and practice away from street violence and towards building projects carried during summer work camps as well as opening its own restaurants and shops. The Legion received an unprecedented 15.6% of the vote in the 1937 elections, coming in as the third largest party. But the king appointed the right-wing National Christian Party, led by A. C. Cuza and Octavian Goga, which had only won 9.2%. Cuza and Goga led a harsh suppression of the Legion during their 45 days in power as well as introducing vicious antisemitic laws. King Carol II quickly established a royal dictatorship, and Codreanu was murdered in prison in November 1938. Other legionaries fled the country, only to return in September 1940, when they formed a new government together with General Ion Antonescu. The National Legionary State lasted for less than five months. Legionaries unsuccessfully rebelled against Antonescu in January 1941, effectively handing sole power to Antonescu.

 

Slovaks (Czechoslovakia)

(James Mace Ward)

 

Fascism in Slovakia is most closely associated with the Slovak People’s Party, otherwise known as the Ľudáks. They emerged as a fin-de-siècle fusion of Slovak nationalism and Political Catholicism, pursuing a remarkably stable agenda of grievances summed up as “For God and Nation.” The Ľudáks fought secularization and alleged moral decline, a charge reflected in the movement’s antisemitism. They also condemned government policies perceived as threatening rural interests, and the identity and self-determination of Slovaks. The party thus appealed to those who felt abused by modern capitalism, disadvantaged by government, disrespected by society, and threatened by other ethnicities and socialism. Followers could also commune through mass politics, advance through party patronage, and thrill to street protest.

 The way the Ľudáks prosecuted this agenda, however, was not stable, shifting from Catholic protest, to Slovak nationalism, to fascism. At first, the party simply repurposed Catholic associations, such as the gymnastics society Orol, and built on the Catholic press. Despite adopting a program of autonomy for Slovakia in 1919 as a panacea, the Ľudáks prioritized defense of the Church in the 1920 election, their first in Czechoslovakia. The resulting poor showing taught them to stress instead nationalism. Under the charismatic leadership of Fr. Andrej Hlinka, by 1925 they were the largest party in Slovakia, even winning a place in the 1927–1929 governing coalition. These rewards, however, beggared their desire to dictate policy in Slovakia, and revealed the party as a miniscule, isolated misfit within the Czechoslovak polity. A faction led by Vojtech Tuka in the 1920s offered a break-out route by imitating Mussolini’s Fascists. While the Ľudáks developed a paramilitary, the Rodobrana, Tuka’s 1929 conviction for treason pushed the party out of government and away from this fascist temptation. A new generation of activists, however, soon reapplied the fascist frame. For these “young Ľudáks,” such as the circle around the journal Nástup (Line Up!), fascism provided leverage not only against Prague but also party elders, especially the priests such as Jozef Tiso who dominated the movement. International crisis added more reasons to adapt to fascism; Nazi Germany, for instance, was the most plausible patron in the face of Hungarian irredentism. The party finally gained the long-sought prize of autonomy in the wake of the 1938 Munich Agreement and Hlinka’s death. But as Versailles Europe collapsed, making Slovakia a pawn on the geopolitical chessboard, the expedient of the fascist style grew into an addiction that transformed the principles of its practitioners. In 1938, for instance, the party created the Hlinka Guard, which practiced a brutality completely at odds with “love thy neighbor.” The 1939–1945 Slovak Republic consolidated Ľudák autonomy as a one-party dictatorship wed to the fate of the Third Reich. After the war, Tiso among others would be executed for crimes that included the destruction of Slovak Jewry.

Spain

(Judith Keene)

 

The largest movement in the heterogenous Spanish Right of the early twentieth century were the Carlists, supporters of an alternative Spanish Bourbon dynasty with deep nineteenth century roots in regional Navarra. By the 1930s there was an active Carlist movement across Spain, accompanied by a parallel development of well-organized militias. Carlist intellectuals argued that opposing secularism required a radical leadership that held fast to traditional Catholic values. Mussolini offered a possible model. The Alphonsine monarchists, Acción Española and the later more radical, Renovación Española, also looked to Italy, to Dollfuss’s Austria, and to Hitler’s Nazis.

 

Small right-wing groupuscules produceda bestiary of pre-fascist theory. Ramiro Ledesma Ramos coined the amalgamized term ‘national syndicalism’ and published his theses in La Conquista del Estado, a sporadic weekly between March and October 1931. Among his propositions for a secular state featuring syndicalism, science and land redistribution, Ledesma revealed an eclectic cosmopolitanism. In October 1931, Ledesma’s mini-faction joined up with another from Valladolid, led by Onésimo Redondo Ortega, a Catholic lawyer whose time in Germany left him convinced of Nazism and undeterred by antisemitism. The Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalistas (JONS) was the first organization in Spain with syndicalism on the masthead, though its namewas aspirational rather than reflecting reality. The insignia of later Falangism came from the jonistas: the yoked arrows, from the Catholic Kings; the colours of red and black, lifted from the anarchists; and the galvanizing supporters’ chant, “España, Una, Grande y Libre”. The surrealist writer Ernesto Giménez Caballero belonged to the prefascists, JONS, and the later Falangist movement. He studied in Strasbourg, married the sister of the Italian consul and fell under the spell of the Duce at the first encounter. 

 

The Falange Española was founded in October 1934 by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the son of General Miguel Primo de Rivera whose dictatorship from 1923 to 1930 had saved the monarchy and the military.  As he tells us, it was the son’s desire to defend his father’s reputation that first drew him into the rough and tumble of politics. Beginning with a regenerationist belief in the need for a “creative minority” to force reform from above, Primo de Rivera stood unsuccessfully on a mixed monarchist ticket in October 1931 in the Republic’s first elections. In October 1933 he formed the Falange Española whose launch in Madrid garnered much publicity but few members. When the Falange and the JONS joined forces many jonsistas were sceptical that the privileged Primo de Rivera and his circle of señoritos would appeal to radical youth and the working classes. Large numbers of people joined the Falangist movement after the Left’s victory in the elections and the generals’ pronunciamiento in July 1936. In October 1937, Franco by then the Nationalist military leader, forced the amalgamation of all parties on the Right into a single entity, FET-JONS. José Antonio was off the scene by this time, having been placed under arrest in Alicante in March 1936 and executed in November.

 

Sweden

(Nathaniel Kunkeler)

No fascist movement succeeded to establish a firm foothold in Sweden throughout the interwar period. Instead, several fascist organisations were rapidly formed, coalesced, and split again over the years, most of them orbiting a few pioneers. Fascist movements first appeared in the early 1920s, with the first being the Swedish National Socialist Freedom League (Svenska Nationalsocialistiska Frihetsförbundet, SNFF) founded in 1923 by the Furugård brothers. The Furugårds’ movement remained local to Värmland, while the first major attempt to create a national fascist movement came from the Swedish Fascist Militant Organisation (Sveriges Fascistiska Kamporganisation, SFKO). Founded in 1926 by predominantly Stockholm military in reaction to the government’s military budget cuts, it was backed by the wealthy Elof Eriksson, an admirer of Mussolini but also with ties to major German Nazi figures. Dressed in black shirts and espousing a violently anti-communist and anti-Semitic ideology, SKFO hoped to organise nationalist Swedes similarly to the Finnish White Guards of the 1918 civil war. Its cadres had a strong military element, and its publications and propaganda tended to appeal to traditional military interests.

 

At the end of the twenties the SFKO and the Furugård National Socialists merged to form the Sweden’s National Socialist Party (Sveriges Nationalsocialistiska Parti, SNSP), with Birger Furugård as Leader, and Sven Olov Lindholm as deputy. Personal and ideological differences, as well as allegations of corruption, soon created a rift resulting in Lindholm forming a break-away movement in January 1933, the more socialist-oriented National Socialist Workers’ Party, (Nationanlsociaistiska Arbetarepartiet, NSAP). Like virtually all Swedish fascist movements of the era the SNSP and NSAP had an overtly anti-Semitic agenda, and borrowed much of its visual language and organisation from German Nazism. The NSAP was notable for its young membership, and the very active participation of its sizeable youth wing, Nordic Youth. In spite of consisting of only a little over ten thousand members at its peak, the NSAP was highly active in elections, and organised thousands of well-attended meetings over the years,. Lindholm also left a strong personal stamp on the party, rooting his fascist ideology deeply in a Romantic literary conception of Swedish history and culture, heavily derived from contemporary and nineteenth-century Swedish poets and historians. Nevertheless he felt the NSAP needed a radical makeover in 1938, sharply turning away from its German influences and introducing more traditionally Swedish names, symbols, and aesthetics to appeal to a wider audience, albeit without any tangible result. Membership collapsed during WW2, and activity was minimal until the party dissolved in 1950.

 

Ukrainians (Poland and the Soviet Union)

(Per Anders Rudling)

 

Unlike many other regional national movements, the relatively weak and divided Ukrainian nationalist movement did not obtain an independent state after 1918. ‘We are not defeated!’ thundered colonel Evhen Konovalets at the founding congress of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) in Vienna in 1921. The UVO united some of the most radical voices of the nationalist right, refusing to accept the Riga peace treaty, pursuing instead a violent struggle against the Polish state. Along with other right-wing student fraternities, war veterans’ organizations the UVO formed the basis for the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), founded in 1929. Initially supported by Lithuania, the OUN received support from Fascist Italy and, after 1935, Nazi Germany. Polish-Ukrainian relations were increasingly polarized after Poland became an authoritarian corporatist state in 1926. The OUN launched a campaign of political violence against Polish officials, non-nationalist Ukrainians, Soviet diplomats and pro-communist Ukrainian politicians, which, over the 1930s led to the death of at least 65 people. The most spectacular success of the OUN was the assassination of the second most powerful man in Poland, Bronisław Pieracki, in 1934. The authorities responded with a sharp clamp down on Ukrainian terrorism, sentencing the leader of the Galician OUN leadership, Stepan Bandera and his closest collaborators to life time in prison. The radicals used the courtroom as a platform for their activism, and Bandera became a hero to many on the far right.

 

The OUN was divided between an older generation of émigrés, veterans of World War I, and the more radical regional local Galician leadership, dominated by students born around 1910. After the Soviets succeeded in assassinating Konovalets in 1938, and after the release of Bandera and the radicals from prison after the German and Soviet invasions of Poland in 1939 the OUN split into two wings, known as OUN-Bandera and OUN-Melnyk, or OUN(b) and OUN(m) after its two leaders. From 1935, in addition to its radical anti-communist, anti-Polish, and anti-Russian sentiments antisemitism became a prominent feature of its ideology. Despite claiming to be the vanguard of the Ukrainian nation, these groups never exceeded, at the peak of their activities, 20,000-30,000 members. Both wings competed for the support of Nazi Germany, where, in particular the Abwehr and Rosenberg’s Office for Eastern Affairs were sympathetic to their cause. Germany trained OUN military units which took part in Operation Barbarossa. When the OUN(b) declared the ‘renewal’ of Ukrainian statehood in Lviv on June 30, 1941, inspired by, and modelled on the Slovak and Croat cases. The OUN(b) set up militias ‘to remove the Jews’ and organized pogroms which resulted in the death of thousands while the head of the self-proclaimed government declared his loyalty to Adolf Hitler and the New Order. The Nazis did not, however, envision Ukrainian independence, not even in the form of a puppet state. When the OUN(b) refused to retract the June 30 declaration and Ukraine was divided up into several separate administrative units, the relations between the OUN(b) and the Germans cooled considerably, and the collaboration took different forms. If most of their military collaborators continued to serve in German uniform until Stalingrad, in 1943 followers of the OUN(b) defected en masse to form the backbone of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Committed to an ethnically cleansed greater Ukraine, the UPA, independent of the Nazis, carried out a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing against Poles, Jews, Russians, Armenians, and other ethnic minorities, as well as Ukrainian political rivals.

 

United Kingdom

(Matthew Feldman)

The first explicitly fascist movement in Britain was the British Fascisti (BF),  led by a woman, Rotha Linton-Orman. While heavily influenced by the example – if not ideology – of Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, the BF mainly attracted support from ultra-conservatives in the Conservative Party. The BF did not deploy charismatic leadership or paramilitarism, nor advocate ethnic cleansing – let alone embracing ‘revolutionary rebirth’.  –. Alongside, Arnold Leese, the vehemently antisemitic leader of the Imperial Fascist League (founded 1929), key ideologues cutting their teeth with the BF included the conspiracy theorist Nesta Weber  and later functionaries for the British Union of Fascists, including Neil Francis Hawkins, E.G. Mandeville Roe, H.J. Donavan, and William Joyce. In 1937, the latter would form the National Socialist League. Other tiny and, more often than not, aristocratic fascist movements in interwar Britain included The Link, The Right Club, the Anglo-German Fellowship, The Nordic League, and English Mistery (and its offshoot movement, English Array).

The most credible and successful fascist party of the interwar period was the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by former Labour and Conservative MP Oswald Mosley. The BUF was launched in 1932 after his New Party launched and fizzled the year before.  Mosley’s Blackshirtswere immediately successful in terms of recruitment, at one point gaining the support of the Daily Mail, and held a membership of, approximately, 40,000 people. While there was doubtless ‘some genuine imitation’ of Mussolini’s and, later, Hitler’s fascists – not least on account of financial support – the BUF  was Britain’s most intellectually coherent fascist movement. It had well-considered economic policies, notably ‘imperial preference’, as well as some forward-looking ideas on women; likewise, ‘the BUF never preached war and expansion, but peace and prosperity’. 

The BUF never won a single parliamentary seat – perhaps owing as much to the British ‘first past the post’ electoral system as Britain’s long-held allergy to extremist movements, whether of left or right. More often than not, Mosley’s thugs were a figure of fun more than a threat to power; save for those at the receiving end of his vitriol: Jews, socialists and communists, and the geriatric ‘establishment’ he derided.

 

The BUF had early on become synonymous with violence in the public mind after a particularly violent response to protests at a fascist rally held at Olympia in 1934 – costing the support of Harold Harmsworth’s Daily Mail in its wake – ‘which irrevocably tarnished fascism's image in Britain’. At Cable Street, on 4 October 1936, tens of thousands turned out to block a BUF march in the East End that, in keeping with fascist praxis, targeted Jews. A melee followed and the event was cancelled by police, redoubling Mosley’s reputation as an inciter of hate rather than an inspirer of revolution. The Public Order Act in early 1937 – particularly banning political uniforms and paramilitarism in Britain – did much to further erode BUF visibility and support. The latter only started to recover on the eve of WWII, in part through the ‘Mind Britain’s Business Campaign’ against confronting the Axis.. Fearing a ‘fifth column’ from within, Britain’s leading fascists, including Mosley, Leese, and many hundreds more on the radical right, were interned under Defence Regulations 18(a) and 18(b) in late May 1940.

© 2019 by Roland Clark

& Michaela Moriarty