The third of three autumn 2017 ‘Tetley Talks’ on the theme of ‘From Revolution to Reaction’
Fascism began with Mussolini’s Partito Nazionale Fascista in the 1920s. Italian fascism mobilized passionate nationalism, hatred of socialism and liberalism, and glorification of violence and war. Nowadays, however, fascism has come to mean German Nazism in the 1930s, along with Hitler’s ideas of racial superiority – ideas that justified the Holocaust.
In 2017, passions about ‘fascism’ are mobilised as never before. From the US alt-right to ISIS, from the new ‘populist’ parties of Europe to Donald Trump, everyone has recently been described as ‘fascist’. Yet in fact, as George Orwell commented back in 1944, one should use the term fascist ‘with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword’.
So what, historically, was fascism? Since Hitler came to power in an election, doesn’t that warn us against the popularity of ‘strongmen’ national leaders today – Trump, Erdogan, Putin and others? Or do some too easily and arbitrarily bandy about the term ‘fascist’ in 2017?