4 Powerful Fascist Movements that have been Forgotten
The term ‘fascism’ is used these days liberally. Several scholars and pundits today will be the first to say that the term is not only tremendously misused but also not very well understood¹.
Fascism today has been relegated as a byword or an insult for many things that certain people find offensive. Regardless of how often we hear it used, it’s still a political ideology that never amassed very much power during its heyday in the 1930s.
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Despite the fact it was soundly defeated during World War II, fascism still has a certain ‘boogeyman’ connotation. It scares the daylights out of people even though the likelihood of a fascist takeover is quite remote.
Four forgotten Fascist movements
To illustrate the failure of fascism in the world, we need only examine these four significant fascist movements from the 1930s that have since been forgotten. And keep in mind that there were several more of them that also existed before disappearing.
Despite sharing the same language, Germany and Austria have never shared the same culture. Thus, it shouldn’t much of a surprise that their far-right ideology would be different as well.
While Adolph Hitler and his followers advocated for a brand of National Socialism, Austria preferred the principles of Austrofascism² — which was an authoritarian and nationalist ideology that was very anti-Nazi. Austria clung tightly to its Roman Catholic identity and was led by a dictator named Engelbert Dollfuss.
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While the Austrofascists resisted the anti-clerical measures of Germany, there were several Austrian Nazis who had the desire to join Germany. These Nazis envisioned the founding of a single Germanic state in Central Europe.
As the two groups continued their feud, Dollfuss was named the Chancellor of Austria in 1932. He then set about merging his own Christian Social Party with other right-wing groups and founded the ‘Fatherland Front.’
Under this new formation, Dollfuss established a very repressive, anti-liberal government. He forbade the parliament from meeting and then oversaw the drafting of a new constitution to unite all of Austrian society under one banner.
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However, this new constitution ignited a civil war between the Austrian left and right — which was won by the right. This created an intense resentment toward Dollfuss for banning opposition parties. Ultimately, disguised Austrian Nazis stormed Vienna’s Federal Chancellery in July 1934. Dollfuss was shot twice and was denied medical treatment, and was left to die a painful and slow death.
Eventually, Germany invaded Austria, putting an end to the movement.
The Rexist Party from Belgium was an ultraconservative Catholic group that sought a corporatist state driven by Nationalism and strict adherence to religious principles³. Unlike many fascist movements during those days, the Rexists wanted to continue the Belgian monarchy when there was widespread liberalism within their society.
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Leon Degrelle was the charismatic leader of the Rexists, and surprisingly they managed to seat 21 MPs against a resurging Communist Party during the elections of 1936. Later, they joined a powerful coalition with a Flemish nationalist party that had fascist overtones. Subsequently, after swaying voters away from their rival Catholic Party, the Rexists were very close to becoming the most potent right-wing party in the nation — until the Germans later invaded Belgium.
Even though it was seen as a political movement, the Rexist Party was more like a cult led by Degrelle. His influence pushed the group more toward a Nazi-like ideology in the late 1930s — even at a high cost to the group’s popularity.
During the war, Degrelle promptly left the Rexist Party to join up with the Walloon Legion, a French-speaking Belgian unit within the Waffen-SS. Degrelle eventually became an officer in the SS and fought on the Eastern Front, earning several decorations for bravery. He also authored many pro-fascist articles for the collaborationist newspaper Le Pays Reel.
The Rexist Party was outlawed after the war like most other far-right movements throughout Europe. Degrelle fled to Spain and continued writing articles and letters defending his actions and those of the Rexist Party.
The Iron Guard
The Iron Guard from Romania went beyond being just another fascist movement in history⁴. While other fascist groups preached about the virtues of Nationalism and the importance of military discipline, the Iron Guard openly and blatantly worshiped death. Corneliu Codreanu was the group’s leader. As a strong anti-Semite, he emphasized a philosophy laced with anti-liberalism and terrorism.
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In 1938, out of fear of the Iron Guard’s growing power and its Jewish death squads, King Carol II created a single-party ‘corporative’ and installed himself as its leader. He then started outlawing all opposing political parties. This led to the imprisonment and execution of many Iron Guard legionaries. Codreanu himself was eventually imprisoned and put to death in November 1938.
After this political purge, the Iron Guard took full advantage of Romania’s muddled neutrality during World War II. When Romania started leaning toward the side of the Axis Powers, Iron Guard members quickly allied themselves with General Ion Antonescu. The general was an authoritarian that had supported Italy and Germany when they invaded the Soviet Union with Romanian troops. But this proved to be short-lived, however.
In January 1941, during the Legionaries’ Rebellion, the Iron Guard tried to usurp Antonescu’s power. And while this occurred, other rebellious Iron Guard members attacked Jewish communities throughout Romania. Around 120 Jews were killed, and countless homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed. Yet General Antonescu eventually carried the day, killing over 200 Legionaries while placing thousands of them in prison.
Integralism believes in the concept that an entire nation is an organic whole, and therefore the well-being of the country must have priority over all things. While Integralism attempted to unify capital and labor into an ideological corporatist superstructure, there were downsides. It often became an ethnocentric wedge used to create boundary lines between those who could and those who couldn’t be members of their Integralist group or nation.
In France, Integralism was merely one among many other reactionary philosophies, but in a country like Brazil, its citizens deeply felt its impact⁵. They were founded by a Hitler look-alike named Plinio Salgado. This Brazilian Integralist Action group began some ten years before its official creation in 1932.
During the 1922 Modern Art Week that occurred in Sao Paulo, Salgado, an assortment of Nationalists, Futurists, and avant-garde artists debated about the creation of a new art movement in Brazil. Such a movement would become a combination of Modernism as well as Brazilian Nationalism. While this may sound like a far-fetched topic to involve artists, the fact is that in 1922, there was already modern art in existence that encouraged the forming of right-wing movements. Also, we must remember that it was Italian Futurists who helped spur the very first version of fascism in Italy.
Brazilian Integralists adopted the slogan’ Union of all races and all peoples.’ They also wore green shirts and mimicked the paramilitary poses of the German Brownshirts and the Italian Blackshirts. They marched in the streets of Brazil, displaying a flag of royal blue bearing the Greek letter sigma.
Salgado’s brand of Integralism supported anti-liberal, anti-Marxist, and anti-materialist views. Many of those were promoted through a ‘Revolution of the Self,’ which was the act of subsuming individual desires and wants for the good of the nation. Following a tentative peace agreement with Brazil’s President Getulio Vargas, the group was forcibly disbanded in 1938.
: Geoffrey Cain. (June 3, 2019). The Failure to Define Fascism Today. https://newrepublic.com/article/154042/failure-define-fascism-today.
: Wikipedia.org. Fatherland Front (Austria). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatherland_Front_(Austria).
: Britannica.com. Rexist Party of Belgium. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rexist-Party-of-Belgium.
: Stanley G. Payne. (February 21, 2017). “A Unique Death Cult.” https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/02/romanias-unusually-morbid-fascist-movement-blended-nationalistic-violence-with-fanatical-christian-martyrdom.html.
: Wise-Up News. (October 2, 2018). What was the Integralist movement, the Brazilian Fascism? https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/wiseup-news/what-was-the-integralist-movement-the-brazilian-fascism/.