10 Little-Known Fascist Governments

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Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, was murdered by a mob on April 28, 1945, after 23 years of fascist governance in Italy. Mussolini, his mistress, and many of the fascist party’s top leaders were murdered in cold blood without trial. That’s no way to bring down a government. Even Saddam Hussein, the Nazis and the Japanese were given trials. So, as bad as Mussolini was, his end was not fair in any sense of the word. It would be wise to remember that even tyrants and despots, along with murderers, rapists, terrorists, and pedophiles still have a right to a fair trial in free countries. This long-observed law is often misconstrued as a weakness by many non-Western observers, but make no mistake: A fair trial is a cornerstone of Western civilization.

Mussolini’s vulgar end is the inspiration for this weekend’s Top 10 list: Fascist governments you  may not know about. Fascism is a complicated system of governance and ideology, and one that, in part because its adherents lost World War II, is often used as pejorative by the victors of the same war (the liberals and the socialists). I mentioned some of the best contemporary essays on fascism at the Historiat last month, which you can read for yourself here . (Historiat, by the way, was relaunched after a three-year hiatus and features twice-weekly blog posts, one from myself, and one from the far more learned Richard Brownell, so be sure to stop on by and say ‘hi’.)

For this list I am focusing on aspects of fascist governance, rather than ideology, so anti-Semitism, for example, does not count, nor does anti-Bolshevism, or contempt for the messiness of the democratic system.

Fascist states are characterized by the following: One party governance; private property is tolerated so long as it serves the state and not the individual; corporations are tolerated so long as they serve the interests of the state and not shareholders; and economic nationalism is pursued not through free trade but via trading blocs based around a shared identity (mythical or not). This was Mussolini’s vision for fascistic governance, and while the Nazis added a German twist to fascism, many other countries attempted to follow Mussolini’s line of reasoning.

10. Argentina and the governments of Juan Perón. This is probably the most controversial name on the list. Juan Perón and his Perónist movement described, like fascists elsewhere, as neither left or right, and the Perónist movement got support from both sides of the aisle. Perón ruled Argentina for nine years before being overthrown in a coup d'état, and was again installed in power from 1974 to his death in 1975. Perón and his party ruled Argentina with an iron fist, isolated its economy from the world at-large, and nationalized large swathes of the domestic economy in the name of equality. Perón and the movement he started is fascist in action, if not in name, though it should be noted that Perón was an admirer of Mussolini, and Argentina, under Perón’s watch, aligned itself more closely with the Axis Powers than the Allies during World War II.

9. Mexico and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). From 1929-2000, Mexico was governed uninterrupted by a single party whose platform was autarky. PRI, when it came to power, nationalized most of Mexico’s large, globally competitive industries, seized property owned by non-Mexicans, and began a national project to bring Mexico’s standard of living to the echelons of its northern neighbors. It didn’t work, of course. For over three-quarters of a century Mexicans suffered under single-party rule -- there was corruption, economic growth rates were  dependent upon global oil markets, and there was plenty of electoral fraud. Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel laureate from Peru, called PRI “the perfect dictatorship” because of its uninterrupted rule in spite of such bad outcomes. NAFTA brought about an end to PRI, as competing parties were allowed to run for political office, and voters in Mexico finally, democratically, put an end to Mexico’s nefarious corporatist regime.

8. France and the Parti Populaire Français (PPF). The PPF was, like almost every other fascist organization in the world, made up almost entirely, at the top, of former communists and socialists. PPF’s leadership decided that the communists and socialists of France (and elsewhere) had fallen under the sway of too many Jews and, because of this influence, were not interested in the French working class. When the Germans swiftly conquered France during the early stages of World War II, PPF became a proud collaborator with the occupying regime as part of Vichy France.

7. Romania and the Iron Guard. Sandwiched between the communist Soviet Union and the fascist Axis powers of central Europe, Romanian society struggled to find its footing after a comparatively wonderful campaign during World War I, but Bucharest eventually chose to side with Berlin and Rome instead of Moscow. Romanian fascism was known for including the Orthodox Church into its anti-communist, anti-Semitic, and anti-capitalist rhetoric. Romania’s fascists almost made the Nazis look like boy scouts, especially when the Iron Guard organized and implemented one of Europe’s bloodiest pogroms, ever: the IaÈ?i pogrom. Just over 13,000 Jews, along with their liberal and Orthodox defenders in the city of IaÈ?i, were butchered on the streets where they once plied their trades. Romania, a member of the Axis for most of the war, was second only to Germany in the number of Jews it killed during World War II.

6. Greece and Metaxism. Another Balkan variant of fascism, Metaxism was much softer than the Romanian Iron Guard, especially in regards to Jews, but also aligned closely with the Orthodox Church in order to purge Greece of its Turkish and Albanian (“Muslim”) merchants. Metaxism was more interested in corporatism, economic development, and one-party rule (for stability’s sake, of course) than it was in mass murdering Jews, so in this respect Greek fascism had much more in common with Latin American variants than European ones. Greece found itself allied with the West during World War II after Mussolini’s Italy invaded Greece and forced it to surrender.

5. Serbia and the Government of National Salvation. Serbia was officially part of Yugoslavia when Germany invaded and occupied the latter country in April 1941. As a deft conquer-and-divide strategy, Berlin simply split Yugoslavia up into its former ethnic regions, and installed indigenous fascists in government posts. The Serbian collaborationist government oversaw 90 percent of Serbia’s Jewish population eliminated, and the Government of National Salvation played host to a number of German-run concentration camps. When the war ended, Serbia again became a part of Yugoslavia, but to your correspondent’s knowledge, nobody was ever held responsible for collaborating with foreign fascists (though Tito made sure to clamp down hard on domestic fascist movements). Perhaps I should add “collaboration with foreign occupiers” to the list of fascist tendencies in governance.

4. Algeria and the National Liberation Front (FLN). Leftists may give me a lot of flack for including an anti-colonial party on this list, but the FLN bore all the features of fascist governance that the others have. In addition to nationalizing the Algerian economy and heavily restricting property rights and corporate decision making, the FLN ruled as a single party from 1962-89. The FLN was responsible for many massacres of innocent civilians and had a vicious anti-Semitic streak of its own. In 1830, 20 percent of Algiers was estimated to be Jewish. Today, as you read this, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, only a few dozen Jews remain in the country, though it should be pointed out that France’s fascist parties played an important role in purging Algeria of its Jewish population.

3. Hungary and the Arrow Cross Party. One of the more interesting brands of fascism during the interwar period was Hungarian fascism. Hungarian fascism was a blend of Mussolini’s fascist thought with “Hungarian Turanism,” which is a set of beliefs that places Hungary’s past in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Ural Mountains: the mythical homes of the invading, unbeatable Huns. This is in obvious conflict with German fascist conceptions of the past, and the two countries never got along well during World War II. And unlike Hitler, the fascist Prime Minister of Hungary, Ferenc Szálasi, was never able to take full control of Hungary’s government. In fact, the conservative regime that was forced to make Szálasi Prime Minister due to elections, led by Miklós Horthy, played an important role in saving hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. When the Germans removed Horthy themselves and played kingmaker for Szálasi, the Jews of Hungary started to die in droves.

2. Syria and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). In the earliest phase of the ongoing Syrian civil war, the SSNP fought on behalf of the Bashir government and against the various enemies of the Ba’athist regime. The SSNP and the Ba’athist are close ideological cousins, though the SSNP was one of the first fascist organizations to appear in the Levant. Founded in 1932, the SSNP was an anti-colonial fascist movement that called for attacks on capitalists, communists, and feudal landlords alike. The SSNP conceived of a Greater Syria that encompassed what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine, the Sinai, parts of Turkey, and Cyprus. Over the years, the party has waxed and waned as the regions geopolitics evolved, and it almost from everywhere in the region (save Lebanon) until the Syrian civil war erupted. It recently won seats in Syria’s parliament for the first time since the 1950s. Oh, and it was founded by a Greek Orthodox Christian.

1. Portugal’s Estado Novo. From 1933-68, Portugal was governed by a mild-mannered economist named António de Oliveira Salazar. Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and power was given to another fascist dictator, but he only lasted six years before a democratic revolution swept out the longest-lived fascist regime in modern world history. Portugal’s fascism has much in common with the Latin American variants listed above, with the exception of its dogged refusal to grant its overseas colonies independence when other colonial powers have already done so. In Salazar’s view, Portugal’s overseas colonies were not colonies per se, but rather integral extensions of Portugal itself. The bloody counter-insurgency wars Portugal fought in these colonies suggests Lisbon’s subjects didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with the world’s longest-governing fascist.

Further thoughts: Populism versus fascism

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump, nor Barack Obama, nor George W. Bush share any of the same traits as fascists. The most sensitive to popular appeal among them, Donald Trump, is as far removed from, say, Peronism or Metaxism as the two are from liberal democracy.

Today’s punditocracy could use a little more history and a little less spotlight.


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