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Myth: Fascism ended in 1945 with the defeat of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis in World War II

Myth: Fascism ended in 1945 with the defeat of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis in World War II

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Myth busters

This weekend, thousands of neo-fascists demonstrated in Rome to “take back the streets from the intruders”. Right hands were raised and slogans like “Italy for Italians; stop immigration, stop illegals, throw out all intruders” were shouted. Still, many people think that the fascist ideology ceased to exist after World War II, says historian Pablo del Hierro. “It was the end of fascist regimes, but the ideology lived on and evolved. It’s not immutable, it adapts to the new context.”

Contrary to another popular belief, there wasn’t even a brief period in which fascism didn’t exist. “The late 1940s/early 1950s wasn’t the best time for them. Fascism was largely discredited and most people didn’t want to hear anything about it. But it did survive, when you follow the footsteps of fascists who survived the war and fled Germany, you see the continuity.” It was these people who were responsible for passing on the ideology to a new generation. “First, they managed to get to countries such as Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, governments that leaned towards the ideas of fascism and would look the other way when a Nazi fleeing prosecution entered the country. Once they secured their position, they started their political activities: publishing pamphlets, organizing meetings. Slowly, they gained more confidence and started associations, usually under the pretext of a veteran club. They came in contact with other fascists and set up transnational networks. After the Cold War started and the focus of the world was more on communism, they became more ambitious and started to transfer their ideology to young activists.”

Ever since, fascism has seen periods of growth in various countries. “In the 1960s, it was Italy, in the 1970s France and the Scandinavian countries. It’s always linked to some kind of crisis – economically, democratically or socially – and the notion of a common enemy, whether it’s Jews, communists, the elite, Muslims or refugees. Whenever things change, conservative elements feel threatened, as if all the things they believe in are shredded. It makes people long for traditional values; they turn to things that are familiar, such as the nation state. This is fertile ground for fascists. It is what is happening now in Europe. Sometimes disguised as something else, because fascists have also learnt from history. They know not to use symbols like a Nazi flag anymore, they’ve adapted.”

The problem with recognizing fascism today is two-fold, says Del Hierro. “On the one hand, media are reluctant to call someone a fascist. Instead, they will use terms like ‘ultranationalistic populist’ or ‘right-wing extremist’, which gives it some kind of respectability.  On the other hand, the term ‘fascism’ is used way too often on social media. That makes it mundane, banal. What we need to discuss on a societal level – it’s already happening in academics – is what fascism really is. What are the key elements that have survived every adaptation?”

Will fascism always be here, as an indestructible part of democracy? Del Hierro is cautiously optimistic. “Democracies now are more mature than in the 1920s, when the liberal democratic model was implemented from the top down after World War I. Citizens today are better equipped to deal with challenges like globalism. But we can’t relax; we can’t take democratic values for granted. To stop forces that challenge the foundations of democracy, we need active and involved citizens.”

Mythbusters is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics

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