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One Hundred Years of Fascism

For fascist parties and politicians to win elections, they usually must attract support from people who, if asked, would loudly reject the fascist label. But this need not be so difficult: voters merely have to be persuaded that democracy is no longer serving their interests.

NEW YORK – When Fascist Blackshirts marched through the streets of Rome at the end of October 1922, their leader, Benito Mussolini, had just been installed as prime minister. While Mussolini’s followers had already organized into militias and begun to terrorize the country, it was during the 1922 march, historian Robert O. Paxton writes, that they “escalated from sacking and burning local socialist headquarters, newspaper offices, labor exchanges, and socialist leaders’ homes to the violent occupation of entire cities, all without hindrance from the government.”

By this point, Mussolini and his Fascist Party had been normalized, because they had been brought into the center-right government the previous year as an antidote to the left. The government was in disarray, its institutions delegitimized, and leftist parties were squabbling among themselves. And Fascist violence had fueled disorder that Mussolini, like a racketeer, promised to resolve.

But while Mussolini presided over Fascism’s first real taste of political power, his movement was not the first of its kind. For that, one must look instead to the United States. As Paxton explains, “It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: The Ku Klux Klan … the first version of the Klan was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.”