Difference between socialism and fascism
The world of politics is complex, multilayered and continuously evolving. Historians, social scientists, economists and political scientists have attempted to differentiate the countless types of policies and political thinking into different categories – which are referred to on a daily basis. Yet, the sinuous nature of the matter makes it complicated to identify unique and immutable features that would undoubtedly situate any theory into a given, specific box. Moreover, different historical contexts shape politics and policies in unpredictable manners, and, therefore, theories need constant adaptations.
The most striking example of the miscellaneous nature of national and international politics is the interesting argument – supported by many – that theories that apparently oppose and contradict each other might, in fact, be surprisingly similar. This is the case of fascism and socialism.
For decades, the two terms have been used to identify two opposing political, social and economic theories that have dramatically marked human history during the XX century. To date, fascism and socialism as such no longer exist (besides in some rare cases), and have been replaced by “neo-fascism” and “neo-socialism”. Yet, modern thinking remains strictly intertwined with the originating paradigms.
Let us proceed with order: to understand the differences (and the similarities) between fascism and socialism, we necessarily need a clear idea of the main features pertaining to both theories.
Fascism is a far-right nationalistic movement first born in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. According to one of its main exponents – Benito Mussolini – the fascist philosophy is based on three main pillars:
- “Everything in the state”
- “Nothing outside the state”
- “Nothing against the state”
A fascist government is supreme, and all institutions must conform to the willing of the ruling authority. Moreover, opposition is not tolerated: the fascist ideology has primacy and supremacy over all other perspectives, and the ultimate goal of a fascist country is to rule the world and spread the “superior ideology” everywhere.
- Fascism exalts nation and race over the individual
- Centralized, authoritarian, and often dictatorial government
- Strong and charismatic leader
- Strict governmental control over opposition, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly
- Severe social regulations
- Crucial role of heroes
- Strong attachment to moral, nationalistic values
- Glory of the state over the individual
- The individual is required to put the interest of the state before his personal goals/needs
- Unique economy
- Strong governmental involvement in economy an production
- The State has strong influence over investment and industries
- In order to receive the support of the government, businesses need to promise that their main interest is the enhancement of the country
- Opposed to free market economy
- In some instances, international trade is opposed (because of the primacy of the nationalist feeling)
In Europe, the fascist movement largely expanded throughout the XX century, and played a crucial role during World War II. In fact, the fascist Italian thinking paved the way for the emergence and the strengthening of German Nazism. Both Mussolini and Hitler engaged in aggressive foreign policies and territorial expansionism, and strived for the establishment of totalitarian dictatorships over the controlled territories. Today, there is no nation openly and completely fascist; however, in some cases, far-right neo-fascist/neo-Nazi movements have obtained the majority (or, at least, a large support).
- The British National Party is strongly influenced by Fascist ideals – made clear by the anti-immigration tendencies
- Many suggest that Trump’s policies have fascist connotations, in particular as far as immigration stance and national superiority are concerned
- Emergence of Neo-Fascist parties in Bolivia from 1937 to 1980
Socialism is often collocated in the opposite end of the spectrum compared to fascism; if fascism pertains to the group of far-rights movements, socialism is, then, located to the far-left:
- Socialism is an economic and social theory advocating for social ownership, and democratic control of the means of production
- Strong governmental involvement in production and redistribution of goods and wealth
- Abolition of private property
- Means of production are controlled and owned by the state
- None (besides the state) has personal control over resources
- Production is directly and solely for use
- Emphasis on equality rather than achievement
- Primacy of the community over the individual
Moreover, there are many variants of socialism, such as:
- Religious socialism
- Libertarian socialism
- Democratic socialism
- Liberal socialism
- Progressive socialism
- Communism (when socialism is exasperated)
Socialism is, to date, more widespread than fascism. Moreover, socialism can exist within countries as main overall economic and social system, but can be also present within segments of a country, such as in education, health care, and corporation systems. If a country has not declared itself as socialist in the national constitution, it cannot be labelled as socialist by third parties. To date, a number of countries have chosen to define themselves socialist nations:
- Republic of India
- Republic of Angola
- Portuguese Republic
- Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
- People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria
Where is the difference?
Clearly, fascism and socialism differ on many fundamental aspects.
- Far-right vs far-left
- Primacy of the nation vs protection of everyone’s rights
- Private property vs public/social ownership
The socialist paradigm is based on the assumption that private property and free market inevitably lead to social and economic inequality. As such, the state has the moral and social duty to intervene to protect workers’ rights and to ensure that wealth is equally and harmoniously distributed. Socialist societies prevent economic competition within the country and with other countries.
Despite the large degree of variance existing within the socialist world, all policies implemented by all variants of socialism are based on the pivotal economic and social goals mentioned earlier. The idea of nation, race, and superiority are absent from the socialist thinking.
Fascism, instead, does not call for social equality nor cares about the equal redistribution of wealth and income. A fascist economy aims at the strengthening of the nation, at the propagation of nationalistic principles, and at the enhancement of national superiority.
Even if fascist economic policies often lead to economic growth – from which all segments of society can benefit – social equality is not among the goals of the fascist paradigm.
Socialism and fascism are based on opposite principles and values, however…
Despite their apparent opposition and the historical paths that have led to the striking contrasts between the two ideologies, socialism and fascism have important features in common.
- They are both strong ideology
- They both imply strong governmental involvement in economic and social life
- They both have the power to create strong social movements
- They both oppose free market
- They both need a strong governmental apparatus and a strong leader
Socialism and fascism are two strong ideologies, which have been able to create cohesive and powerful social movements. Rarely, during history, have we witnessed such influential and fast-growing social involvement and participation in political life.
- In the case of socialism, masses mobilize and support the idea of equal development, equal share of wealth, social equality, enhancement of the community, and collective values. Socialism unites masses under the umbrella of equality, not supremacy.
- In the case of fascism, masses mobilize for the achievement of national and racial supremacy over all other countries, over all other minorities, and over all other nations. The idea of equality is alien to the fascism paradigm, while the concept of superiority is pivotal.
Throughout history, socialism and fascism have been portrayed as opposing and contrasting all-encompassing-theories. Indeed, our recent past provides us with several examples of fascist thinking opposing social thinking, and vice versa.
As we have seen, the two theories originate from opposing values: socialism strives for an equal society, and is based on the idea of democratic ownership, and redistribution of wealth. Conversely, fascism strives for the imposition of national and racial superiority, and advocates for economic growth fostered by national companies and corporations.
In brief, fascism and socialism differ in crucial and central principles.
However, we can also witness important similarities between the two, in particular as far as the role of the state is concerned. Both fascism and socialism require a strong state involvement in economic and social policies. The reason why the government intervenes in public affairs is different, but the means used to achieve different goals are interestingly similar.
Moreover, and more importantly, both have proved to be incredibly powerful and effective ideologies, able to bring together huge masses, and to foster large and cohesive social movements. In addition, the strengthening of socialist and fascist thinking is often enhanced by the growth of middle-class/working-class discontent. Interestingly enough: same origins and social feelings generate opposite political and economic movements that operate in similar ways.
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Giulia Squadrin. "Difference between socialism and fascism." DifferenceBetween.net. March 13, 2017 < http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/politics/ideology-politics/difference-between-socialism-and-fascism/ >.
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Written by : Giulia Squadrin. and updated on March 13, 2017
 Defining capitalism, communism, fascism, and socialism, available at http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/engl_258/lecture%20notes/capitalism%20etc%20defined.htm
 Fascism, Urban dictionary, available at http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fascism
 Neo-Fascist, Wordl Heritage Encyclopedia, available at http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Neo-fascist
 What is Socialism? World Socialist Movement, available at http://www.worldsocialism.org/english/what-socialism
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