“To Believe, To Obey, To Combat”

Today, for those of us living in a liberal democracy, fascism seems to be an absurd, repulsive and
maybe even grotesque form of governmental leadership. Communism had its beginnings in the spirit of the
American and French revolutions, with their emphasis on individual liberty and equaling, fascism rejected
these 19th-century ideas. Instead it extolled the state as absolute and demanded discipline, devotion to
duty, and the subordination of all individual activities to the good of the state. Mussolini’s slogan was “to
believe, to obey, to combat.”
Communism has had many theorists, especially Karl Marx, and has become a quite complex
ideology. Fascism was a technique for gaining power and wielding it. It was far more flexible than
Communism, because if could implement the policies it devised on a trial-and-error basis. This flexibility
made it more economically successful in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan.
A variety of factors contributed to the rise of fascism after World War I. The countries in
which it first emerged were not yet politically and socially modernized. They had very little experience
with the operation of democratic institution, compared to France, Great Britain, and the United States.
Germany, Italy, and Japan had all entered the war with great expectations of territorial gains and increased
international status. All these countries found their hopes frustrated and their populations resentful.
After World War I, Germany did not conceive of itself as a loser in the war. Failure on the
battlefield was looked upon as the result of betrayal at home. Financial disaster in Germany in the runaway
inflation of 1923 and of the Great Depression a few years later seemed to support the idea the the problems
sprang from home. All these conditions, combined with persistent political turmoil and a weak central
government, created a situation that was ripe for someone who claimed to be able to make Germany a great
nation once more. That someone proved to be Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist party.
Italy, though reckoned among the victors in the war, was a far more backward nation industrially
than Germany, Great Britain, of France. Some politicians, especially Mussolini, tried to direct popular
resentment against the democracies that had emerged more powerful and prosperous from the war. The
propertied classes, the church, and the major industrialists feared social unrest among the masses and
sought a strong leader to take hold of the weak political structures of the country.
Japan, having just emerged from feudalism in the 19th century, was determined to modernize itself
and become a major power. It had looked to World War I to enlarge its sphere of influence by gaining a
protectorate over China. Japan was frustrated in this goal by the Untied States, and popular resentment
called for strengthening the industrial base and rebuilding the armed forces.
The resentments and fears, as well as the hopes and ambitions of the peoples of Germany, Italy,
and Japan were mobilized by power-hungry men who successfully took over the machinery of government.
Mussolini came to power in 1922 and ruled until his fall in 1943 during World War II. In Japan the army
took over the government and began the mobilization that led the country into World War II.