Hello all, now that I finally have some time on my hands, I can finally bring to you an essay on the topic of if fascism was revolutionary or reactionary. Before we get started, I just want to make it clear that my answer isn't definitive and will only touch on Italian fascism.
But without further ado, lets us get right into it.
A question that contemporary historians and intellectuals have been asking for decades regarding fascism is whether the movement was a revolution or a reaction to the liberal establishment. Although a fair question on the surface, they always fall short of a satisfying answer.
In order to answer the question, a proper definition is needed for fascism due to how the term is used within the modern socio-political discourse that has left the term poorly defined and confusing which for the most part is the fault of these said historians and intellectuals.
This confusion is relevant to the question as some from the right will say it’s a left-leaning socialist ideology whilst some from the left will say it’s capitalism in decay. The debate is further hemmed in by considering all politically incorrect actions and ideas as fascist.
Beyond that paradigm of conflicting opinions, fascism unlike most ideologies is an all-encompassing revolutionary worldview. A combination of social, philosophical, and cultural forces that had become politically organised towards a goal of mankind reforged and actualised.
Therefore, the fascist ideology cannot act as a political movement vouching for democratic power among others. The fascist worldview is absolute and must self-proclaim itself above all else for a greater good.
Because of this all-encompassing nature, fascism is a synthesis of ideas from across the spectrum making it a third position having a clear basis from the past and a desire to carry it into the future as tradition and progress to them aren’t mutually exclusive in their eyes.
This embracement of ideals doesn’t mean a utopian society. For Mussolini, history is an endless struggle and a utopian dream is an attempt to end history that liberalism and communism want to achieve which he sees as naive for not understanding the unending nature of history.
The reason I’m putting together a definition like this is that in order to understand fascism, it must be engaged on its own terms which goes beyond the political into the semi-religious. Otherwise, we’ll fall into the same unhelpful discourse as I've mentioned above.
Nationalism and Syndicalism: The nationalism of fascism is an interesting part of the ideology as most forms of nationalism throughout history or in modern times would be considered reactionary.
For Fascist Italy, their nationalism has a very revolutionary/Marxist origin that came out of the alliance of nationalists and syndicalists in the late 18 and early 1900s in what would be called National Syndicalism.
Both groups agreed that Italy was a proletarian nation being exploited by more industrially advanced bourgeoisie-controlled nations either by mass migration of Italian labour to their countries or economic domination of Italy.
This is because for the Italian context, there simpy wasn’t a domestic capitalist class who wielded the means of production nor was there a fully matured industrial sector to seize the means from.
Therefore, the struggle of Italy wasn’t framed within class struggle as Marx envisioned but for a national unification between all sectors of society to propel Italy into great power status via rapid industrialisation/militarisation.
Other changes to Marx’s doctrine was the rejection of generous social welfare as vital resources couldn’t be wasted with negligible returns for the collective being of the nation.
Instead, all available resources would help hasten industrial and military growth that called upon all Italians to make the ultimate sacrifice for their collective freedom against foreign powers.
These ideas originally come from Georges Sorel who was extremely Nietzschean in nature as he envisioned a new man who will serve as the workers' vanguard who in the aftermath of taking power will rejuvenate the elite sector of society for the greater good of the nation.
In other words, a collective will to power through a do-or-die progressive nationalism that the Fascist party and their corporate economics would come to inherit.
Futurism: “We intend to glorify war - the only hygiene of the world - militarism, patriotism, and the destructive gesture of anarchists, beautiful ideas worth dying for and contempt for women.”
This quote from the Futurist manifesto perfectly captures the aim and energy they came onto the scene with. That of speed, violence, and revolution expressed through art.
The Futurist movement was first and foremost an artistic revolution that sought to break the mold of contemporary styles of art like that of the impressionists of the 19th century which the Futurists criticised for its lack of expressing the energy and sound of the image.
Instead, Futurism saw the past that impressionists loved as behind them and the present as a battleground for who determines the future. These convictions are firmly entrenched with the promise of rising technology and the transformation of society with industrialisation.
Futurism was intimately linked to Fascism as Mussolini endorsed Marinetti which got his ideas into the mainstream of Fascist Italy. Their cult of speed, militarism, ultra-nationalism, and rejuvenation of the nation was carried over into the Fascist society.
But Mussolini never agreed with Marinetti to fully embrace futurist art in Italy as Fascism still had an admiration of Italy’s past and instead of casting it aside desired to bring it into the future which was a fundamental disagreement both sides had.
Nevertheless, fascists and futurists still worked together very closely which is best articulated in this art piece that to some degree expresses Mussolini's ambition of binding these ideals into a new blend.
Reactionary alliances: Despite the revolutionary ideas espoused by fascism, the movement in practice wasn’t nearly as cut and dry. Italian societal structures weren’t destroyed in a confrontational revolution but rather were working from within, to reform society to their liking.
Mussolini was only able to form his Fascist government with the permission of the king which meant the power of the Fascist party wasn’t as absolute as they needed to achieve their goals.
Nevertheless, an aspect of fascism is a flexible pragmatism that strategically allowed them to operate alliances with unexpected groups like conservatives, radical traditionalists, and the even more revolutionary futurists.
Through all these deals, the fascist vision did remain which implies a lack of reactionary subversion despite their dealings. This makes me conclude that a better phrase for this would be reformist in action and revolutionary in ambition.
Probably the best example of fascist political manoeuvring is when Mussolini was trying to make an alliance with the Vatican.
During these negotiations, Julius Evola became heavily critical of the Fascist government for attempting to side with the Catholic church and advocated for Mussolini to reconsider the alliance.
Although Mussolini didn’t agree with his sentiment, he still allowed Evola to express his opinion in order to scare the Vatican by signaling that Evola may be an alternative the Fascists considered allying with if the Catholic church didn’t accept the terms.
This bluff worked and the Catholic church sided with Mussolini giving him the needed legitimacy throughout Italy as the Vatican has a strong influence over the Italian people. This alliance of necessity culminated with the Lateran Treaty.
Although Mussolini was in a peculiar position of being unable to obtain total political domination, what these instances prove is his willingness to play oppositional reactionaries against each other to obtain power.
This to me implies Mussolini had no real intention in endorsing reactionary policies in the long term and would rather subjugate and weaken them.
Therefore I believe the better way of framing their dealing with the Vatican is not a reactionary stance, rather a reformist stance that sees this as a means to a revolutionary end.
Conclusion: After careful consideration, I deem fascism to be a very misunderstood concept that has been mischaracterised in discourse as a promotion of violence fuelled by irrational bigotry. Instead, I believe it to be very nuanced.
Fascism in its character is mostly a revolutionary phenomenon that combines ideas from both the left and the right of the political spectrum which can be described as a third position.
The violence they displayed throughout its lifespan did play a part in the ideology, but fascism doesn’t have a monopoly on violence, and focusing on this aspect only serves to disengage our society from what it was about.
Therefore, I’ve concluded that fascism is a revolutionary movement that took the world by storm from the 20s to 40s with something never seen before that combined many ideas into one ideology.
(edited) If you got to the end, I would just want to thank you, I really appreciate it!! But due to how massive the subject is, I want to make it very clear that this isn't at all definitive. No essay could ever dream of covering the entire subject.

And remember, Avanti!!

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