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I was taught that in the early twenties the Socialist and the Fascist parties programmes were more or less identical, except for just one nationalist clause in the Fascist party's programme.

Despite those parties being rivals, it actually made sense, since the Fascist party was born out of Social origins; strangely, though, I wasn't able to find those programmes.

Did such a thing really happen, or was I mis-taught?

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    (originally posted at Politics, got no answer in almost 1 year, can't be migrated anymore, so reposting it here)
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 13:55
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    I think this is perfectly on-topic here too. However, I believe this kind of situation is exactly what bounties are for.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:20
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    @T.E.D. I agree, but I fear that bounties on small sites are almost useless, since pro users will read all questions anyway. (I've posted about that in a meta once, but I can't find the post)
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:40
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    @Lohoris I've gotten good response on some of my bounties, but admittedly it's a lot to give a big bounty when that would mean half of your reputation. Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:59
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    @T.E.D. - if you look at the original, I explicitly promised a bounty if someone could find an answer (I didn't post one as it'd just expire with no answer and no use). Difficult questions like that on small sites don't always get helped by the bounty.
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 16:33

4 Answers 4

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No they didn't, but there's a grain of truth there, as there often is with propaganda. The axe being ground is the attempt to insinuate that Mussolini was a socialist or that socialists are fascists - you'll know from reading the history that Hitler, Franco, Musslolini, and the others were opposed by the socialists and abetted by conservatives at every stage in their rise to power.

So for the grain of truth - as is well known, Mussolini was indeed a former socialist and member of the Italian Socialist Party. He went from left to right - changing his position on the monarchy and the catholic church, among other things, along the way.

In 1919 he was on the road to the far right, but he and his organisation had not quite got there. His group at the time was the Italian Combat Bands, or in Italian, Fasci Italiani di Combattimento. The word Fasci is the Latin for band or bundle, and the root of the word Fascism.

In 1919, the movement's newspaper published Il manifesto dei fasci italiani di combattimento, which is usually called the Fascist manifesto. WP summarises the document.

It calls for universal suffrage, a minimum wage, lowering the retirement age, an eight-hour workday, votes for women, and so on. It also says that unions should be more powerful.

I was unable to find the electoral program of the PSI at the same year, but these are all common demands by socialist parties at the time (the one linked above is a statement of intent for the PSI to join the comintern, which it ultimately decided not to do).

Mussolini had split from the PSI during the war, because of his pro-war statements and actions. He had formed new organisations which were funded by arms manufacturers, and whose function was to beat up troublesome socialists. He started out as a pro-war socialist, but he and his movement ended up as something different - as noted above, by the time of the National Fascist Party's 1921 programme, the transformation was complete.

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What I think happened here is a case of gradual exaggeration. Benito Mussolini, who started the Italian Fascist party, was a socialist. But he got kicked out of the socialist party for supporting Italian involvement in WWI.

Since he was no longer in the socialist party, he started his own organization, which eventually became the fascist party. Although the opinions of the fascists and the socialists differed in several respects, most of the fascist ideology was simply socialism. Therefore the opinions of the fascists and the socialists was quite similar in many respects.

A similar thing happened in Germany, where DAP, the German Workers Party, acquired some nationalist opinions and finally turned into NSDAP, the Nazi party.

The discourse, propaganda, opinions and target interest groups of the socialists and the Italian fascists and German nazis was very similar, although the socialists emphasized class while the Italian fascists and German nazis emphasized the nation. The politics they proposed was also very similar.

But by the time Mussolini actually formed the Fascist party, it was seven years since he was kicked out out the socialist party, and there was no reason for him to just take the socialist party's program and change it a bit. I also can find no support for this claim, and I think that would be more widely known if it was the case.

So, no, they did not share the same electoral programme as far as I can figure out. I did find the 1920 program of PSI, and the 1921 program of PNF, and they are not the same at all. But that doesn't prove anything, you would have to compare the program of PSI for all it's years with the programs of the several socialist parties in Italy during all their years, and to do that you probably need to go to Italy. :-)

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    While I agree, this could definitely be improved with actual cites - even without progremme, you can quote Il Duce's opinions of fascism and socialism, for example.
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 16:35
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    Well, this is a good and informed speculation, but I was looking for the actual programmes, surely they must be written somewhere, or is there really the risk that they are lost?
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 9:09
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    @Lohoris Sure, but which years? You'd need to compare all programmes for all parties for all years (there's three socialist parties in Italy during some of this time). Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 11:26
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    You are quite right that it was Mussolini's opposition to the Italian Socialists' policy of neutrality in the war which caused his break with the party. The historian R.J.B.Bosworth believes that it was Mussolini's time spent as an Italian expatriate in Italy, before the first world war, mixing with the Italian community that had imbued him with feelings of nationalism. His father had been a blacksmith and a socialist, and the young Benito had grown up in the socialist way, and was passionately committed to revolution.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 23:14
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    mind that Mussolini was encouraged and actively supported by the communists in Italy and the USSR... He WAS a socialist to the end, just as Hitler in Germany.
    – jwenting
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:24
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I answered the original question in Politics, https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/362/did-the-socialist-and-the-fascist-party-share-the-electoral-programme-in-italy , albeit not having found the PSI program online. The programs, as Lennart Regebro's answer points, are very different, and the difference isn't merely literary, ie, they say different things, not merely the same things with very different words.

As it was migrated into History, I think some more in-depth discussion is warranted.

The misconception that fascism (and its offshoots, such as German National Socialism) is a form of "socialism" is widespread, and the misteaching you are subjected to is a by-product of this misconception (along with a strong tendency to oversimplify things - if fascism is merely a form of socialism, then it makes sense to suppose that the programs of the parties were similar; if the difference between them is that fascism is a kind of "national socialism", then it makes sense to suppose that the difference between the programs is a "nationalist clause" in the fascist program).

But fascism is by no means a form of socialism. It is a very different ideological construct, and a very different political practice. And while many fascists have styled themselves and their movements "national socialist" or "national sindicalist" (as explicitly in the name of the Nazi Party or the Spain Falange - the full name of which was Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista), it is a misnomer, in part due to the political conditions of the first post-war, in part due to deliberate calculation of those chosing the names.

The times invited the name "socialism": in the wake of the Russian Revolution, it seemed that "socialism" was indeed the future of mankind, and everybody, or almost so, was eager to call themselves "socialist", nevermind what their actual beliefs where. To that it should be added that the developments in Soviet Russia, and later in the Soviet Union, helped such kind of confusion: as the revolution was isolated, and its initial trust for an international revolution became unrealistic, emphasys became the "construction of socialism" in the limited territory the revolution had been able to conquer - or, as put by the Bolsheviks at that time, "socialism in one country" (see, for instance, Weisbord's Conquest of Power). Which, of course, made plausible the idea of different, "national" socialisms in different countries, or nations. Then the leap from "national socialisms" into a "national-socialism" became apparently much shorter than it should be. Plus, the conditions of Soviet Russia and Soviet Union pushed towards a very strong State, both on economic considerations (the bourgeoisie and the feudal or semi-feudal landlords had to be expropriated, but as an actual abolition of property was impossible, the transfer of such propriety to the State became a logical consequence) and political needs (for a country assaulted by as many foreign powers had borders with them, and then some more, a strong army is a need, not a choice, and a strong army doesn't come without a strong State). From this, the popular conflation of "socialism = more State" was born.

More importantly, as I have argued elsewhere, fascism is more a practice than an ideology, as opposed to socialism, liberalism, or conservatism. And this practice is strongly premised on what is called "politics of ambiguity": fascism is disorder to restore order, violence to impose peace, obscenity to protect conventional morals, political action to put an end to politics, the use of modern means to prevent modernity, etc. As such, it always promote the idea that "left and right are obsolete concepts", or that there is "no difference between left and right", or that "left and right are different sides of the same coin", and so on. Of course, the popular misconceptions that "fascism is socialism" or "fascism is left-wing" are just another avatar of ambiguity politics - as we can see in the recent rise of fascism in Brazil, where the far-right claims that the former - very democratic - government of the Workers Party was "fascist" because the NSDAP was the "Workers Party" of Germany, and so the people bashing women, physically attacking gays or Blacks, and proposing the extermination of all political opposition are somehow "liberals": enter image description here(Note: the above picture is not my opinion; it is an illustration of "politics of ambiguity", or of how fascists "think": actual capitalism is "cronyism", capitalism as they fancy it doesn't exist, nazism is left, anarchism is far-right, normal people are crazy, and so on.)

Such confusion is present even in Regebro's answer, where he says, DAP, the German Workers Party, acquired some nationalist opinions and finally turned into NSDAP, the Nazi party. Which is very removed from reality; the DAP had always been a far-right small party, rooted in pan-germanism; as opposed to Mussolini, who was actually a member of the Italian Socialist Party until he was expelled, the DAP was never socialist and was never a split from the actual socialist party in Germany, the SPD, or Socialdemocratic Party of Germany. What it "acquired" in its metamorphose into the NSDAP was not "some" nationalist opinions, but a competent leader in the person of Hitler.

Another aspect of "politics of ambiguity" is that fascism is a policiac movement posing as revolutionary. Fascism is the "ideology" of policemen when the State they serve goes bankrupt. And so fascism recruits heavily in police (see for instance the very high vote for Golden Dawn in Greece in the precincts where policemen vote (Greece: polls, over 50% of police voted for Golden Dawn) - or the obvious collusion between Greek police and Golden Dawn in the repression of left-wing demonstrations); and where fascism cannot recruit in the police, it must remain an insignificant, marginal political force (and here another difference betwee fascism in one hand and conservatism, liberalism, or socialism on the other hand: while those can be very weak and small without ceasing to be what they are, socialists, liberals, or conservatives, fascists can be at most proto-fascist if they cannot infiltrate and corrupt the State apparatuses). So, fascism is the "revolution" by people who should defend order, which in practice is its contrary: the counter-revolution by means of disorder and mutiny.

For those reasons, the Fascist party, even in Italy, where it was led by an ex-socialist, cannot share the political program of a socialist party (or a social-democratic, or a conservative, or a liberal party): while those may lie to voters in order to win elections, they aren't premised on lies. They stand for what they stand, and oppose what they oppose; fascists typically stand for what they oppose, and oppose what they stand for - and such conundrum can only function in the measure that fascism is always a flight forward; if its absurds are exposed, it cannot come back to reason, but it must go into further, even more contradictory absurds. Thence the dictum attributed to Goebbels, a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth. The program of a fascist party, for this reason, if it exists at all and is not merely a decorative piece, must be essentially an appeal to emotion. It must be an appeal to action, rather than a set of demands. It must be an instrument to convince people that the important is not the goals of the movement, but the movement itself, action for the sake of action (and consequently, violence for the sake of violence). And this cannot be done by inserting a national clause into a socialist program, no more than by adding a protectionist clause to a liberal program or a techno-modernisation clause to a conservative program. Fascism must make grandiose claims about its own originality, if it is going to be fascism.


Hitler's political trajectory is well documented. He wrote a book about it, and from it we can easily see that the two main influences in his political thought were Schoenerer's version of Pan-Germanism, and Karl Lueger's practical politics and policies (which isn't, curiously, used to "prove" that Nazism was a version of political catholicism a la Leo XIII just because Lueger's party was "Social Christian"). He evidently was able to appropriate (quite distorted) imagery of the left (the red flag, the name "socialism", the party discipline, the appeal to the masses), but he did it in support of (also distorted) right wing content (family values, nationalism, natalism, law-and-order-ism, agrarianism, etc.)

Mussolini's political trajectory is also well documented; unlike Hitler, he wasn't an obscure figure suddenly brought into the political scene. He was a card carrying socialist, part of the party's establishment, holding positions of responsibility. He broke with his party on the subject of support for the national war effort. Such break wasn't superficial or fake; he went great lengths in distancing himself from that past. His political program, as can be read in the link already provided, is utterly anti-socialist, and not a mere addition of nationalism to an otherwise socialist program.

Again, Mussolini certainly used left wing imagery (and in that, he might be a third decisive influence in Hitler), but again at the service of right wing content (family values, nationalism, natalism, law-and-order-ism, agrarianism, etc. - I know I repeat myself, but the truth is worth being repeated, lest lies win by exhaustion).

All in all, fascism is a pastiche of right wing topoi masquerading as a pastiche of left wing ideas.

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    The SPD was not the socialist party as you depict it. From 1891 to 1913 the party turned away from marxism, revolution, communism and socialism. That process wasn't finished until 1957 and the party still feeds off of that obsolete image from the name now. But socialism was only represented in form of the USPD and Spartakists, KPD, SAPD etc. Yeah, I know, that is ambiguous as well. Especially since SAP member Brandt was later even elected chancellor for the SPD and thoroughly anti-marxist as that… Ah, lables! Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 14:24
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    @LangLangC - You are right that the SPD was moving to the right at the time, and that it was no longer "socialist" in the traditional sense. It wasn't however pangerrmanist or moving in that direction, and it wasn't the origin of the NSDAP; the party that actually was such origin, the DAP, wasn't a socialist or socialdemocratic party moving to the right. It was a far right pangermanist party from the beginning. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 11:37
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    "Labels" should convey that the SPD seems to be unable to shake that label socialist (or well, s-democrat) despite – according to time-tested "conservative" definitions –following decidedly rightwing politics for over 20 years now; but from American pundit perspective they would now still look like communism-incarnate. Point being: almost all sides try to occupy "the middle" and every dissenter gets a label that paints them almost into an extremist corner. This process is destroying the actual meaning of all those labels and makes conversation about "the reality" increasingly difficult. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 11:59
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    I see your point. It is like every canned food brand labels itself "delicious". Unfortunately this is unavoidable in politics, since the "product" labels itself. It is up to us to see beyond the labels, and understand how they change in time, though: "socialdemocrat" went from meaning "revolutionary socialist" to "reformist socialist" to "liberal plus some reforms". And some labels are just lies, such as Jirinovski's "Liberal Democratic Party", or, more to the point, the National Socialist German Workers Party. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 16:01
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    Excellent wording. Just the unavoidable: way too many people just flock to these misdirections. I'd just like to add that not only many products are now "premium" (well, in price maybe) but more so some labels even lie when putting on the word "food". ;) Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 16:04
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Just to expand a bit on the answer by @LennartRegebro: Young Mussolini was thoroughly socialist - before splitting with (or getting expelled from) the Italian socialist party he was the editor of its newspaper Avanti!, that is he played about the same role as Stalin, who was at the time the editor of Pravda in Russia and therefore a major figure among the Bolsheviks.

In regard to the parallels with Hitler, it is necessary to note the ambiguity of term Socialism, which in narrow sense is referred to Marxism, but which in reality encompassed many more movements (notably in France, Britain, and Germany, which all had strong socialist and even communist traditions before Marxism came to life, and long before the Comintern imposed it on the socialist movements worldwide. Thus, German Workers Party, and its successor German National-Socialist Workers Party were never Marxist, unlike the Mussolini (who even was a Marxist in the second generation.)

To further boost young Mussolini Communist/Marxist credentials, it is worth mentioning that his advancement in the Italian Socialist party owed much to his translations to Italian of works by Prince Kropotkin (Russian Anarchist-Communist) and by "The Pope of Communism" Kautsky (respectively from French and German.)

That young Mussolini was genuinely socialist and that the fascist movement deviated from socialism was much of a subject in the last years of Mussolini, when he was the head of the Republic of Salò, whose official name was Italian Social Republic:

During the existence of the Italian Social Republic, Mussolini, whose former government had banned trade unions and strikes, began to make increasingly populist appeals to the working class. He claimed to regret many of the decisions made earlier in supporting the interests of big business and promised a new beginning if the Italian people would be willing to grant him a second chance. Mussolini claimed that he had never totally abandoned his left-wing influences, insisting he had attempted to nationalize property in 1939–1940 but had been forced to delay such action for tactical reasons related to the war. With the removal of the monarchy, Mussolini claimed the full ideology of Fascism could be pursued; and to gain popular support he reversed over twenty years of Fascist policy of backing private property and relative economic independence by ordering the nationalization of all companies with over 100 employees. Mussolini even reached out to ex-communist Nicola Bombacci to help him in spreading the image that Fascism was a progressive movement.The economic policy of the RSI was given the name "Socialization" and Mussolini had even considered the idea of calling his new republic the "Italian 'Socialist' Republic". In practice, little resulted from the declared socialization of the economy. Unions did not exert real control of their management and took no part in state planning (as they had the power to do on paper after the socialization). The Italian industrial sector was excluded from the new reforms by the Germans and Italian industrialists were opposed to the changes in any case. The Italian labour force (large parts of which had remained leftist despite fascist rule) regarded socialization as a sham and responded with a massive strike on 1 March 1944.

To quote Bosworth's Mussolini:

These were the months in which there was much talk of 'socialisation', when Mussolini could happily invoke the Fascism of 1919 in which his programmes had contained radical plans to push society towards equality. Mussolini had, after all, grown to manhood as a socialist, and now, to some extent, he redeployed the vocabulary of his youth, blessing those of his colleagues who talked about moving Italy in some way to the Left. As Bruno Spampanato, a journalist who had been with Mussolini since the 1925 and who, during the 1935, flirted with the idea of seeking ideological accommodation between Fascism and Stalinism, later argued: 'Socialisation was not impro- vised. It was rather done with the utmost seriousness, both legally and practically.'

It is worth noting that Nicola Bombacci mentioned in the Wikipedia quote (also mentioned in the Bosworths book) was the leader of the Italian Socialist Party in the elections of 1919, which the question is likely referring to. The summary of the Mussolini's 1919 program, known as Fascist Manifesto can be found at this link.

In 1919 Italian Socialist Party held its XVI-th Congress, in which it decided to join the Soviet-created Communist International. It also confirmed its commitment to the "reformist program", which is possibly this program from 1892 (in Italian), although the gap of 27 years inspires some doubts.

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  • All this about the Republic of Salo is v interesting, but it would be reckless to draw big conclusions from it. Frankly it was the last act of a desperate man. Mussolini wanted to retire after 1943 & Germans wouldn't allow it. They needed a propaganda line. Since Mussolini had been deposed by king & Italy was being invaded by UK & US - not Soviets - there was no room for the anticommunist angle Germany was using against the Allies. So Mussolini came up with some disingenuous criticisms of Churchill and Roosevelt instead. He'd abolished unions & elections - hardly fulfilling the 1919 programme.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 13:37
  • @NeMo What is important is not what he tried to achieve in Salò, but that he wanted to return to his earlier policies, and acknowledged that he abandoned them. Thus, in 1919 there might be indeed similarity between the Fascist and the Socialist programs. Also, although term socialist may refer top many things, the Italian Socialist Party of 1919 was clearly pro-Bolshevik - saying that this socialists were similar fascists is not likely to offend anyone.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 13:44
  • It's sweet of you to be concerned. I was not offended, nor is it clear why anyone would be. I'm happy to agree the Bolsheviks were as bad as Mussolini. However, the PSI ultimately decided against alignment with Moscow, which is why the PCI exists. And I'd also submit that, despite being morally equivalent, the Bolsheviks and the fascists were very different animals. Just because they are equally bad doesn't mean there are no important differences. That's why I'm saying that, even in 1919, Mussolini and the PSI were already dissimilar.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 9:36
  • @NeMo I was also referring to your answer, where you seem to take offense for the Socialists: The axe being ground is the attempt to insinuate that Mussolini was a socialist or that socialists are fascists. As for Communists and Fascists being different animals - there are also many great similarities, and Fascists and National-Socialist ideology pretend to strive for the good of people no less than their communist counterparts, by rather similar methods, and equally opposed to liberal values - there are many good reasons to count them among Socialists.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 9:54
  • Only if we judge people by what they say... not what they do.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 11:52

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