George Orwell – What is Fascism?


reflections of an expat

While scouring the internet I found this article written by George Orwell. We all know him for writing the book “1984”, but did you know that he wrote articles for the Tribune? In this particular article he takes to task and question – What is Fascism? When I read the article I couldn’t but help relate it to what’s happening today. It seems that this word, “fascism” is similar to “fiat”, it’s like pulling something out of thin air for the use of describing things that aren’t necessarily real. It’s like calling a big fluffy dog a bear when really it’s just a dog.


Orwell unlike his contemporaries was a man of integrity and didn’t take to quarreling. He would often interpose himself between two parties and access circumstances and claims with a more balanced eye. Unfortunately this word “fascism” is being flung around again today without any real substantiation or validity. This article may be an offensive piece for some but I suspect it was done to get the culprits to do a little introspection. This is just another little insight that exposes that history tends to repeat itself. No matter how “Orwellian” things may look, they can be changed if those who fling such words would stop and think of the consequences.

For more understanding of who Orwell was and his writing see here.

Of all the unanswered questions of our time (which for Orwell was 1944), perhaps the most important is: ‘What is Fascism?’


‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’ – Fascism?

One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’. In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian regimes (today some are trying to call Russia a fascist country). But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.


Fascism is Inherently Warlike

It is not easy, for instance, to fit Germany and Japan into the same framework, and it is even harder with some of the small states which are describable as Fascist. It is usually assumed, for instance, that Fascism is inherently warlike, that it thrives in an atmosphere of war hysteria and can only solve its economic problems by means of war preparation or foreign conquests. But clearly this is not true of, say, Portugal or the various South American dictatorships. Or again, antisemitism is supposed to be one of the distinguishing marks of Fascism; but some Fascist movements are not antisemitic. Learned controversies, reverberating for years on end in American magazines, have not even been able to determine whether or not Fascism is a form of capitalism. But still, when we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini’s Italy, we know broadly what we mean. It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years. Here I am not speaking of the verbal use of the term ‘Fascist’. I am speaking of what I have seen in print. I have seen the words ‘Fascist in sympathy’, or ‘of Fascist tendency’, or just plain ‘Fascist’, applied in all seriousness to the following bodies of people:

I think looking at what Mussolini is saying this could include the ‘United States’ as well.


‘Fascist-Minded’ – The Boy Scouts

Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

Interesting that he included the Boy Scouts in this list.


Labour Party – Labour Fascists?

Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.


U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’?

Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet regimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists. See more here.


Trotskyists – Fascists?

Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky’s own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.


The Catholic Church – Fascists?

Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;


War Resisters – Fascists?

War resistors: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.


Supporters of War – Fascists?

Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People’s Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.


Nationalists – Fascists?

Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people. Most Russian won’t support Nationalist, see here.


Orwell’s Conclusions

It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the regimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swear word.


8 thoughts on “George Orwell – What is Fascism?

  1. Well, I read it, although I did not click on the “here” links. One thing Orwell does not mention in his attempts to define fascism is the underlying cultural imperialism that dominated Germany and Italy. Their ruthless seizure of any resources or land that they could take was justified by their nationalistic and moral superiority. The hatred that underlies those actions taken by the Nazi and Axis regimes was virulent, murderous and out-of-control. The world could not abide that kind of rampant genocide of Jews, Roma, Poles, homosexuals, etc. And we cannot return to it. Today to be called fascist is to be associated with mass-murder, concentration camps and political tyranny. Is Russia headed there with its refusal of driver’s licenses to “mentally ill” homosexuals? If so, it needs to change course. Governments, whatever the economic model they adopt, should not be in the business of exterminating people based on their culture or ancestry. Surely the world has learned that lesson.

    Okay, this was a departure for me. I don’t normally engage in political diatribes, but I like the work of Orwell, and had not read his article on Fascism. Some days, watching the news is like reading Orwell at his most frightening. And that is some statement to have to make.

    I hope wherever we live, we can continue to turn toward safety and protection of our people and not toward hatred and brutality. Peace, Brenda

    1. I so agree with you Brenda. I don’t know how many people actually read my articles but I will say the ones that do usually respond. First thank you for reading. Second I used Orwell instead of my own voice because I know it’s more effective. What Russia used to be isn’t Russia today. It’s a very different place, the people are good people for the most part, they are God fearing and know very well the horrors of war. When ever the topic comes up in discussion almost everyone of them becomes very quiet almost to the point of silence. It’s their worst fear. What I really want people to understand is that Russians are very sensitive people when it comes right down to it. Yet they love their country and will do everything to protect it.

      I used Orwell’s article in hope that it would open eyes so none of have excuses in not knowing the truth. Russia isn’t the enemy, those who claim it have their own agendas. I don’t particularly like politics either. At the same time staying silent makes me guilty of not sharing the truth. Hope you understand. Peace is important, mostly within a person heart first, then to share this peace with others. With much Joy, Steve

      1. It’s when we think the other is a monster that we become the monster ourselves. We are all people, striving for good lives for ourselves and our families, here in the US, too. I believe that of Russia, too. I hope our mission is successful. I hope we can all avoid war. Peace, Brenda

  2. the thing about hitler being a socialist/marxist doesn’t make much sense if he was gassing Jews who were “inferior” but one of the biggest priniples of marxism is everyone is equal.

    1. Plus or minus, positive or negative, superior or inferior usually negate each other which means all are equal.Thus socialist + marxist = zero, democracy +dictatorship = zero, the world needs both for balance. The whole world can’t be totally positive nor negative, it’s a ying yang thing.

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