Fascism does not have an easy clear cut definition. However, several figures throughout history are identified as unambiguously fascist, with Mussolini belonging to the original fascist group. By the same token leaders such as Vladimir Putin are not considered fascist despite the following (in combination):

  1. Forcing businesses to explicitly support the administration reminiscent of corporatism:

Between 2000 and 2004, Putin set about the reconstruction of the impoverished condition of the country, apparently winning a power-struggle with the Russian oligarchs, reaching a 'grand bargain' with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers, in exchange for their explicit support for—and alignment with—Putin's government.

  1. Jailing political opponents such as Alexei Navalny, who have a real fear of assassination.
  2. Persecuting gay people
  3. Annexing foreign land.
  4. A blatantly manipulated Judicial System
  5. Abysmal freedom of press
  6. Espousing a public image of machismo

...and many other aspects could lead someone to conclude that Putin is a Fascist...yet he is not known as such. It is this grey area and the example of Putin that lead me to ask


What specific policies or aspects of a leader when, taken as an aggregate, classify the leader as a Fascist?

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    It's simpler to call them authoritarian since fascist is tangled with a more specific ideology. E.g. calling Stalin fascist would be a bit weird, even though he meets most of your criteria (maybe the last one not so much.) OTOH sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0967067X16000039 but mods here dislike such answers (at least two q's deleted). See politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4297/… Feb 3, 2021 at 23:06
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    To some extent this question is unanswerable. The effect at play is here is called "polysemy" - the word means different (but etymologically related, even contested) things to different people, in different contexts. The question we should be asking is "what is a useful definition of 'fascism' in <context X>?", or even "how can we talk about <political context X> and its political characteristics while being unambiguous in our terminology?".
    – iono
    Feb 4, 2021 at 7:23
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    It doesn't help that fascist is often used by some people spuriously against conservatives, much like marxist is used against liberals. They've become a generic insult for someone who has strongly opposing political views. Feb 4, 2021 at 11:54
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    None of the characteristics you listed are unique to fascism.
    – user76284
    Feb 5, 2021 at 0:36
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    When looking at how the "term" fascist is applied to non-mussolini-era fascists, we must ask ourselves Why? The term is applied by antifascists to people who may aim to create a fascist state (but haven't succeeded yet or shown their truest color). The game of the antifascist is not the one of the politics historian who retrospectively wants to label fascist states as fascist, but to prevent this from happening. When the historian is "able" to call someone a fascist, it's to late, as far as antifascist action is concerned.
    – ljrk
    Feb 6, 2021 at 9:36

4 Answers 4


First let me say that I disagree with the notion that there is no clear definition of the term 'fascism'. Fascism is ethnocultural-nationalism, in Orwell's sense of the term 'nationalism'; that may take some unpacking, but it isn't particularly vague.

The problem with reaching agreement on a proper definition of 'fascism' is two-fold:

  1. The term 'fascism' is inextricably linked with a particular horrifying moment in world history, and has become associated in common language with unconscionable evil. The term is loaded, and loaded for bear; it is difficult to use it in objective, analytical discourse because it inevitably triggers strong emotional responses.
  2. In Orwell's understanding of nationalism, nationalists will typically warp or discard historical fact and objective reality in favor of a romanticized depiction of the nationalist group. The question for such nationalist groups isn't whether they (objectively) conform to fascist principles, but whether the term 'fascist' serves to increase or diminish the prestige of the group. A nationalist group might adopt or reject the label 'fascist', and may do it on one context and not in another, all depending on whether they think the term advances their cause or whether it doesn't.

The defining characteristics of fascism are as follows (each is necessary but not sufficient; all three must be present to indicate fascism):

  • Ethnocultural superiority. The group must hold a conviction that they share some quasi- or pseudo-biological 'sameness' that distinguishes them from other groups, and is the source of their group's particular qualities and virtues. Moreover, those qualities and virtues produce the intrinsic superiority of the group. Other forms of nationalism might organize around abstract identities like countries, religions or ideologies; fascists organize around bloodline, ethnic heritage, genetic 'purity', and similar biological ideation.
  • Historical myth of puissance. All forms of nationalism construct or adopt a mythology in which their group thrives and is master of its own fate. Fascists specifically adopt a historical mythos in which their bloodline was (long ago) unsullied and dominated the territory they identify as theirs. Think Mussolini's desire to rebuild the Roman Empire, or Hitler's reference to the Aryan race that supposedly once ruled in the German lands.
  • A narrative of loss and victimization. Not all nationalists think in terms of victimization, but fascists necessarily do. They see the world through the lens that their 'superior' group had its 'rightful' land and power (as defined by their mythos) stolen, taken by the corruption and malfeasance of impure bloodlines.

Fascism, thus, focuses on the need to reclaim ancestral lands and put them back under the control of the identity group, subduing or driving out 'impure' bloodlines, in order to reclaim that (entirely mythological) history of glory. Fascism is not illiberal — in fact, most fascists over the last century spilled disproportionate amounts of ink demanding the rights, liberties, and privileges due to them as members of the identity group — but it is non-universal liberalism, restricting or excluding outsiders from the enjoyment of these rights, liberties, and privileges.

Note that most of the other things people list off about fascism — the sexism, homophobia, expansionism, and control of public spaces like courts and news media — are derivatives of these three main principles. Fascists are generally sexist and homophobic, for instance, because of that emphasis on bloodlines: women are consigned to reproduction of the race, and gays are a threat to the perception of virility; they control public spaces out of a need to present the romanticized ideal of their mythos as an inescapable truth.

Authoritarianism is a broader category, one that fascism overlaps with but isn't completely contained by. Authoritarianism merely means a system of governance with a strong hierarchical ordering and intense social divisions and controls; none of the specific features of nationalism are necessary. Russia is a good example of an authoritarian regime that isn't specifically nationalist or fascist, but is simply statist: putting the interests of the state and its rulers above all other interests. Fascist organizations and regimes are often authority-based, but they generally have a tribal pattern of authority, where delegation of power is more fluid than defined, and individuals seek advancement by 'proving' themselves through expressions of loyalty to the cause or the leader.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Feb 5, 2021 at 18:31
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    Fascism is born out of capitalism and, as such, is based on class, not ethnicity, culture, or gender, which some like to include in the definition. The ideas of fascism are for, by and of a ruling class and to be applied to a working class of all ethnicities, cultures and genders. Mar 3, 2022 at 16:20
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    @BeginnerBiker: No, I'm sorry. Fascism is associated with capitalism mainly because it tries to recapture the spirit of Colonialism, where a dominant race subjugates and harnesses 'inferior' races as (effectively) draught animals for the colonialists' profit. The capitalist model suits fascism, but isn't the driving force behind it. Mar 3, 2022 at 17:24
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    @BeginnerBiker: That does not capture the essence of fascism (or capitalism, or colonialism for that matter). i"m not sure where you picked this up (it sounds like a somewhat strained version of structural Marxism, but I can't quite place it), but i suggest you go back and take a second look at your sources. WHAt you[re saying doesn't hold up analytically, even within a Marxist framework. Mar 4, 2022 at 4:32
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    @BeginnerBiker: So, I feel as though you are (most likely unwittingly) wasting my time. I offered you an explanation, but instead of addressing what i wrote you dismissed it in the first line and went back to reciting your original bullet points. And your original bullet points are foundation-less. You've decided what observations and theory you are going to hold as 'true', and this isn't the right context for me to wrestle with that attitude. So let's leave it at this: if you don't like my answer, write a 'better' one, and let other people judge your theories for themselves. Mar 6, 2022 at 23:36

This is a (fairly) complicated discussion and authors are likely to somewhat disagree with the conclusion. There are indeed "lumpists" who declare Putin's regime fascist after a look mostly at similarities (as the question here does).

However (besides the rhetorical aspect with which "fascism" is used today to label almost anything) there is true scholarly disagreement on a deeper notion. Whether fascism was mainly ideological, mainly violence-oriented (both in terms of war as an ultimate goal and against internal against opponents) or if both characteristics are needed. Thus the problem with this question lies not as much with the present object analyzed but with conceptualizing the standard of comparison.

As Ted's answer actually presents (without clearly identifying its source) Roger Griffin’s definition, I'll quote from Van Herpen's book:

Griffin’s method has been severely criticized, especially by historians. Robert Paxton, for instance, wrote: “I shall not be very interested in finding similarities—deciding whether some regime falls within the definition of some fascist essence. That kind of taxonomy, so widespread in the literature of fascism, does not lead very far.” And he added, citing another historian: Marc Bloch, “Comparison (…) is most useful for eliciting differences.”

Bear in mind that using Griffin’s definition one can find fascism e.g. in the US antebellum South.

But to return to why some find this sole focus on ultranationalism unsatisfactory in the definition of fascism:

The question is not so much if a definition of a “fascist minimum” is possible. I think it is. The question is if Griffin’s definition formulates this minimum in an adequate way – which I think it does not. The minimum is formulated by Griffin in a too minimalistic way, which leads him to omit an important feature of the fascist phenomenon.

But let us first see how far we can agree with his definition. We can agree that fascism is essentially a way of thinking, an ideology, that the mythical core of this ideology consists of ultra-nationalism (a nationalism that takes on a quasi-religious character), that it is palingenetic (which means that it includes ideas and dreams of national rebirth and revival), and that it is populist, which means that it is linked to the emergence of modern mass democracies. But is this enough to define fascist regimes? I do not think so. Because a “palingenetic form of ultra-nationalism” does not indicate the way in which the realization of this national revival is envisaged.

Let us assume for an instant that this revival only was envisaged as a cultural revival or as an economic revival of the nation. In this case the fall-out of fascist regimes in the twentieth century would not have been so disastrous as it worked out in practice.

Nolte, for instance, described the first phase of Mussolini’s regime, in which Mussolini concentrated on the economic modernization of Italy, as an Entwicklungsdiktatur—a developmental dictatorship. Had Mussolini remained on this track, his regime would not have been much different from many developmental dictatorships that sprang up in Latin America or in South East Asia in the second half of the twentieth century. But he did not. Because national economic development was not an aim in itself for Mussolini, it was only a means. It was a means of preparation for wars of conquest in the Balkans and in North Africa. In 1934 he announced the transformation of Italy into a nazione militarista and a nazione guerriera and prepared for expeditions abroad.

According to Nolte, “The fact that Fascism was first a developmental dictatorship should not lead us to neglect that from the beginning its most intimate, and even not secret, drive was directed towards war.”

The aim of Italian Fascism was not to be a developmental dictatorship, but to be an Eroberungsdespotie (Nolte), a conquering dictatorship.

This militarist character of fascism was not only directed against foreign governments that stood in the way of the imperial project. This militarism was double- edged: it was directed against two kinds of enemies. It was first and foremost directed against its political opponents within the country who were intimidated, physically attacked, and sometimes murdered by the paramilitary militias of the fascist parties. Michael Mann criticized Griffin’s definition because of his negligence of this aspect of fascism. “Griffin also sanitizes fascism,” he wrote, “remaining silent on its distinctively brutal violence and paramilitarism.” Mann had a point: the use of violence is a characterizing feature of fascism, just as its imperialist drive. A same approach could be found in Philippe de Lara, who asked if fascism was characterized by a “primacy of violence” or a “primacy of ideology.” “The doctrine, the Nazi beliefs, are they the superficial envelope of a regime primarily characterized by a situation and a type of power, or, on the contrary, are they the heart of the matter? (…) [T]he Nazis did they believe in their myths?” De Lara concluded that there was a primacy of both ideology and violence.

Following Gentile and Webber, a "thick" definition of fascism includes (three) other elements, but to summarize all 4:

  • A political party with young middle-class leaders and its own party militia
  • A mythical political religion emphasizing virility and the leader principle
  • Ultra-nationalism, racism, and the restoration of national greatness
  • The symbiosis of party and state, corporatism, totalitarian control and an imperialist foreign policy

These basically correspond to the organizational, cultural, ideological, and institutional dimensions of fascism. The minimalist def is basically just the pure ideological one.

You can find many more write-ups on Putinism that barely or not at all touch on any fascism comparison, while essentially agreeing on what Putinism is. (See e.g. the book of Taylor, The Code of Putinism.)

However, here I'm going to rely mostly on two sources that do touch on the comparison, to various degrees, namely an article of Fish and the book of Van Herpen Putinism: The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia. (The [sub]title of this book is actually a bit misleading as to the books' conclusion[s]; I do wonder the extent to which the editors influenced the [sub]title.)

Since the question emphasized similarities, some ways in which Putinism is sufficiently remote from fascism are stuff worth going over:

  • the [lesser] extent of the personality cult
  • the absence of a strong party; you'd be surprised how Putin treats United Russia as a 2nd cousin
  • the constitutional shell game (Putin running the show as both President and PM)
  • the anti-revolutionary character of Putin's regime, allied more with right-wing religious figures (which in turn support him)
  • the nominal, internal pan-culturalism tied with the above; any religion is fine as long as its (national) leader(s) clearly endorse Putin as the country's savior.
  • ethno-nationalism most overtly directed towards neighboring countries (via Russian minorities there)
  • otherwise weak overt social or economic ideology but a strong networks-based ruling clique ("Putinomics") with occasional pacification of potential resistive social elements (pensions etc.) The degree of redistribution (e.g. of oil revenues) to such segments of the population is substantially higher than in other authoritarian oil regimes.

At least one article (Fish) thus concludes that Putinism (especially if it survives Putin) is a true innovation in the realm authoritarianism.

Van Herpen's book spends much more time/space on the subject, so I'll have to be more selective, but by and large it agrees with Fish, albeit making more comparisons in the end and finding less overall originality in Putinism if other regimes or movements are considered.

But first, to add broad historical perspective to the similarities list:

the fact that contemporary Russia shares two important characteristics with post- First World War Germany is a matter of concern. These two characteristics are, first, a lack of experience of democratic governance and, second, the sudden introduction of the institutions and procedures of a modern electoral mass democracy. From the literature on the subject (e.g. Samuel Huntington and Jack Snyder) it is known that these two characteristics generally predict political turmoil, violent power struggles, and praetorianism. The turmoil of Weimar Germany ended with the advent of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. The turmoil of post- First World War Italy ended with the advent of Mussolini and Italian Fascism. The turmoil of “Weimar Russia” [Yeltsin's Russia] ended with the advent of Vladimir Putin and “Putinism.”

All three leaders promised to bring order, to reinvigorate and modernize the economy, and to restore the national prestige of a humiliated country. This is, however, in itself no sufficient reason to compare Putin’s system with the systems of the inter-war era, because—apart from these similarities—there are also a number of important differences between present- day Russia and the systems of the inter- war era. There are at least 11 differences regarding:

  1. the ascent to power of the leader
  2. the role of the party
  3. the “centrist” self- image of the presidential party [by this it means the anti-revolutionary aspect]
  4. the absence in Russia of party militias
  5. the presence in Russia of an official anti-fascist state ideology
  6. the absence in Russia of state-sponsored racism
  7. the absence in Russia of totalitarianism
  8. the symbiotic relationship of the Russian state with the (Orthodox) Church
  9. the character of Russia’s power elite
  10. the role of mafias
  11. the maintenance of a pluralistic democratic facade

In my opinion, this (latter) list is a bit belabored (the author himself admits that the elements of this list don't have equal weight) but a few of this additional points are interesting enough, in my view.

The [method of] ascent to power is indeed a good point that in some sense prefigured the rest of elements the regime... in the book's words "the result of a successful infiltration policy". The book then argues that Putin's true party and power elite could be said to be the Siloviki (security apparatus) and this creates a regime with somewhat unique characteristics, much more based on dissimulation of its true nature.

And in line with this, there's the ostensibly anti-fascist ideology, which actually has a broader/older basis in Russia:

Anti- fascism, for most Russians today, is not associated with a criticism of dictatorship and/or human rights violations, but with unique and unforgettable moments of sacrifice, heroism, national pride, and imperial grandeur. [...]

In the present situation [...] in which Soviet patriotism has made way for Russian ultra-nationalism, anti-fascism is not understood as a criticism of the ugly, repressive sides of the existing political system in Russia. On the contrary, since 1945 anti-fascism is considered the inalienable historical legacy of the Russian nation that finds its expression in a powerful state. The celebration of Russia’s history and the glorification of the deeds of its heroes and great men and women have become an integral part of this anti-fascist tradition. The “Anti-Fa” (Anti-Fascism) group of the Nashi, for instance, has the task of upholding the respect for war veterans, and to take care of the monuments that commemorate the heroes who lost their lives in the “Great Patriotic War.” In this way, a historical narrative is constructed in which “anti-fascism,” “Great Patriotic War,” and contemporary national self-celebration are blended. This national self-celebration finds its logical conclusion in the present mood of ultra-nationalism. In a kind of Hegelian-Marxian dialectic, anti-fascism has changed into its opposition, ultra-nationalism. Ultra-nationalism is, according to Robert Griffin’s definition, one of the basic ingredients of fascism. A clear expression of this Nietzschean Umwertung aller Werte—a process in which values are transformed into their opposites—is the invective “demofascists” which is used in Russia to refer to members of the democratic opposition.

As the book notes, that absence of state-sponsored racism in Russia mirrors its other veneers (e.g. democratic), meaning that racism is otherwise fairly tolerated in society and there are few repercussions for being (a Russian) racist in Russia. Not only that but as with other hidden networks of power in Russia, there are serious questions who funds the most racist elements e.g. to pick one the several examples given in the book:

During the trial in 2009 of the Nationalist Socialist Organization (NSO)—a racist skinhead gang which was accused of 27 murders—it emerged that its leader, Maksim Bazilev, had 200 million roubles (4.8 million euros) on his bank account. He paid the members of the gang each month a “salary” of 25,000 roubles (about 600 euros). Where did this money come from? Bazilev could not answer this question. He committed suicide in a cell of the Interior Ministry in Moscow, a building, however, known for its tight security measures. According to Charles Clover, Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times, the NSO had “numerous and not altogether transparent relationships with Russia’s political and law-enforcement establishment.”

The book then observes that pragmatic reasons underlie this official opposition to racism, including e.g. ending the war in the Chechnya by co-opting the part of the ruling elite that was willing to submit to Putin.

The absence of state-sponsored racism, apart from being a question of principle, is therefore also a question of political prudence.

The other aspects of e.g. veneer of democracy are much better known, so I won't go over them here. The book by van Herpen (thus) says that a better parallel is with the "proto-fascist" regime of Napoleon III, which also kept a veneer of democracy. (The book argues this point at length comparable with the previously discussed issues, but I won't go over the details here. However (similarly to Fish's article) it also concludes that

Putinism is a system of its own kind

[...] calling Putin’s system simply “fascist” does not do justice to its complex and multi-layered character. Putinism is a totally new political formation. It is a multilayered political formation which combines elements of Bonapartism, “classical” inter-war era fascism (especially of the Mussolinian variant), and modern Berlusconist populism.

And has this conclusion table in support of its thesis (image here):

Table 12.1 Putinism—A multilayered combination of Bonapartism, Berlusconism, and (Mussolinian) fascism

Bonapartism Berlusconism (Mussolinian fasciam)
Authoritarian government with democratic façade Fully accepts globalization Ultra-nationalist ideology
Relative independence of the state from economic bourgeoisie Ethos of personal enrichment Ideas of national rebirth
Reliance on secret police Control of the media: "videocracy" Aggressive foreign policy
Lack of clear ideology: Ideology is built post hoc Flirtation with fascism Imperialist drive
Symbiotic relationship between the regime and the majority religion Party without a program: the party is a vehicle for the leader
Goal is restoration of national prestige "Body obsession": the leader as "Botoxed politician"
State-led modernization Alleged relations with the mafia
Military adventures Rewrites school history text books
Not totalitarian
No official "state-racism"

As van Herpen book was written before Putin's moves in Crimea & Ukraine, it helps to add a bit on the [openly stated] ideological precursors of that move (from the Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right, 2018)... precursors which initially came from outside of Putin's inner circle but were incorporated into it.

Russia’s most highly placed state official with radical right connections is the former nationalist activist Dmitry Rogozin (b. 1963), who was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of defense and the space industry in 2011. Like Zhirinovskii, Rogozin merges ethnic and imperial Russian nationalism in his public statements. He asserted, for example, in his 2006 book Enemy of the People that “Crimea, Little Russia [i.e., most of mainland Ukraine], Belarus, the Cossack Steppes of Kazakhstan, Transnistria, and the Baltics are the core territory of the Russian nation [rodovaia territoriia russkoi natsii],” thereby presaging Russia’s annexation of Crimea and covert intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014 (Rogozin 2006). During the early and mid-1990s, he was on the fringes of mainstream Russian politics, and one of the leaders of the Kongress Russkikh Obshchin (KRO, Congress of Russian Communities)—an ethnonationalist organization established in 1993 claiming to represent ethnic Russians left outside the Russian Federation after the Soviet Union broke up (Ingram 1999). Rogozin was first elected to the State Duma in 1997, and rose to national prominence as a result of the surprisingly strong showing of the newly established nationalist umbrella organization, the People’s Patriotic Union, “Rodina” (Motherland) in the State Duma elections of 2003 (Titkov 2006). Along with his equally prolific faction colleagues Sergei Baburin (b. 1959) and Sergei Glaz’ev (b. 1961), a former presidential candidate and current advisor to President Putin (Aslund 2013), Rogozin was one of the most visible younger Rodina MPs, quickly gaining a sharp public profile and emerging as a possible future national leader. The unexpectedly strong electoral support for Rodina and growing popularity of some of its leaders led the Kremlin, however, to instigate the dissolution of this organization in 2006. Rogozin’s sudden rise to prominence may have also been a reason that he was appointed Russia’s ambassador to NATO at Brussels for the period 2008–2011, thereby cutting short his possible further independent political development (Eijkelenberg 2015), before including him in the political establishment as deputy head of government.

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    +1 Good answer but it does stray more to the specific, "is Putinism Fascism?", side than a general formal definition of Fascism. Feb 4, 2021 at 18:13
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    If you think about it, almost every revolution (including the American) could be palingenetic ultra-nationalism.
    – corsiKa
    Feb 6, 2021 at 16:03
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: indeed, but like 90% of the examples in the Q were about something that Putin did... if you follow the links. I do start by pointing out that there's genuine dispute about definitions though. Jul 10, 2022 at 0:02

Rather than looking at the term's rather vague modern meanings, let's look at its use when it was claimed as a source of pride, rather than scorn. I.e. how Fascists saw themselves.

Italy, Germany, Spain, in that order.

Fascism aims at a return to traditions, military strength and state dominance. It scorns liberal values and respect for individuals. And it needs the others to define a group or a set of groups as a threat to justify the state needing to mobilize its power. The state does exert a lot of control over the economy but via its preferred companies rather than directly.

The others don't really need to be a different ethnic group. The Communists played that role pretty well in Spain.

Past WW2, Fascism lost any kind of positive self-image and it is generally used to convey dislike for any regime people disagree with. It has lost the set of countries which define themselves as fascist, but has gained wide use for criticism.

The original criteria of fascism are unfortunately not that uncommon with humanity and, judging on their behavior, the term could be applied to a wide ranging set of governments in many different countries, ranging from 1970's Latin caudillos to Putin's Russia to China.

Yes, we generally avoid calling authoritarian Communist regimes Fascist, but less because of clearly identifiable differences than because those two world-views have traditionally clashed. Using "Fascist" vs. "Communist" as a slur can be more of a reflection on who is saying it rather than about the exact qualities of whom it is aimed at - right-wingers will throw "Communists" about, while left-wing folk will hurl "Fascists".

So trying to formalize criteria for what constitutes fascism is rather pointless because its ingredients have been part and parcel of authoritarian governments for centuries and, in modern use, the term only really serves as a shorthand for "bad things states should not do", just like 1984 is a shorthand for "don't let the state control information".

What do dictionaries tell us?


(sometimes initial capital letter) a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

(sometimes initial capital letter) the philosophy, principles, or methods of fascism.

(initial capital letter) a political movement that employs the principles and methods of fascism, especially the one established by Mussolini in Italy 1922–43.


often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

2: a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control


a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed

Oxford Reference

An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.

The term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43), and the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also Fascist. Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.

The name comes from Italian fascismo, from fascio ‘bundle, political group’, from Latin fascis ‘rod’.

So we are left with right-wing, racist and authoritarian. That's still quite a broad spectrum and not particularly limiting: many countries have had governments behaving like this.


What constitutes a definition of fascism and fascist governments has been a complicated and highly disputed subject concerning the exact nature of fascism and its core tenets debated amongst historians, political scientists, and other scholars since Benito Mussolini first used the term in 1915.

A significant number of scholars agree that a "fascist regime" is foremost an authoritarian form of government, although not all authoritarian regimes are fascist. Authoritarianism is thus a defining characteristic, but most scholars will say that more distinguishing traits are needed to make an authoritarian regime fascist.

Then it dives into a bunch of very wordy definitions.

It's all the less useful since very few governments would describe themselves as Fascist nowadays, unlike the 1930s. Modern use is mostly to describe others, not to describe one's own ideology.

To be clear, I am not claiming the label "Fascism" is useless. Nationalism, populism, xenophobia and racism are on the rise, in a way few could have foreseen 15 years ago. Social media allows manipulation and stigmatization in bulk, as we have seen in Myanmar and other places.

"Fascism" is a good shorthand for "watch out" under these conditions.

But as a term with a formal definition of its ideology, as was asked in this question? No, I don't think so. Not when any definition struggles to bound which countries it is applicable/not applicable to without lots of qualifications and exceptions.

p.s. One thing that seems fairly specific to Fascism, or at least is enhanced in the original three amigos, is a love of military regalia and uniforms, and general "manliness", in a civilian context. Think parades or uniformed "youth wings". It is part of the "marketing", but seems mostly cosmetic in nature. Except that it can also legitimize militias.

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    The sloppiness of the term fascism of standing for "bad things that states shouldn't do" is what Orwell was fulminating against. The term was accurate enough for the everyone to recognise what it meant in the context of WWII. Feb 4, 2021 at 2:34
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    I really dislike the lazy cliche that “fascism” doesn’t mean anything and it’s just something to call people you don’t like. As Ted’s answer points out, there are specific things that distinguish fascism from other kinds of authoritarianism
    – divibisan
    Feb 4, 2021 at 2:52
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    Right-wing and authoritarian seems like a weird combination to me. At least here in the US, right-wingers are more about smaller government, while left-wingers are more about authoritarianism... yet the left-wingers call the right-wingers fascists.
    – Bardicer
    Feb 4, 2021 at 21:52
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    @Bardicer Really? Small governments? call me back when Reps balance a budget. Many conservatives right now are about all defense, law enforcement and incarcerations, two of which directly contradict your claims to non-coercion. I'm hardly a lefty, more a free market/fiscal conservative but modern conservatism has lost its way. Feb 5, 2021 at 19:40
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    @Bardicer fair enough. as I was stating, some left-wing governments (or pseudo-left wing governments like China) have definitely a whiff of Fascist behavior around them, it's just that the label isn't traditionally applied left-wise. But, historically, rather than in current politics, the trio of Italy, Germany and Spain were right-wing, though they are also totally unrelated to normal modern conservatism. Feb 5, 2021 at 21:18

Fascism occupies a particular place in the political imaginary of the West because of the rise of both fascism and nazism in the same time period. Hitler acknowledged that Mussolini was an influence on him. Given the genocidal destruction they inflicted upon Europe in the name of saving it, it's not surprising that international law - the law between nations - took steps to identify the key characteristics of fascism.

This is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Here, they state that international law must prevent and punish the Crime of Genocide and given the gravity of the crime, that this Convention is binding on all nations whether they have, or have not, signed the Convention.

The Convention states that genocide is:

any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic , racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about it's physical destruction in whole, or in part.

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births in the group.

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

They also state:

The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) genocide

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide.

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

(d) Attempt to commit genocide.

(e) Complicity in genocide

It should be remarked here that an article in the Yales International Law Journal stated that the convention throughout the legislative process had included 'political ideology' as an identifying characteristic of a group of people that can be at risk of genocide. This was excised from the final convention. As we are discussing fascism, rather than simply the legal nature of how that is to be described, I am re-including it here. After all, fascists did target particular political groupings. This is well-known.

Thus a group at risk from what is described as genocide above is a racial, national, ethnic, religious or political grouping. This then is the key charactetistics of a fascist state in full flow. And this is distinguished from an authoritarian government.

The trouble people have with identifying facism, is not fascism tout court, but in identifying incipient fascism. After all, who would want to wait for fascism to occur before one takes steps to eliminate or punish it? The damage is done, after all. And we can see this in what occured in Rwanda when there was "public incitement to commit genocide" , hidden and obfuscated over the radio and which went on for years and which Colonel Dallaire, the officer in charge of the peace-keeping operation by the UN was beginning to suspect and be aware of, and which he attempted to make known to his superiors. By the time that the world declared that genocide had occured, it had indeed occured, with around a million Rwandans savagely macheted in gruesome and hideous deaths. Genocide - fascism in full flow - had indeed occured and nothing, absolutely nothing, had been done about it.

This is why people keep a watchful eye on authoritarian governments, as they have been, historically speaking, the kind of governments that can mutate into a savage fascist and genocidal regime. And they look out for warning signs: these are, authoritarian and populists harking back to mythical past and who make a point of attacking vulnerable minorities in society, whether that be religious, racial, national or political.

  • 7
    A flaw with this answer is that Mussolini, who after all coined the term, would not be a Fascist, as he did not carry out a genocide. And anyone carrying out a genocide is de facto a Fascist even if 94's Rwanda had nowhere the type of political setup as 33's Germany. I fear I am about as impressed with your answer as you are with mine ;-) Feb 4, 2021 at 4:29
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    @Italian Philosopher 4 Monica: Please reread the definition of what constitutes genocide carefully. He is well known for embarking on an murderous expedition to Ethiopia for the hlory of italy as everbody else in Europe had done so in the Scamble for Africa. It was a genocidal war with around 400, 000 killed in Ethiopia. Italy loss 10,000. Also there wrre tge Italian racial laws, the Leggi Razziali. Have you forgotten about them? Feb 4, 2021 at 4:37
  • @Italian Philosophers 4 Monica: Given the characterisation of what constitutes genocide in the convention and my characterisation of the legal opinion, I have no hesitation in declaring Mussolini as a fascist. Which by the way, everyone else has - well apart from you and your mischaracterisation of my definition - and of history. Feb 4, 2021 at 4:40
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    @MoziburUllah Come on, no one denies that Mussolini's regime was fascist – he's the one who coined the word! The problem with this answer is, that while fascism and genocide often go together, there are plenty of genocidal regimes that are not fascist, while historical fascist regimes were clearly fascist before they began to engage in genocide. It's certainly a part of it, but fascist = genocidal is clearly wrong
    – divibisan
    Feb 4, 2021 at 18:47
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    @MoziburUllah you are most tiresome in your claims. fact is, none of the definitions of Fascism are based on genocide and claiming any resemblance between the actual structure of the governments of Rwanda in 94 and HItler's Germany is ludicrous. Rwanda's massacre was launched largely by broadcasting appeals to slaughter over the radio. It doesn't look much like the meticulous book keeping the Nazi state engaged in on who was getting executed. I've already stated, more politely, than I was not supporting Musso (or even Italian). Go fly a kite and the next version will be way less polite. Feb 5, 2021 at 19:45

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