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As there have been many different manifestations of fascism, especially during the interwar years, there were also many different symbols of fascist movements. Fascist symbolism typically involved nationalist imagery.
Common symbolism of fascist movements
Organized fascist movements have militarist-appearing uniforms for their members; use national symbols, historical symbols of a nation as symbols of their movement; and use orchestrated rallies for propaganda purposes. Fascist movements are led by a "Leader" (i.e. Duce, Führer, Caudillo and so on) who is publicly idolized in propaganda as the nation's saviour. A number of fascist movements use a straight-armed salute.
The use of symbols, graphics, and other artifacts created by fascist, authoritarian and totalitarian governments has been noted as a key aspect of their propaganda. Most Fascist movements adopted symbols of Ancient Roman or Greek origin, for example the German use of Roman standards during rallies, the Italian adoption of the fasces symbol, the Spanish "Falange" from the Spanish word for "Phalanx".
The original symbol of fascism, in Italy under Benito Mussolini, was the fasces. This is an ancient Imperial Roman symbol of power carried by lictors in front of magistrates; a bundle of sticks featuring an axe, indicating the power over life and death. Before the Italian Fascists adopted the fasces, the symbol had been used by Italian political organizations of various political ideologies (ranging from socialist to nationalist), called Fascio ("leagues") as a symbol of strength through unity.
Italian Fascism utilized the color black as a symbol of their movement, black being the color of the uniforms of their paramilitaries, known as Blackshirts. The blackshirt derived from Italy's daredevil elite shock troops known as the Arditi, soldiers who were specifically trained for a life of violence and wore unique blackshirt uniforms. The colour black as used by the Arditi, symbolized death.
Fascist Italy was not officially racist, unlike its World War II Axis partner of Nazi Germany. But it equally gave importance to the purity of race, as Mussolini at multiple times expressed alarm towards a possible extinction of white people. Consolidation of gained territory in the northeast of Italy led to state-sanctioned persecution and ethnic cleansing of Slovenes, while closer ties with Hitler caused Mussolini to collaborate in sending Italian Jews to die in the Holocaust.
In a 1921 speech in Bologna (Italy), Mussolini stated, "Fascism was born... out of a profound, perennial need of this our Aryan and Mediterranean race". Mussolini was concerned with the low birth rates of the white race in contrast to the African and Asian races. In 1928, he noted the high birth-rate of blacks in the United States, and that they had surpassed the population of whites in certain areas, such as Harlem in New York City. He described their greater racial consciousness in comparison with American whites as contributing to their growing strength.
Other symbols used by the Italian Fascists included the aquila, the Capitoline Wolf, and the SPQR motto, each related to Italy's ancient Roman cultural history, which the Fascists attempted to resurrect.
The nature of German fascism, as encapsulated in Nazism was similar to Italian Fascism ideologically and borrowed symbolism from the Italian Fascists such as the use of mass rallies, the straight-armed Roman salute, and the use of pageantry. Nazism was different from Italian Fascism in that it was officially racist. Its symbol was the swastika, at the time a commonly seen symbol in the world that had experienced a revival in use in the western world in the early 20th century. German völkisch Nationalists claimed the swastika was a symbol of the Aryan race, who they claimed were the foundation of Germanic civilization and were superior to all other races.
As the Italian Fascists adapted elements of their ethnic heritage to fuel a sense of Nationalism by use of symbolism, so did Nazi Germany. Turn-of-the-century German-Austrian mystic and author Guido von List was a big influence on Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who introduced various ancient Germanic symbols (filtered through von List's writings) most thoroughly into the SS, including the stylized double Sig Rune (von List's then-contemporary Armanen rune version of the ancient sowilo rune) for the organization itself.
The black-white-red tricolor of the German Empire was utilized as the color scheme of the Nazi flag. The color brown was the identifying color of Nazism (and fascism in general), due to it being the color of the SA paramilitaries (also known as Brownshirts).
Other historical symbols that were already in use by the German Army to varying degrees prior to the Nazi Germany, such as the Wolfsangel and Totenkopf, were also used in a new, more industrialized manner on uniforms and insignia.
Although the swastika was a popular symbol in art prior to the regimental use by Nazi Germany and has a long heritage in many other cultures throughout history - and although many of the symbols used by the Nazis were ancient or commonly used prior to the advent of Nazi Germany - because of association with Nazi use, the swastika is often considered synonymous with National Socialism and some of the other symbols still carry a negative post-World War II stigma in some Western countries, to the point where some of the symbols are banned from display altogether.
The fascist Falange in Spain utilized the yoke and arrows as their symbol. It historically served as the symbol of the shield of the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent Catholic monarchs, representing a united Spain and the "symbol of the heroic virtues of the race". The original uniform of the Falangistas was the blue shirt – derived from the blue overalls of industrial workers – which was later combined with the red beret of the Carlists to represent their merger by Franco.
Militarist uniforms with nationalist insignia
Organized fascist movements typically use military-like uniforms with the symbol of their movement on them.
In Italy, the Italian Fascist movement in 1919 wore black military-like uniforms, and were nicknamed Blackshirts. In power, uniforms during the Fascist era extended to both the party and the military which typically bore fasces or an eagle clutching a fasces on their caps or on the left arm section of the uniform.
In Germany, the fascist Nazi movement was similar to the Italian Fascists in that they initially used a specifically colored uniform for their movement, the tan-brown colored uniform of the SA paramilitary group earned the group and the Nazis themselves the nickname of the Brownshirts. The Nazis used the swastika for their uniforms and copied the Italian Fascists' uniforms, with an eagle clutching a wreathed swastika instead of a fasces, and a Nazi flag arm sash on the left arm section of the uniform for party members.
Other fascist countries largely copied the symbolism of the Italian Fascists and German Nazis for their movements. Like them, their uniforms looked typically like military uniforms with Nationalist type insignia of the movement. The Spanish Falange adopted dark blue shirts for their party members, symbolizing Spanish workers, many of whom wore blue shirts. Berets were also used, representing their Carlist supporters. The Spanish Blue Division expeditionary volunteers sent to the Eastern Front of WW2 in (relatively indirect) support of the Germans likewise wore blue shirts, berets and their army trousers.
Many other fascist movements did not win power or were relatively minor regimes in comparison and their symbolism is not well-remembered today in many parts of the world, although the BUF's Flash and Circle was later used by the non-fascist People's Action Party of Singapore.
- The symbol of the Bulgarian national-socialist Ratnik movements was a sun cross named "Bogar".
- Lightning bolts were a common symbol of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, appearing on uniforms, newspaper mastheads, badges and on the movement's flags. The symbol completely replaced the fasces used from 1932 to 1935 with the adoption of the Flash and Circle.
- The symbol of the Croatian Ustaše movement was capital letter U with the flaming grenade and the Croatian coat of arms.
- A prominent symbol of the Greek 4th of August Regime was the Labrys/Pelekys, the double-headed axe which Ioannis Metaxas thought to be the oldest symbol of all Hellenic civilizations.
- The symbol of Hungary's fascistic Arrow Cross Party was the Arrow Cross.
- Austria's Fatherland's Front, that ruled the country from 1933 to 1938, used the crutch cross as its symbol.
- The symbol of the Norwegian Nasjonal Samling was as golden/yellow sun cross on red background.
- The symbol of Salazar's Portuguese Estado Novo regime was a stylized version of the Armillary sphere and shield found on the national flag; its rivals in the Movimento Nacional-Sindicalista used the Order of Christ Cross.
- The symbol of the Romanian Iron Guard was a triple cross (a variant of the triple parted and fretted) – three parallel verticals intersected with three parallel horizontals, usually in black; it was meant to represent prison bars, as a badge of martyrdom. It was sometimes deemed the Archangel Michael Cross, after the patron saint of the movement.
- The National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) used the Wolfsangel as its main symbol.
- The Brazilian Integralist Action used an upper case sigma (Σ), to represent the summation of all things under the State.
- The Russian Movement Against Illegal Immigration, which is often considered to be a moderate and legal neo-Nazi movement, uses the black-colored road sign "Stop Prohibited" (similar to the swastika) as their main symbol.
- The quasi-Fascist Yugoslav ZBOR used a green shield with a blade of wheat on it, with a sword crossing the shield.
Some neo-Nazi organizations continue to use the swastika, but many have moved away from such inflammatory symbols of early fascism. Some neo-fascist groups use symbols that are reminiscent of the swastika or other cultural or ancestral symbols that may evoke nationalistic sentiment but do not carry the same racist connotations.
- Hakenkreuz – continues lo be used by neo-Nazl groups such as the American Nazi Party the São Paulo Skinheads in Brazil and was used by the National Socialist Front of Sweden
- Bladed swastika – Russian National Unity
- Wolfsangel symbol
- Cogwheel – Hungarian Welfare Association
- Black Sun - Used by the Azov Battallion and Vanguard America as well as other groups such as Volksfront
- Labrys (or Pelekys) – a Minoan double-headed axe, used by some fascist Greek nostalgics
- Algiz rune – All-Germanic Heathens' Front, National Alliance
- Odal rune - common among various Neo-Nazi group
- Sigel rune, especially on the Schutzstaffel badge, sometimes confused with or used interchangeably with Eihwaz
- Tyr rune was on the badge of the SA Reichsführerschulen in Nazi Germany, and is sometimes used by neo-Nazis such as Nordic Resistance Movement
- Orkhon script letters – used by followers of Nihal Atsiz, e.g.Türkçü Toplumcu Budun Derneği
- Triskelion-like symbol composed of three 7s – Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), Republic of South Africa
Opponents of fascism have identified symbols seen in a pejorative manner such as the jackboot.
Some of these symbols are also used by a variety of non-fascist movements and organizations. The swastika has been a notable symbol in Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as in modern pagan religions, such as in Germanic neopaganism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) states:
Nazi Germany glorified an idealized "Aryan/Norse" heritage, consequently extremists have appropriated many symbols from pre-Christian Europe for their own uses. They give such symbols a racist significance, even though the symbols did not originally have such meaning and are often used by nonracists today, especially practitioners of modern pagan religions.
Fasces are used in the national emblem of France, the coat of arms and wordmark of the Swedish Police and the Swedish Security Service, the coat of arms of the Swiss Canton of St. Gallen, and the coat of arms of the Spanish Civil Guard.
- Heller, Steven (2008). Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State. Phaidon Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-7148-4846-8.
- Roger Griffin, Matthew Feldman. Fascism: Fascism and culture. London, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2004. p. 207.
- Stanley G. Payne. A history of fascism, 1914-1945. Oxon, England, UK: Digital Printing, 2005. Pp. 90.
- Neocleous, Mark. Fascism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. p. 35.
- Aaron Gillette. Racial theories in fascist Italy. London; New York. p. 43.
- Wendy Parkins. Fashioning the body politic: dress, gender, citizenship. Oxford, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Berg, 2002. Pp. 178
- Preparing for War With Ukraine’s Fascist Defenders of Freedom
- "Azov Battalion fighters parading with the Wolfsangel banner favoured by neo-Nazis"
- USA nie będą szkolić batalionu Azow
- One year on: where are the far-right forces of Ukraine? The group proudly displays the Wolfsangel symbols - a motif used by several SS groups in Nazi Germany
- Gespenstischer Neonazi- Aufmarsch in der Ukraine
- Ukraine crisis: the neo-Nazi brigade fighting pro-Russian separatists The Telegraph Tom Parfitt 11 August 2014
- adl.org, accessed 19 December 2007