What it is: A set of political ideas opposed to Communism, democracy and freedom of the individual.
What it means: The Fascist movement was founded in Italy in 1919 by Benito Mussolini. In the next few years it became very popular. People were weary of the disorder both during and after the First World War, and wanted a government that would take control and put things right. Italian landowners and factory bosses were also alarmed by the way Communism was spreading, and wanted a political party that would clamp down on any workers' revolution. The Fascists were anti-Communist and militant nationalists, and promised go-ahead social policies. They came to power in 1922. Within a few years Italy had become a Fascist state, led by Mussolini, now a dictator whose rule was imposed with the help of the brutal Blackshirt armed security forces. All other political parties were banned, and so were trade unions and other social organisations. The aim was to control society from the top, and to restrict individual freedom, especially of the workers, in any way the Fascists thought was necessary to hold on to power. The name 'fascist' with a small F has been used to refer to similar nationalist organisations in other countries, run by people who detest all forms of socialism and democracy (and are often hostile to minority ethnic and cultural groups). For example, the Nazi regime in Germany carried out an extreme form of fascism. General Franco, the Spanish dictator from 1939 to 1975, attempted a limited form of it. The word 'fascist' is also used to describe a person who exerts control over others and terrorises them, physically or mentally.
Think about it: It perhaps seems surprising that people and nations let themselves be taken over by harsh rulers. But as they rise to power rulers may sell themselves very well, making promises which appeal to voters. And if when their real plans begin to show people don't make much protest, it is often because people don't really quite believe what is happening - or believe it too late. (The rise of Hitler, at about the same time as Mussolini, is a good example.) What's more, if a fascist dictator's policies seem to chime with the people's private prejudices or nationalist ambitions, they won't immediately object. By the time a dictatorship has turned out to be repressive and corrupt, all most people will tend (or dare) to say is 'we can't do anything about it'. But is it really true that nothing can be done? Why is it that some people always defer to authority whether it is good or bad? And why is it that some people are alarmed by the freedom of other (harmless) people and want to take it away?