Fascism is a term often loosely used to describe military dictatorships and extreme right-wing governments and organizations (or individuals) known to be either violently anticommunist or violently anti-Semitic, or both. These are often important elements within fascism (as are the institutionalization of sexual repression and strong antifemale, antihomosexual and profamily biases), but the term should be more precisely confined to those mass movements and political parties that originated in the capitalist economies of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany and Salazar's Portugal. It is characterized by a hatred for liberalism, socialism, democracy, internationalism and the parliamentary system; by extreme patriotism and aggressive nationalism, and hostility to other nations and races; by a glorification of power, violence and war; by dreams of conquest and expansion; by a hankering after a supposedly glorious past; by paramilitary associations; by the myth of the "leader" to whom superhuman qualities are attributed; and by the creation of a convenient scapegoat - usually Jews - for all social, national and economic ills.

Fascist movements became prominent after WWI among the losing nations that had suffered humiliating defeats, lost large territories and faced harsh terms of peace. Reconquest of old colonies and territories and restoration of prewar positions in the world was a major theme of all fascist movements. Fascism attracted not only the military but also those who had lost their traditional place in society and were frightened of the future, particularly the lower-middle classes. Essential to the rise of fascism was the devastating economic crisis that threw millions out of work and threatened the economic security of many more millions, but other conditions were important as well: a capitalist class fearful of powerful working-class organization and of strong communist and socialist parties that seemed on the verge of taking power, and the existence of weak and ever-changing minority governments in countries where parliamentary institutions and liberal democratic social values were poorly developed and where leadership was widely discredited by indecision, paralysis and corruption.

Once in power, fascist parties banned all opposition parties, independent trade unions and strikes, eliminated the independent press, established one-party states and reorganized industry along corporatist lines. In practice, corporatism severely curtailed the rights of workers while emphasizing and protecting the rights of employers. Fascism ceased to be a powerful force with the defeat of the Axis powers of WWII and the long wave of postwar prosperity, but elements of fascism flourish in some countries and survive in others.

In pre-WWII Canada, the fascist movement was strongest in Québec with the emergence of Adrian Arcand's National Unity Party. While moribund through the prosperous years that immediately followed upon the end of WWII, many new fascist organizations emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s and though very small numerically, they continued to be very active through the 1980s and 1990s. Among the most prominent of these are the Heritage Front, the Western Guard, the Aryan Nations, the Nationalist Party and the Ku Klux Klan. Dominant figures include Ernst Zundel, John Ross Taylor, Paul Fromm and Wolfgang Droege.