For students to understand the differences and similarities between fascism and communism, they can look to the period from World War I to the end of World War II. Fascism and communism are totalitarian regimes that use conflicts with other nations and domestic repression to secure their aspirations. Those ideologies still exist today, but they were at their height during this period.

Communism

Lenin founded the Soviet Union, which incorporated the communist ideology.
Lenin founded the Soviet Union, which incorporated the communist ideology.

Communism seeks a classless society of the proletariat -- the workers -- with the state owning all methods of production based on the 19th century ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The communist world view is of an international struggle between the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie as the wealthy middle class and nobility for political and economic domination. For example, the Soviet Union imprisoned and killed in gulags -- work and prison camps -- the bourgeoisie and nobles, seized all private property, and worked to expand communism globally.

Fascism

Mussolini and Hitler were fascist leaders
Mussolini and Hitler were fascist leaders

Fascism sees the struggle for power based on social Darwinism for racial superiority and dominance over “lower” races. For example, Adolf Hitler sought to cleanse Germany of other, non-Aryan races, particularly the Jews, through race laws culminating in the mass killings in the concentration camps the Nazis termed “The Final Solution” in what became the Holocaust. Nazi Germany’s goal was domination of Europe and expansion against Polish- and Russian-held lands believing the Slavs were an inferior race like the Jews. Italy’s goal was to resurrect the Roman Empire to dominate the Mediterranean while Japan’s objective was to dominate East Asia.

Individual Liberties Minimized

The German invasion of Poland started World War II.
The German invasion of Poland started World War II.

Both communism and fascism control their populations and punish any dissension or individuality that does serve the state’s ideology and goals. Fascism highly embraces nationalism, while communism sees nationalism negatively as an obstacle to the international communist revolution. Each system has a one-party dictatorship under a singular leader who is revered by a “cult of personality.” No criticism of the leader or the party is accepted and the press is highly censored and controlled. For example, the NKVD -- later KGB -- in the Soviet Union and the Gestapo in Nazi Germany were highly feared secret police that spied on, tortured and arrested all levels of society who proved in any way disloyal to the regimes. Joseph Stalin as the successor to Lenin used internal terrors -- purges -- on a mass scale to maximize his personal power and destroy any potential dissent, real or imaginary. Today, the communist dictatorship in North Korea controls its population, regulates the press and jails dissenters.

Similarities

A linear line from far left to right puts communism on the far left and fascism on the far right, opposite of each other. Yet, their similarities are better reflected in a circular extreme where going in either direction to such an extent leads to them in many ways aligning. Both fascism and communism view the Western democracies as weak, natural enemies to their ambitions. This view led to eventual cooperation between Hitler and Stalin. The Nazi-Soviet Pact in August of 1939 was an alliance between Hitler and Stalin agreeing to non-aggression, dividing Eastern Europe, and trade.