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Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)

Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)

Origin of the Movement

  • In Italy parliamentary government had only a limited success. The country as a whole was not ready for it. Besides, it retained much of its local and individualistic attitude and so required a strong unifying force for the development of a national outlook. It was this urgent need that formed the background of the rise of Fascism, but the more definite and immediate cause of this new movement was found in the state of Italy after the Great War. There was a general sense of disappointment at the treatment accorded to Italy by the Peace Conference of Paris. There were many ardent spirits who felt that Italy had been insufficiently compensated for her efforts and sacrifices in the war. They wanted the Government to take up a strong line and to be less conciliatory in its attitude towards foreign affairs. Secondly, the difficulties attending the problem of readjustment to post-war conditions appeared too great for a people who were by nature impatient and highly mercurial. During the year following the war, Italy was full of discontent arising mostly from economic and financial hardship. Poor before, she was poorer now because of war expenditures. The cost of living rose very high. Socialism which had been active before the war now increased its strength. In many quarters, especially the industrial regions of the north, there were serious labour strikes and in some cases the workmen seized the factories. Even the peasantry were affected, for in some of the rural communities the peasantry ousted the landlords and seized their property. A social revolution seemed to threaten the country and it looked for some years as if Italy might go Communist. The Government under Nitti and then under Giolitti proved incapable of dealing with the situation, and its prestige was badly shaken. Bold leadership was wanted and this was eventually supplied by the Fascists.
  • There were, however, many ardent patriots, mostly belonging to the middle-class, who were alarmed at the pretensions of Government in the face of Communist activities. They believed in the existing social order and wanted to save the state from the menace of communism even by force, if necessary. They were disgusted with the Government for its inability to suppress disorder, and were determined to undertake the task which the authorities had failed to perform. It was out of them that a body of enthusiasts arose who came to be known as Fascists. Their leader was Benito Mussolini, a journalist and an ex-socialist. The Fascists were so-called because they organised themselves into a group of fassio (bundle) like the faces or bundle of rods once carried by the Roman lictor as emblematic of the authority of the state. They adopted the black shirt as a sort of uniform and drilled themselves in quasi-military companies. Fervently patriotic they exalted the authority of the state and stood for Italian nationalism as against the international communist movement. Before long Italy became an irregular battle-ground between the Socialists and the Fascists, while the Government looked helplessly on, unable to suppress either of these two forms of lawlessness. But the efforts of the Fascists to save Italy from Communism and to lift her out of anarchy, appealed to the solid conservative elements in the country with the result that Fascists grew in number and power. Feeling that the wind was favourable Mussolini effected a Fascist coup d’etat. In 1922 he marched upon Rome and seized the government. To avert a ruinous civil war King Victor Emmanuel III wisely accepted the revolution and offered the premiership to Mussolini who at once formed a cabinet. Fascism had conquered the Government and Mussolini became its de facto head.  Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)
  • Fascism as organised by Mussolini set before itself three definite aims: exaltation of the state, protection of private property, and a strong foreign policy which would rehabilitate Italy’s position as a great power. The movement began as an impulse towards law and order and sought to safeguard existing institutions against the destructive influences of Bolshevism. But as it progressed, it developed a philosophy. It claimed to be a spiritual movement aiming at re-vivifying Italian soul in terms of duty to the Italian state. It thus became the essence of nationalism and stood for the grandeur that was ancient Rome. Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)
  • Fascism achieved much for Italy. It restored the nation’s confidence in itself and made the administration of government efficient in every respect. Mussolini balanced the budget, stabilised the currency, and adjusted the difference between labour and capital so that the two could act as partners under the supervision of the state. Fascism encouraged economic self-sufficiency and efforts were made to reduce the country’s dependence upon foreign imports of wheat, cotton and tobacco. Energetic measures were taken to develop Italy’s share of world-shipping and the tourist traffic. Education was encouraged by increasing the number of schools and by enforcing the laws for compulsory school attendance.
  • One of Mussolini’s outstanding achievements was the settlement of the long-standing dispute with the Papacy. By the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the Pope recognised the kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy, with Rome as its capital. The Italian state, on the other hand, recognised the Pope as a sovereign power in the Vatican and indemnified him for the loss of his temporal possessions. Along with this treaty a Concordant was concluded by which the future relations between the State and the Papacy were defined. The pope was to appoint all bishops in Italy but was to communicate the name of each candidate to the Italian government “in order to be sure that the latter has no objection from a political standpoint against the nomination.” The state also agreed to pay the salaries of bishops and priests. The arrangement satisfied the Pope who declared the Roman Question as “definitely and irrevocably settled.” The result of this pact was to secure for the state the unstinted support of the Church and thereby to remove one of the causes which had largely contributed to the weakness of the Italian Government. The Italians would no longer have to choose between their loyalty to the state and obedience to their religious head. They could be good citizens as well as good Catholics. Like Bonapartism, Fascism made a political use of religion and saw in it a valuable aid to authority and a stabilising force against social upheaval. Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)
  • Thus under the Fascist regime Italy was saved from disorder and anarchy and she came to occupy a commanding position in Europe. But these advantages were secured at a price, namely, political liberty. Fascist rule was frankly autocratic, in which there was no room for popular sovereignty. Parliament was not abolished, but the electoral system was so altered as to ensure Fascist predominance with the result that Parliament was reduced to the humble position of an advisory council. The Press was rigidly censored and freedom of meeting and speech severely restricted. Opposition to Fascism was severely punished, and anybody not believing in its creed was open to suspicion and subject to surveillance. The murder of a socialist member of Parliament in 1924 showed the new regime at its worst. Fascism tolerated no differences of opinion. Mussolini was in theory, premier of a constitutional sovereign, but in fact he was the dictator. Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)

Fascist Foreign Policy | Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)

  • One of the fundamental articles of the Fascist faith was to heighten the prestige of Italy in the eyes of foreign nations. The Fascists glorified war as a symbol of national virility. Hence Mussolini aimed at reviving the prestige of ancient Rome and securing for Italy the position of a world power. At the peace conference the Allies had neglected Italy in the distribution of mandates and so Mussolini sought to rectify this wrong by adopting a vigorous policy of colonial expansion. He turned his eyes to Tunisia and Corsica which were French possessions, and maintained that Italy had a better right to them. Besides, the two countries were competing for the control of the Western Mediterranean and superiority in naval armaments. Mussolini’s bellicose utterances put a severe strain on Franco-Italian relations for a time and portended a crisis. This was, however, averted and Mussolini turned to Eastern Europe for expansion. He secured for Italy the Dodecanese island and definitely acquired Fiume in 1924. Italy’s relations with Yugoslavia also became more and more strained as the latter prompted by irredentist movements, wanted to acquire a large portion of Dalmatia from Italy. The Italo-Yugoslav quarrel was in essence a struggle for the control of Adriatic. This struggle was further intensified when Mussolini conquered Albania from King Zog in 1939.  Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)
  • But the most spectacular of Mussolini’s achievements was the conquest of Ethiopia. He wanted to wipe off the humiliation of Italian defeat at Adowa at the hands of the Abyssinians in 1896. But the real cause was that Italy needed colonies to enhance her prestige and to find more room and more food for her growing population. Hence Mussolini took advantage of some border “incidents” at Wahval to attack Abyssinia in 1935. Its king Haile Selassie appealed to the League of Nations for arbitration, which promptly declared Italy to be the aggressor. Mussolini, however, defied the League, conquered Abyssinia and proclaimed King Victor Emmanuel as the Emperor of Ethiopia (1936). After this war Italy drew closer to Germany and became estranged from France and Britain. Mussolini came to an understanding with Hitler and thus arose what was called the Rome-Berlin Axis. When the Second World War broke out and the power of France collapsed Mussolini joined Germany and declared war on Britain and France (1940).  Fascism In Italy (1920-1939)


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