Fascism Characteristics

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Characteristics: (during inter-war period)

  • Strongly nationalistic

  • Strongly/Violently anti-Communist

  • Anti-Liberal-democratic

  • Opposed to international org.

  • Elitist and Authoritarian (‘Obedience not discussion’ — Mussolini)

  • Close identity btw the party and the state

  • Strongly anti-Semitic

  • Glorified war (promoted Social Darwinism)

  • Profoundly racist

  • Had a paramilitary wing (ie: Blackshirts / S.A.)

  • Promoted the myth of the race (use victories of the past)

  • Placed emphasis on the myth of the predestined leader

  • Made great use of symbolism (ie: swastika)

  • Did not have a clear doctrinal base

Reasons for the Appeal of Fascism

  • Fascism was not clearly developed in theory and could appeal to all groups irrespective of status

  • The emphasis upon law and order was appealing (it was seen as an alternative to social unrest)

  • People were turning to other forms of Gov. due to immense economic problems.

  • Weak governments were easy preys for the fascists

  • The fear of communism led to support for the fascists who were violently anti-Communist

  • Fascism gave its members a sense of identity

  • Fascism made great use of the potentials of the newly developed mass media

  • Traditional parties lacked inspiration and the fascists:

  • Represented a dynamic alternative

  • Were not opposed by the Gov. which they sought to bring down

Mussolini and Fascism in Italy

The Founding of the "Fasci di Combattimento" by Benito Mussolini

  • In its early days, the program of the party had strong socialist elements: progressive tax on capital / 85% tax on war profits / universal suffrage (including women) / formation of a national militia / a minimum wage / nationalization of the munitions industry / worker participation in management / confiscation of church prop. (all those in Italics were to disappear later)

  • Until 1920 the Fascists had little success

Reasons for the rise of the Fascists (1920-22)

  • Disgust in Italy at the terms of the peace treaties, Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (didn’t obtain A.H. territory)

  • The Fascists represented a means to stop the socialists and the communists (in the eyes of conservative politicians, who sought to moderate and control Fascism to their purposes)

  • Mussolini was backed by wealthy industrialists and landowners (b/c of their fear of socialist reforms)

  • Support from Pope Pius XI and the Vatican (who saw the Fascists as an opportunity to normalize State-Church relationships)

  • Lack of faith in Italy’s institutions (failures of WWI, post-war violence, high U…)

  • After the March on Rome (October 22) the King offered the post of Prime Minister to Mussolini

  • The violence of the Fascists (i.e.: blackshirts) intimidated opponents

  • The complicity of the police and the army (who didn’t suppress Fascist violence)

March on Rome

On October 24, 1922, Mussolini declared before 60,000 people at the Fascist Congress in Naples: "We want to become the state!", then retired to Milan. Meanwhile, people gathered at all strategic points of the country.

On October 26, former prime minister Antonio Salandra warned current Prime Minister Luigi Facta that Mussolini was demanding his resignation and that he was preparing to march on Rome.

  • Facta did not believe Salandra and thought that Mussolini would govern quietly at his side.

To meet the threat posed by the bands of fascist troops now gathering outside Rome, Luigi Facta (who had resigned but continued to hold power) ordered a state of siege for Rome.

  • King Victor Emmanuel III refused to sign the military order and, on October 28, handed power to Mussolini, who was supported by the military, the business class and the liberal right-wing.

  • The march itself was composed of less than 30,000 men, but the king in part feared a civil war since the blackshirts had already taken control of most of the country, while Fascism was no longer seen as a threat to the establishment.

  • Mussolini was asked to form his cabinet on October 29, 1922, while some 25,000 Blackshirts were parading in Rome.

  • Mussolini thus legally reached power, in accordance with the Italian Constitution.

  • The March on Rome was not the conquest of power which Fascism later celebrated but rather a transfer of power within the framework of the constitution, a transfer made possible by the surrender of public authorities in the face of fascist intimidation and the complicity of the bourgeoisie, who thought it would be possible to manipulate Mussolini.

  • Fearing a conflict with the fascists, the ruling class thus handed power to Mussolini, who went on to install the dictatorship after the June 10, 1924

The Establishment of a Dictatorship

The king remained the Head of State, but w/ Mussolini Italy moved gradually towards dictatorship (not to the extent of Hitler’s dictatorship however)

1922-1924: The Fascists strengthened their position by:

  • Excluding Socialists from the coalition

  • Continuing to attract members (weakening opponents at the same time)

  • Continuing violence a/g political opponents

  • The fact that the Vatican became increasingly pro-Fascist

  • The lack of unity amongst opponents

  • The Acerbo Law (July 1923) which stated that the party of coalition which won an election was to be automatically awarded 2/3 of the seats in parliament (this made strong Gov. possible)

  • Winning the April 1924 election w/ 374 out of 535 seats in parliament

  • Use of electoral fraud in the south of Italy (to ensure Fascist victory)

June 1924: the Matteotti murder, the murder of a critic of the Fascists (the socialist Giacomo Matteotti) created an anti-Fascist backlash  extreme elements of the Fascist party demanded that Mussolini move towards dictatorship.

A move towards dictatorship:

  • December 25: a law passed complete power in Mussolini’s hands and introduced several repressive measures:

  • Political parties were banned

  • Trade unions were banned

  • Free press was ended (through takeover by Fascists or censorship)

  • Elected local officials were replaced by officials appointed by the central Gov.

  • Increased power of arrest and detention w/out trial

  • Scope of death penalty widened (to include action against the authorities)

  • Setting up a special court to deal w/ ‘political crimes’

  • Creation of a secret police force (OVRA)

  • These strengthened Mussolini and the State rather than the Fascists.

A Totalitarian State?

Totalitarianism: when the Gov. has a high level of control on most aspects of citizen’s lives.

Arguments against totalitarianism:

  • The Fascists compromised w/ non-Fascist interest groups (i.e.: the Church, the Monarchy)

  • Mussolini could be dismissed by the King

  • The Church still had considerable influence (unlike in Germany under Hitler) in sectors such as education.

  • Fascism had little influence in the South, and despite Fascist propaganda the South remained under Church and powerful landowner’s influences.

Arguments for totalitarianism:

  • Italians had to conform to Fascist expectations (this was enforced by the secret police and the militia)

  • Public employees had to swear an oath of loyalty to the regime

  • Youth movements had considerable influence

  • A ‘Mussolini Cult’ developed.

  • In 1938 racial laws were enacted (mainly directed against the Jews) — there was little persecution until wartime at the urging of Hitler

The Corporate State

This was a feature of the Fascist state in Italy…Under corporativism, a group composed of representatives of the employers, the workers, and the state would govern a corporation. This would supposedly:

  • End conflicts btw owners and labor and therefore:

  • Ending class conflict

  • Increasing production (no more strikes)

  • Increase living standards

Fascist Economic Policies

  • No attempt to destroy capitalism (Mussolini compromised with the capitalist and left them in charge of their industries in return for their support)

  • ‘Productivism’ was the word used by the Fascist to describe their aims — however this was vague and limited to a desire to boost production…

  • There were close bonds btw State and heavy industry (funds were directed towards this area of the economy)

  • There was little attention paid to development of the consumer industries.

  • Taxation levels were high (to fund investment in heavy industry)

  • The lira was fixed at an artificially high level (b/c of national pride)

  • Protectionism increased — to protect heavy industry and agriculture — since Mussolini sought to achieve autarky.

  • Government intervention increase (partly b/c of the Great Depression) and

  • Private banks were taken over to finance for investment

  • Allocation of raw materials was brought under Gov. control

  • Direct control of major industries increased (see notes for figures)

As a result Italy had a larger public sector then any European country aside from the USSR

Fascist Foreign Policy

  • There is disagreement as to whether foreign policy was driven by fascist ideals

  • There is consensus that it was dominated by Mussolini

  • Evidence suggests it came to be dominated by fascist notions after the mid-1930s

Foreign Policy 1922-1936

Italy’s interests concentrated in three areas: the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Balkans; yet there was a desire to ‘revise’ the settlement of 1919-1920.

  • Mussolini obtained Fiume from Yugoslavia

  • Mussolini invaded Corfu (Greek island) in response to the murder of an Italian general but was pressured (mainly by G.B.) into withdrawing.

  • Mussolini declared in 1926 a protectorate over Albania

  • Mussolini sought to destabilize Yugoslavia; he signed a treaty w/ Hungary (also a right wing regime)

  • He crushed a revolt in Libya w/ use of massive force & executions

  • He signed a treaty of friendship w/ Ethiopia in 1928

By the late 1920s, Mussolini was becoming increasingly revisionist & frustrated at the failures of traditional diplomacy, but the weakness of the Italian armed forces made him support the disarmament efforts of the League of Nations and made him cooperate w/ Italy’s WWI allies.

  • Relations w/ Germany were not good in the early years of Hitler’s regime, Mussolini opposed Hitler’s designs on Austria by backing the Austria Gov. and an Austrian right wing force. Later he moved troops to the Austrian frontier to forestall what he suspected were German interventions in Austria

  • October 25: Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia (realizing that the Allies would do little to stop him b/c they were worried over Hitler’s Germany) The League of Nations imposed sanctions for this actions but they did not succeed b/c:

  • Oil was not included in the banned items

  • Britain did not close the Suez Canal to Italian warships

  • Neither Germany nor the USA were members of the League and sanctions could therefore only be ineffective.

Now, Mussolini turned towards a more Fascist-driven foreign policy. The reasons for this change were: anger at the actions of Britain and France (in response to his Ethiopian invasion) / the success of the Ethiopian invasion and the lack of success of traditional diplomacy / the nature of Fascism which demanded expansionist policies.

Foreign Policy: 1936-1943

  • Intervention in the Spanish Civil War

  • A move towards Hitler:

  • The establishment of the axis in 1936

  • The visit of Sept. 1937 of Germany by Mussolini

  • Mussolini let Hitler annex Austria (Feb. — March 1938)

  • Mussolini proposed the Munich conference when war btw Germany and the Western Allies seemed likely

  • Mussolini annexed Albania (an Italian protectorate since 1926) when Hitler seized the whole of Czechoslovakia.

  • In May 1939 a military alliance w/ Germany was signed (the Pact of Steel)

  • Italy was unable to support Hitler in Sept. 1939 and Hitler accepted Italian neutrality

  • In 1940, Mussolini (convinced of Hitler’s success) joined the war but

    • His invasion of Southern France did not fit Hitler’s plans

    • His invasion of Greece obliged Hitler to intervene

    • Initial success in N. Africa was then met by British counter-attacks

  • In June 1941, Mussolini participated in the invasion of the USSR and in Dec. 1941, the followed Hitler in his declaration of war on the USA.

  • In July 1943, Allied troops landed in Sicily, the Fascist Grand Council denounced Mussolini’s actions, and the King dismissed Mussolini  Mussolini was then arrested.

The Reasons for the Fall of Mussolini

  • Since 1936 his popularity had been in decline (i.e.: w/ involvement in the Spanish Civil War)

  • His relationship w/ Germany was seen as sacrificing Italy’s interests to those of Germany.

  • Loss of the King’s support

  • Defeats in WWII undermined his prestige

  • Conditions w/in Italy deteriorated w/ the war.

  • Corruption w/in the Fascist party

  • Mussolini’s illness

  • The invasion of Sicily by the allies (clear sign of Italy’s defeat)

Italy surrendered on Sept. 8th 1943, Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and set up at the head of a German backed Rep. of Salo, and fought against Italy. He was then executed on April 28th 1945 at the hands of pro-Allied Italians.

An Evaluation of Italian Fascism

  • Failure in that it meant Italian involvement in WWII on Germany’s side, loss of colonies, and Allied occupation.

  • The desire for empire was more of a burden than an advantage. (i.e.: Ethiopia did not bring Italy any economic benefits)

  • The relationship w/ Germany meant that Italian interest were of secondary importance, and post-1943 that Germany invaded Northern Italy, used Italian workers as forced labor…

  • Fascism caused economic stagnation in Italy. A high lira damaged exports, wages fell, and there was massive U. (partly b/c of the Great Depression)

  • Fascism brought little social reforms and sided w/ the employers against the employees.

  • The reality of the Corporate State was that Fascists sided w/ employers and this system did little to represent the interests of the workers. This system was effectively only a disguise for exploitation of labor.

  • Fascist rule was corrupt, and much needed reforms were not carried out.

  • Propaganda was used to claim successes, but remained propaganda.

  • Successes included improvements in public transport, success in the campaign against the Mafia…

  • The one major success was the ending of the conflict btw State and Church. (the establishment of the Vatican as an independent state)


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