Sunday, December 6, 2015
Italy between 1918 - 1945
Why was Mussolini able to come to power?
a) Frustration and disillusionment:-
a. Disappointment at Italy’s gains from the peace settlement:-
i. Allies promised to Italy during the world war-I the areas Trentino, the south tyrol, Istria, Trieste part of Dalmatia, Adalia, some Aegean islands and a protectorate over Albania.
ii. She was denied last three areas and given to Yugoslavia; Albania was to be independent.
iii. The Italians felt cheated; particularly they failed to get Fiume (given to Yugoslavia).
iv. Gabriele D’Annunzio, a famous romantic poet, along with his supporters occupied Fiume and he began to have hopes of overthrowing the government.
v. Government ordered to remove D’Annunzio from Fiume. He surrendered without a fight, but it left the government highly unpopular.
b. The economic effects of the war:-
i. Government had borrowed heavily , especially from the USA, and these debts now had to be repaid.
ii. As the Lira declined in value the cost of living increased
iii. Massive unemployment as heavy industry cut back its wartime production levels.
c. Growing contempt for the parliamentary system:-
i. In 1919 elections there was a large number of parties in parliament.
ii. This made it difficult for any one party to gain an overall majority, and coalition governments were inevitable.
iii. No consistent policy was possible as five different cabinets with shaky majorities came and went.
iv. There was growing impatience with the system.
b) A wave of strikes, 1919 and 1920:-
i. Accompanied by rioting, looting of shops and occupation of factories by workers.
ii. The government’s prestige sank even lower because its failure to protect property;
iii. Many property owners were convinced that a left-wing revolution was at hand, especially when the Italian communist party was formed in 1921; but it made a revolution less likely because split the forces of the left, the fear of a revolution remained strong.
c) Mussolini attracted widespread support:-
a. He himself said, he aimed to rescue Italy from feeble government.
b. 1919, he founded the fascist party with a socialist and republican programme and he showed sympathy with the factory occupations of 1919.
c. As the factory occupations began to fail, Mussolini altered course and came out as the defender of private enterprise and property, thus attracting much needed financial support from wealthy business interests.
d. Fascists regularly attacked and burned down local socialist headquarter and newspaper offices and beat up socialist councilors.
e. He gained the support of property owners because they saw him as a guarantee of law an order.
f. Made a conciliatory speeches about the Roman Catholic Church ; in return the church backed him.
g. When Mussolini announced that he had dropped the republican part of his programme , even the king began to look more favorably on the fascists.
d) Lack of effective opposition:-
a. The anti-fascist groups failed to co-operate with each other and made no determined efforts to keep the fascist out.
b. The communists refused to co-operate with the socialits, caused the elections in 1921, where the fascists could get some representation in parliament.
e) The attempted general strike, 1922:-
a. Mussolini announced that if the government failed to quell the strike, they would crush it themselves,
b. When the strike failed through lack of support, Mussolini was able to pose as the savior of the nation from communism,
c. Fascists felt confident enough to stage their march on Rome; as about fifty thousand blackshirts converged on the capital, while others occupied important towns in the north.
d. Government was ready to resist, but the King Victor Emmanuel III refused to declar a state of emergency and instead, invited Mussolini. Hence Mussolini Became the first ever fascist premier in history.
e. The role of king was important-
i. He made the crucial decision not to use the army to stop the blackshirts. Regular army would have had a little difficulty in dispersing the less armed squads.
ii. There are so many interpretations that-
1. Lack of confidence in Facta;
2. Doubts about whether the army with its fascist sympathies could be relied on to obey orders;
3. Fears of a long civil war if it failed to crush the fascists quickly.
f. There is no doubt that he had a certain amount of sympathy with the facist aim of providing strong government and was also afraid that some of the generals might force him to abdicate in favour of his cousin, the Duke Of Aosta, who openly supported the fascists.
What did the term ‘fascism’ stand for?
Mussolini’s constantly changing aims before 1923 suggest that his main concern was simply to acquire power after that he seems to have improvised his ideas as he went along.
After a few years it emerged that fascism as Mussolini tried to put it into practice did involve certain basic principled:
- Extreme nationalism:
o Building up the greatness and prestige of the state, with the implication that one’s own nation is superior to all others.
- A totalitarian system of government
o Government attempted to arouse and mobilize the great mass of ordinary people, to control and organize, with strong discipline, as many aspects of people’s lives as important than the interests of the individual.
- A one- party state was essential;
o no place for democracy;
o hostile to communism.
o Fascist party members were the elite of the nation;
o Great emphasis was placed on the cult of the leader or hero who would win mass support with thrilling speeches and skilful propaganda.
- Economic self- sufficiency ( autarchy ) was vitally important in developing the greatness of the state.
- Military strength and violence-
o Integral part of the way of life.
o He himself remarked ‘ peace is absurd; fascism does not believe in it’.
o They treated the opponents and critics violently .
o Followed aggressive foreign policy.
Mussolini introduces the fascist state
- There was no sudden change because he was merely the Prime minister of a coalition cabinet in which only four out of twelve ministers were fascists.
- The king had given him special powers to deal with the crisis.
- He introduced elections reforms that the party which got most votes in a general election would automatically be given two thirds majority in parliament.
- As a result in the next election in 1924, fascists got 404 out of 511.
- Mussolini gradually developed Italian government and society along fascist lines and at the same time he consolidated his own hold over the country, which was largely complete by 1930.
a) All parties except the fascists were suppressed:-
o Opponents of the regime were either exiled or murdered.
o However, the Italian system was never as brutal as the Nazis, after 1926 Mussolini felt that violence had to be reduced.
o Further changes in the constitution –
§ The prime minister was responsible only to the king , not to parliament;
§ The prime minister could rule by decree, which meant that new laws did not need to be discussed by parliament;
§ The electorate was reduced from about 10 million the 3 million( the wealthiest).
o All important decisions would be taken by the fascist grand council which always did as Mussolini told it.
o He adopted the title Il Duce ( the leader).
b) Changes in local government:-
o Elected towns councils and mayors were abolished and towns were run by officials appointed from Rome.
o A strict press censorship was enforced.
o Anti-fascist newspapers and magazines were banned.
d) Education supervised
o Education in schools and universities was closely supervised.
o Textbooks were written to glorify the fascist system.
o Young people were forced to join the government youth organizations which indoctrinated them with the brilliance of the Duce and the glories of war.
o The other main message was total obedience to authority, which was necessary because everything was seen in terms of struggle- ‘believe, obey, fight’.
e) Employment policies
o Government tried to promote co-operation between employers and workers.
o Fascist controlled unions had the sole right to negotiate for the workers and were expected to work together to settle their Disputes over pay and working conditions.
o Strikes and lockouts were not allowed.
o To compensate for their loss of freedom, workers were assured of such benefits as free Sundays, annual holidays with pay, social security, sports and theatre facilities and cheap tours and holidays.
f) An understanding was reached with the pope
o Though he had been sympathetic towards Mussolini , he disapproved of the increasing totalitarianism of fascist government .
o Mussolini, who was probably and atheist himself, nevertheless well aware of the power of the Roman catholic church, and he was very obsessed with the communism.
o The result was the Lateran treaty (1929), by which Italy recognized the Vatican city as a sovereign state, paid the pope a large sum of money as compensation for all his losses, accepted the catholic faith as the official state religion, and made religious instruction compulsory in all schools;
o In return the papacy recognized the kingdom of Italy.
What benefits did fascism bting for the Italians?
a) A promising beginning:-
o Much of fascist policy was concerned with the economy. The big drive was for self-sufficiency, which was thought to be essential for a warrior- nation.
o The early years seemed to be successful.
§ Industry was encouraged with subsidies; rapid development in iron and steel, silk and hydro-electric production.
§ ‘Battle of wheat’ encouraged farmers to concentrate on wheat production as part of the drive for self-sufficiency; imports had been cut by 75%.
§ A programme of land reclamation was launched, involving draining marshes, irrigating in mountainous areas.
§ An impressive public works programme was launched to reduce the unemployment . it included building of motorways, bridges, blocks of flats, railway stations, sport stadiums etc.
§ The ‘ after-work organization ‘ provided the Italian people with things to do in their leisure time. It controlled theatres, dramatic societies, libraries , sporting organizations etc.
b) Unsolved problems:
a. Little had been done to remedy her basic shortage of raw materials- coal and oil.
b. Although the battle of wheat was a victory, it was achieved only at the expense of dairy and arable farming.
c. Mussolini revalued the lira far too high to the pound made a strong currency. This caused the reduction of exports.
d. The great depression which began in 1929 with the wall street crash in the USA made matters worse. Exports fell further, unemployment rose.
e. Another failing of the regime was in social services, where there was nothing approaching a ‘welfare state’/
f. The regime was inefficient and corrupt, so that many of its policies were not carried out.
g. Mussolini tried increasingly to do every thing himself; he refused to delegate because he wanted total control.
Opposition and downfall
There are two interpretations of the fascist era:
1. It was a temporary aberration in Italian history.
2. Fascism grew naturally from Italian history; the environment and the circumstances shaped the rise and success of fascism, not the reverse.