WikiJournal Preprints/Fascism and Italy

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Author: Gerardo Papalia[a]ORCID iD.svg 

Papalia, G. 




Abstract

This article situates the development of Fascism in the history of Italy, particularly the First World War. It goes on to outline Benito Mussolini’s biography and his substantive contribution to Fascism’s development. The article also provides an overview of the policies of Fascism, both internal and external, and ends with a discussion presenting Italy’s participation in the Second World War and the eventual downfall of Mussolini and Fascism.

Background[edit]

Italy was unified in 1861 for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. It was forged from an amalgam of smaller nations by the revolutionary initiatives of leader Giuseppe Garibaldi and the military might of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont under the rule of Vittorio Emanuele II who realised his ambition to become Italy's first king.

This creation of the Italian state was termed the 'Risorgimento' and surrounded in suitably patriotic rhetoric. However, its formation was principally the result of an initiative by the peninsula's most educated and politically conscious elites. This was reflected in its system of government. Although it was a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, suffrage was premised on a high income and a good education. Voting rights applied only to a very small elite constituting only about 2% of the population, reflecting the limited consensus that underpinned the nascent nation.[1]

At its birth in 1861 the new Italian nation-state was overwhelmingly an agricultural country of 22 million people with nearly 72% of its population eking out a living on the land and only 15% working in industry. Over 67% of the population was illiterate. By the 1911 census, only four years before Italy's entry in First World War on the side of the Allies, these figures had changed substantially. It had become a nation of 36 million inhabitants, not including the over 5 million who had emigrated permanently abroad. About 60% of the working population was still employed in agriculture and 23% in industry. Illiteracy had declined to about 29%. In 1912 voting rights would be extended to the entire male population over 30 years of age.[2]

Italy's entry into the First World War in 1915 was fundamentally a decision made by the ruling elites with little consideration of the opinion of the great majority of the population that was opposed. The stated motivation was to occupy those parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had substantial numbers of Italian speakers, notably the cities of Trento and Trieste with their hinterlands. This had been a long term objective of Italian nationalists and viewed as the final act of the Risorgimento.[3]

As had happened in many other countries, the First World War powerfully accelerated both economic and political change. By the date of the 1921 census, Italy's population despite the over 1.2 million who had died in the war (about 680,000 military deaths and about 600,000 civilians [4]), had reached 38 million inhabitants of which 16% were illiterate. Of the working population approximately 56% were employed in agriculture and 23% in industry. The number of workers employed by FIAT, which produced many of the vehicles used by the Italian Army, went from 4,000 on the eve of the war to 40,000 at its end.[5]

However, these figures somewhat belie the extent of the cultural changes wrought by the war. Over 5.2 million men had worn the grey-green uniform of the Italian army, half of them peasants.[6] This factor alone unified the country as never before, with men being conscripted all over the peninsula, creating the occasion for many to learn standard Italian for the first time. Young males of military age began to see themselves no longer as belonging to their separate provincial cultures, but as citizens of a victorious and now fully reunited nation. Not surprisingly in 1918 the voting age barrier was lowered to all males over 21.[7]

Italian Soldiers in World War 1

This awakening of national consciousness, however, did not apply to the manifest glories of nationhood. The war itself had not brought those territorial benefits that the Allies had promised to the Italian government to induce it to join them in 1915. Many ardent patriots and nationalists, mostly from the middle class, who had marched singing to the war in officers' uniforms, saw their hopes dashed and began to speak of the “mutilated victory”.[8] On their return to civilian life many were set upon by angry crowds on whom the war had inflicted enormous economic privation, not to mention needless loss of life. And yet, the middle classes too, had suffered both economically and physically in the war.[9]

The perspective of those humble soldiers who had inhabited trenches in which so many had needlessly died, was quite different: they began to see reason in other schools of thought, particularly pacifism and socialism. Many simply wanted to own a share of the land they had previously cultivated in the pay of aristocratic landowners. The Italian Socialist Party, founded in 1892, had split over whether to support the war and had ended up neither supporting nor opposing it. However, the Russian revolution of 1917 kindled hopes across Europe that socialism was within reach. When the demobilised soldiers returned to their farms and their factories, they brought these ideals with them. With the slowing down and final stoppage of the war economy and its consequent jump in unemployment and quadruplication of consumer prices compared to 1913, these ideas spread like a red fire, particularly throughout the newly industrialised north. Union membership rose from half a million before the war to four million in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. Factory councils on the Soviet model began to spring up.[10]The 1919 elections reflected the massive shift in consensus that the war had brought. In the previous 1913 elections about half the parliament had been elected to the ranks of the traditional liberal party, with about 23% of the vote going to the socialists and other left wing parties and only 6% to the Catholic parties. In contrast, at the 1919 elections the Socialist Party gained over 28% of the vote on its own, whilst 18% went to the newly forged Italian People's Party made up of progressive Catholics who were also interested in social change.[11]

The traditional Liberal and Radical parties saw their collective share of the vote reduced to just over 24%. In the following year the social climate reflected these changes: half a million workers – some of whom were armed and called themselves 'red guards' - occupied factories all over Italy, whilst strikes by agricultural workers, who had long chafed under their landlords, halted food production and occupied land owned by their employers. The ensuing years 1921- 1922 came to be called the “red biennium”.[12]

Fascism[edit]

"It is somewhat difficult to define what Fascists are. They are not republicans, socialists, democrats, conservatives, nationalists. They represent a synthesis of all negations and all affirmations. Gathering spontaneously in the Fascio branches are all those who suffer from the discomfort of old categories, old ways of thinking. Fascism, while disavowing all parties, also fulfils them." (Benito Mussolini in Il popolo d'Italia, 6 October 1919).[13]

In the midst of all of this ferment some sought different solutions to the crisis. On March 23 1919 just over 100 people met in Milan, many of them war veterans. Their objective: to found a new political movement the “Fasci italiani di combattimento” or “Fasci of Combat”. The word 'Fascio', literally meaning a 'bundle of rods', had a long history of use mainly by left-wing organisations. Its origins lay with the Ancient Roman Republic where the 'Fascio' was used to symbolise authority, unity and discipline.[14] Their undisputed leader was an ex-socialist party newspaper editor, and war veteran from the traditionally 'red' Emilia Romagna region, Benito Amilcare Mussolini, who had split from the Socialist Party in 1914 because he supported Italy's entry into the war. Of the participants, fifty four signed the new movement's platform: a mishmash of socialist, republican, pacifist and libertarian policies. These Fascist adherents were a mixed bag of misfits: ex-revolutionary syndicalists, left-wing supporters of the war, returned veteran 'Arditi' shock troops, Futurist artists and nationalist students. What they had in common was a petite-bourgeois aversion to politics conducted by the masses and a desire to become part of the ruling elites.[15]

Few, if any, of the Fascist movement's official policies were reflected its first public initiatives: in April 1919 it led a column of opponents to a general strike in Milan against a workers' march killing many of them. On the same day another group of Fascists fire-bombed the main Socialist Party newspaper's offices. In 1919 these tactics did not earn them many new members or their hoped for electoral success. However, by the end of 1920 the situation would radically change in Fascism's favour.[16]

Between 1919 and 1920 a group of radical Italian nationalists, veterans and mutinied soldiers (many with the complicity of their superiors) occupied the Yugoslav Adriatic town of Fiume/Rijeka claiming it as territory that should have been granted to Italy as part of the peace settlement after World War I. Their leader was the aesthete and poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. Mussolini sided with them also adopting D'Annunzio's slogan of the “mutilated victory”. Italian nationalists believed that they had been short-changed in the peace agreements, particularly considering the immense toll the war had taken in lives and money and demanded more concessions in the form of land and colonies. His support for D'Annunzio further legitimated Mussolini in the opinion of nationalists.

Mussolini would also copy the uniforms and the soldierly ceremony and ritual that characterised this occupation, including what would become the Fascist salute, and put it to good use. In Fiume the Fascists also helped D'Annunzio, organising squads that attacked socialists and engaged in ethnic cleansing against the local Yugoslav population, perfecting methods that they would later extend to Italy.[17]

In Italy, from 1919 to 1922 Fascist squads systematically attacked striking workers using shock tactics derived from their military training. They wore black shirts, later to become part of the Fascist uniform. These squads were particularly effective against striking landless agricultural workers in the Po Valley, Tuscany, Umbria and Apulia, who were seeking to occupy the aristocratic estates where they had been toiling for a pittance for centuries. At every opportunity the Fascists sided with landlords and factory owners and attacked any Socialist led municipalities that supported the workers. Their stated ideal was to create a new Italian nation based on a nationalist and patriotic corporatist paradigm, to be enforced, if necessary, by the administration of cudgels and castor oil to the recalcitrant. Their actions attracted the support of a frustrated middle class who feared the red tide of revolution. The movement began to attract funding from some industrialists and property owners. Established authorities such as the police and the local prefectures, who believed Fascist violence was restoring 'order' to society, closed an eye or two.[18]

By the end of 1921 there were 2,200 Fascist movement branches – or Fasci - throughout Italy. It had 151,000 members of which 18,000 were agricultural landowners, 4,000 industrialists, 14,000 small-business merchants, 15,000 white collar workers, 7,000 government officials, 10,000 professionals, 20,000 middle class students, the latter being a much higher proportion than in the rest of society. The rest were either agricultural workers (37,000) or unemployed factory workers (23,000), who were garnering some money in the employ of Fascist squads. These numbers would soon increase to 320,000.[19]

Meanwhile, the Italian government, based as it was on a fragile parliamentary consensus, remained unstable. The Socialists split in January 1921 when secessionists formed the Italian Communist Party under the leadership of Antonio Gramsci. To take advantage of this division in the left, the Italian Prime Minister, Giovanni Giolitti, a Liberal, called for elections in May of the same year and contested them as part of a single alliance between the Nationalists the Liberals and the Fascists, the “national bloc”. The outcome was disappointing, with the right only obtaining a slim majority. However the elections also brought 35 Fascist deputies and ten nationalists to the 535 member parliament. Giolitti stepped down after these results and was succeeded briefly by the Socialist Ivanoe Bonomi (whose party was the largest in parliament) and then only a few months later by Luigi Facta, another Liberal. In November the Fascist movement officially became a party.[20]

In the midst of this uncertainty, the Fascist Party went from strength to strength. Having founded a Confederation of the Corporations, as a sort of Fascist labour union in 1922 uniting workers and business interests, it used its unemployed members as strike-breakers and squad members. Throughout the country it acted to break strikes and repress all left wing parties.[21] Mussolini's patriotism and nationalism had already attracted the attention of the country's landowners and industrialists. However, to clinch their support and, importantly, that of the Army, Mussolini abandoned his original republicanism and accepted the monarchy.[22] Mussolini then ordered his Blackshirts to “march on Rome” to pressure the government whilst he negotiated with it. The government instead decided to declare a state of siege and called out the army. In the opinion of many historians, this would have been sufficient to put an end to the Fascist movement's dreams.[23] Instead, on the eve of the 29th of October 1922, the king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, vetoed the state of siege. This placed Mussolini in a position to demand the prime ministership, which he duly received two days later. The Italian ruling elites thought support for Fascism was the best way to preserve their positions of privilege.[24] Once in power Fascism would turn out to be the Trojan horse that would ultimately subvert and destroy the precariously poised Italian state.

Fascism in government[edit]

As prime minister, Mussolini had been placed at the head of a coalition cabinet. However, Mussolini was well aware that he had the support of the country's elites, including the army, and could unleash his Blackshirts at will and unopposed against any left wing opposition. Cowed by his strength, the parliament delegated full powers to Mussolini's government until the end of 1923. His first steps were to create the Grand Council of Fascism as a sort of supreme political directorate and to transform the Fascist squads into a state militia, loyal not to the monarch, but to the Grand Council. He then fused the Fascist Party with the nationalist party, increasing the latter's intellectual and ideological influence on government policy. Mussolini also reformed the educational system by making it more authoritarian, elitist and class based. Similar reforms placed the state administration under rigid hierarchical control. At the same time Mussolini privatised significant state owned companies and abolished super profit taxes for the others, whilst reducing wages.[25]

Benito Mussolini

Mussolini knew that he had to act before the end of 1923 when the full powers conceded by the parliament would expire. After all, he still only had thirty five deputies, and his coalition included the nationalists as well as moderates: liberals, social democrats and the Catholic inspired Popular Party. His solution was to reform the electoral law by changing it from a proportional system to a majority premium system: the party that gained the relative majority of at least 25% of the vote would receive two thirds of the seats (the Acerbo Law). During the electoral campaign of 1924 the Blackshirts terrorised the opposition and ensured that the Fascist Party would gain the majority. Despite this climate of terror, one third of the electorate still voted against Fascism.

In a climate of ongoing Blackshirt violence against Socialist and Communist opponents, the leader of the parliamentary Socialist Party, Giacomo Matteotti, protested publicly and vigorously against the way the elections had been conducted at the end of May 1924. Ten days after his speech he disappeared. Many suspected Mussolini and most of the opposition decided to secede in protest from parliament to the Aventine hill. This left the field clear for further initiatives by Mussolini. When Matteotti's body was found it was clear that he had been murdered. The men arrested for the crime were all fascists. Mussolini's initial response was to avoid personal responsibility for the murder and to sack the police chief as well as a minister.[26]

Dictatorship[edit]

On January 3 1925 Mussolini made a surprise speech in parliament where he assumed the political responsibility for Matteotti's murder and challenged the opposition to move against him. He then ordered the chief of police to repress all anti-fascist political organisations. Over the next two years parliament passed a large number of laws. The prime minister, together with the cabinet, was freed of any accountability to parliament and could issue decrees with the force of law. A political police force was founded as well as a secret police which were both answerable only to the government. The government's representatives in the Italian provinces, the Prefects, were given judicial powers. All political parties that opposed Fascism were abolished and special tribunals were put into place to deal with political opponents.[27] One of the arrested was the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, who would become mortally ill and die in 1937.

Independent trade unions were abolished as was the right to strike, which was replaced by compulsory arbitration. The Fascist Union became the only legitimate advocate of workers and was made part of the state under a system called 'corporatism'. At the same time, Fascist party members were given precedence over all other candidates for government positions.[28] By the end of 1926, to all intents and purposes, the Fascist government of Italy had become a dictatorship.

In the late 1920s the Fascist government further strengthened the Grand Council of Fascism by giving it constitutional powers making parliament almost irrelevant. In 1929 elections were held on the basis of a list of candidates, all chosen by the Fascist Party or the Corporations, that electors were given the choice of either accepting or rejecting as a whole. Over 98% out of an electorate numbering 8.6 million voted .[29]

Corporativism and Fascist ideology[edit]

Corporativism was an expression of one of the most significant theoretical underpinnings of Fascist ideology. It was proclaimed as Fascism's ideological alternative to communism and bourgeois liberalism. Under this system both workers and entrepreneurs were gathered together in a body called the National Council of Corporations and grouped under categories based on their sector of production (agriculture, metal working, hospitality, etc.). The idea was that both should work together in the interests of the nation. In reality, this body operated to repress worker demands in the interests of the state and of business owners. In 1933 it became compulsory to be a party member in order to apply for any job in the greatly expanded public service or administration.[30]

However, the Fascist government also introduced a successful form of corporatism through its introduction of social security for the weakest members of society particularly regarding children, the aged, the unwell and the disabled.[31]

Foreign Policy[edit]

Contrary to what one might have expected, Italy's foreign policy did not change radically after Mussolini's rise to power. In many respects the Fascist Party's fusion with the nationalists sat comfortably with the professionals who ran the Italian Foreign Office. In the early years, at least, Mussolini agreed to follow their counsel, which was to maintain good relations with Great Britain, Italy's previous wartime ally.[32] At the same time, however, Mussolini embarked on a secret policy to fund and support fascist movements across Europe, especially in the Balkans, including Austria and Hungary. The objective was to expand Italian hegemony in the area, but also to subvert the post-war order sanctioned by the Versailles Treaty. These two directions in foreign policy would sit uneasily with each other. Soon they would inevitably clash. In 1923 an Italian military commission visiting the Greek island of Corfu was attacked by bandits. The Italian government's response was to occupy the island militarily without bringing the issue before the League of Nations, which had been established by the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as a means of ending all wars. In the post-war era, after the Fiume episode, it was the first example of Italian aggressiveness in foreign policy. However, the French and British governments intervened and Mussolini was forced to withdraw his troops.

This outcome induced Mussolini to take a more conciliatory tack in his relations with other countries: he signed a peace agreement with Yugoslavia in the following year and he obtained concessions from the British in the redrawing of borders between British Somaliland and the Italian colony of Somalia. With British support Mussolini was also able to impose a protectorate over Albania. Despite his warmer relations with the British, Mussolini's exchanges with the French government, that also had interests in Eastern Europe, remained cool.

The Italian government turned its attention then to Libya, which had been conquered by the Italian army in 1911, but whose control had lapsed during the First World War. In 1923 Mussolini began to reassert Italian control over Libya, a military campaign that would last at least until 1933. In the course of this conflict Italian forces placed eighty thousand Libyan civilians in concentration camps, directly or indirectly causing tens of thousands of deaths.[33] One of most significant events of the late 1920s was Mussolini's signing of the Lateran Treaty with the Catholic Church in 1929. Relations between the Catholic Church and Mussolini had been improving since 1923, with the government authorising Catholic religious instruction in the schools. This was a manoeuvre to out do the Catholic inspired Popular Party. The Lateran Accords were the final step in this process: the Church gained legal status as a sovereign nation while Mussolini was able to fully enjoy its support in consolidating the consensus surrounding his regime within Italy and attracting international prestige.[34]

The Economy[edit]

Mussolini visits FIAT Factory in 1932

In 1925 Mussolini decided that Italy had to become self sufficient in wheat production. This was the first major step towards the policy of Autarchy, or self sufficiency, by which Mussolini sought to make the Italian economy less dependent on imports. The Great Depression, which began in 1929, had a heavy impact on Italy: a tripling of the unemployed, a cut of one third of its industrial production and of 40% to the prices of agricultural products. It also accelerated the trend towards autarchy: the government intervened by buying up private companies that were in crisis and soon controlled 50% of the country's heavy industry, 30% of its electricity production and 15% of its textile production. However, the government's stubborn adherence to a high exchange value for the Lira (Italian currency at the time) pegged to the gold standard left it with only one option if it wanted to expand the economy. It adopted the German model: exchange controls, militarisation of the workforce, encouragement of industrial cartels and investment in weapons production. The economy was further stimulated by government spending on large public works (transport infrastructure, draining of the Pontine Marshes) and preparations for the invasion of Ethiopia. These measures, at least in the short term, gave the impression that the regime could deal successfully with the economic crisis and increased its standing both within and outside of Italy.[35] The statistics reveal some measure of the regimes' successes: in 1933 the gross national product per inhabitant had increased 11% over 1913 values, a higher rate than either Germany or Great Britain, but lower than that of France.[36] The 1936 census showed that Italy's population had reached almost 43 million of which 7.5% was illiterate with nearly 48% being employed in agriculture and approximately 29% in manufacturing.[37]

The Regime consolidates[edit]

Italian Children in Ballilla Uniform - Italian Fascist Children's Organisation

Fascism's ideology was totalitarian. It was premised on the idea that: “For Fascism the State is an absolute before which individuals and groups are relative.”[38] The world view of the Fascist was one where nations, as essentialised entities, were composed of disciplined masses of individuals engaged in struggle. For Fascism culture was the front line in its efforts to weld a nation of warriors. To achieve this objective, already by the late 1920s, the cultural and educational policies of the regime became more cohesive and integrated. The regime soon extended its control over all aspects of Italian culture, sport included. At the same time, its propaganda machine operated systematically, producing print propaganda, radio programs, newsreels and films that either directly or indirectly extolled the achievements of the regime.[39] A formidable speaker, Mussolini regularly harangued the crowds from his balcony in Palazzo Venezia in Rome, overlooking the same square as the white marble Altar to the Fatherland where twin goddesses of Victory raised their bronze wings.

In line with the regime's focus on the young, expressed in its anthem 'Giovinezza' (Youth), great emphasis was placed on forging the new Italian citizen. Children were forced to attend Fascist youth organisations from their early years all the way to the threshold of adulthood - including when they were at university. All were designed for the express purpose of indoctrinating them to fulfil their national mission. Males were meant to be strong and virile, females to prepare for motherhood. All were being taught to fight to make Italy a great nation.[40] Eventually Fascism gradually took the form of a “civic religion” with its own symbols and rituals that called upon the citizenry to participate in its liturgy and rites under the benevolent gaze of the supreme leader who was the living symbol of the people and embodied the ideals of the entire nation. In the Fascist ideology, each person, by the simple fact of belonging, became an unalienable particle of a single indivisible force: the nation state.[41]

These persuasive elements were backed up by the iron hand of the 1931 Rocco criminal justice code that placed the state's prerogatives at the centre of the law, severely punishing any activity considered to be against state interests, and reduced the rights to individual defence. Amongst crimes considered particularly severe was the use of contraception seen as an “attack on the integrity of the Italian race”. Mussolini's policy was to encourage people to have large families to increase the country's population and make it into a great nation.[42] For the same reason, emigration was tightly controlled and restricted. In 1934 an election was held, ballots were not secret, and over 96% of the electorate voted Yes. In 1939 the Italian parliament would become an entirely appointed body replaced by the Chamber of the Fasci Branches and the Corporations with all distinctions between legislative power and executive power being entirely effaced.

The move towards an alliance with Nazi Germany[edit]

Hitler and Mussolini in Munich 1938

At the apogee of his power and popularity, Mussolini cast his eyes again on foreign policy. One of the central pillars of the country's nationalist ideology was to give the teeming multitudes of Italy 'a place in the sun'.[43] This meant conquering colonies where Italy's excess populations could settle. When Fascism came to power, five million Italians had already made their home in foreign countries. Migration was likened to a haemorrhage of Italy's strength for the benefit of other countries. In the pre-Fascist era Italian forces had already occupied Eritrea and Italian Somalia, now Mussolini decided to invade Ethiopia to avenge Italy's defeat on its first attempt to conquer the country in 1896 and to provide lands for settlement for Italians. Marshalling much of the country's industrial might and spending about 88% of the country's current account deficit, Mussolini assembled a well equipped army of half a million men for this invasion which took place in October 1935.[44] As had happened with Corfu, he again faced the opposition of Great Britain and France. Ethiopia was a member of the League of Nations and protected by international law. On the initiative of the British government the League agreed to apply economic sanctions against Italy. This time Mussolini did not back down: he waged a successful propaganda campaign at home against what he considered an attempt to deny Italy its 'place in the sun' and at the same time accelerated the military campaign which ended victoriously for the Italian forces in May 1936. It is estimated that in this campaign and subsequent occupation, almost 300,000 Ethiopians were killed.[45] Internally, this was Mussolini's greatest hour with many Italians believing that Italy had finally consolidated its status as a 'Great Power'. In contrast, much bad blood had been generated abroad by Mussolini's challenge. He had destroyed much of the residual credibility of the League of Nations, he had convinced Japan that Italy could be a potential ally and he had attracted the support of Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, who also wanted to overturn the international order (Hitler had already take advantage of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia to militarily reoccupy the Rhineland in March 1936 in violation of the Treaty of Versailles). From this moment onwards relations between Italy and Germany would steadily improve.

Mussolini and Hitler had met before. Their first encounter in 1934 was a classic: Mussolini resplendent in his grandiloquent uniform took the position of the Master, and Hitler, wearing a raincoat, the apprentice. This would soon change. The dust of Italy's bombardments had hardly settled on the vast highlands of Ethiopia, when Mussolini decided to intervene in the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 by sending still other planes to assist the Spanish generals in their coup against the legitimate republican government. In the course of this war, which also saw the involvement of Italian ground forces and the navy, as well as the German Condor Legion, relations between Italy and Germany became ever tighter. In November 1936 Mussolini announced Italy's alliance with Germany and the creation of the Axis pact. In 1938, Italy introduced laws that discriminated against Jewish Italians on the German model.[46] In the same year, Italy agreed not to oppose Germany's annexation of Austria, letting go of most of the strategic advantage it had gained in the First World War. Hitler's next visit in Rome in 1938 – this time in uniform - was of an entirely different variety to his first visit to Italy. Mussolini put on a spectacular show, hoping to rival Hitler's reception of him in Berlin in 1937. This display may have fooled some, but at least one Roman poet (Trilussa) put into verse what many in Italy, and indeed in the rest of the world, feared:

Roma de travertino, Travertine Rome,
rifatta de cartone, clad in plasterboard,
saluta l'imbianchino, greets the house painter*,
suo prossimo padrone[47] soon to become its lord[48]

(* Hitler started his working life as a house-painter).

By entering into an alliance with Germany, whose strategic objectives appeared to lie in Western and Eastern Europe, Mussolini hoped to gain leverage against France and Great Britain with the objective of expanding Italian power in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Not incidentally, in April 1939 Italian forces occupied Albania, the first step towards a policy of expansion in the Balkans. This had followed the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. In May 1939 Italy and Germany signed the 'Pact of Steel' which committed each country to assist the other even in the case of a war of aggression launched by one or the other.

When Great Britain and France declared war on Germany after the latter's invasion of Poland, however, Italy initially demurred. After over ten years of waging war, its war materiel reserves were depleted and its stocks of raw materials were low. Moreover, its industral policies were inadequate to provide the army with what it needed.[49] It was only when German forces began to decisively defeat the French army that Mussolini finally resolved to declare war on Great Britain and France on the 10th of June 1940, moving his forces to occupy those parts of France that he had long considered Italian: Nice, Corsica and Savoy. To stay out of the war, as the British were urging him to do, was not an option: it would have mean placing Italy in the category of a peripheral second-rank power, whose actions were largely irrelevant to core European events. Above all things, Fascist and nationalist rhetoric wanted Italy to be a Great Power. War, after all, was for Mussolini the midwife of history and young nations, such as Italy, were entitled to take their share from their old, tired colonial competitors.

The Second World War[edit]

Italian Army in Ucraine 1941

Mussolini conceptualised his contribution to the Axis effort as a “parallel war”, this was to be a war of Italian imperialism too. Soon it all went wrong. In September 1940 Mussolini ordered his troops stationed in Libya to attack the British protectorate of Egypt with the ultimate objective of securing the control of the Suez Canal, a vital lifeline for the British Empire. In October he ordered an attack on Greece from Albania. Hastily prepared and with under-equipped troops, both of these offensives stalled, soon their gains were even reversed. Hitler sent German forces to both fronts and rapidly overwhelmed both Greek and British forces. However, the fortunes of war soon turned: the Axis advance was halted and turned back in Egypt at El Alamein in October 1942.[50] This defeat and the arrival of US troops in North Africa spelt the end of Mussolini's African ambitions. It would not be long before Italy was itself invaded by Allied forces in July 1943.

The fall of Mussolini

This event brought political tensions in Italy to unprecedented heights: the Fascist Grand Council dismissed Mussolini on the 25th of July 1943. By order of the king, he was then arrested and replaced by the decorated general Pietro Badoglio. The Italian government officially entered caretaker mode, whilst officially remaining on the side of the Germans. Throughout Italy crowds attacked Fascist branches, destroying and removing Fascist symbols from public buildings. At the same time the Italian government secretly negotiated an armistice with the Allies that was signed on the 8th of September 1943. However, those parts of the country that were not under Allied control had in the meantime been occupied by German forces. This meant the whole of the country north of Naples. Left largely without leadership, the Italian army disbanded.

Mussolini, who had been imprisoned on a mountain in central Italy, was 'rescued' by German forces in a daring paratroop raid days after the armistice. By Hitler's intervention and with the support of the German army, Mussolini became the leader of a puppet regime: the Italian Social Republic based in northern Italy. Its main role was to repress the growing insurgency against German forces, called the Resistance (la Resistenza), which ended up attracting three hundred thousand, mainly young people, both men and women, who engaged in guerrilla war and sabotage against German and Fascist forces with great loss of life and horrific reprisals against the civilian population. The Resistance greatly assisted the Allied war effort in their laborious and often slow offensive against tenacious German forces. The war in Italy ended on the 25th of April 1945, with the German army in rout, harried and harassed by resistance fighters in their retreat. Mussolini, who was attempting to flee into Switzerland disguised in a German uniform, was captured and shot by Communist resistance fighters. The Resistance movement, whose components held to a wide range of ideological beliefs from the Catholic to the Republican and the Communist, laid the foundations for the rebirth of Italy after the war with a Republican Constitution designed to forever stop any form of authoritarian rule returning to Italy.

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Bibliography[edit]

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Mussolini, B. (ed. Giovanni Mattazzi) Breviario, Rusconi Editore, Milan, 1997.

Secondary Sources Books[edit]

Banti, A. M., Storia contemporanea, Donzelli Editore, Florence, 1997. Barzini, L., The Italians, Penguin, UK, 1991.

Cannistraro, P., La fabbrica del consenso, fascismo e mass media, Laterza, Bari, 1975. Carocci, G., Storia d'Italia dall'Unità ad oggi, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1990.

Del Boca, A., Gli italiani in Africa orientale, vol. 2 La conquista dell'impero, Laterza, Bari, 1986.

De Luna, G., Benito Mussolini. Una biografia politica. Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, 1978.

Gooch, J., The Italian Army and the First World War, Cambridge University Press, London, 2014.

Hearder, H., Waley, D.P., A Short History of Italy, From Classical Times to the Present Day, Cambridge University Press, London, 1977.

Guerri, G. B., Gli italiani sotto la Chiesa. Da S. Pietro a Mussolini, Mondadori, Milan, 1992. Mantelli, B., Il regime fascista, La Fenice 2000, Milan, 1995.

Mantelli, B., La nascita del fascismo, La Fenice 2000, Milan, 1994. Milza, P. Berstein, S., Storia del fascismo Rizzoli, Milan, 1982.

Mosse, G. L., The Fascist Revolution. Towards a General Theory of Fascism, Howard Hertig, New York, 1999.

Romano, S., Storia d'Italia dal Risorgimento ai nostri giorni, Mondadori, Milan, 1977.

Sori, E., L'emigrazione italiana dall'Unità alla seconda guerra mondiale, Il mulino, Bologna 1979.

Toniolo, G., L'economia dell'Italia fascista, Laterza, Bari, 1980.

Wiskemann, E., Fascism in Italy: its Development and Influence, Macmillan, London, 1970.

Articles[edit]

Vinci, S., “Il fascismo e la previdenza sociale”, in Annali della Facoltà di Giurisprudenza di Taranto, Anno IV, Cacucci Editore, Taranto, 2011, pp. 709-729.

References[edit]

  1. E. Wiskemann, Fascism in Italy: its Development and Influence, Macmillan, London, 1970, p. 1.
  2. Census data from: Istituto nazionale di statistica (Istat), Serie Storiche, http://seriestoriche.istat.it/ (accessed 15 April 2015). E. Sori, L'emigrazione italiana dall'Unità alla seconda guerra mondiale, Il mulino, Bologna 1979, p. 20. On voting rights: G. Carocci, Storia d'Italia dall'Unità ad oggi, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1990, pp. 197-8.
  3. P. Milza, S. Berstein, Storia del fascismo Rizzoli, Milan, 1982, pp. 41-2, 44.
  4. On military casualties: H. Hearder, D.P. Waley A Short History of Italy From Classical Times to the Present Day, Cambridge University Press, London, 1977, p.196. On civilian deaths see: J. Gooch, The Italian Army and the First World War, Cambridge University Press, London, 2014, p. 218.
  5. See Istat. See: S. Romano, Storia d'Italia dal Risorgimento ai nostri giorni, Mondadori, Milan, 1977, p166. G. De Luna, Benito Mussolini. Una Biografia politica, Feltrinelli, Milan, 1978. See p. 46 for analogous figures at Ansaldo. Also: B. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, La Fenice 2000, Milan, 1994, p. 16.
  6. Hearder, p. 196. Milza, p. 70.
  7. A. M. Banti, Storia contemporanea, Donzelli Editore, Florence, 1997, p. 169.
  8. Milza, pp. 56-57.
  9. Milza, pp. 78-79.
  10. Milza, pp. 79-83.
  11. Milza, pp. 94.
  12. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, p. 24. Romano, p. 176. Milza, pp. 83-86, 94.
  13. Cited in: B. Mussolini (ed. Giovanni Mattazzi) Breviario, Rusconi Editore, Milan, 1997, p. 110. Author's translation.
  14. Milza, pp. 104-5.
  15. Carocci, p.247. Milza, pp. 104-108.
  16. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, p.34.
  17. Milza, pp. 61-66. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp.39-44.
  18. De Luna, pp. 51-2. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp. 46-55. Milza, pp. 117-123.
  19. De Luna, p. 63. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp. 36. Milza, pp. 134, 135.
  20. de Luna, p. 63. Milza, pp. 101-2, 123-4, 133. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp. 56-57.
  21. Milza, pp. 138-140
  22. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, p. 69. Milza, p. 143.
  23. Milza, p. 145.
  24. De Luna, p. 67.
  25. De Luna, p. 66-9, 71. Milza, pp. 155, 156. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp. 76-78, 84.
  26. De Luna, pp. 74
  27. De Luna, p. 77-8. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, pp. 88-89. Milza, pp. 170-171.
  28. B. Mantelli, Il regime fascista, La Fenice 2000, Milan, 1995, pp. 26-29.
  29. De Luna, p. 85. Mantelli, Il regime fascista, p. 31.
  30. De Luna, p. 70. Mantelli, Il regime fascista, pp. 27-29, 49.
  31. S. Vinci “Il fascismo e la previdenza sociale”, in Annali della Facoltà di Giurisprudenza di Taranto, Anno IV, Cacucci Editore, Taranto, 2011, pp. 709-729. See pp. 709-724.
  32. De Luna, p. 106.
  33. A. Del Boca Gli italiani in Africa orientale, vol. 2 La conquista dell'impero, Laterza, Bari, 1986, pp. 15-16.
  34. De Luna, p. 85. Mantelli, La nascita del fascismo, p. 79. G. B. Guerri, Gli italiani sotto la Chiesa. Da S. Pietro a Mussolini, Mondadori, Milan, 1992, See pp. 288-290.
  35. Mantelli, Il regime fascista, pp. 43-47.
  36. De Luna, p. 93, 97. G. Toniolo, L'economia dell'Italia fascista, Laterza, Bari, 1980, p. 142.
  37. See: Istat.
  38. From: “Fascismo” entry in the Enciclopedia Italiana, 1932 edition, cited in: B. Mussolini (ed. Giovanni Mattazzi) Breviario, Rusconi Editore, Milan, 1997, p. 101. Author's translation
  39. Milza pp. 348-360.
  40. Mantelli Il regime fascista 1925-1940, p. 49.
  41. P. Cannistraro, La fabbrica del consenso, fascismo e mass media, Laterza, Bari, 1975, pp. 7-9; G. L. Mosse, The Fascist Revolution. Towards a General Theory of Fascism, Howard Hertig, New York, 1999, pp. xi-xvii.
  42. Mantelli, Il regime fascista, pp. 50-51.
  43. Milza, pp. 35-36.
  44. Toniolo, pp. 280-3, 288, 230.
  45. Del Boca, p. 720.
  46. De Luna, p. 117.
  47. R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Hitler e Mussolini. 1938. Il viaggio del Führer in Italia, Edizioni e/o Roma, 1995, pp. 51, 61 note 4. Also L. Barzini The Italians, Penguin, UK, 1991, p. 101.
  48. 44 Author's translation.
  49. De Luna, p. 115, 119-21, 125.
  50. De Luna, pp.128-132.