The period between the two world wars experienced the rise of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. The word ‘Fascism’ has been derived from the word ‘fascio’ which means union or league. In Fascism, the power of the state is vested in one man only and others have to obey his orders. Fascism, which emerged in Italy, was anti-nationalist, anti-communist, and anti-democratic
Aims of Fascism
- Fascists did not believe in democracy; according to fascists, democracy widens the gulf between the rich and the poor.
- Fascists supported one party and one leader as they felt that the country could make progress only under one leader.
- Fascists wanted to control all the sections of society such as capitalists, industrialists, workers, artisans and peasants.
- Fascism laid stress on nationalism and not on individual institutions. The Fasces was a bundle of sticks bound to an axe. The Fascists referred to this ancient Roman symbol of power.
- Fascists favoured aggressive nationalist policies.
Causes for the Rise of Fascism in Italy
- Italy had joined the Allies in the First World War to gain German and Turkish territories. However, she was not able to gain any Turkish and German territories. She could only get southern Tyrol and Trentino and a few coastal regions of Dalmatia. Thus, there was discontent in Italy after the end of the First World War.
- Italy suffered heavy economic losses after the end of the war. Trade, commerce, and industries were ruined, and there was large-scale unemployment. Foodgrains were also in shortage.
- After democracy was established in Italy in 1919, no single party was able to get a majority in the elections. This created political instability as six coalition governments were formed between 1919 and 1922.
- There was no mutual consensus among the parties on economic policies. The government was not able to deal with rising unemployment, strikes, and frequent riots.
- There was a rise in class conflicts in the interwar period. The common people opposed the control of resources in the hands of aristocracies and rich sections of society.
- Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the communists began to spread revolutionary ideas in Italy. The peasants took away the land from landholders and workers went on strikes.
- The communists began to conspire to overthrow the government and capturing state power. Landlords and industrialists viewed communism as a danger, and they began to support Fascism to counterbalance its effects.
- The League of Nations was a weak organization that was not able to check the growing influence of Fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany, respectively.
- Mussolini had an enchanting personality. He was able to win the support of the people by praising the past glories of Italy. Mussolini was often called „Duce‟ which means leader.
Fascism in Italy
- Italy was ruled by King Victor Emmanuel during the First World War. He was a weak ruler and lagged in the Industrial Revolution and in the race for colonial possessions.
- Benito Mussolini was a socialist in the beginning. When he realized that as a socialist he could not get any finances from the industrialists, he became anti-socialist. He formed different groups known as ‘Fascios’ who organized violence against the socialists and the communists.
- Later, these groups were organized into the Fascist Party. A conference of the members of the Fascist Party was held in Naples in October 1922. Mussolini announced that if his demands are not met, he would attack Rome.
His demands were
- Five members of the Fascist party should be included in the Cabinet.
- New elections should be announced.
- The government should act firmly on its foreign policy.
- Economic reforms should be implemented at the earliest.
- These demands were not accepted by the government. Mussolini marched to Rome with his followers on 28 October 1922. Emperor Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form a new government.
- After taking over power, Mussolini appointed Fascists as prefects in the Provinces. He also organized the National Army.
- The takeover of the government by Fascists was followed by the reign of terror and within a short span of time, Mussolini became the absolute master of Italy.
- It has been said that the power of Mussolini was handed over to him because the ruling classes of Italy considered democracy and socialism as threats to their power.
- Mussolini believed in the adage, “Italy must expand or perish”. He captured several territories. He conquered Abyssinia in 1936. When the League objected, Italy left the League of Nations.
- Fascism in Italy ended after the end of the Second World War. Mussolini was deposed by his own party council in 1943. He was executed in 1945. Thus, fascism came to an end in Italy.
Impact of Fascism
Positive impact of Fascist Rule:
- Mussolini carried out several administrative and economic reforms to strengthen Italy. He also took numerous measures to stop the devaluation of the currency. He expanded agriculture and set up many hydroelectric power plants to overcome the shortage of coal.
- He took several steps to reduce unemployment. Factories and mills were nationalized and syndicates were established to improve relations between the capitalists and the workers. He also improved the transport system in Italy.
- Many new schools, colleges and libraries were set up to eradicate illiteracy.
- Measures were taken to increase the military might of the country. Military training was made compulsory and efforts were taken to improve the naval powers of Italy.
- A pact was signed between Mussolini and the pope. The pope agreed to take a subordinate position and recognize the government formed by Mussolini. The latter recognized Roman Catholicism as the state religion.
Negative impact of Fascist Rule:
- All political freedoms of the people were curbed.
- Italy became a dictatorial state, and all civil and military powers were centred in Mussolini’s hands.
- All political parties except the Fascists were banned.
- Press was censored and freedom of speech was denied to the people.
- Mussolini crushed all his opponents.
Also, Read Rise of Dictatorship