A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 1
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 2
THE RISE OF FASCISM
The Nature of Italy 1870-1914
Italy had only truly been a nation from the 1870s, when Rome became its
capital. Even then, the Pope, in the Vatican, had refused to recognise the
Italian state and would not formally do so until 1929.
Even though Italy was a now a nation-state it could hardly be described as
unified in anything other than name. There were massive disparities
between the North and South, for example.
The North was wealthy, sophisticated and the home of the new Kings of
Italy. It was where the majority of Italian industry was concentrated and
saw itself as the power-house of the new country.
In contrast, the South was disparagingly known as il mezzogiorno. It was
poor, rural and backward. In 1871, in the region of Basilicata, 88% of
people were described as illiterate. Many southerners (some figures say
20-30%) were continuing to die of malaria, a disease largely under control
in the rest of Europe. On top of this, there was constant strife between
landowners and peasants, the former often hiring the services of thugs
belonging to the various organised criminals societies of the South (the
Camorra in Naples; the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and most famously La
Cosa Nostra in Sicily).
Democracy had only shallow roots, not helped by the Pope banning all
Catholics from even taking part in elections. This was a ban that was only
(partially) lifted in 1904. There were various qualifications for voting
rights anyway and at best, Italy was only a pseudo-democratic state. Up
until 1882 only 2% of males were entitled to vote, and even after 1882
the suffrage was extended to only 25% of men. Universal male suffrage
was only granted in 1912.
Even the Italian language was not standardised with many versions
dominating in the initial decades of unification. In 1870, it has been
calculated only 2% of people spoke what we would recognise as Italian.
Even the King spoke Piedmontese, not Italian! Sicilians giving evidence in
a famous Mafia case in Milan, had to have their dialect translated so the
court could understand them!
Government was not something that was trusted in Italy, especially in the
South where there had been centuries of Bourbon misrule. Even under
the new, Liberal constitutional system, Italian politics was still factional
and personal, with even dominant Liberal politicians like Giovanni Giolitti
compiling dossiers on opponents. John Dickie in his excellent work on
Coas Nostra even implicates government in the rise and continued
existence of the criminal organisation. Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the
Italian PM at Versailles, it is said was actually a fully inducted member of
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 3
Governments were rarely stable and there were 29 PM‟s between 1870
and 1922. Religion complicated the issue, with Catholic groups being
vociferously opposed by the socialists. Giolitti managed to balance the
forces of radicalism and conservatism to an extent, but his policy of
transformismo had effectively collapsed by 1914. WWI would only make
Italy‟s many problems much worse.
Northern Italy and the cities North-East Italy was
of Milan and Turin were the where most of Italy‟s
Emilia, Romagna and
centres of Italian industry. battles in the First
Tuscany were centres
Northern Italy was the World War were
of fascist violence in
wealthy part of the nation fought.
the early 1920s
Libya, since 1911, part of the Italian
The Adriatic was an area Italy wished to
dominate but the „mutilated victory‟ failed to
fulfil Italy‟s imperial ambitions
Sicily, was an
Il Mezzogiorno was the poor, backward, and crime ridden part
rural, malaria-infested part of Italy of the nation
neglected by the government in Rome
and the politicians of the North
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World War One and Its Impact On Italy
Italy entered WWI in 1915. It did so in rather nefarious circumstances. It
had been a formal ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary, but chose
instead to fight against them, and with GB, Russia and France.
Italy‟s motives were nationalistic and imperialist. It had signed the secret
Treaty of London, promising to attack Austrian forces in return for
territory in the South Tyrol, the Balkans (Trentino, Istria, Fiume,
Dalmatia) and for certain islands in the Mediterranean. Italian aims were
to dominate the Adriatic and to unite all Italian speakers, where-ever they
The War also helped to convert a former firebrand socialist and journalist-
editor of the left-wing Avanti newspaper, into a rabid nationalist. His
name was Benito Mussolini.
Italy suffered appalling casualties during the war with 650 000 dead, and
millions wounded and made homeless. Thousands had been shot by their
own side supposedly for cowardice, but in reality to disguise the
incompetence and failure of Italian generals. Defeat at the battle of
Caporetto was traumatic for the nation, but victory eventually came in
1918 at the bloody battle of Vittorio Veneto.
The end of the war, however, brought only further social, economic and
political problems. Italy was bankrupt. The national debt stood at 85
billion lire in 1919; Italy owed money to the USA and GB; inflation had
quadrupled prices hurting the lower and middle classes especially. An
industry, which had been doing well out of supplying war materiel, now
started laying off workers. Strikes and unemployment rose, the latter
reaching 2 million by 1919. The extremist, pro-revolutionary Socialist
Party (PSI) saw a massive rise in electoral support, which only alarmed
the conservative elements in society. The peasants in the countryside
were also starting to seize land and this alarmed the landowning classes.
Italian society seemed to be unravelling.
On top of these woes came the Paris treaties, which refused to provide
the rewards Italy was expecting from the Treaty of London. Italy was
awarded the South Tyrol and Trentino, but got little else it had been
promised in 1915 (nor were they given any of the German colonies being
shared out in Africa). Italian nationalists not only blamed the allies for all
of this, but also the Liberal politicians who had negotiated the treaty in
the first place. Conservative and reactionary elements took to calling the
end of WWI, „the mutilated victory‟. Disbanded officers felt humiliated
and angry with both their own politicians and perfidious foreigners.
One fanatical nationalist and war-hero, called Gabriele D‟Annunzio, even
went to the extreme of marching into the port of Fiume and occupying it
for over a year. He was only removed, by an ineffectual Italian
government, at the demand of the League of Nations.
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The one-eyed D‟Annunzio was certainly an impressive figure: man of
action, orator, charismatic leader and role model for another far more
dangerous individual who shared his extremist views: Benito Mussolini.
Mussolini and Early Fascism
Mussolini had been born in Northern Italy, in 1883. Of humble origins, he
was a committed revolutionary socialist up until WWI. However, the War
(in which he served as a corporal) turned him not only into a nationalist,
but also an advocate of a strong man as the only individual able enough
to fight a war and run a country properly.
Post-War, Mussolini became ever more right-wing, allying himself with
disgruntled ex-servicemen. He founded his own political movement: Fasci
di Combattimento in Milan in 1919, which, with its original rather
disparate membership, could only agree on its hatred of the Liberal state
and socialism. Even so, its agenda still contained radical leftist, as well as
nationalist elements. Initially, Fascism did not garner much support,
performing badly in the November 1919 elections and not winning a single
seat in parliament. However, fascism would be redeemed by the threat of
socialism and communism, and by the government‟s failure to placate the
conservative classes in Italian society and their worries about such
revolutionary elements. In other words, it was circumstance, luck and
government incompetence, as much as through anything he actually did,
which would help Mussolini‟s rise to prominence.
Italian politics was becoming increasingly polarised with the moderate
parties being squeezed in the middle. The Liberal Italian PM, Nitti was
under pressure from both left and right. The left saw his government as
too moderate and un-dynamic; the right despised it for not taking tough
enough action against strikers and land reformers. When Nitti‟s
successor, Giolitti, also failed to take harsh action against what the right
saw as revolutionary elements, exasperated landowners, shop-keepers
and industrialists started to turn to local fascist groups to take action.
Small fascist bands (known as „black shirts‟) took to assaulting trades
unionists, burning down Socialist Party (PSI) offices and pouring castor oil
down the throats of political opponents. Fascists at this stage tended to
be: ex-army officers and NCO‟s, shop-keepers, farmers and the richer
peasants. The northern provinces of Emilia and Tuscany saw most fascist
outrages with 200 dead and 800 wounded by the end of 1921. Italy
seemed to be lapsing into a state of anarchy, but a chaos caused,
ironically, largely by those most demanding of law and order–the fascists
Fascist associations also had on their side dynamic leadership in the form
of ruthless and callous individuals like Italo Balbo and Dino Grandi.
Mussolini himself, through sheer force of personality, was able to assert
his overall dominance over these local ras. Mussolini also had the
oratorical and journalistic skills to present fascism as a national crusade
that would save Italy. He managed to justify its use of violence as
“surgical” and directed against not only the revolutionary elements within
the state, but against the Liberal state itself. Even with such overt threats
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 6
though, Giolitti was convinced Mussolini was still only a mere political
opportunist who could be worked with. In May 1921, the Liberals and
fascists co-operated in the general election. The Liberal establishment,
therefore, has to bear some of the blame for the rise of a fascist
dictatorship in Italy. In these elections, the fascists won a credible 7% of
the vote and gained 35 deputies, despite murdering 100 of its opponents
during the election process.
However, Mussolini astutely refused to work with Giolitti in government;
he also presented Fascism as the only credible bulwark against
communism and he erased the leftist elements from the party‟s ideology.
Mussolini was helped by the factionalism of the Liberals and the
reactionary sentiments of the Popolari, the Catholic party, which also
distrusted the Liberal state. Along with this, Fascist violence against the
left increased, as did Mussolini‟s power within the Fascist movement,
which became officially a political party in October 1921, with Mussolini
confirmed as its leader one month later. Mussolini made overtures to the
Popolari (including concessions on issues like divorce) and stressed in his
speeches what fascism was most opposed to: bolshevism and Liberalism.
Fascist ideology, in fact, was never fully developed and always remained
rather negative. Fascism would certainly never have the thinkers and
ideologues communism attracted. Mussolini himself said: “Our
programme is simple: we wish to govern Italy”. Rather like a messiah
figure, he aimed to be all things to all men. Vagueness about policy
would help in this matter.
By the end of 1921, fascism had 200 000, mostly, middle class members.
The party, however, was developing a rather dichotomous nature. Split
between conservatives who hated disorder and the radically violent,
Mussolini had to balance the conflicting demands of both cliques. It can
never be denied that Mussolini was not, if nothing else, a consummate
politician. Violence against the left increased in 1922, with the police
often supplying the Fascisti with weapons. The socialists called for a
general strike, which was both ineffective and a disaster for them, as the
Fascists gained further support from those fearful of revolution. The left
were virtually handing Mussolini support and power. As Robson states,
Mussolini could represent his forces as the sole guardians of law and order
and this was “a crucial development”.
Mussolini became PM in October 1922. He always claimed he had seized
power through a courageous coup d‟etat, namely the „March on Rome‟,
which henceforth became a prominent event in fascist mythology.
In reality, and as with Hitler, Mussolini was appointed to power with the
connivance of the establishment. He was handed the premiership by the
King, after consultation with Liberal politicians. He had arrived in Rome
for his audience with the King dressed smartly in a suit, rather than at the
head of thousands of paramilitary forces. The latter were in reality
mobilised as the ultimate form of political blackmail. Given that the
police and army were prepared to oppose them if ordered to do so, it is
doubtful if Mussolini could ever have achieved power by force anyway.
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King Vittorio Emmanuele, gave in to Mussolini, perhaps, because of the
fear of civil war; perhaps because his nearest rival to the throne, the Duke
of Aosta was a Fascist and close ally of Mussolini; but more probably
because he was in sympathy with fascism and disliked Liberalism.
Robson is kind to him and says he certainly didn‟t know he was opening
the gates to a Fascist dictatorship. The admittedly Marxist, Antonio
Gramsci would be more critical referring instead to a “cowardly ruling
stratum”. Dennis Mack Smith prefers to hold all sections of Italian society
to blame and not just Liberal politicians, pointing out the lack of
widespread support given to the Italian state from its very inception.
Mussolini in one of his typical
propaganda poses - where
uniforms were an obvious
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 8
SUMMARY OF REASONS WHY MUSSOLINI CAME TO POWER
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 9
Mussolini’s Early Years in Power 1922-26
Mussolini, it must be stressed, did not become a dictator the moment he
was appointed to power in 1922. However, over the next few years he
would be both personally inclined and forced, by the more radical
elements of his own party, into assuming the role of „Il Duce‟.
Ever the canny politician, Mussolini realised he would have to initially
proceed cautiously and so he formed a coalition government (in much the
same way as Hitler would also do in 1933). Of 14 senior ministers, only 4
were Fascists. The others coming from the Popolari and Liberal
groupings, and were prepared to co-operate believing they could use the
Fascists to destroy their common, left-wing enemies. Mussolini, however,
was determined to be nobody‟s pawn and kept all the most powerful
government posts for himself. He had also not denounced violence or
intimidation as political weapons and was determined to keep utilising
He would persuade parliament to provide him with enormous powers,
hinting that they would only be temporary and were necessary to deal
with the present, leftist threat. In reality, the threat was over-estimated;
the breakdown in law and order had largely been caused by the Fascists
themselves, and Mussolini had no intention of ever giving up his supra-
constitutional powers. He demanded and (using his oratorical skills to
great effect) was granted the ability to rule by decree, a favourite device
of dictators. He now did not need parliament‟s consent to do what he
wanted. Prominent Liberals like Giolitti and Facta supported his action.
In December 1922, Mussolini established the Fascist Grand Council to
strengthen his hold on the party, and he set up a militia which, in effect,
gave him a private army of 30 000 men.
He wooed employers and industrialists, and gained their support, by
dropping plans to look into tax evasion. He even managed to gain the
tacit support of the Pope by plans for banning contraception and re-
introducing religion into state schools.
In 1924, Mussolini passed the infamous Acerbo law, which virtually
guaranteed a continuous Fascist majority in parliament by legislating that
any party, which gained 25% of the vote could have 2/3 of the seats in
He was able to get away with this blatant fix because people were sick of
weak coalition governments and wanted decisive action to cure Italy‟s
problems. They also believed it would be only a temporary emergency
measure. Once again, conventional politics supported Mussolini‟s actions.
Ironically, in the elections of 1924 the Fascists didn‟t even need the law to
gain 2/3 of the available seats. However, the important industrial centres
of Milan and Turin did not return Fascist deputies in any great numbers.
Not all Italians were as gullible as Mussolini hoped they would be.
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However, not everything was going Mussolini‟s way. In 1924, a popular
and highly respected socialist deputy, named Giacomo Matteotti, was
murdered by Fascist thugs. There was a general outcry and reaction
against Fascist violence. Mussolini himself came under a lot of criticism
and calls to resign. However, he continued to be supported by the King
and conventional politicians still more afraid of civil war and the Left, than
the Fascist danger to the state.
Mussolini rewarded their faith in him by stepping up his ambitions of
becoming a permanent dictator. In 1924, he introduced censorship;
banned political meetings; Fascists themselves demanded more power
and decisive action from their leader. In 1925, free trade unions and
political parties were abolished. A secret police (OVRA) was set up and
special political courts established. Elected mayors were replaced by
appointed Fascist podestas, and in 1926 the charade of parliamentary
government was swept away. In 1928, even the King was deprived of his
few remaining powers. Mussolini was now dictator of Italy.
How had all this been possible? It was partly due to Mussolini‟s own
political acumen and the actions of his followers. Arguably though, it also
due to the short-sighted collaboration of the liberal elite, including the
King. They had believed Mussolini would be a temporary aberration, and
somebody they could control and influence, that his actions would benefit
the whole of Italy, or at least only be detrimental to the Left.
The Liberal government had failed to gain all the country wanted at Paris;
had failed to crackdown on strikers and revolutionaries; had alienated the
very classes who turned towards Fascism. It failed to stand up to Fascism
and to make alliances against it. It fatally underestimated the danger it
faced from the far right.
Robson also stresses the role of Mussolini himself, and calls him a
“dynamic and dominant personality” and a “brilliant propagandist”.
Mussolini used his newspaper, „Popolo d‟ Italia‟, very effectively to stir up
fear and paranoia.
Mussolini was also an opportunist quick to take advantage of the
propitious circumstances he found himself in. Put simply, the time was
right. He altered his message to fit his audience. The very vagueness of
Fascist ideology was extremely useful in this regard. Mussolini played a
huge confidence trick on the Italian population and he got away with it.
Mussolini gives yet another speech
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 11
Possible Questions – Planning Practice
What factors promoted the growth of Fascism in Italy?
„The Socialist threat and the belief that Italy had suffered a
mutilated victory in WWI enabled Fascism to grow and take power‟.
How far do you agree with this statement?
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The Fascist Political System - How It Was Created
The system Mussolini aimed to create in Italy was very much a personal
dictatorship. He aimed to do so through a cult of personality and through
forging links with the rich and influential Church, army and industrialists.
Mussolini always put himself and his aims above those of his party. He
did not want so much a Fascist Italy as Mussolini‟s Italy. To the extent
that without him the whole system would collapse, he was successful in
How did he achieve political control?
Propaganda & Personality Cult
The free press was suppressed. Mussolini had his own press office. Radio
and cinema were also tools for disseminating Fascist propaganda. Radios
were installed everywhere, even in schools. The media was used to
portray Mussolini as an almost super-human figure: the new Caesar. So
Mussolini was a man who sat up all night playing chess; he was a virtuoso
violinist; a daredevil pilot, horse-rider and car racer; a talented linguist;
an international statesman and conciliator; even a great lover. Like the
Pope, he was infallible („Mussolini is always right‟ ran the popular slogan).
His age was never mentioned; his myopia disguised. He had read all 35
volumes of the Italian Encyclopaedia and every work of classic literature,
including Shakespeare. He worked 20 hour days, etc, etc.
Mussolini was certainly vain, but he was also deeply contemptuous of the
masses, often a feature of dictators (Hitler: “Thank God the masses don‟t
think”). Certainly, according to Robson, the cult of personality achieved
its aim and Mussolini often escaped the wrath of the population‟s anger.
Mussolini & Government
Mussolini was determined to make all decisions himself. The King was
side-lined; there was no cabinet government; Mussolini never sought
advice; he kept all important posts for himself. Parliament was ignored
and eventually abolished itself in 1939 to be replaced by the meaningless
Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. Free elections were a thing of the
past. Italy was now a single party state. Even his own party was kept
under strict control.
The state bureaucracy was not purged, but it was allowed to retain its
pre-Fascist, conservative membership, so long as it remained acquiescent.
Mussolini did not want state institutions like the army either to be
dominated by the Fascist party, as they might have challenged his
disinclination to really radical change. The army command was easily
bought off and was sympathetic to Mussolini‟s politics anyway.
He placated industrialists through the Vidoni Pact of 1925, which banned
free trades unions. Now these proud captains of industry could
legitimately pay their workers dirt-poor wages.
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This policy of carrot and stick was to be typical of Mussolini‟s attitude
towards potential obstacles.
Only the judiciary was ruthlessly purged, and genuinely free and fair
justice disappeared. Mussolini even occasionally interfered directly in
cases and decided on verdicts and punishments.
The Role of The Fascist Party (PNF)
As we have mentioned already, Mussolini wasn‟t really willing to share his
power, even with his Fascist colleagues.
Like Hitler, Mussolini was always less radical than many of his followers.
Mussolini created the Grand Council to control his followers; in 1923 and
1928 he purged some dissident members from the PNF; and he
channelled the violent into his militia. However, it was the ras who forced
him to become more radical in 1924/25, and Mussolini, in my opinion,
never really had the undisputed power someone like Stalin was to enjoy.
Robson tends to disagree and claims Mussolini was in total control.
Mussolini admittedly did tend to appoint mediocrities to positions within
the party and state, to ensure his overall dominance. Men of ability like
Balbo (Libya) and Grandi (GB) were given positions outside Italy. Others
like Roberto Farinacci were happy with the provincial powers they welded.
Consequently, no serious rival to Il Duce ever emerged.
Divide and rule was another strategy used by Mussolini. So the militia
and army tended to be kept at loggerheads; the PNF and the Ministry of
Education argued over who should be in charge of youth movements (the
ONB); Mussolini would always ultimately then step in as arbitrator – and
make the final decision.
However, Mussolini couldn‟t properly make all the decisions he was
supposed to, especially as he was essentially a lazy man who went to bed
early a lot. Consequently, his regime was characterised by what Robson
calls “confusion, delay and incompetence”.
Support & Opposition
Opposition to Il Duce was both difficult and dangerous, and never
amounted to much.
By 1926 Fascist squads had murdered around 2000 opponents. The OVRA
spied on dissidents; the courts dealt severely with them. The opposition
that did exist involved a few thousand brave individuals and centred
around the communists and the „Justice and Liberty‟ movement of the
exiled Carlo Roselli. In 1937, Roselli was assassinated by Fascist agents,
Dissenters were also dismissed from jobs and the old Roman punishment
of internal exile was used to isolate critics of the system. Penal colonies
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 14
were set up on barren off-shore islands like Lipari and Lampedusa, but
never held more than 5000 individuals. Franco‟s camps held far more.
As well as the stick, carrots were utilised. Journalists‟ salaries were
doubled; academics and intellectuals like Marconi were showered with
honours; the achievements of the regime were played up. Foreign
victories were especially useful propaganda. Much was thus made of
Yugoslavia‟s secession of Fiume to Italy in 1926. Mussolini tried also to
associate modern Italy with the achievements of ancient Rome and the
Renaissance. Italians were constantly told they were a great people
whose time had come again.
Robson says all this propaganda was probably not very effective, but that
Mussolini himself was immensely popular. His regime cajoled rather than
enforced obedience out of people. While it must also be pointed out that
some critics of the regime, like Benedetto Croce, even managed to
survive, despite all the oppressive apparatus. It is hard to imagine this
happening in Hitler‟s Third Reich.
Mussolini’s Life – A Summary
DATE BRIEF DESCRIPTION
1883 Born July 29 in Predappio, Italy.
1912 Editor of the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti!
1914 Denounces World War I, but quickly changes his mind, calling for
Italy‟s entry on the Allied side. Expelled from the Socialist Party.
Starts his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia.
1915 Enlists in the Italian Army.
1919 Forms the nationalistic, anti-liberal, anti-socialist movement, “Fasci
di Combattimento”, its name taken from the fasces, a symbol of
1922 Fascists threaten to march on Rome. Invited to form a government
by King Victor Emmanuel III. Sets about establishing a totalitarian
1929 Lateran Treaty with the Vatican stabilizes relations between Church
1935 Italy invades Abyssinia.
1936 Signs agreement with Hitler creating the “Axis powers”.
1940 Italy enters World War II on the fall of France; joins Germany in its
war against the British in Africa and invades Greece.
1943 Military defeats lead to King Victor Emmanuel dismissing him from
power. Imprisoned, but rescued by the Germans, who force him to
establish a puppet Social Republic in northern Italy.
1945 With the Allied advance, he attempts escape to Switzerland, but is
captured and shot by Italian partisans, April 28.
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 15
Similarities and Differences Between Fascism and Nazism and
The Similarities Italy & Germany Italy & USSR
1. Rise to power
2. Personality of
3. Political style
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 16
Similarities and Differences Between Fascism and Nazism and
The Differences Italy & Germany Italy & USSR
6. Rise to power
7. Personality of
8. Political style
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 17
Mussolini’s Socio-Economic Policies
Mussolini‟s economic and social policies were largely failures. He ignored
Italy‟s age-old problems in his quest to create an economy and people
geared towards war and foreign expansion.
Initially, Mussolini was fortunate that the 1920s were a period of
prosperity. However, a decline in fortunes from 1927 saw Mussolini re-
value the lire from 150 to 90 to the pound. This was done for political
reasons and was a disaster economically. It made Italian exports far too
expensive. The automobile and textiles industries suffered a decline in
orders. Protectionist policies and tariff barriers made many stable items
like food expensive. In contrast, Mussolini did help the steel, arms and
To its credit, the regime did handle the Great Depression well at first,
creating jobs through public works schemes like HEP and autostrada
building. Italians certainly did not suffer like Germans and Americans.
The Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) even successfully took
over the role of banks in providing loans and introduced new managerial
However, by 1933 unemployment had risen to 2 million and the working
class were seeing a real decline in both their wages and living standards.
Mussolini would comment callously and indifferently that the Italian people
were “not accustomed to eat much” and so could take the privations
better than people of other nations!
Mussolini also aimed for a policy of autarky, but never came near to
achieving it. Italy was simply not wealthy or well organised enough to
feed its own people and provide all its own mineral resources.
Massive budget deficits and a down turn in living standards for ordinary
Italians were the consequence of his re-armament and expansionist
Mussolini‟s corporatist ideas were designed to create a consensus amongst
the working and managerial classes to maximise harmony and efficiency.
There would be a corporation to represent each type of industry. In
reality, as Robson points out, the corporative revolution never
materialised. The workers were never given a genuine say, and often
bosses bribed Fascist politicians into allowing them to do what they
In the area of agriculture, as with industry, there were minor successes,
but overall failure. Mussolini was not interested in the fundamental
problems of the peasant, but only in how far farming could contribute to a
stronger, autarkic Italy.
His „Battle for Grain‟ (he also had other battles; for steel, e.g.) saw a
definite increase in grain production from 5.5 million tonnes to over 7
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 18
million. However, this was at the expense of wine, olive and fruit
The „Battle for Land‟ saw land reclamation and the (partial) draining of the
malarial Pontine Marshes near Rome. However, the overall amount of
land reclamation was insignificant.
The „Battle for the South‟ saw very little progress being made against the
age old problems of poverty, illiteracy and crime. Mussolini was not
prepared to annoy his landowning supporters by helping the peasantry of
the mezzogiorno. Even when he sent Cesare Mori to Sicily to confront
the mafia, his heart was never fully in the campaign and Mori‟s hands
were eventually tied.
In social terms, we can again see Mussolini only helping those who were
most likely to help him. To this extent, agreement with the influential
Catholic Church would be reached. Accommodation with the Church
would bring him support at home and prestige abroad.
The Lateran Agreement of 1929 has been called Mussolini‟s most lasting
and profound success. He managed to get the Pope to, at last, recognise
the Italian state. The Pope received 30 million pounds in compensation
for giving up his claim to Rome, and became the ruler of the Vatican, an
independent country in its own right, complete with its own Fascist-built
railway station. Religion would have a greater status in state and school;
civil marriage and divorce were outlawed; and priests would be paid by
the state. Pius XI (1922-39) must have been delighted with the
agreement. Mussolini certainly was. It eliminated a potential source of
opposition to his regime.
Church and state would collide over youth organisations, but it was not
until the year of his death that Pius XI fully realised he had made a deal
with the devil, as anti-Semitic laws were introduced.
An area in which Church and Fascism was in full agreement however, was
over the role of women. Women were to stay at home and have lots of
babies. Contraception was outlawed. The „Battle for Births‟ demanded
that women have as many children as possible. It was the patriotic thing
to do. Mussolini wanted more soldiers for his armies and colonists for his
empire. His plan was to increase the population from 40 to 60 million by
1950. Mothers would be encouraged to have an average of 12 children
each! Tax incentives for married men with children (6 or more would earn
tax exemption) and penalties for child-free bachelors (heavier taxes) were
introduced. Loans and medals were given out and every year Mussolini
met and awarded women who had had the biggest families in their
province. Certain jobs were only open to the fertile and women were
often sacked to make way for men during times of high unemployment.
The „Battle for Births‟ was largely a failure as the birth-rate actually
declined up to 1936 and the population did not reach 60 million until near
the present day. While women still made up 33% of the workforce in
1933, a fall of only 3% since 1921.
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 19
Equally, with the young Mussolini had ideals that rarely encountered
reality. He wanted a fit, aggressive, militarised and fully indoctrinated
youth. Mussolini‟s portrait was hung in schools; his sayings were to be
learnt by heart; his biography studied like a classic of literature. History
became biased and Italo-centric. Membership in the Balilla (ONB) became
compulsory for boys and girls, and ran to 7 million by 1937.
For adults, indoctrination took the form of the dopolavoro organisation,
which was designed to be both a provider of leisure activities, in lieu of
the now defunct unions, and a way of creating an Italian ubermenschen.
It also ensured control of the workforce after work as well as during it. To
its credit, the dopolavaro system was fun, and popular with ordinary
Italians and provided many with their first glimpse of the theatre. Even
those in the mezzogiorno had access to a dopolavoro clubhouse.
Other Fascist policies, however, only alienated people. They were forced
to use the Fascist salute instead of a handshake; to say voi instead of lei;
to refer to 1922 as Year I; and women were to dress modestly and not
take part in beauty contests, in case they lost and Italy looked bad! Make
up and trousers were also to be discouraged. Such petty regulations only
irritated Italians and hardly helped with the regime‟s popularity. In
Robson’s succinct phrase, “there was outward conformity, but little inner
Mussolini’s Impact on Italy
Aspect of Fascist state Major Change? Minor Change? No Change?
Structure of Government
Powers of Monarchy
State Security Apparatus
The Armed Services
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 20
Mussolini’s Armed Forces
Mussolini, of course, was a militarist who wanted to re-create the Roman
empire, to make the Mediterranean an Italian lake, and to make Italy a
respected and feared world power.
He often boasted of Italy‟s „8 million bayonets‟, and of „blotting out the
sun‟ with his air force. The reality was a lot different.
In 1935-38, Italy had spent 11.8% of national income on armaments,
over twice the amount GB spent and nearly as much as Nazi Germany
was spending. This money though was primarily spent on inadequate
weaponry (tanks which could be penetrated by bullets; radios that didn‟t
work, and under-powered rifles) and luxurious officers quarters! Robson
in fact describes the Italian armed forces as “inefficient and incompetent”.
The navy was the best of the three services, but it lacked aggressive
qualities and its submarines were technically inferior. 1/3 of them were
sunk within three weeks of Italy going to war in June 1940.
The air force was the worst. Its main fighter was a Fiat CR42 bi-plane,
which couldn‟t even fly in North Africa as it lacked sand filters. Its AA
guns even shot down Italo Balbo in 1940, over N. Africa.
The army was never 8 million strong, and was fitted out with antiquated
weapons and a lack of armoured vehicles. Officers were promoted for
political reasons and were largely incompetent. This of course, was
Mussolini‟s direct fault. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear that within
6 months of going to war (i.e. as early as autumn 1940), most Italians
were sick of the War and wanted peace.
Fiat CR-42 bi-plane, which
proved useful in Spain, but
inadequate in WWII
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 21
An Assessment of Mussolini’s Italy
Policy Successes Failures
Battle for Grain
Battle for Steel
Battle for Land
Battle for Births
The Corporate State
& Autarky (Incl.
Battle for the Lira)
The Armed Forces
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 22
The End of Mussolini
WWII was a disaster for Italy. She had entered the war quite unprepared
for a long drawn out conflict. Despite Mussolini‟s boasts, Italy was not a
world power by 1940 and even struggled to cope with Yugoslav and Greek
forces. By 1943, Italy had given up and Mussolini had been removed from
office. 300 000 troops and 150 000 Italian civilians would eventually die
in the War.
The fact that Mussolini was deposed gives a lie to his belief that he was
the sole power in Italy. Even his own son-in-law Count Ciano, plotted
against him. The King was still on his throne and with the help of the
Fascist Grand Council and prominent Fascists like Farinacci and De Bono,
had Mussolini arrested! Mussolini was eventually rescued from
imprisonment by SS commandos and wreaked his revenge on Ciano and
de Bono by having them shot. He created a short-lived and chaotic
Fascist state in the north of Italy called the Republic of Salo.
Mussolini was eventually captured by partisans in April 1945 and
executed. He was strung upside down from a petrol station in Milan,
alongside his mistress, Clara Petacci. The rejoicing crowds laughed at and
urinated on the corpses.
Poor Clara, she at least hadn‟t deserved such an ignominious end.
Mussolini ending up as many
of his opponents had
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 23
Review of a Recent Revisionist Biography of Mussolini
(Andrew Roberts reviews ‘Mussolini’ by Nicholas Farrell)
It was only a matter of time before a full-scale revisionist biography
praising Benito Mussolini was published in English, and the dictator has
certainly found a doughty defender in the former Telegraph journalist
Nicholas Farrell. The author, who has lived for the past five years in Il
Duce's birthplace of Predappio in the Romagna, which is also where
Mussolini "is buried like a minor deity", has clearly inhaled deeply of the
local political aura.
The dictator whom Farrell presents in his hard-hitting book, complete with
a forest of footnotes and much fascinating original research, is pretty
much unrecognisable to those of us who have been brought up on the
biographies by the liberal British historians Denis Mack Smith and Jasper
Ridley. Farrell argues that Mussolini "remained at heart a Socialist to his
dying day". It was what gave him his anti-Communist fervour, something
that led him to be described by Pope Pius XI as "sent by Providence", by
Churchill as "the greatest law-giver among living men", and by President
Roosevelt as his "only potential ally in his effort to safeguard world
The problem with revisionist accounts is that they tend to
overcompensate. When Mussolini made the gross strategic error of
declaring war against the Allies in June 1940, for example, Farrell writes
that, although 300,000 Italian soldiers and 150,000 civilians died as a
result, "it might well have been a brilliant decision". The truly brilliant
decision would have been to sit out the war like his fellow southern
Mediterranean fascist dictator General Franco.
Also controversial will be Farrell's assertion that Mussolini "saved more
Jews than Oscar Schindler". Quite apart from the fact that Schindler was
not a head of state and thus in no position to save as many as Mussolini,
neither did Schindler pass the anti-Semitic laws that Mussolini did in
November 1938. Farrell's explanation that "Mussolini's anti-Semitism was
not biological racism but spiritual racism" does not sit well with his other
statement that "although not anti-Semitic, Mussolini became increasingly
anti-Jewish", and either would have looked pretty sophistic to Jewish
doctors and lawyers who lost their professions due to his laws. The fact
that Mussolini did not collude in the Holocaust hardly makes him a
Where Farrell is on far stronger ground is in his argument that Mussolini
"ruled with the consent of the Italian people" throughout the 1930s and
that he held power "by and large bloodlessly". At almost any period
between 1923 and 1941, I suspect that Mussolini would have won any
election by a landslide. By the standards of the dictatorships, Mussolini's
was by far the least brutal. There was repression of the Communists in
the trade unions, but not the large-scale torture and genocide of political
opponents to be found elsewhere in Europe. He needs to be judged in the
context of the insurrectionary Italian post-Great War experience, rather
than by the peaceful liberal standards of British democracy.
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 24
"He was a brilliant journalist," writes Farrell of his hero, adding, "you only
have to read an article by him to realise that he was not a buffoon".
Perhaps not, but he acted like one in 1940 by falling in with Hitler's war
plans and assuming the war was as good as over. Equally breathless
remarks of Farrell's, such as, "In addition to being a shrewd political
thinker, Mussolini was a master political tactician", need to be set against
that critical blunder.
When Farrell defends Mussolini on the grounds that "he and Fascism… got
things done", one can almost visualise him taking down the times of the
trains with a stopwatch and notepad. Not even Mussolini's worst enemies
deny that he radically altered the Italian economy, and in many ways
made it far more efficient. The question of whether Italians had to pay too
much in terms of loss of liberty has been answered by Farrell in a
passionate and thought-provoking way. Nor will the Left be happy with his
(true) statement that: "The Italian partisan resistance was a largely
irrelevant factor in the liberation of Italy."
Farrell concludes his book with the crowd in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan
laughing at and urinating on the corpses of Mussolini, his mistress Clara
Petacci, her brother and 15 others, before seven bodies were hung upside
down from the steel girders of the petrol station there. It was remarked
with surprise by the women present, who were joking and dancing around
this macabre scene, that Clara Petacci wore no knickers and that her
stockings were unladdered. Farrell is predictably censorious that Mussolini
was executed without due process of law, which is frankly naïve, but he
does explain that Petacci was not given time to find her knickers before
she was taken away and machine-gunned.
By the end of this highly spirited, opinionated and rather remarkable
book, one does not grieve for Mussolini, however much the author might
wish us to, but one does feel sorry for poor Clara and very surprised that
any Italian – even a Communist partisan – should have chosen to murder
an attractive and entirely apolitical woman.
Farrell’s hero and
Roberts’ villain –
Whom do you concur
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 25
Historiography on Mussolini – ‘The Dark Valley’ (Piers Brendon)
The left-leaning Brendon tends to view Mussolini as the archetypal
“political gangster”, a man for whom the theatre of politics was all
important, with very often little behind the posturing facade.
Brendon says, “Fascism was mainly matter of fantasy” and he describes
the melodramatic Mussolini as a man who was “as much editor as
Mussolini was not without his abilities, however, and he certainly got the
better of the Papacy in the Lateran treaties.
However, he is more critical of what he describes as Mussolini‟s
“antidiluvian” economic policies. The battle for grain by erecting tariff
barriers against foreign imports only subsidised inefficient Italian
agriculture; fodder became so costly that the amount of meat production
declined; the battle for the lira overvalued it (at 90=POUND) making
Italian exports more expensive, damaging industry and forcing down
wages and increasing unemployment. The corporate state increased
bureaucracy and petty regulations and Brendon says it was always more
“rhetoric rather than reality”. Wages in the regime were incredibly low,
with many only earning 25 lire a day. Many, in places like Calabria and
Sardinia, survived by eating wild plants for half the year! The poor were
not even allowed to emigrate anymore, as the regime forbade emigration.
Italy was hit hard by the Depression, a damning indictment of Mussolini‟s
policies. The value of stocks and shares declined by c.40% and
bankruptcies increased. He could not even make the Italian people have
more children, as the birth-rate between 1927-34 fell, despite the battle
The regime did have successes; Giuseppe Pagano and Giovanni Greppi
were original architects; the new town of Sabaudia was a triumph. On the
whole however Fascist architecture was execrable and Brendon says
Mussolini “liked to set his bombast in concrete”.
A more commendable feature of the regime was the Institute for
Industrial Reconstruction bought stock in needy banks and corporations
and so gave the state a stakehold in important enterprises. On the whole
though Brendon is scathing of Mussolini‟s policies calling them a mixture
of “opportunism, improvisation and self-advancement”.
Aviation was used by Mussolini to promote his regime‟s global status, and
Italian planes and aviators, like Italo Balbo, broke many records.
However, such eye-catching stunts only resulted in the neglect of the
airforce, which was so incompetent as to shoot down Air Marshall Balbo
Replica of a 1922 fascist club
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 26
SUMMARY OF THE HISTORIOGRAPHY ON MUSSOLINI
ROBSON MACK FARRELL ROBERTS BRENDON (THEME)
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 27
REVISION WORDSEARCH ON MUSSOLINI’S ITALY
A C E R B O R E D F L A K C M
S O G I O L I T T I I O X A E
B S K B D M O R I U V N Q S Z
P H L I P A R I L M O A E T Z
D A N N U N Z I O E R I E O O
X B B V W E R V N N N C K R G
M Y E I V L A M E A D R Z O I
T S N D T C L U B S Y O U I O
O S I O Y L J A H S R C N L R
I I T N O A B Q P O D E F I N
L N O I B W X I O E N X A J O
S I C O M M U N I S D E C E M
B A L B O B L A C K G U A R D
F A R I N A C C I I E L S I M
S A D I T T O E T T A M E A N
S O T H E R E C F N O D N O L
1. Secret treaty brought Italy into WWI & made promises that were not kept______
2. Port of __________was taken over by the proto-fascist ______________in 1920
3. Liberal politician who connived in the accession of the fascists _____________
4. Fascist thugs made their enemies drink this____________ & hit them with______
5. Fascist rule is dated from October 1922 and the March on __________
6. These laws were passed to guarantee fascist control of the state: ______&______
7. This socialist opponent of the regime was brutally murdered______________
8. This left-wing critic of the regime though was able to survive_____________
9. Barren island in the Mediterranean where opponents of the regime were sent_____
10. Mussolini‟s troops invaded this area in 1935________helping to destroy the League
11. This part of Italy known as the ______________received little help from Mussolini
12. Anti-Mafia crusader whose hands were eventually tied by Mussolini___________
13. Able fascist bosses sidelined by a jealous Mussolini :__________and _________
14. He helped to depose Mussolini in 1943 and was later shot by the dictator_________
A Level History M. Nichols, SCIE 2011 28
OPINIONS ON MUSSOLINI – WHO SAID WHAT?
1. Mussolini is a fool! He has
taken us into a war we 2. Il Duce is a genius! He has
cannot possibly win. We brought law and order to our
warned him we would not be great nation and made Italy
ready until 1943, but did he internationally respected again.
listen? He obtained for us what the
allies had denied us at Paris.
3. Mussolini is a dictator. With his
Acerbo law and Vidoni Pact he is
destroying the rule of parliament 4. Mussolini is a great man. He
and the rights of workers, and to has brought order to chaos and
think he used to be one of us! made Italy a respected world
Why aren‟t the people protesting? power again
6. The Corporate state is a myth. The
5. Il Duce is a fraud! He
bosses just cosy up to the local party ras
promised to rid us of the
and get exactly what they want. The
mafia, to do something
workers have no say in running any
about our terrible poverty
industry, in reality.
and high illiteracy rates, but
he has done virtually
nothing. I spit on him!
7 My friend, the Duce, helped me out with
the anschluss and over Czechoslovakia; I
shall always be grateful to him.
A socialist deputy A nationalist veteran Der Fuhrer
A foreign statesman
A trade unionist