Mussolini and Italian Fascism
Italy had many political problems in the years after the First World War. Italians felt cheated. About half a million Italian soldiers had been killed in the war. Italians expected payment for this sacrifice from the peace settlement. However, the peace treaties were a great disappointment because the Italians failed to get all the land they expected. It became known as the ' mutilated peace'.
At home there were deep divisions between those who supported the ideas of the Russian Revolution and those who hated socialism and communism. Few people respected the Italian parliament. Five governments were formed between 1919 and 1922 and none of them was able to take control of the situation.
Mussolini the man
Benito Mussolini was born in 1883. Before the First World War he had been a socialist journalist. He left the socialist party because he supported the war and other socialists did not. In 1919 Mussolini began to organize gangs of angry ex-servicemen into a powerful political force. They were known as 'fascists', because they belonged to a 'fascio' or armed squad. The fascists soon got a reputation for attacking and beating up their enemies.
Mussolini loved parades and uniforms. The fascist fighters wore distinctive black shirts. Throughout his early political career he kept changing his policies. He was ready to drop any belief that got in the way of his search for power. Once in power, Mussolini encouraged Italians to look up to him as a special leader with extraordinary powers. He was called 'duce', which is the Italian word for ' leader'.
The fascist take-over
Mussolini came to power in 1922. His followers staged a dramatic march in Rome to get publicity and to show how strong they were. Italy was in chaos. The king of Italy turned to Mussolini because he thought the fascists would improve law and order and stop Italy turning towards communism.
At first the fascists did not have complete control and had to share power with other parties. After rigged elections in 1924 Mussolini strengthened his grip on power. The leader of the rival Socialist Party was murdered . From 1925 Mussolini began to rule Italy as a dictator. In 1920 all other parties were banned. Leading communists and socialists were imprisoned.
Some were murdered. Widespread use was made of propaganda to convince Italian people that Mussolini was an almost super-human leader. Posters were put up throughout the country saying. 'Mussolini is always right'. The voting laws were changed in 1928 so that only fascist men could vote, and the only permitted candidates were fascists. Not surprisingly, Mussolini did well in the elections that followed. In 1929 Mussolini came to an agreement with the Pope about the place of the Catholic Church in Italy. In return for giving the Church special privileges Mussolini made sure that the Church would not challenge fascism.
Mussolini goes to war
By 1930 the fascist revolution at home was largely over. In the 1930s Mussolini looked to foreign policy for further triumphs. In 1935-6 Italy invaded and conquered Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia). He made an agreement to work with Hitler in 1936: the link between Germany and Italy was called the Rome-Berlin Axis.
In 1940 when it looked as if Germany was going to win the Second World War, Mussolini joined forces with Hitler and went to war against France and Britain. The war was a disaster for Mussolini. His forces were defeated in North Africa by Britain and the USA.
By 1943 Italy itself had been invaded. Mussolini was overthrown by other fascists and imprisoned. Hitler sent German paratroopers to rescue him. For the last two years of the war Mussolini ruled part of northern Italy, but real power lay with the Germans. He was captured and killed by anti-fascist fighters in April 1945 and his dead body was put on public display in Milan.
The Key Ideas of Italian Fascism
• Italians should take a fierce pride in their country.
• War is good for a country. Young Italian men should be ready to fight.
• Italy should establish an empire in Africa.
• No other political parties are allowed.
• Communism and socialism are the enemies of fascism.
• Democracy is useless. Italy needs a strong powerful leader who can tell people what to do.
• The place of women is at home. Italian women should have as many children as possible.
• A great country should be self-sufficient. The government should tell firms what to produce to bring this about.