- 1 Rise to power
- 2 Fascist Italy
- 3 European War
Rise to power[edit | edit source]
Creation of the National Fascist Party[edit | edit source]
By the time he returned from Allied service in World War I, there was very little left of Mussolini the socialist. Indeed, he was now convinced that socialism as a doctrine had largely been a failure. In 1917, Mussolini got his start in politics with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5 (the equivalent of £6000 today), to keep anti-war protestors at home and publish pro-war propaganda. This help was authorized by Sir Samuel Hoare. In early 1918, Mussolini called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation. Much later in life Mussolini said he felt by 1919 "Socialism as a doctrine was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge". On 23 March 1919, Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members.
An important factor in fascism gaining support in its earliest stages was the fact that it claimed to oppose discrimination based on social class and was strongly opposed to all forms of class war. Fascism instead supported nationalist sentiments such as a strong unity, regardless of class, in the hopes of raising Italy up to the levels of its great Roman past. The ideological basis for fascism came from a number of sources. Mussolini utilized works of Plato, Georges Sorel, Nietzsche, and the socialist and economic ideas of Vilfredo Pareto, to create fascism. Mussolini admired The Republic, which he often read for inspiration. The Republic held a number of ideas that fascism promoted such as rule by an elite promoting the state as the ultimate end, opposition to democracy, protecting the class system and promoting class collaboration, rejection of egalitarianism, promoting the militarization of a nation by creating a class of warriors, demanding that citizens perform civic duties in the interest of the state, and utilizing state intervention in education to promote the creation of warriors and future rulers of the state. The Republic differed from fascism in that it did not promote aggressive war but only defensive war. Also unlike fascism, it promoted very communist-like views on property. Plato was an idealist, focused on achieving justice and morality, while Mussolini and fascism were realist, focused on achieving political goals.
The basic underlying idea behind Mussolini's foreign policy was that of spazio vitale (vital space), a concept in Fascism that was analogous to lebensraum in German National Socialism. The concept of spazio vitale was first announced in 1919, when the entire Mediterranean, especially so-called Julian March was redefined to make it appear a unified region that had belonged to Italy from the times of the ancient Roman province of Italia, was claimed as Italy's exclusive sphere of influence. The right to colonize the neighboring Slovene ethnic areas and Mediterranean, being inhabited by what were alleged to be less developed peoples, was justified on the grounds that Italy was suffering from overpopulation.
Borrowing the idea first developed by Enrico Corradini before 1914 of the natural conflict between "plutocratic" nations like Britain and "proletarian" nations like Italy, Mussolini claimed that Italy's principle problem was that it was "plutocratic" countries like Britain that were blocking Italy from achieving the necessary spazio vitale that would let the Italian economy grow. Mussolini equated a nation's potential for economic growth with territorial size, thus in his view the problem of poverty in Italy could only be solved by winning the necessary spazio vitale.
Though biological racism was less prominent in Fascism than National Socialism, right from the start there was a strong racist undercurrent to the spazio vitale concept, in which Mussolini asserted there was a "natural law" for stronger peoples to subject and dominate "inferior" peoples such as the "barbaric" Slavic peoples of the Balkans as Mussolini claimed in a September 1920 speech, when Mussolini stated:
When dealing with such a race as Slavic — inferior and barbarian — we must not pursue the carrot, but the stick policy ... We should not be afraid of new victims ... The Italian border should run across the Brenner Pass, Monte Nevoso and the Dinaric Alps ... I would say we can easily sacrifice 500,000 barbaric Slavs for 50,000 Italians ...—Benito Mussolini, speech held in Pula, 20 September 1920
During the period of occupation between years 1918 and 1920, five hundred "Slav" societies (for example Sokol), and slightly smaller number of libraries ("reading rooms") had been forbidden, and specifically so later with the Law on Associations (1925), the Law on Public Demonstrations (1926) and the Law on Public Order (1926), the closure of the classical lyceum in Pazin, of the high school in Voloska (1918), the closure of the five hundred Slovene and Croatian primary schools followed. One thousand "Slav" teachers were forcibly exiled to Sardinia and elsewhere to South Italy.
In the same way, Mussolini argued that Italy was right to follow an imperalist policy in Africa because all black people were "inferior" to whites. Mussolini claimed that the world was divided into a hierarchy of races (stirpe), though this was justified more on cultural than on biological grounds, and that history was nothing more than a Darwinian struggle for power and territory between various "racial masses". The very fact that Italy was suffering from overpopulation was seen as proving the cultural and spiritual vitality of the Italians, who were thus justified in seeking to colonize lands that Mussolini argued on a historical basis belonged to Italy anyway, which was the heir to the Roman Empire. In Mussolini's thinking, demography was destiny; nations with rising populations were nations destined to conquer, and nations with falling populations were decaying powers that deserved to die. Hence, the importance of natalism to Mussolini, since only by increasing the birth rate could Italy ensure that its future as a great power that would win its spazio vitale be assured. By Mussolini's reckoning, the Italian population had to reach 60 million to enable Italy to fight a major war—hence his relentless demands for Italian women to have more children to reach that number.
Mussolini and the fascists managed to be simultaneously revolutionary and traditionalist; because this was vastly different from anything else in the political climate of the time, it is sometimes described as "The Third Way". The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, Dino Grandi, formed armed squads of war veterans called Blackshirts (or squadristi) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists, and anarchists at parades and demonstrations; all of these factions were also involved in clashes against each other. The government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, owing in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew so rapidly that within two years, it transformed itself into the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome. Also in 1921, Mussolini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time. In the meantime, from about 1911 until 1938, Mussolini had various affairs with the Jewish author and academic Margherita Sarfatti, called the "Jewish Mother of Fascism" at the time.
March on Rome[edit | edit source]
In the night between 27 and 28 October 1922, about 30,000 Fascist blackshirts gathered in Rome to demand the resignation of liberal Prime Minister Luigi Facta and the appointment of a new Fascist government. On the morning of 28 October, King Victor Emmanuel III who, according to the Albertine Statute held the supreme military power, refused the government request to declare martial law, which led to Facta's resignation. The King then handed over power to Mussolini (who stayed in his headquarters in Milan during the talks) by asking him to form a new government. The King's controversial decision has been explained by historians as a combination of delusions and fears; Mussolini enjoyed a wide support in the military and among the industrial and agrarian elites, while the King and the conservative establishment were afraid of a possible civil war and ultimately thought they could use Mussolini to restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.
Appointment as Prime Minister[edit | edit source]
As Prime Minister, the first years of Mussolini's rule were characterized by a right-wing coalition government composed of Fascists, nationalists, liberals, and two Catholic clerics from the Popular Party. The Fascists made up a small minority in his original governments. Mussolini's domestic goal was the eventual establishment of a totalitarian state with himself as supreme leader (Il Duce) a message that was articulated by the Fascist newspaper Il Popolo, which was now edited by Mussolini's brother, Arnaldo. To that end, Mussolini obtained from the legislature dictatorial powers for one year (legal under the Italian constitution of the time). He favored the complete restoration of state authority, with the integration of the Fasci di Combattimento into the armed forces (the foundation in January 1923 of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale) and the progressive identification of the party with the state. In political and social economy, he passed legislation that favored the wealthy industrial and agrarian classes (privatizations, liberalizations of rent laws and dismantlement of the unions).
In 1923, Mussolini sent Italian forces to invade Corfu during the Corfu Incident. In the end, the Great Powers proved powerless, and Greece was forced to comply with Italian demands. Writing of Mussolini's foreign policy, the American historian Gerhard Weinberg said:
"If the new regime Benito Mussolini installed in 1922 on the ruins of the old war as a sign of vitality and repudiated pacifism as a form of decay, the lesson drawn from the terrible battles against Austria on the Isonzo river—in which the Italians fought far better than popular imagination often allows—was that the tremendous material and technical preparations needed for modern war were simply beyond the contemporary capacity of the country. This was almost certainly a correct perception, but, given the ideology of Fascism with its emphasis on the moral benefits of war, it did not lead to the conclusion that an Italy without a big stick had best speak very, very softly. On the contrary, the new regime drew the opposite conclusion. Noisy eloquence and rabid journalism might be substituted for serious preparations for war, a procedure that was harmless enough if no one took any of it seriously, but a certain road to disaster once some outside and Mussolini inside the country came to believe that the "eight million bayonets" of the Duce's imagination actually existed."
Acerbo Law[edit | edit source]
In June 1923, the government passed the Acerbo Law, which transformed Italy into a single national constituency. It also granted a two-thirds majority of the seats in Parliament to the party or group of parties that received at least 25% of the votes. This law applied in the elections of 6 April 1924. The national alliance, consisting of Fascists, most of the old Liberals and others, won 64% of the vote.
Squadristi violence[edit | edit source]
The assassination of the socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti, who had requested that the elections be annulled because of the irregularities, provoked a momentary crisis in the Mussolini government. Mussolini ordered a cover-up, but witnesses saw the car that transported Matteotti's body parked outside Matteotti's residence, which linked Amerigo Dumini to the murder.
Mussolini later confessed that a few resolute men could have altered public opinion and started a coup that would have swept fascism away. Dumini was imprisoned for two years. On his release Dumini allegedly told other people that Mussolini was responsible, for which he served further prison time.
The opposition parties responded weakly or were generally unresponsive. Many of the socialists, liberals, and moderates boycotted Parliament in the Aventine Secession, hoping to force Victor Emmanuel to dismiss Mussolini.
On 31 December 1924, MVSN consuls met with Mussolini and gave him an ultimatum—crush the opposition or they would do so without him. Fearing a revolt by his own militants, Mussolini decided to drop all trappings of democracy. On 3 January 1925, Mussolini made a truculent speech before the Chamber in which he took responsibility for squadristi violence (though he did not mention the assassination of Matteotti).
Fascist Italy[edit | edit source]
Organizational innovations[edit | edit source]
German-American historian Konrad Jarausch has argued that Mussolini was responsible for an integrated suite of political innovations that made fascism a powerful force in Europe. First, he went beyond the vague promise of future national renewal, and proved the movement could actually seize power and operate a comprehensive government in a major country along fascist lines. Second, the movement claimed to represent the entire national community, not a fragment such as the working class or the aristocracy. He made a significant effort to include the previously alienated Catholic element. He defined public roles for the main sectors of the business community rather than allowing it to operate backstage. Third, he developed a cult of one-man leadership that focused media attention and national debate on his own personality. As a former journalist, Mussolini proved highly adept at exploiting all forms of mass media, including such new forms as motion pictures and radio. Fourth, he created a mass membership party, with free programs for young men, young women, and various other groups who could therefore be more readily mobilized and monitored. He shut down all alternative political formations and parties (but this step was not an innovation by any means). Like all dictators he made liberal use of the threat of extrajudicial violence, as well as actual violence by his Blackshirts, to frighten his opposition.
Police state[edit | edit source]
Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini progressively dismantled virtually all constitutional and conventional restraints on his power and built a police state. A law passed on Christmas Eve 1925 changed Mussolini's formal title from "president of the Council of Ministers" to "head of the government" (though he was still called "Prime Minister" by most non-Italian outlets). He was no longer responsible to Parliament and could be removed only by the King. While the Italian constitution stated that ministers were responsible only to the sovereign, in practice it had become all but impossible to govern against the express will of Parliament. The Christmas Eve law ended this practice, and also made Mussolini the only person competent to determine the body's agenda. This law transformed Mussolini's government into a de facto legal dictatorship. Local autonomy was abolished, and podestà appointed by the Italian Senate replaced elected mayors and councils.
On 7 April 1926, Mussolini survived a first assassination attempt by Violet Gibson, an Irish woman and daughter of Lord Ashbourne, who was deported after her arrest. On 31 October 1926, 15-year-old Anteo Zamboni attempted to shoot Mussolini in Bologna. Zamboni was lynched on the spot. Mussolini also survived a failed assassination attempt in Rome by anarchist Gino Lucetti, and a planned attempt by the Italian anarchist Michele Schirru, which ended with Schirru's capture and execution.
All other parties were outlawed following Zamboni's assassination attempt in 1926, though in practice Italy had been a one-party state since 1925 (with either his January speech to the Chamber or the passage of the Christmas Eve law, depending on the source). In the same year, an electoral law abolished parliamentary elections. Instead, the Grand Council of Fascism selected a single list of candidates to be approved by plebiscite. The Grand Council had been created five years earlier as a party body but was "constitutionalized" and became the highest constitutional authority in the state. On paper, the Grand Council had the power to recommend Mussolini's removal from office, and was thus theoretically the only check on his power. However, only Mussolini could summon the Grand Council and determine its agenda. To gain control of the South, especially Sicily, he appointed Cesare Mori as a Prefect of the city of Palermo, with the charge of eradicating the Mafia at any price. In the telegram, Mussolini wrote to Mori:
Your Excellency has carte blanche; the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. If the laws still in force hinder you, this will be no problem, as we will draw up new laws.
Mori did not hesitate to lay siege to towns, using torture, and holding women and children as hostages to oblige suspects to give themselves up. These harsh methods earned him the nickname of "Iron Prefect". In 1927, Mori's inquiries brought evidence of collusion between the Mafia and the Fascist establishment, and he was dismissed for length of service in 1929, at which time the number of murders in Palermo Province had decreased from 200 to 23. Mussolini nominated Mori as a senator, and fascist propaganda claimed that the Mafia had been defeated.
"The Pacification of Libya"[edit | edit source]
In 1919, the Italian state had brought in a series of liberal reforms in Libya that allowed education in Arabic and Berber and allowed for the possibility that the Libyans might become Italian citizens. Giuseppe Volpi, who had been appointed governor in 1921 was retained by Mussolini, and withdrew all of the measures offering equality to the Libyans. A policy of confiscating land from the Libyans to hand over to Italian colonists gave new vigor to Libyan resistance led by Omar Mukhtar, and during the ensuing "Pacification of Libya", the Fascist regime waged a near-genocidal campaign designed to kill as many Libyans as possible. Well over half the population of Cyrenaica were confined to 15 concentration camps by 1931 while the Royal Italian Air Force staged chemical warfare attacks against the Bedouin. On 20 June 1930, Marshal Pietro Badoglio wrote to General Rodolfo Graziani:
As for overall strategy, it is necessary to create a significant and clear separation between the controlled population and the rebel formations. I do not hide the significance and seriousness of this measure, which might be the ruin of the subdued population ... But now the course has been set, and we must carry it out to the end, even if the entire population of Cyrenaica must perish.
On 3 January 1933, Mussolini told the diplomat Baron Pompei Aloisi that the French in Tunisia had made an "appalling blunder" by permitting sex between the French and the Tunisians, which he predicted would lead to the French degenerating into a nation of "half-castes", and to prevent the same thing happening to the Italians gave orders to Marshal Badolglio that miscegenation be made a crime in Libya.
Economic policy[edit | edit source]
Mussolini launched several public construction programs and government initiatives throughout Italy to combat economic setbacks or unemployment levels. His earliest (and one of the best known) was the Battle for Wheat, by which 5,000 new farms were established and five new agricultural towns (among them Littoria and Sabaudia) on land reclaimed by draining the Pontine Marshes. In Sardinia, a model agricultural town was founded and named Mussolinia. This town was the first of what Mussolini hoped would have been thousands of new agricultural settlements across the country. The Battle for Wheat diverted valuable resources to wheat production away from other more economically viable crops. Landowners grew wheat on unsuitable soil using all the advances of modern science, and although the wheat harvest increased, prices rose, consumption fell and high tariffs were imposed. The tariffs promoted widespread inefficiencies and the government subsidies given to farmers pushed the country further into debt.
Mussolini also initiated the "Battle for Land", a policy based on land reclamation outlined in 1928. The initiative had a mixed success; while projects such as the draining of the Pontine Marsh in 1935 for agriculture were good for propaganda purposes, provided work for the unemployed and allowed for great land owners to control subsidies, other areas in the Battle for Land were not very successful. This program was inconsistent with the Battle for Wheat (small plots of land were inappropriately allocated for large-scale wheat production). Fewer than 10,000 peasants resettled on the redistributed land, and peasant poverty remained high. The Battle for Land initiative was abandoned in 1940.
In 1930, in the Doctrine of Fascism he wrote, "The so-called crisis can only be settled by State action and within the orbit of the State." He tried to combat economic recession by introducing a "Gold for the Fatherland" initiative, encouraging the public to voluntarily donate gold jewelry to government officials in exchange for steel wristbands bearing the words "Gold for the Fatherland". Even Rachele Mussolini donated her wedding ring. The collected gold was melted down and turned into gold bars, which were then distributed to the national banks.
Government control of business was part of Mussolini's policy planning. By 1935, he claimed that three-quarters of Italian businesses were under state control. Later that year, Mussolini issued several edicts to further control the economy, e.g. forcing banks, businesses, and private citizens to surrender all foreign-issued stock and bond holdings to the Bank of Italy. In 1936, he imposed price controls. He also attempted to turn Italy into a self-sufficient autarky, instituting high barriers on trade with most countries.
In 1943, Mussolini proposed the theory of economic socialization.
Propaganda and cult of personality[edit | edit source]
Mussolini's foremost priority was the subjugation of the minds of the Italian people and the use of propaganda to do so. A lavish cult of personality centered on the figure of Mussolini was promoted by the regime.
Mussolini pretended to incarnate the new fascist Übermensch, promoting an aesthetics of exasperated Machism and a cult of personality that attributed to him quasi-divine capacities. At various times after 1922, Mussolini personally took over the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, colonies, corporations, defense, and public works. Sometimes he held as many as seven departments simultaneously, as well as the premiership. He was also head of the all-powerful Fascist Party and the armed local fascist militia, the MVSN or "Blackshirts", who terrorized incipient resistances in the cities and provinces. He would later form the OVRA, an institutionalized secret police that carried official state support. In this way he succeeded in keeping power in his own hands and preventing the emergence of any rival.
Mussolini also portrayed himself as a valiant sportsman, and a skilled musician. All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini and only those in possession of a certificate of approval from the Fascist Party could practice journalism. These certificates were issued in secret; Mussolini thus skillfully created the illusion of a "free press". The trade unions were also deprived of any independence and were integrated into what was called the "corporative" system. The aim (never completely achieved), inspired by medieval guilds, was to place all Italians in various professional organizations or corporations, all under clandestine governmental control.
Large sums of money were spent on highly visible public works and on international prestige projects such as the Blue Riband ocean liner SS Rex or aeronautical records such as the world's fastest seaplane the Macchi M.C.72 and the transatlantic flying boat cruise of Italo Balbo, which was greeted with much fanfare in the United States when it landed in Chicago in 1933.
The principles of the doctrine of Fascism were laid down in an article by eminent philosopher Giovanni Gentile and Mussolini himself that appeared in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana. Mussolini always portrayed himself as an intellectual, and some historians agree. German historian Ernst Nolte says: "His command of contemporary philosophy and political literature was at least as great as that of any other contemporary European political leader."
Culture[edit | edit source]
Nationalists in the years after the World War thought of themselves as combating the both liberal and domineering institutions created by cabinets—such as those of Giovanni Giolitti, including traditional schooling. Futurism, a revolutionary cultural movement which would serve as a catalyst for Fascism, argued for "a school for physical courage and patriotism", as expressed by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1919. Marinetti expressed his disdain for "the by now prehistoric and troglodyte Ancient Greek and Latin courses", arguing for their replacement with exercise modelled on those of the Arditi soldiers ("[learning] to advance on hands and knees in front of razing machine gun fire; to wait open-eyed for a crossbeam to move sideways over their heads etc."). It was in those years that the first Fascist youth wings were formed: Avanguardia Giovanile Fascista (Fascist Youth Vanguards) in 1919, and Gruppi Universitari Fascisti (Fascist University Groups) in 1922.
After the March on Rome that brought Mussolini to power, the Fascists started considering ways to politicize Italian society, with an accent on education. Mussolini assigned former ardito and deputy-secretary for Education Renato Ricci the task of "reorganizing the youth from a moral and physical point of view." Ricci sought inspiration with Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, meeting with him in England, as well as with Bauhaus artists in Germany. The Opera Nazionale Balilla was created through Mussolini's decree of 3 April 1926, and was led by Ricci for the following eleven years. It included children between the ages of 8 and 18, grouped as the Balilla and the Avanguardisti.
According to Mussolini: "Fascist education is moral, physical, social, and military: it aims to create a complete and harmoniously developed human, a fascist one according to our views". Mussolini structured this process taking in view the emotional side of childhood: "Childhood and adolescence alike ... cannot be fed solely by concerts, theories, and abstract teaching. The truth we aim to teach them should appeal foremost to their fantasy, to their hearts, and only then to their minds".
The "educational value set through action and example" was to replace the established approaches. Fascism opposed its version of idealism to prevalent rationalism, and used the Opera Nazionale Balilla to circumvent educational tradition by imposing the collective and hierarchy, as well as Mussolini's own personality cult.
Another important constituent of the Fascist cultural policy was Roman Catholicism. In 1929, a concordat with the Vatican was signed, ending decades of struggle between the Italian state and the Papacy that dated back to the 1870 takeover of the Papal States by the House of Savoy during the unification of Italy. The Lateran treaties, by which the Italian state was at last recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and the independence of Vatican City was recognized by the Italian state, were so much appreciated by the ecclesiastic hierarchy that Pope Pius XI acclaimed Mussolini as "the Man of Providence".
The 1929 treaty included a legal provision whereby the Italian government would protect the honor and dignity of the Pope by prosecuting offenders. In 1927, Mussolini was re-baptized by a Roman Catholic priest. After 1929, Mussolini, with his anti-Communist doctrines, convinced many Catholics to actively support him.
Foreign policy[edit | edit source]
In foreign policy, Mussolini was pragmatic and opportunistic. At the center of his vision lay the dream to forge a new Roman Empire in Africa and the Balkans, vindicating the "plutodemocracies" (Britain and France) that abandoned them and usurped the supposed "natural right" of Italy to achieve supremacy in the Mediterranean basin. However, in the 1920s, given Germany's strength, post-war reconstruction problems and the question of reparations, the situation of Europe was too unfavorable to advocate an openly revisionist approach to the Treaty of Köpenick. In the 1920s, Italy's foreign policy was based on the traditional idea of Italy maintaining "equidistant" stance from all the major powers in order to exercise "determinant weight", which by whatever power Italy chose to align with would decisively change the balance of power in Europe, and the price of such an alignment would be support for Italian ambitions in Europe and/or Africa. In the meantime, since for Mussolini demography was destiny, he carried out relentless natalist policies designed to increase the birthrate; for example, in 1924 making advocating or giving information about contraception a criminal offense, and in 1926 ordering every Italian woman to double the number of children that they were willing to bear. For Mussolini, Italy's current population of 40 million was insufficient to fight a major war, and he needed to increase the population to at least 60 million Italians before he would be ready for war.
In his early years in power, Mussolini operated as a pragmatic statesman, trying to achieve some advantages, but never at the risk of war with Britain and France. An exception was the bombardment and occupation of Corfu in 1923, following an incident in which Italian military personnel charged by the Great powers to settle a boundary dispute between Greece and Albania were assassinated by bandits-the nationality of the bandits remains unclear. At the time of the Corfu incident, Mussolini was prepared to go to war with Britain, and only desperate pleading by the Italian Navy leadership, who argued that the Italian Navy was no match for the British Royal Navy, persuaded Mussolini to accept a diplomatic solution. In a secret speech to the Italian military leadership in January 1925, Mussolini argued that Italy needed to win spazio vitale, and as such his ultimate goal was to join "the two shores of the Mediterranean and of the Indian Ocean into a single Italian territory". Reflecting his obsession with demography, Mussolini went on to say that Italy did not at the present possess sufficient manpower to win a war against Britain and/or France, and that the time for war would come sometime in the mid-1930s, when Mussolini calculated the high Italian birth rate would finally give Italy the necessary numbers to win. Subsequently, Mussolini took part in the Locarno Treaties of 1925, that guaranteed the western borders of Germany as drawn in 1919. In 1929, Mussolini ordered his Army General Staff to begin planning for aggression against France and Austria. In July 1932, Mussolini sent a message to the German War Minister General Kurt von Schleicher, suggesting an anti-French Italo-German alliance, an offer Schleicher responded to favorably. In late 1932–early 1933, Mussolini planned to launch a surprise attack against both France and Austria that was to begin in August 1933. Mussolini's planned war of 1933 was only stopped when he learned that the French Deuxième Bureau had broken the Italian military codes, and that the French, being forewarned of all the Italian plans, were well prepared for the Italian attack.
After Adolf Hitler came into power, threatening Italian interests in Austria and the Danube basin, Mussolini proposed the Four Power Pact with Britain, France and Germany in 1933. When the Austrian 'austro-fascist' Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss with dictatorial power was assassinated on 25 July 1934, by National-Socialist supporters, Mussolini even threatened Germany with war in the event of a German invasion of Austria. Mussolini for a period of time continued strictly opposing any German attempt to obtain Anschluss and promoted the ephemeral Stresa Front against Germany in 1935.
Mussolini's foreign policy took a dramatic turn after the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–1936, when Italy invaded Ethiopia following border incidents occasioned by Italian inclusions over the vaguely drawn border between Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. Historians are still divided about the reasons for the attack on Ethiopia in 1935. Some Italian historians such as Franco Catalano and Giorgio Rochat argue that the invasion was an act of social imperialism, contending that the Great Depression had badly damaged Mussolini's prestige, and that he needed a foreign war to distract public opinion. Other historians such as Pietro Pastorelli have argued that the invasion was launched as part of an expansionist program to make Italy the main power in the Red Sea area and the Middle East. A middle way interpretation was offered by the American historian MacGregor Knox, who argued that the war was started for both foreign and domestic reasons, being both a part of Mussolini's long-range expansionist plans and intended to give Mussolini a foreign policy triumph that would allow him to push the Fascist system in a more radical direction at home. Italy's forces were far superior to the Abyssinian forces, especially in air power, and they were soon victorious. Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country, with Italy entering the capital city, Addis Ababa to proclaim an empire by May 1936, making Ethiopia part of Italian East Africa.
Confident of having been given free hand by French Premier Pierre Laval, and certain that the British and French would be forgiving because of his opposition to Hitler within the Stresa front, Mussolini received with disdain the economic sanctions imposed on Italy by initiative of London and Paris. In Mussolini's view, the move was a typically hypocritical action carried out by decaying imperial powers that intended to prevent the natural expansion of younger and poorer nations like Italy. In fact, although France and Britain had already colonized parts of Africa, the Scramble for Africa had finished by the beginning of the twentieth century. The international mood was now against colonialist expansion and Italy's actions were condemned. Furthermore, Italy was criticized for its use of mustard gas and phosgene against its enemies and also for its zero tolerance approach to enemy guerrillas, authorized by Mussolini. Between 1936-1941 during operations to "pacify" Ethiopia, the Italians killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian civilians, and are estimated to have killed about 7% of Ethiopia's total population. Mussolini ordered Marshal Rodolfo Graziani "to initiate and systematically conduct a policy of terror and extermination against the rebels and the population in complicity with them. Without a policy of ten eyes to one, we cannot heal this wound in good time". Mussolini personally ordered Graziani to execute the entire male population over the age of 18 in one town and in one district ordered that "the prisoners, their accomplices and the uncertain will have to be executed" as part of the "gradual liquidation" of the population. Believing the Eastern Orthodox Church was inspiring Ethiopians to resist, Mussolini ordered that Orthodox priests and monks were to be targeted in revenge for guerrilla attacks. Mussolini brought in Degree Law 880, which made miscegenation a crime punishable with five years in prison as Mussolini made it absolutely clear that he did not want his soldiers and officials serving in Ethiopia to ever have sex with Ethiopian women under any circumstances as he believed that multiracial relationships made his men less likely to kill Ethiopians. Mussolini favored a policy of brutality partly because he believed the Ethiopians were not a nation because black people were too stupid to have a sense of nationality and therefore the guerrillas were just "bandits". The other reason was because Mussolini was planning on bringing millions of Italian colonists into Ethiopia and he needed to kill off much of the Ethiopian population to make room for the Italian colonists just as he had done in Libya.
The sanctions against Italy were used by Mussolini as a pretext for an alliance with Germany. In January 1936, Mussolini told the German Ambassador Ulrich von Hassell that: "If Austria were in practice to become a German satellite, he would have no objection". By recognizing Austria was within the German sphere of influence, Mussolini had removed the principal problem in Italo-German relations.
On 11 July 1936 an Austro-German treaty was signed under which Austria declared itself to be a "German state" whose foreign policy would always be aligned with Berlin, and allowed for pro-Nazis to enter the Austrian cabinet. Mussolini had applied strong pressure on the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to sign the treaty in order to improve his relations with Hitler. After the sanctions against Italy ended in July 1936, the French tried hard to revive the Stresa Front, displaying what Sullivan called "... an almost humiliating determination to retain Italy as an ally". In January 1937, Britain signed a "Gentleman's Agreement" with Mussolini intended to limit Italian intervention in Spain, and was seen by the British Foreign Office as the first step towards creating an Anglo-Italian alliance. In April 1938, Britain and Italy signed the Easter Accords under which Britain promised to recognise Ethiopia as Italian in exchange for Italy pulling out of the Spanish Civil War. The Foreign Office understood that it was the Spanish Civil War that was pulling Rome and Berlin closer together, and believed if Mussolini could be persuaded to disengage from Spain, then he would return to the Entente camp. To get Mussolini out of Spain, the British were prepared to pay such prices such as recognising King Victor Emmanuel III as Emperor of Ethiopia. The American historian Barry Sullivan wrote that both the British and the French very much wanted a rapprochment with Italy to undo the damage caused by their sanctions, and that "Mussolini chose to ally with Hitler, rather than being forced..."
Reflecting the new pro-German foreign policy, on 25 October 1936, Mussolini agreed to form a Rome-Berlin Axis, sanctioned by a cooperation agreement with Nazi Germany and signed in Berlin. Furthermore, the conquest of Ethiopia cost the lives of 12,000 Italians and another 4,000 to 5,000 Libyans, Eritreans, and Somalis fighting in Italian service. Mussolini believed that conquering Ethiopia would cost 4 to 6 billion lire, but the true costs of the invasion proved to be 33.5 billion lire. The economic costs of the conquest proved to be a staggering blow to the Italian budget, and seriously retarded Italian efforts at military modernization as the money that Mussolini had earmarked for military modernization was instead spent in conquering Ethiopia, something that helped to drive Mussolini towards Germany. To help cover the huge debts run up during the Ethiopian war, Mussolini devalued the lire by 40% in October 1936. Furthermore, the costs of occupying Ethiopia was to cost the Italian treasury another 21.1 billion lire between 1936-1940. Additionally, Italy was to lose 4,000 men killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War while Italian intervention in Spain cost Italy another 12 to 14 billion lire. In the years 1938 and 1939, the Italian government took in 39.9 billion lire in taxes while the entire Italian gross national product was 153 billion lire, which meant the Ethiopian and Spanish wars imposed economically crippling costs on Italy. Only 28% of the entire military Italian budgets between 1934-39 was spent on military modernization with the rest all being consumed by Mussolini's wars, which led to a rapid decline in Italian military power. By contrast, reflecting the far larger size of the German economy, the total Italian military expenditure in 1936 was equal to only 27% of the total German military expenditure for 1936. The much greater size of the German economy allowed Hitler to both modernize the Wehrmacht and intervene in the Spanish Civil War at the same time, an option that Mussolini did not have. Between 1935-39, Mussolini's wars cost Italy the equivalent of $500 US billion dollars in 1999 values, a sum that was even proportionally a larger burden given that Italy was such a poor country. The 1930s were a time of rapid advances in military technology, and Sullivan wrote that Mussolini picked exactly the wrong time to fight his wars in Ethiopia and Spain. At the same time that the Italian military was falling behind the other great powers, a full scale arms race had broken out, with Germany, Britain and France spending increasingly large sums of money on their militaries as the 1930s advanced, a situation that Mussolini privately admitted seriously limited Italy's ability to fight a major war on its own, and thus required a great power ally to compensate for increasing Italian military backwardness.
From 1936 through 1939, Mussolini provided huge amounts of military support to the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. This active intervention on the side of Franco further distanced Italy from France and Britain. As a result, Mussolini's relationship with Adolf Hitler became closer. In May 1938, during Hitler's visit to Italy, Mussolini told the Führer that Italy and France were deadly enemies fighting on "opposite sides of the barricade" concerning the Spanish Civil War, and the Stresa Front was "dead and buried". At the Munich Conference in September 1938, Mussolini emulated Hitler, demanding the return of Venitia. The 1936 Axis agreement with Germany was strengthened by signing the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939, that bound together Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in a full military alliance.
European War[edit | edit source]
The gathering storm[edit | edit source]
By the late 1930s, Mussolini's obsession with demography led him to conclude that Britain and France were finished as powers, and that it was Germany and Italy who were destined to rule Europe if for no other reason than their demographic strength. Mussolini stated his belief that declining birth rates in France were "absolutely horrifying" and that the British Empire was doomed because one-quarter of the British population was over 50. As such, Mussolini believed that an alliance with Germany was preferable to an alignment with Britain and France as it was better to be allied with the strong instead of the weak. Mussolini saw international relations as a Social Darwinian struggle between "virile" nations with high birth rates that were destined to destroy "effete" nations with low birth rates. Mussolini believed that France was a "weak and old" nation as the French weekly death rate exceeded the birthrate by 2,000, and he had no interest in an alliance with France. Such was the extent of Mussolini's belief that it was Italy's destino to rule the Mediterranean because of Italy's high birth rate that Mussolini neglected much of the serious planning and preparations necessary for a war with the Western powers. The only arguments that held Mussolini back from full alignment with Berlin were his awareness of Italy's economic and military weakness, meaning he required further time to rearm, and his desire to use the Easter Accords of April 1938 as a way of splitting Britain from France. A military alliance with Germany as opposed to the already existing looser political alliance with the Reich under the Anti-Comintern Pact (which had no military commitments) would end any chance of Britain implementing the Easter Accords. The Easter Accords in turn were intended by Mussolini to allow Italy to take on France alone by sufficiently improving Anglo-Italian relations that London would presumably remain neutral in the event of a Franco-Italian war (Mussolini had imperial designs on Tunisia, and had some support in that country). In turn, the Easter Accords were intended by Britain to win Italy away from Germany. In the 8 November 1938 entry of his diary Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister, summed up the dictator's foreign policy objectives regarding France: "Tunisia would have to be ruled in common with France; Corsica, Italian and never Frenchified and therefore under our direct control, the border at the river Var." As for Savoy, which was not "historically or geographically Italian", Mussolini claimed that he was not interested in it. On 30 November 1938, Mussolini invited the French ambassador André François-Poncet to attend the opening of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, during which the assembled deputies, at his cue, began to demonstrate loudly against France, shouting that Italy should annex "Tunis, Nice, Corsica, Savoy!", which was followed by the deputies marching into the street carrying signs demanding that France turn over Tunisia, Savoy, and Corsica to Italy. The French Premier Édouard Daladier promptly rejected the Italian demands for territorial concessions, and for much of the winter of 1938-39, France and Italy were on the verge of war.
In January 1939, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Rome, during which visit, Mussolini learned that though Britain very much wanted better relations with Italy, and was prepared to make concessions, it would not sever all ties with France for the sake of an improved Anglo-Italian relationship. With that, Mussolini grew more interested in the German offer of a military alliance, which had first been made in May 1938. In February 1939, Mussolini gave a speech before the Fascist Grand Council, during which he proclaimed his belief that a state's power is "proportional to its maritime position" and that Italy was a "prisoner in the Mediterranean and the more populous and powerful Italy becomes, the more it will suffer from its imprisonment. The bars of this prison are Corsica, Tunisia, Malta, Cyprus: the sentinels of this prison are Gibraltar and Suez".
The new course was not without its critics. On 21 March 1939, during a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, Italo Balbo accused Mussolini of "licking Hitler's boots", blasted the Duce's pro-German foreign policy as leading Italy to disaster, and noted that the "opening to Britain" still existed and it was not inevitable that Italy had to ally with Germany. Though many gerarchi like Balbo were not keen on closer relations with Berlin, Mussolini's control of the foreign-policy machinery meant this dissidence counted for little. Mussolini had a leading position within the Fascist Party, but he did not totally dominate it as Balbo's attack on Mussolini for "licking Hitler's boots" and his demand that the "opening to Britain" be pursued at the meeting of the Fascist Grand Council together with what the Greek historian Aristotle Kallis called Mussolini's "relatively restrained" response shows; the Nazi Party had nothing equivalent to the Fascist Grand Council and it was inconceivable that one of Hitler's gauleiters would attack him in the same way that a gerarchi like Balbo criticized Mussolini. In April 1939, Mussolini ordered the Italian invasion of Albania. Italy defeated Albania within just five days, forcing king Zog to flee and setting up a period of Albania under Italy. Until May 1939, the Axis had not been entirely official, but during that month the Pact of Steel treaty was signed outlining the "friendship and alliance" between Germany and Italy, signed by each of its foreign ministers. The Pact of Steel was an offensive and defensive military alliance, though Mussolini had signed the treaty only after receiving a promise from the Germans that there would be no war for the next three years. Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III was also wary of the pact, favoring the more traditional Italian allies like France, and fearful of the implications of an offensive military alliance, which in effect meant surrendering control over questions of war and peace to Hitler.
Hitler was intent on using Italy to cause the collapse of the Austrian state, though Galeazzo Ciano warned this would likely lead to war with France and, through their alliance, with the USSR. Hitler dismissed Ciano's comment, predicting that instead that the Western countries would back down while the Soviet Union was not in a position to aid them, and he suggested that Italy should invade Austria. The offer was tempting to Mussolini, but at that stage a world war would be a disaster for Italy as the armaments situation from building the Italian Empire thus far was lean. Most significantly, Victor Emmanuel had demanded neutrality in the dispute. Thus when war in Europe began on 26 August 1939 with the Soviet invasion of Ukraine eliciting the response of Germany and Austria declaring war on the Soviets, Italy did not become involved in the conflict.
War declared[edit | edit source]
Template:Main article As the European War began, Ciano and Viscount Halifax were holding secret phone conversations. The British wanted Italy on their side against the spread of communism. French government opinion was more geared towards action against Italy; they were eager to attack Italy in Libya. In September 1939, France swung to the opposite extreme, offering to discuss issues with Italy, but as the French were unwilling to discuss Corsica, Nice and Savoy, Mussolini did not answer. Historian Alexander Gibson stated that France were certain that Italy would join the war on the Axis side, and tried to provoke Italy into fighting while she was still unprepared. In late November 1939, Adolf Hitler declared: "So long as the Duce lives, one can rest assured that Italy will seize every opportunity to achieve its imperialistic aims."
Convinced that the war would soon be over, with a German victory looking likely at that point, Mussolini decided to enter the war on the Axis side. Accordingly, Italy declared war on France and the USSR on 10 June 1940. Mussolini regarded the war against France and the USSR as a life-or-death struggle between opposing ideologies — Fascism and Bolshevism – describing the war as "the struggle of the fertile and young people against the sterile people moving to the sunset; it is the struggle between two ideas", and as a "logical development of our Revolution".
Italy joined the Germans in the Battle of France, fighting the fortified Alpine Line at the border. Just eleven days later, France and Germany signed an armistice. Included in Italian-controlled France were most of Nice and other southeastern counties. Meanwhile, major setbacks on the Eastern Front caused great concern in Italy. Within a few days of the Soviet attack on Budapest in November 1940, it was obvious Austria's army was on the brink of collapse. This led Hitler to summon Mussolini to a meeting in Feltre on 19 November 1940 over plans to stabilize the front. In March 1941, the Italian Second Army was commanded by General Vittorio Ambrosio and crossed from Italy into Austria; this would become the Anschluss.
Mussolini first learned of Operation Barbarossa after the offensive had begun on 22 June 1941, and was not asked by Hitler to involve himself. Mussolini took the initiative in ordering an Italian Army Corps to head to the Eastern Front, where he hoped that Italy might score an easy victory to restore the Fascist regime's luster, which had been damaged by lack of real involvement in the war. Mussolini told the Council of Ministers of 5 July that his only worry was that Germany might defeat the Soviet Union before the Italians arrived. At a meeting with Hitler in August, Mussolini offered and Hitler accepted the commitment of further Italian troops to fight the Soviet Union. The heavy losses suffered by the Italians on the Eastern Front, where service was extremely unpopular owing to the widespread view that this was not Italy's fight, did much to damage Mussolini's prestige with the Italian people
Path to defeat[edit | edit source]
On the international front, the period was dominated by the further overshadowing of Italy. The Italo-German split resulted in Joseph Goebbels' withdrawal of all German technical experts and aid from the country. The split concerned the leadership of new world order. Germany had a network of authoritarian parties it supported; Italy now attempted to create its own rival network to battle it out for local control of the right in numerous countries. The split resulted from Goebbels' more moderate Nazi leadership after the death of Hitler in September 1949.
Mussolini had established himself as the founder of Fascist thought well before the formation of the National Socialist German Workers Party, and therefore Hitler never challenged the suitability of any Fascist doctrine (at least publicly). Upon the death of Hitler, Mussolini believed (perhaps because of seniority) that the leadership of authoritarian doctrine would return to him. The resulting tension between Goebbles (at the head of a politically and militarily superior government), and Mussolini (believing he had a superior understanding of ideology) eroded the previous patron-client relationship between the National Fascist Party and the Nazi's. In Italy, the formerly favored Nazi's were now denounced as "revisionists" and listed alongside "American domination" as movements to oppose.
Archival material suggests that Italy's decision to invade Greece was Mussolini's initiative, not a German one. Evidence suggests that German intelligence, through its espionage sources in the US government and British SIS, had obtained information on the limitations of US atomic bomb stockpiles as well as defense program cuts, leading Goebbles to conclude that the Truman administration would not intervene in Greece.
In October 1950, Mussolini sent Italian forces into Greece, starting the Greco-Italian War. After initial success, this backfired as the Greek counterattack proved relentless, resulting in Italy losing one-quarter of Albania. When addressing the Italian public on the events, Mussolini was completely open about the situation, saying "We call bread bread and wine wine, and when the enemy wins a battle it is useless and ridiculous to seek, as the English do in their incomparable hypocrisy, to deny or diminish it." Part of his comment was in relation to earlier success the Italians had in the USSR, before suffering heavy casualties later. In danger of losing the control of the Mediterranean, Mussolini ordered an Italian offensive in Greece, where he hoped that Italy might score a victory to restore the Fascist regime's luster, which had been damaged by previous defeats in Greece and North Africa.
Dismissed and arrested[edit | edit source]
By late 1951, Italy's military position had become untenable. After the failed Spring Offensive through out March of 1951, Italian troops had to retreat to where they were finally defeated in the Tunisia Campaign in early 1952. The UN invasion of Sicily brought the war to the nation's very doorstep. The Italian home front was also in bad shape as the UN bombings were taking their toll. Factories all over Italy were brought to a virtual standstill because raw materials, such as coal and oil, were lacking. Additionally, there was a chronic shortage of food, and what food was available was being sold at nearly confiscatory prices. Mussolini's once-ubiquitous propaganda machine lost its grip on the people; a large number of Italians turned to Vatican Radio or Radio London for more accurate news coverage. Discontent came to a head in March 1952 with a wave of labor strikes in the industrial north—the first large-scale strikes since 1925. Also in March, some of the major factories in Milan and Turin stopped production to secure evacuation allowances for workers' families.
Earlier in April 1952, Ciano had begged Mussolini request the aid of German troops to guard against an expected UN invasion of Italy. Mussolini feared that with the losses in Tunisia and North Africa, the next logical step for Dwight Eisenhower's armies would be to come across the Mediterranean and attack the Italian peninsula. However Mussolini ignored this fear believing the UN would still focus on reinforcing Greece before attacking Italy. Within a few days of the UN landings on Sicily in July 1952, it was obvious Mussolini's army was on the brink of collapse. His mood darkened further when on 19 July 1952, the UN air forces bombed Rome—the first time that city had ever been the target of enemy bombing.
By this point, some prominent members of Mussolini's government had turned against him. Among them were Grandi and Ciano. Several of his colleagues were close to revolt, and Mussolini was forced to summon the Grand Council of Fascism on 24 July 1952. This was the first time that body had met since the start of the war. When he announced that the he was thinking of evacuating the south, Grandi launched a blistering attack on him. Grandi moved a resolution asking the king to resume his full constitutional powers which was, in effect, a vote of no confidence in Mussolini. This motion carried by a 19–8 margin. Despite this sharp rebuke, Mussolini showed up for work the next day as usual. He allegedly viewed the Grand Council as merely an advisory body and did not think the vote would have any substantive effect. That afternoon, he was summoned to the royal palace by King Umberto II, who had been planning to oust Mussolini earlier. When Mussolini tried to tell the king about the meeting, Umberto cut him off and told him that he was being replaced by Marshal Ettore Bastico. After Mussolini left the palace, he was arrested by Carabinieri on the king's orders.
By this time, discontent with Mussolini was so intense that when the news of his downfall was announced on the radio, there was no resistance of any sort. People rejoiced because they thought it meant the war was over. In an effort to conceal his location from the Germans, Mussolini was moved around before being imprisoned at Campo Imperatore, a mountain resort in Abruzzo where he was completely isolated. Bastico announced that the war would end. He dissolved the Fascist Party two days after taking over and began negotiating an Armistice with the UN, which was signed on 3 September 1952. Its announcement five days later threw Italy into chaos.