Fascism was born during a period of social and political unrest during and
following the First World War when liberal democracy was seen as sickly, corrupt
and effete. The war had seen Italy, born from the Italian unification less than a
century earlier, begin to develop a sense of nationalism, rather than its traditional
regionalism.Fascism was the vision of Benito Mussolini in alliance with the
Syndicalist Michele Bianchi, Arditi veterans like Captain Ferruccio Vecchi and
others. Mussolini created the Fascist movement specifically to oppose what he felt
was the treachery of Internationalist Socialism after he left the Socialist Newspaper
Avanti! in 1914. He left the Socialist movement specifically over first the question
of Italian Neutrality and subsequently over the entry of Italy into World War I.
Fascism would come to be defined by these two characteristics; opposition to
Socialism and explicit nationalism. On leaving Avanti! Mussolini founded the
paper Il Popolo d'Italia. This paper would become the party organ of the Fascist
movement. He also joined the Italian Army where he fought in the war and was
wounded. When the war ended, in 1919 he sensed the opportunity to gain power,
and despite his movement being a minority of Italians moved to make his vision of
Fascism a reality. In doing so he used the methods of organized violence,
propaganda, and sometimes powerful but often Machiavellian logic. These too
would become characteristic of Italian Fascism and its other nationalist cousins.
Conditions that enabled the rise of the Fascists
Despite the Kingdom of Italy being a fully fledged Allied Power during the war
against the Central Powers, Italy was given what nationalists considered an unfair
deal at the Treaty of Saint-Germain; which they saw as the other allies "blocking"
Italy from progressing to a major power. The fascists would exploit Italian
Nationalism, and their sense of the failure of democracy, socialism and liberalism
in their rise to power.
The Allies told Italy to hand over the city of Fiume at the Paris Peace Conference.
Fiume had not been significant to the majority of Italians until early 1919, and the
the town was not included in the Treaty of London, a wartime territorial agreement
between Italy and the Allies. This saw war veteran Gabriele d'Annunzio declaring
the independent state Italian Regency of Carnaro. He positioned himself as Duce
of the nation and declared a constitution, the Charter of Carnaro which was highly
influential to early Fascism, though he himself never became a fascist.
The other source for the power of the Fascists was labor unrest in the countryside
and peasant opposition to international socialism. Mussolini had been a socialist
and knew how to inspire workers. Even so, in an afternoon speech given by
Mussolini in 1919, he declared that "We declare war on socialism, not because it is
socialist, but because it has opposed nationalism...." Between 1920 and 1921,
fascists began to appeal both to Italian industrialists and landowners in the
countryside. Both groups were opposed to efforts of socialist workers to gain
power by strikes in the factories and countryside. Charles F. Delzell writes:
At first, the Fascists were concentrated in Milan and a few other cities. They
gained ground quite slowly between 1919 and 1920; not until after the scare
brought about by the workers "occupation of the factories" in the late summer of
1920 did fascism become really widespread. The industrialists began to throw their
financial support to it. Moreover, toward the end of 1920, fascism began to spread
into the countryside, bidding for the support of large landowners, particularly in
the area between Bologna and Ferrara, a traditional stronghold of the left and scene
of frequent violence. Socialist and Catholic organizer of farm hands in that region,
Venezia Giulia, Tuscany, and even distant Apulia were soon attacked by squads of
Fascists, armed with castor oil, blackjacks, and more lethal weapons. The era of
Squadrismo and nightly expeditions to burn Socialist and Catholic labor
headquarters had begun.
Rise to power
The war had left Italy with inflation, large debts, unemployment aggravated by
demobilisation of thousands of soldiers and social unrest with strikes,attempts at
insurrection by anarchists, socialists and communists, as well as a breeding ground
for organised crime. The democratically elected Liberal government had no means
to control the unrest, so when Benito Mussolini took matters into his own hands to
combat the social unrest by organising the paramilitary blackshirts, made up of
former socialists and war veterans, Prime Ministers such as Giovanni Giolitti
allowed them to continue. The government preferred this class collaboration
orientated movement, to the prospect of a greatly feared bloody class war coming
to Italy by the hand of the communists, following the recent Russian Revolution.
Within The Manifesto of the Fascist Struggle the initial stances of Fascism were
outlined, requesting amongst other things voting rights for women, insertion of a
minimum wage, insertion of an eight-hour workday for all workers and
reorganisation of public transport such as railways. By the early 1920s, popular
support for the fascist's fight against "Bolshevism" had increased to around
250,000. The Fascisti were transformed into the National Fascist Party in 1921,
with Mussolini being elected to the Chamber of Deputies the same year, enterting
legitimate politics. The Liberals retained power but Prime Ministers came and
went at a fast pace, Luigi Facta's government was particularly unstable and
dithering. The fascists had enough of what they considered a weak parliamentary
democracy process and organised the March on Rome in an effort to take power,
with promises of restoring Italian pride, reviving the economy, increasing
productivity, ending harmful government controls and furthering law and order.
Whilst the march was taking place king Victor Emmanuel III made Mussolini
Prime Minister and thus the march turned into a victory parade, the Fascists
believed their success was both revolutionary and traditionalist.
Until 1925, when Alberto de Stefani ceased to be Minister of Economics, policies
were mostly in line with classical liberalism (suppression of inheritance and luxury
tax, suppression of taxes on foreign capital ; life insurance transferred to private
enterprises in 1923 , state monopoly on telephones and matches was abandoned,
etc.). However, this policy did not contradict seemingly opposite-minded ones:
various banking and industrial companies were financially supported by the state.
One of Mussolini's first acts was to fund the metallurgical trust Ansaldo to the
height of 400 millions Liras. Following the deflation crisis which started in 1926,
banks such as the Banco di Roma, the Banco di Napoli or the Banco di Sicilia were
also assisted by the state. In 1924, the Unione Radiofonica Italiana (URI) was
formed by private entrepreneurs and part of the Marconi group, and granted the
same year a monopoly of radio broadcasts. URI became after the war the RAI.
Starting in 1925, Italy's policies became more protectionist. Tariffs of grains were
increased in an attempt to strengthen domestic production ("Battle for Grain"),
which was ultimately a failure. Thus, according to historian Denis Mack Smith
(1981), "Success in this battle was... another illusory propaganda victory won at
the expense of the Italian economy in general and consumers in particular". He
also pointed out "Those who gained were the owners of the Latifondia and the
propertied classes in general... his policy conferred a heavy subsidy on the
Affected by the Great Depression, the Italian state attempted to respond to it both
by elaborating public works programs such as the taming of the Pontine Marshes,
developing hydroelectricity, improving the railways which in the process improved
job opportunities, and launching military rearmement. The Istituto per la
Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) institute was created in 1933, with the aim of
subsiding floundering companies. It soon controlled important parts of the
economy, through government-linked companies, including Alfa Romeo.
Economically Italy improved with the GNP growing at 2% a year; automobile
production was increasing especially those owned by Fiat, its aeronautical
industry was making advances. Mussolini also championed agrarianism as part of
what he called battles for Land, Lira and Grain; in aims of propaganda, he
physically took part in these activities alongside the workers creating a strong
Relations with Vatican and others
Through various outlets including everything from stamps to monumental
architectural and sculptural works, the Fascists made Italians of every social class
aware of the country's rich cultural heritage, including Roman, medieval,
Renaissance and Baroque periods through to the modern age.
Fascism declared war on the Mafia and organised crime, to defeat it the fascists did
so on the terms which the Mafia itself had used for so long – violence and honour.
Mussolini received praises from a wide range of figures, such as Winston
Churchill, Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas
Edison. It was under Mussolini that the long standing Roman Question was
concluded with the Lateran Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See,
this allowed the Holy See to have a tiny microstate within the city of Rome; the
move was brought about due to most Italians being religiously Catholic.
The Fascist accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide; he
rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, life which should be
high and full, lived for oneself, but not above all for others – those who are at hand
and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after.
—Giovanni Gentile in the The Doctrine of Fascism, signed by Benito Mussolini,
Influence outside Italy
The Italian model of fascism was influential outside of Italy in the inter-war period
and a number of groups and thinkers looked directly to Italy for their inspiration
rather than developing an indigenous form of the ideology. Groups that sought to
copy the Italian model of fascism included the Russian Fascist Organization, the
Romanian National Fascist Movement (an amalgam of the National Romanian
Fascia and the National Italo-Romanian Cultural and Economic Movement) and
the Dutch group based around the Verbond van Actualisten journal of H. A.
Sinclair de Rochemont and Alfred Haighton and, to some extent, Adolf Hitler's
In Switzerland Colonel Arthur Fonjallaz, who had previously been associated with
the more pro-Nazi National Front, became an ardent admirer of Mussolini after
visiting Italy in 1932. He came to advocate the annexation of Switzerland by his
idol, whilst also receiving some financial aid from the Italian leader. The country
also hosted the International Centre for Fascist Studies (CINEF) and the 1934
congress of the Action Committee for the Universality of Rome (CAUR), two
In Spain early fascist writer Ernesto Giménez Caballero called for Italy to annex
Spain in his 1932 book Genio de España, with Mussolini at the head of an
international Latin Roman Catholic empire. He would later become more closely
associated with Falangism, leading to his ideas of Italian annexation being put