Soraya Ghebleh - Mussolini


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This paper looks at Mussolini and the growth of fascism in Italy.

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Soraya Ghebleh - Mussolini

  1. 1. Soraya Ghebleh In the post World War I era, the economic and political situation in much of Europe was extremely volatile. Italy, a lesser European power, was very much part of this trend and in fact exited the war in an exceptionally delicate state. Italy already had many problems with its political parties and structure before WWI, that were only exacerbated by divided opinion over Italy’s involvement in the war and the consequences that followed. By the time the war was over, there was extreme political instability and social unrest with violence quickly becoming the norm between the various political parties struggling to maintain power and influence. Fascism emerged as a small, right wing movement that managed to gain support as a result of the disillusionment carried by many Italians towards the political system, the fear of communism, economic depression, and the appeal to a strong, national identity which Italy yearned for in the post WWI era. Benito Mussolini, a former journalist and political activist, became the leader of Fascism and quickly led it out of obscurity. Being officially appointed Prime Minister by King Victor Emanuel in 1922, Mussolini fostered and assured the spread of Fascism in Italy in the 1920s and 30s by various different means and assumed the role of absolute dictator as early as 1925. One of Mussolini’s tactics to safeguard this role was releasing propaganda that justified his authoritarian role; exemplified in an article he wrote in 1932 for the Encyclopedia Italiana, called “What is Fascism.” In this article, Mussolini has the dual objectives of both laying out the fundamental beliefs of his doctrine for Italy and the rest of the world, as well as providing justification for his dictatorial leadership, inflexible state policies, and expansionist ambitions.
  2. 2. By 1932, Fascism had been well established in Italy but this was not always the case. The social, economic, and political conditions of Italy in the first 20 years of the 20th century allowed fascism to quickly pop up and become the dominant ideology within a few short years after the war ended. The liberal parties that were dominant were under attack by the rising Socialistand Catholic movements who held the liberal parties as corrupt, inefficient, and out of touch with the needs of the Italian people. As Italy began to industrialize primarily in the North, the South remained unindustrialized, rural, and backwards in comparison to the rest of Italy and the rest of Europe and this disparity quickly became a source of tension and conflict.1Italy’s economic problems before the war stemmed from inefficient agriculture and state-led industrialization that generated colossal debt. With the onset of war, Italy’s decision to become involved catalyzed a split in opinion between the existing political parties. In the aftermath of the war, there were a variety of crisis from food shortages, inflation, unemployment, and a disproportionate industrial sector that leaned towards the production of wartime materials.2The capacity for the liberal leaders to cope with the transformed political economy of Italy became very limited in the time period between 1919-1922. The large population of men re-entering society, high off fighting war were to be left unemployed and disenchanted.3The social unrest and national grievances that afflicted Italy, the violence that was taking place between political groups, and fear 1Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy. (New York, 1994), 4. 2Townley, Edward, Musolini and Italy. (London, 2002). 17-20. 3Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy. (New York, 1994),10.
  3. 3. of a “Bolshevik” style revolution initiated King Victor Emmanuel to appoint Mussolini as the Prime Minister in 1922 with the hopes of restoring order to Italy. Mussolini was the creator of the version of fascism described in his article for the national encyclopedia of Italy. He knew he was writing a document that would be referred back to when attempting to discern exactly what the title asks, “What is Fascism?” Mussolini’s background as a brilliant journalist served as a great asset for him in his attempts to create a truly fascist state because much of his ideas, justifications, and laws were disseminated through state-controlled media.4By 1932, the practice of fascism as a means of rule had been established in Italy for ten years and by this time it can be assumed that even if the people did not know every principle of fascism, they knew what living under a fascist regime was like. This article was the culmination of a decade of Mussolini’s refinement of his own ideas put into practice. When fascism initially appeared after WWI, it took on many shapes and forms and for the first five to six years of Mussolini’s rule he spent vast amounts of energy trying to consolidate and strengthen a unified fascism that would serve as the “doctrine of the present century.” Mussolini systematically delineates the most important principles of fascism in a very concise and matter of fact manner. He uses dramatic, elevated rhetoric that conveys a sense of urgency requiring fascism’s implementation into every aspect of society, implying attempted use of any other method to govern society as being absurd. In a post WWI era where the majority of Europe was enamored by 4 McDonald, Hamish, Musolini and Italian Fascism. (London, 1999), 26-29.
  4. 4. Wilsonian ideals of diplomacy and cooperation, Mussolini elaborates on the impossibility and lack of “utility of perpetual peace.”5 Fascism maintains that war is the only place where men can show true courage because they are faced with “alternatives of life or death.” Mussolini also refers to the importance of “empire,” or the “expansion of nations- as a manifestation of vitality,” with the opposite of “stay- at-home principles, as a sign of decadence.”6 In 1932, this may not have seemed a threat to the majority of European nations but in retrospect, this was a warning of Mussolini’s intentions to expand Italy into a much greater power with seizure of land by force if need be for the good of the State. Mussolini kept a large standing army and supported expansion as exemplified by his activities in Corfu, Ethiopia and Libya in the early 1930s.7Mussolini was able to justify unwarranted military aggressionand idealize war by penning it as something to strive for and as a strength and sign of heroism and courage. In this way Mussolini managed to appeal to his citizens to support his campaigns in Northern Africa and wherever else he decided to fight. Mussolini wanted to dominate the Mediterranean and claim African and Middle Eastern territories but was hindered by the creation of the League of Nations and the state of Yugoslavia.8Mussolini denouncedthe League of Nations and other international institutions as being opposite to “the spirit of fascism.”9It can be easy to recognize, 5 Michael E. McGuire, ed. As It Actually Was: A History of International Relations Through Documents 1823-1945 (Boston, 2008), 174. 6McGuire, ed., 174. 7Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy. (New York, 1994),10. 8Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy. (New York, 1994),10. 9 McGuire, ed., 174
  5. 5. however, that in the 1920s as previously mentioned, it was the League of Nations that prevented Mussolini from achieving his expansionist goals so he may have developed his distaste as a result and incorporated it into his refined version of fascism. Mussolini writes strongly against both democracy and Marxism. When Mussolini was developing his ideas about fascism the decade before he was elected to government, he was influenced by what he saw around him. Starting as a left- wing journalist promoting socialism, his support of Italy’s involvement in the war caused him to phase away from socialism and he surrounded himself with an eclectic group of radical republicans, right wing nationalists, and syndicalists who promoted trade unions as a means of political change.10Mussolini believed Italian involvement in war would eventually lead to Revolution. Mussolini’s great aversion to Marxism and historical materialism as touched on in his article may have stemmed from witnessing the failures of the working class in Italy to achieve any kind of political organization, believing them to be incapable of any kind of revolution. Denial of democracy comes from Mussolini pronouncing an assured “beneficial inequality of men,” with political equality being nothing more than an “absurd conventional falsehood.”11 While democracy and Marxism socialism are two exceedingly divergent doctrines, both require participation from the people and do not emphasize the power of an authoritarian ruler. Neither doctrine puts power in the State, both put 10Blinkhorn, 14. 11 McGuire, ed., 174
  6. 6. power in the people. Mussolini was a totalitarian ruler who controlled every aspect of the state so if he wanted the population of his nation to remain loyal and support him, he needed to justify his leadership in a way that made authoritarian rule appealing rather than constricting. Nowhere in this statement does Mussolini mention or emphasize the role of the leader of the Fascist state, rather he mentions what principles a Fascist state requires such as “discipline, coordination of effort, duty, and sacrifice.”12 By focusing on the State instead of the leadership, he is able to express how he wants individuals to be subjugated to the will of the State without actually mentioning himself. The ultimate “absolute” power, before which “individuals and groups” are relative, belongs to the State. In the reality of Mussolini’s rule, however, it can be rationalized that the “absolute” nature and power of the State and the succumbing of individuals and groups to the needs of the State was transferred to Mussolini himself. The State should be “strong, organic,” and is “not the tyrannical State of a medieval lord.”13 Mussolini uses this comparison with great purpose. He states that if a State is composed of individuals who recognize the power of the State and are ready to serve that state it will not be the tyrannical State but in reality he led Fascist Italy like a tyrant. This phrasing, however, creates an issue of perception. From one point of view, Mussolini may seem like he is a tyrant but here he argues that if the individuals in a fascist state truly adhered to pure fascism they wouldn’t see Mussolini as a tyrant. 12 McGuire, ed., 174 13 McGuire, ed., 174
  7. 7. In a time where Italy did not feel as strong as many of its European counterparts, Mussolini invoked feelings of nationalism and solidarity and because he was anti-Communist at a time where many people in Europe feared the spread of Communism, he was given allowances for many of his brutal and terrorist methods of enforcement. His diction throughout the article is very forceful, with very descriptive adjectives that create a grandiose image of what the perfect Fascist state would be. Mussolini was known to encourage the connection between Fascist Italy and Ancient Rome, fashioning himself to be one of the Caesars with fascism leading the way to a revival of Italy as a new center of civilization.14This fantasy coupled with his notion that fascism is “the doctrine of the present century,” demonstrates how strongly he believed fascism was the best way for Italy to survive. The propaganda that was famous during Mussolini’s fascist regime was very effective and this article is a great representation of how Mussolini was able to not only justify his totalitarian regime and his foreign policy but to also claim to have founded a doctrine that would be the most important of his time. 14Blinkhorn, Martin, Mussolini and Fascist Italy. (New York, 1994),10.