Fascist Italy Overview By Jeremy Schrader, Class of 2010 Overview The suffering of Italy in this period followed a pattern all too familiar to European nations after WWI. The economy in shambles, a government losing influence and a people divided and disillusioned by the deeply traumatic experiences of war were left to move uncertainly toward the future. Against such a backdrop the reformation of the European nations played out, with Italy finding its personal reprieve in the form of a young upstart: Benito Mussolini. Gaining power by gaming the new and the old, the right and the left, and playing each side carefully, this man shaped the postwar period to his will, emerging from a time of divisive unrest to lead his country forward. The Postwar Groundswell The time of Mussolini’s uprising was indeed brief following the close of WWI in 1919. Almost immediately following the war’s end, Premier Vittorio Orlando suffered politically from perceived mismanagement of the Italian position at the Paris Peace Conference, attaining only small territorial gains that were insignificant compared to Italy’s war debts. Mass strikes and worker organizations rose up while unemployment ran high; many felt and feared the spectre of Communism looming as the effects of postwar depression shook the nation. The government remained destabilized, and incidents of fighting broke out between extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. Out of the mayhem of these “Two Red Years” emerged Mussolini’s Fascist party and Blackshirt paramilitaries. With political backing from the Fascists, new Premier Giovanni Giolitti rose to power in 1920, promptly turning a blind eye to the heavy-handed violence of the Fascists. Giolitti’s election ushered in a succession of weak governments while the Fascists began to dominate both the political atmosphere and maintain de facto control of large portions of Italy. By 1921, however, socialists began to make deep political inroads, undermining Giolitti’s control. Seizing this as an opportunity, Mussolini joined with the socialists to gain further power and clear his used pawn from the board. This played out perfectly later as Mussolini, empowered by 1922 with control of the largest political party in Italy, marched on Rome to receive power from King Victor Emmanuel III. Political Dominance Upon gaining premiership in October of 1922, Mussolini formed a legislative coalition that included each section of politicians. This last flame of coalition and democracy quickly perished, however, with the passing of the Acerbo Law of 1923, which stated that any party taking 25% of the vote in an election would gain two-thirds of all parliamentary seats—in essence giving the Fascists complete totalitarian control of Italy under Mussolini. From the first election in 1924, Mussolini moved swiftly to remove all checks on his power, forced cooperation where not given with his Blackshirts and maintained complete control over Italy until the end of WWII in Europe in 1945. While the King remained, his position was reduced to that of a figurehead, while Mussolini and his Fascist Council held the true power of Italy. Foreign Policy Mussolini promptly embarked on a path towards a “New Roman Empire” abroad as he had often espoused to his nation as the goal of his government. Mussolini moved to control portions of Africa in the East and North, meeting with limited success as those attempting to prevent Italian rule created civil war. “Italia irredenta,” as it had been known for so long, also captured Mussolini’s attention. He entreated with Hitler to keep south Tyrol—despite its vast majority of German inhabitants—against the possibility of Austrian claims, and occupied the small Greek island of Corfu in 1922; he would later attempt to take more of several nearby areas such as the islands and Dalmatia (Yugoslavia) in an attempt to once again see Italian control of the Mediterranean. Mussolini would begin to move in particularly on Albania and Ethiopia as the years progressed, invading both with force in 1939. The Hoare-Laval Pact would later result in an attempt to partition Ethiopia in favor of Italy, in an Allied move to please Mussolini in exchange for help. In the same year, he signed the “Pact of Steel” with Hitler, supposedly guaranteeing mutual aid if either nation were attacked. Each of these foreign policies would begin to erode as time passed and fissures appeared in Mussolini’s plans. Domestic Decisions At home, Mussolini brokered the Lateran Accords, solidifying three key points between the government and the church: the Vatican and the Holy See were fully recognized as a sovereign nation, Catholicism was adopted by the Italian government as the national religion, and a settlement was made regarding the claims the Vatican had long made against Italy asking for reparations after the Holy See’s loss of land and power in 1870. In education, Mussolini addressed the nation’s high illiteracy rate by raising the mandatory age of school attendance from twelve to fourteen and also adopted a broad policy of Fascist promotion and indoctrination in schools. Mussolini also endeavored to make his nation more self-sufficient, instituting a “War on Wheat” intended to remove Italy’s reliance on imports of grain from the United States and Canada. While this policy did eliminate a large portion of need for importation of wheat, overall the economy did not benefit, as agricultural production declined in other crop areas. Crackdowns on the Mafia and strong efforts towards ensuring maximum obedience and efficiency in the nation rounded out Mussolini’s domestic policies—but he never did manage to make the trains run on time. Domestic Policies under Benito Mussolini Toby Heinemann, Class of 2010 Overview Mussolini's domestic policies placed heavy emphasis on nationalistic interests and production, with the aim of creating a self-sufficient and modernized Italy. Although private property was maintained and some degree of free market continued, the economy was primarily coordinated by the government through both direct and indirect means. As with many regimes of the time, dissenters were put down without hesitation by a broad-reaching and powerful secret police. The Lateran Treaty, between the Vatican and Italy as a whole, finally settled land issues and political disputes between the Church and Italy as a whole. Mussolini also established himself as a public figure—'Il Duce'—and utilized a combination of terror tactics, indoctrination and propaganda to ensure his continued command. Ultimately, Mussolini desired a more ordered and efficient Italian lifestyle. The 'Corporate State' Mussolini's efforts to increase the productivity and selfsufficiency of Italy began in earnest in 1921, when a series of protective tariffs were levied on foreign imports to lower competition and aid Italian industry. In 1927, the Labor Charter was passed, promising to bring 'government, employers, and workers together into one group.' In effect, this Charter reorganized all of Italy's industry into 22 massive corporations, each essentially one 'field' of industrial development—so all metal-works became a single aggregate corporation, etc. . The workers and individual employers within each corporation were given (virtual) representation in the government, and all workers were automatically provided with health and accident insurance by whichever corporation they were serving. However, the workers could not go on strike, relying instead on an elaborate appeals process to make any changes to working hours, wages, or conditions. These changes were rarely, if ever, implemented due to the system of representation in the government—workers would often be discriminated against by employers and government officials, both of whom could veto any proposed alterations to existing conditions. Ultimately, the Labor Charter met with very little success, although it was maintained throughout Mussolini's reign. War on Wheat The first of several great 'domestic wars' Mussolini instigated, the War on Wheat (also called the Battle for Wheat) was designed to increase the production of wheat within Italy, the goal being the creation of a truly self-sufficient state. Essentially, the War on Wheat forced farmers to optimize wheat over all other crops, which actually led to a vastly reduced yield of vegetables and other products throughout the nation. Further, agricultural lands were expanded broadly, often into areas better suited to other crops. Although grain production nearly doubled and imports decreased by almost 75%, the production of all other food products decreased drastically. Foreign imports of meats, vegetables and other foodstuffs increased dramatically, causing an increase in price and general damage to Italy's economy. Interestingly, though the price of grain did drop substantially, even at the height of its own production it would still have been cheaper for Italy to import all of its grain from the US—essentially rendering the War on Wheat a massive waste of effort. War for the Lira Another 'domestic war,' the War for the Lira (also called the Battle for the Lira) was essentially a power play aimed at both increasing morale and heightening Italy's prestige both nationally and internationally. Mussolini decreed that Italy's currency, the Lira, was worth substantially more than its actual market value. At first, this was viewed very positively by the Italian people, as it represented a bold and aggressive example of their nation's power. However, it quickly began to create major problems. Foreign trade, already stymied by high protective tariffs and a lowered export rate, took a sharp decline as other nations realized their buying price on Italian goods was much greater than the actual worth of items, while their sales accrued far less than their products were worth. Within Italy, the few remaining smaller companies and independent businesses were rapidly overtaken by larger ones, putting many out of work or in less-than-ideal positions. Broadly speaking, the War for the Lira was a complete failure, although it did slightly increase morale throughout Italy during the first few months of its implementation. Lateran Treaty More or less the one succesful element of Mussolini's domestic policy, the Lateran Treaty finally ended a long series of disputes and rivalries between the Vatican and Italy. For a long time, the 'Roman Question,' as it was known, had been causing difficulties not only in Rome, but in Italy's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. During early Italian unification, the papacy was restricted to only a small cluster of buildings within the Vatican, the rest of the city technically under the jurisdiction of the Italian government. Several Popes complained about being 'prisoners' within the Vatican—although this situation was originally arranged between Pius XII and the troops of the unification. The Lateran Treaty finally resolved these problems, establishing the 108.7 acres of the Vatican City as it exists today and granting sovereign rule of this area to the Pope and Roman Catholic Church. It also gave the new nation full political recognition and clearly delineated the exact extent to which the Church was allowed to influence Italy (still a Roman Catholic nation). Although somewhat voided once Mussolini lost power, the Lateran Treaty and its principles have been upheld since it was first established. Social Policies Beyond economic controls and failed morale boosters, Mussolini also established several social 'reforms' in his attempt to create a more powerful Italian state. Like many other fascist leaders, Mussolini made heavy use of a secret police force to ensure his policies were being followed and eliminate dissenters by force. To reinforce his control, Mussolini used the media as a weapon, demonizing his enemies and promoting his own interests. He also utilized propaganda as an effective tool, framing himself as (the) great 'Il Duce' (literally 'The Leader') and attempting to indoctrinate the youth into his military and political forces. The latter was executed through a combination of youth programs (à la Hitler Youth) and a complete restructuring of the educational system throughout Italy. Essentially, Mussolini replaced all historical material with pro-fascist renditions, emphasizing the glory and power of Italy, while he simultaneously banned the vast majority of other books that might conflict with this propaganda. Interestingly, he also emphasized the teaching of philosophy and the humanities, though obviously with the same fascist twist. Overall, his educational reforms (consolidated under the 1923 Education Act) were rather successful, maintaining a high literacy rate and a decent standard of learning (with the notable exception of some subjects—particularly history). Summary Mussolini's attempts to enhance the Italian economy and place in world politics all failed significantly, often placing Italy in a worse position than before their implementation. However, his social policies, particularly his educational 'reforms,' achieved relative success. The Lateran Treaty, his one real success, finally ended the issue of Church/State relations in Italy and recognized the Vatican as a sovereign power. The Era of Mussolini Overall, the period of Italian history from 1919 to 1939 centers around the life of one man: Benito Mussolini. As his wildly juxtaposed episodes of clever political intrigue and sheer brute force, his dedication to military and national excellence and yet his shortfalls there to a man he considered inferior, his astronomical ascension and his grisly, unceremonious end illustrate, Mussolini passed through the sea of Italian history leaving an enigmatic but undeniably powerful wake. Mussolini's Foreign Policy (Did not receive an article on this subject) Restoration of a modern Roman Empire Block German designs on Austria and protect the Brenner Pass, the historic invasion route into Itlay. Avenge the 1896 defeat at Adowa in Ethiopia Greater Italian sphere of Influence in the Mediterranean. They wish to cooperate with the British and French, at least at first. Work within the League of Nations and cooperation with Britain and France Greater influence in the Balkans (esp. Albania and Greece, with conflicting land claims with Yugoslavia). Greater influence in North Africa, especially Libya. Maintain a large Italian navy to support a Mediterranean presence. But lack of oil is a constant problem with such a navy. German-Italian Alliance to allow Italy to meet its goals after France and Britain insist on the legal-moral aspects of the Versailles system Ethiopia/Abyssianan Crisis of 1935-36 causes a break with Britain and France. Hitler offers support in Ethiopia and a guarantee over the Brenner Pass/South Tyrol region. Mussolini accepts, and this creates the "Axis of Europe," or, "Rome-Berlin Axis." This starts the destruction of the League of Nations as an effective peace-keeping organization. The new Axis Powers cooperate to convert the League into little more than an AngloFrench system to protect their interests. With Hitler, Mussolini can now threaten Egypt and Tunisia from Libya. Hitler, and later, Stalin conspire with Mussolini to redraw the map of Eastern Europe to where the three powers can now satisfy their land claims. Mussolini is invited to the Munich Conference in 1938 to settle the problem of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. Mussolini pressures Hitler to avoid war and to accept British offers of Appeasement.