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The Rise of Fascism and
the Creation of the
Totalitarian State
• Italo Balbo was disgusted with life in Italy. He
had gone off to war in a spirit of patriotism. He
returned to a land of economic chaos and
political corruption.
“I hated politics and politicians, who in my
opinion, had betrayed the hopes of soldiers,
reducing Italy to a shameful peace…Better to
deny everything, destroy everything, in order to
renew everything from the foundations.”
Embittered and angry, Balbo joined a
new movement called Fascism.
• When Italy entered WWI on the side of the
Entente Powers (the Allies), her leaders
hoped the war would resolve several of
Italy’s problems. It didn’t.
• Italy’s people were predominately poor
and illiterate, Italy had few natural
resources, and only 2% of the population
was eligible to vote.
• The war cost Italy over 500,000 lives, there
were no major victories in the field (and one
major defeat), and the war accentuated
class differences (it was widely believed that
poor men died needlessly in frontal assaults
while the wealthy stayed behind the lines or
stayed home).
• Mussolini had been a Socialist (and briefly a
soldier) but he split with the Socialists over
Italian involvement in WWI.
• Mussolini founded the Fascist movement
in 1919. He believed the war was one of
the finest chapters in Italian history, and
that Italy had been cheated at Versailles.
• Mussolini formed what he called the fascio
di combattimento (“union for struggle”),
which was initially a small group of
disgruntled ex-soldiers.
• The name Fascism
came from the
Latin fasces, the
symbol of authority
and community in
Imperial Rome.
• The fasces represented
one of the central tenets of
Mussolini’s political
…to eliminate the
notion of the individual
and instead focus on the
collective (state).
Strength Through Unity
• In many ways this
sounds similar to
what the
wanted – a unified
society devoid of
any class
• But Fascism did not believe in the end of
class differences. Instead Fascism
pushed for another identity, one that was
rooted in extreme nationalism and
often in some mystical racial heritage
(such as ancient Rome to the Italians or
the Aryans to the Germans).
• Fascism is generally a term used to describe a
highly centralized, authoritarian government
(that isn’t communist) whose policies glorify the
power of the state over the individual.
• Fascists are known to seize power by any
means possible (often democratically), usually
by creating an atmosphere of chaos and fear.
• Violence, action, discipline, order, and
unconditional/blind loyalty to the state are
• Basic human rights do not exist.
• The burning of books/literature (or anything
considered “subversive” was common).
• Aggressive and nationalistic foreign policies
were pursued (which mirrored the “survival of
the fittest” mentality.)
• While Communism advocated common
ownership of property and capital under
the strict control of the state, Fascism
allowed private ownership and capital, but
imposed strict and severe restrictions
upon the people.
• Fascism started in Italy, but within a few
years it had spread to Germany (Nazism),
Spain, and Japan.
• Both Communism and Fascism suppress
or eliminate opposing political parties.
• Both deny civil liberties and control all forms
of the media (i.e. practiced censorship and
• Both have absolute control over their
• Fascism rejects faith in reason and totally
rejects the concepts of liberty and equality.
• Fascism believes that democracy leads to
corruption and weakness, and that democracy
puts the interests of the individual above those
of the state.
• Fascism and Communism were (and still
are) the strongest anti-democratic political
movements in the world.
• Mussolini claimed
that those who
tolerated Versailles
had betrayed the
heroism of Italy’s
dead and that they
must be driven
from power.
• After WWI, high rates of unemployment and
inflation brought social unrest to Italy.
• Those that had jobs demanded better pay,
shorter hours, better conditions, etc.
• Italy before/after the war was a parliamentary
democracy. In 1919 the Socialists won the
majority of seats. Strikes were called,
factories were shut down. Fears of another
Bolshevik Revolution (and of Italy becoming
Communist) paralyzed the country.
• Mussolini was extremely antagonistic to the
idea of a parliamentary democracy. It was
too slow and ineffective. Yet Fascism spread
through Democracy.
• The growth of democratic ideology and
popular participation in politics in the 19th
century was terrifying to some conservative
elements in European society, and Fascism
grew out of the attempt to counter it by
forming mass parties based largely on the
middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie,
exploiting their fear of political domination
by the lower classes.
• Mussolini’s Fascism
promoted the idea of
a strong leader; a
man who in an almost
mystical way
represented all the
frustrations, anxieties,
desires, and dreams
of the nation.
• While despising Democracy, Fascism also
rejected Socialism, which was a major reason
why his movement rose to power.
• Landowners, members of the upper and
middle classes, business owners, and the
Church were keenly aware of the Bolshevik
Revolution and saw Mussolini and Fascism as
the only barrier to Communism.
• In 1922, despite having less than 4% of the
seats in the parliament, Mussolini demanded
that the king (Victor Emmanuel III) make him
Prime Minister.
• Governmental paralysis enabled Mussolini to
obtain the premiership by a show of force.
• Mussolini was able to present himself as the
strong-armed savior of Italy from anarchy and
• To support his demands,
Mussolini organized
discontented soldiers and
unemployed youth (for whom
Fascism meant a uniform
and a job) into his ‘BlackShirts’ – the squadristi.
• These thugs/gangsters
threatened to terrorize Rome
and seize power if Mussolini
didn’t get what he wanted.
Mussolini’s Squadristi
• If the king had
declared martial
(military) law, the
Fascists would have
been scattered. But he
was a timid man who
Communism. So he
named Mussolini
Prime Minister.
• The ‘March on Rome’ succeeded not
because the Fascists were strong but
because the Italian government was so weak.
• Mussolini quickly moved to consolidate his
power. He made the Fascist Party the only
legal political power in Italy.
• All men over 21 could vote, but only for
Fascist candidates.
• Mussolini considered
himself the successor
to the imperial Caesars
of ancient Rome. He
declared the
Mediterranean to be
Mare Nostrum (“our
• He wanted to be known
as Il Duce (the leader).
• Mussolini and the Fascists were firm believers
in the strength and power of propaganda.
• A mythology and cult of personality were
created around Mussolini.
• Mussolini and the Fascists were antagonistic
towards most of what was happening in the
modern world of the 1920’s:
– They were against suffrage for women.
– They hated modern art and music.
– They were anti-Semitic (although not as bad as the
Germans would become).
• In 1926, Mussolini outlawed independent
labor unions (which made business
leaders happy) and announced cuts in
women’s wages.
• In the late 1920’s he banned women from
the civil service, legal careers, and
• Women were to be confined to low-paying
jobs (this benefited men).
• Girls and young women were to be trained as
mothers (the ideal woman)…they were on earth to
benefit man. (picture dated April 30, 1938)
• Boys and young men were to be taught the ideal of
Italian military supremacy and militarism.
• Many joined the Young Fascists.
• A is for architecture, M is for Mussolini -- an
alphabetically inclined building constructed in
one of Italy's cities during Mussolini’s time in
office. Part of his cult of personality.
• Mussolini and the Fascists glorified war
and worked to make Italy self-sufficient in
case of one.
• The government built roads, power plants,
schools, hospitals, etc; thousands were
drafted into the army.
• The government encouraged larger
families (mothers of large families were
even given medals of honor).
• He had textbooks rewritten to spread
Fascism through “glorifying the mission” of
• He promoted the military as the noblest of
• He preached his invincibility, and
presented himself as a devoted public
servant, a hardened soldier, and a
disciplined political genius.
• Mussolini had created the world’s first
totalitarian state (he coined the name).
• During the economic and political chaos of
the 1920’s-1930’s, dictatorship seemed to
be the wave of the future.
• Mussolini proclaimed that this century (the
20th) would be a century of the right/ultra
conservative (meaning anti-democratic).
• The modern totalitarian state rejected
liberal values and exercised total control
over the lives of its subjects.
• The Fascists created a nightmare world
where human individuality was crushed
under the might of totalitarian collectivism.
• That is what bothered such writers as
Huxley (Brave New World), Bradbury
(Fahrenheit 451), Orwell (1984), and Moore
(“V” for Vendetta) among others.
• Even though he was an atheist, Mussolini
understood that most Italians valued
tradition and Catholicism (just like
• In 1929 he signed the Lateran Accords
which made the Vatican an independent
• The Church determined marriage and family
• In return, the Church ended its criticism of
• “Believe, Obey, Fight!”
• “The function of a citizen and a soldier are
• He thought of himself as a man on a pedestal,
never letting his face show any emotion except
for two standard poses of fierceness and
• He liked to project an aura of physical vigor
even though he had venereal disease and
• Among Mussolini’s
many admirers (“he
made the trains run
on time!”) was
Adolph Hitler.
• Hitler was Mussolini’s