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Benito Mussolini was a fascist dictator in Italy from 1925-1944. He was presented as a “superman” and for a while seemed to unite the Italian people in their support for him. Mussolini had gained power rapidly and lost it through wanting too much power and changing his views and decisions to whatever seemed to be best for maintain power.
There were several reasons why Fascism developed in Italy in the 1920’s and why Mussolini was able to establish his dictatorship. One issue was the great disappointment among the Italian population due to the impact of the First World War. There were about 500,000 people that died in the war (Cambridge University Press). In addition there was disappointment over the little gains that were achieved by the government in the Paris Peace Conference. Italy didn’t get as much land as they hoped, only some territories in Tyrol, Trieste, Istria and parts of Albania. Then there were several problems with democracy. Only coalition governments could be built, there were about 31 different governments between 1860 and 1914 (Cambridge University Press) and paralysis resulted. No proper decisions were made, since every single party held a totally or slightly different opinion and didn’t agree. As a result democracy became unpopular. And also the economic and political situation was instable.
High inflation and a collapse in the lira occurred, unemployment and agricultural depression lead to a fall in living standard. Industrial and agricultural unrests with strikes and even violent action were common. In Italy was a general fear of civil war. Mussolini’s Fascist Party, the PNF, which turned into an official party in 1921, seemed to offer a solution to a lot of these problems. Mussolini promised stability within the political system. But there were also other reason why people tended to vote for him. His group founded of ex-soldiers, the so-called black shirts, engaged violent attacks on strikers and socialist groups. Also the party was seen as an anti- communist weapon by the Church, which still had great influence on people and didn’t want to co-operate with the present government.
There was always a fear of a communist take-over and the Fascist party presented itself as the only barrier against it. A general support from the middle classes in the cities, the countryside and the army was therefore obvious, as the disappointment about the results from the First World War was common among them, and the middle classes wanted a better economic situation and a safe and ensured working place. There were revolts against the rise of socialism and trade unions and the industrialists supported Mussolini’s party financially. The acceptance of the party grew from 1921.With the March on Rome in 1922, where about 50,000 black shirts were on their way to Rome with the aim to seize power, Mussolini wanted to protest against the continual disruption and industrial unrests, as well as ensure an important position in Italian government.
The king declared him Prime minister without a moment’s hesitating. This was because he feared a civil war and believed that Mussolini would help against it. In addition the willingness of the Catholic Church, that later had a contract with Mussolini, the army and the Big Business stood aside Mussolini, in order to weaken communism. The ruling elite felt he might be able to set up a strong government and stability, and so Mussolini achieved what he wanted. The first step towards dictatorship was taken.
In 1923 he then passed the Acerbo Law, which replaced the old electoral system. The new system was that only parties with more than 25% of the total votes got seats in the Parliament. The fascists were now the largest party with 2/3 of the seats. 1925 Fascists and their allies got 66% of the votes and secured the total control of the parliamentary system. The next step towards dictatorship was then the murder of Matteotti, a socialist politician who strongly and openly opposed Fascism. At first it seemed to bring Mussolini’s fall, because of the disappointment the murder raised, but it eventually made Mussolini even stronger. On 3.01.1925 Mussolini declared to take full response of all fascist actions and Italy a dictatorship with all the aspects a dictatorship brings along.
Mussolini’s political ideology was Fascism. Though at the beginning of his career he tended to have socialist ideas, but then changed his viewpoints to fascism, which again shows his ambition to gain and maintain power, since he did whatever seemed to gain him the most support. Fascism was a right-wing regime with strong emphasis on nationalism and the absolute power of the state. The regime presented itself as a rival to socialism and communism and therefore considered itself as enemy of as well them as of liberal democracy.
As Mussolini set his dictatorship up it became a totalitarian type of government, since he had total control of society and people’s life and didn’t allow any rival parties and different viewpoints. It was a one party state with no opposition, no trade unions and eventually no democratic elections. As nearly all the dictators Mussolini put great emphasis on military strength, because his purpose was, similar to Hitler’s with Germany, to make Italy self-sufficient and independent and therefore designed his economic policies to achieve this. For example he imposed taxes of foreign goods, so only the countries own goods would be bought and Italy therefore would be self-sufficient.
In order to stay in power Mussolini used certain policies, tried to built up economy, create an image as a “superman”, used propaganda and avoided disagreements with the Vatican. Mussolini set up his own secret police, the OVRA and enforced press censorship to make sure no anti-Fascist articles were published. To weak the King’s position, although he already stayed away from all domestic policies and it was certain he wouldn’t overthrow the Fascists, Mussolini limited the King’s right to choose the Prime Minister from only a list complied by the Fascist Grand Council which decided policy without consulting any of the non-fascists in the government first. Mussolini wanted to change Italian society and the Italian character. He wanted the economy to be able to serve a war with self-sufficiency, and the citizens to be disciplined and warlike. This is very common in a dictatorship, since most dictators want to have a to them loyal population and an independent state, Mussolini wasn’t any different.
He organised the economy in a Corporate State, as he wanted to increase the influence of the state without destroying capitalism. This would also make sure he got the votes of the industrialists and Big Business. Syndicates were set up where membership was compulsory for both, employers and employees. Strikes were not allowed and a Fascist Party member controlled each syndicate. But in fact Mussolini had little knowledge in economics and did not exactly know what he wanted and the economy was left more or less insufficient. Italy had to face deflation and wage-cuttings. Benito Mussolini tried to introduce the idea of autarky for as well industry, what would then mean full employment, rearming and a strong Lira, as for agriculture, so to be able to provide Italy with a good food supply. But nevertheless Mussolini’s dream of autarky remained just a dream. He never achieved that Italy became self-sufficient in industry and agriculture.
Also his “Battle for Birth” in order to increase the population from 40 to 60 million and therefore provide soldiers for his armies didn’t work out. He only managed an increase to 47.5 million people (www.essaybank.co/uk). After initially staying out of the Second World War, Mussolini joined Hitler and entered the war in 1940, as he was convinced Hitler would win and feared Italy could be the next country to be invaded by Hitler otherwise. This again shows indecision and changing of viewpoints in order to have and maintain power. However at the beginning this only made Mussolini’s support from the people, which he had won through his propaganda, stronger, due to their disappointment about the First World War. Mussolini’s propaganda made him appear as a god-like figure and was presented, as the leader who would get the Italians out of the depression and Italy would regain its greatness during Ancient Rome and the Renaissance.
Mussolini had his own newspaper where to publish his propaganda. Also education was used to bring his message and image along. A new education system was introduced. All textbooks were banned and in 1936 there was only one compulsory textbook left and all subjects that were taught put huge emphasis on the greatness of the Italian State. Teachers had to stress Mussolini’s genius and his portrait was hung next to the king’s. Young people should identify themselves with Il Duce, their leader, fascism and Italy. As in Hitler’s Germany youth groups were set up where membership became compulsory. By 1937 more than seven million had joined the Opera Nazionale Balilla (Hodder and Stoughton), where boys were taught how to behave in war and girls their role as a wife and mother. Another part of the propaganda was that leisure activities for adults were introduced. Also the party membership was important.
People were offered better jobs and had many advantages, similar to Hitler’s and Stalin’s regime, if they were party members. Also terror was used, even though not as much as in Germany and Russia. People who were critical to the regime were spied upon by the OVRA, possibly beaten up and imprisoned. Nevertheless Italian camps held fewer than 5,000 prisoners (Hodder and Stoughton). As in other camps the conditions were hard and tortures occurred. But opposition in Italy was disorganised and ineffective. In order to stay in power Mussolini also tried to have good relationships with the Vatican.
Since the Catholic Church had a great influence on people’s life, Mussolini tried to always satisfy it. For that purpose, although he actually wasn’t that religious, he let his children baptised in 1923 and had a religious marriage ceremony to his wife, after the first marriage in 1915 which was a civil ceremony. He also made swearing a crime and let close down some wine shops and night clubs (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/mussolini_dictatorship.htm).
In 1929 Mussolini made a treaty with the Catholic Church, the concordat, which made the catholic faith the state religion. All this ensured Mussolini the support from the people and made him very popular. Mussolini remained with quite a lot of support till the success of the Second World War became less.
When Mussolini declared war on Britain and France he had to learn that his armed forces were not very successful. In 1943 Italy was invaded and Mussolini overthrown. The Grand Council removed him from his position as head of government and Fascism in Italy ended. Mussolini was arrested but then rescued by German paratroops. When he was arrested again local communist partisans lynched Mussolini and his mistress and their bodies hung upside down in the street.
In conclusion Benito Mussolini was a leader, whose ambition to gain and maintain power influenced all his politics. He was ready to change his viewpoints and actions all the time, to make it fit to what seemed most popular or to give him most power. He changed from more socialist views to Fascism, tried to have good connection to the church, just to get more support, not in his personal interest, and after already having decided to stay out of the war he later joined it on Hitler’s side, as that seemed to promise success and more power. However, this ambition in the end lead to his downfall, as Hitler’s influence made him begin to persecute Jews, and people refused. Also they started to realise that his propaganda was fake and his policies and plans didn’t work out, although he pretended they would.
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