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“Practical considerations outweighed ideology in foreign policy”. Comment on this view in relation to either Germany in the years 1933 to 1941 or Italy in the years 1922 to 1940.
Practical considerations can be described as reaction to circumstances and in this case this could occur due to a lack or even the failing of ideology. The reason behind this ideology failure was most probably due to a lack of military might or international allies. Ideology can be understood to mean an organized set of ideas and ideals intended to deal with problems and perhaps also to bring about changes.
Fascism becomes possible when a certain degree of industrialization has created a literate, though not particularly sophisticated public. The control of the press and the use of propaganda is essential. The presence of a significant middle class, increased employment, the building of a large military force, is also essential. Fascism does not hesitate to resort to war to accomplish national goals.
When Benito Mussolini came to power as Prime Minister in 1922 his ideology generally was based around three things, making Italy great, respected and feared. This was most likely devised from the historic past of the Roman Empire. Some may say this was a bold and unrealistic base to form a personal ideology however to Mussolini this was an important tool to gather support from all sections of the Italian population especially in the early years of the fascist government. However these seemed like nothing more than a set of loose goals, without taking into consideration the circumstances. This could explain his need to derive immediate power within Italy and influence across Europe.
In his first speech as Prime Minister to the Chamber of Deputies Mussolini proclaimed that ‘Foreign policy is the area which especially preoccupies us’ 1
The period between October 1922 and January 1925 saw Mussolini come to power, and so he made attempts to further substantiate his power without making radical changes at home and he also wanted to seize the diplomatic initiative because he always wanted Italy to be involved in European affairs, he was also hoping to secure a revision of the Treaty of Versailles and an extensive territory in the Mediterranean and Africa.
Further more by 1925 Mussolini accelerated towards the establishment of a dictatorship by eradicating the Italian liberal state which had been in continuous existence since 1861.2
The European situation changed significantly during 1929 and 1934 because of the Great Depression. Mussolini saw this as an opportunity to further indulge Italy into European affairs by appearing as being Europe’s mediator. This allowed Mussolini to increase the level of diplomacy and also to allow the ability to manoeuvre freely between the European powers involved in the crisis. Mussolini was not ready to commit Italy to neither as he was favouring a more protectionist policy so he moved between France and Britain and also towards Germany. Mussolini tried to use this manoeuvrability to try and achieve objectives by using threats to Britain and France who knew Italy were also involved with Germany. However that soon became very dangerous as Germany was becoming an even greater threat to Italian interest than France or Britain. This is another example of how practical considerations out weighed Mussolini’s ideology.
The source of the problem was Austria; it was well known that Germany long favoured its absorption for many political and geographical reasons. This danger increased further with the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. Mussolini was determined to avoid this Anschluss since he regarded Austria more like a military buffer zone.
However the assassination of Austrian Chancellor, Dollfuss in 1934 further increased Mussolini’s fears of a German attack so he had to seek closer ties with France and Britain which was made official by the signing of the Stresa Front in 1935.
These circumstances prompted him to move to Africa in seizing the opportunity to expand and so the Invasion of Abyssinia, however this again alienated Italy from Europe again.
However the policies chased by Mussolini were policies guided by ideology without regard for practical considerations and as a result they were doomed to failure. This can be seen from the invasion Abyssinia, which resulted in Italy gaining nothing other than land in Africa, there were no natural resources to sell to make up for the cost of war and it also made its supposed allies Britain and France apprehensive and more untrustworthy towards Italy, so overall this was another failure. Furthermore the resources Mussolini used up for this war could not be made up in turn for the outbreak of the Second World War later on, which left Italy vulnerable to attack. This resulted in the Rome-Berlin Axis because Mussolini had to choose Germany because it simply could not keep up with Germany’s speed of rearmament. This is what F.W.D. Deakin has termed as the ‘Brutal Friendship’ 3
Different Historians and analysts have arguments on reasoning behind Mussolini’s policies and actions. DE Felice, who sees Fascism as a revolutionary phenomenon’ which aimed at the ‘mobilization of the masses and the creation of a new kind of man’ claimed that this could not be accomplished by domestic policies so the Ethiopian War was a new drive and therefore a success. On the other hand Mack smith argues that the purpose of Mussolini’s foreign policy was to bolster his prestige. Some historians remain unconvinced and believe that Mussolini’s expansionism was genuine and equivalent to Hitler’s pursuit of Lebensraum.
1 European Dictatorships 1918-1945 – Stephen J. Lee
2 European Dictatorships 1918-1945 – Stephen J. Lee
3 European Dictatorships 1918-1945 – Stephen J. Lee