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Fascism Under Mussolini In Italy History Essay

Fascism under Mussolini offered Italy an alternative to fatiguing and corrupt government on the one side and the prospect of a socialist revolution, on the other. At the backbone of Mussolini’s fascist government support from the military and the business class. This essay will assess the successes and the failures of Benito Mussolini’s fascist government between 1923 and 1939. These successes were in the areas of politics, education and society and the failures in the area of economic management. The political successes of the Italian fascist government were: the capitalisation of the anger of Italy after the First World War, the solidification of Mussolini’s leadership by expelling Gabrielle D’Annunzio, creation and implementation of the Blackshirts and the ORV, the combatting of the mafia, the implementation of new education policies and the creation of the ODA. The major failures of the government were related to the management of the economy, more specifically, they attempted to do too much at once, they sold off their monopolies and failed to manage the economy during the great depression of the 1930s.

At the conclusion of the First World War, Italy was riddled with chaos. This disorder was caused primarily by the belief that Italy was not adequately paid for aiding the Allies at the conclusion of the war. Italy expected to be rewarded with large expanses of territory from the defeated nations for its services. But it did not. In fact, under the charter of the League of Nations and the various peace treaties, Italy only gained territory from turkey when other nations whom they saw as inferior gained more land and more resources. Mussolini and his rapidly growing supporters capitalised on this and it was during this time Mussolini's fascist views spread throughout the country. Due to his military service during the war, Mussolini already had a large amount of support from military veterans and the lower classes in Italian society. He also had support of the business class for fear of a communist style regime that would see their profits lost. This capitalisation was the first of many political successes that would befall Mussolini and his soon to be fascist government.

The next political success that occurred was Mussolini’s solidification as Italy’s leader. This occurred in the late 1920s when Gabriele D’Annunzio and his supporters were forced out from Fiume. D'Annunzio was labeled as the “John the Baptist of Italian Fascism” [1] and Mussolini’s style of leadership was rather like that of “D'Annunzio during his occupation of Fiume and his leadership of the Italian Regency of Carnaro” [2] . Aspects of this style were seen throughout Mussolini’s time in power and frequently “…included the balcony address, the Roman salute, the cries of ‘Eia, eia, eia! Alala!’, the dramatic and rhetorical dialogue with the crowd, the use of religious symbols in new secular settings” [3] . Once Mussolini succeeded in driving D’Annunzio out of Fiume, many Italian separatists also embraced Mussolini as their leader as he promoted a strong foreign policy and the annexation of Fiume and Dalmatia. With his position as leader solidified, Mussolini rapidly gained power gained power and progressively converted the government into a one-party fascist dictatorship under his leadership. From that time until his death, Mussolini's only interest was in holding on to power.

Perhaps, the biggest success for Mussolini and the government were the two organisations they created to control Italy. The first of these organisations was known as the ‘Blackshirts’. The Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale or National Security Volunteer Militia was formed in 1923 and was responsible for security of the regime and reported directly to Mussolini. This allowed for complete control over Italy and its subjects [4] . The second of these organisations was a secret police force created in 1927, called the Organizzazione di Vigilanza Repressione dell'Antifascismo, (Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism) or OVRA. It was led by Arturo Bocchini with the sole purpose of cracking down on all opponents of the the government and Mussolini as there had been several assassination attempts on his life since his rise to power [5] . The OVRA itself was an effective force, but caused fewer deaths of political opponents compared to that of the Schutzstaffel of Nazi Germany and the NKVD of the Soviet Union, the OVRA. This being said, the “…fascists methods of repression were cruel which included physically forcing opponents of Fascism to swallow castor oil which would cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration, leaving the victim in a painful and physically debilitated state which would sometimes result in death” [6] . This created a state of constant fear of the OVRA and the ‘Blackshirts’, both of whom used this method of torture. In 1925, organised crime was rapidly rising in the Sicily and southern Italy. To combat this, the government gave special powers to the prefect of Palermo, Cesare Mori. “These powers gave him the ability to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad (many to the United States) or risk being jailed” [7] . Mori was fired however, when he began to investigate Mafia links within the Fascist regime. He was removed from his position in 1929, and the Fascist regime declared that the threat of the Mafia had been eliminated. Mori's actions weakened the Mafia, but did not destroy them. Between 1929 and 1943, the Italian government completely abandoned its aggressive measures against the Mafia, and left them relatively undisturbed.

The Fascist government had a major success when it came to education, endorsing many new and stringent education policies in Italy throughout the period aimed at lowering illiteracy which was a growing problem in Italy at the time [8] . To reduce the number of drop-outs, the government raised the minimum age of leaving school from 12 to 14 years of age and due to the fascist nature of the government, they were able to strictly enforce attendance at school. This was just the first step in their education plan and in 1922, “…the government's first minister of education, Giovanni Gentile announced his recommendation that all education policy from this point forward should focus on indoctrination of students into fascism, and to educate youth to respect and be obedient to authority” [9] . Before this could be realised, the government invoked a concurrent plan to increase and recognise intellectual talent throughout Italy when the government established the Royal Academy of Italy in 1926 to reward, promote and coordinate Italy's intellectual success [10] . It wasn’t until 1929 that education policy took a major step toward that agenda of indoctrination. “In that year, the government took control of the authorisation of all textbooks, all school teachers were required to take oaths of loyalty to fascism and children began to be instructed that they owed the same loyalty to fascism as they did to God” [11] . It then increased in the control set by the government with all university teachers were required to be members of the National Fascist Party in 1933 [12] , and in the 1930s and 1940s Italy's education system was refocused onto the history of Italy displaying Italy as a force of civilization during the Roman era, displaying the rebirth of Italian nationalism and the struggle for Italian independence [13] . Also in the late 1930s, the fascist government copied Nazi Germany's education system regarding the physical fitness students, and begun demanding that Italians become physically healthy [14] .

The major success in social policy for the government was the establishment of the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND) or "National After-work Program" in 1925 and soon became the state's largest recreational organisation for adults. The Dopolavoro as it was known, had no trouble attracting members [15] , “…but according to historian Tobias Asbe, while the activities sponsored by the OND were popular with the working class, these activities did not turn workers into ideologically convinced supporters of the Fascist regime was so popular that, by the 1930s, all towns in Italy had a Dopolavoro clubhouse and the Dopolavoro was responsible for establishing and maintaining 11,000 sports grounds, over 6,400 libraries, 800 movie houses, 1,200 theatres, and over 2,000 orchestras” [16] . When Achille Starace took over as director of the OND in the early 1930s, “… t became primarily recreational; concentrating on sports and other outings and by 1936 the OND had approximately 80% of salaried workers as members” [17] . The OND had the largest membership of any of the mass Fascist organizations in Italy and due to its huge success in Italy, it was the key factor in Nazi Germany creating its own version, the Kraft durch Freude (KdF) or "Strength through Joy" program, which was even more successful than the Dopolavoro [18] .

Once in power, Mussolini attempted to alter the country’s economy to work within his fascist ideology. This was his major failure. He immediately began investing in and taking over industrial interests from within the leaders of Italian capitalism. There are two views amongst both historians and economist with regard to Mussolini’s economic management, David Baker who discusses this in The New Political Economy “There is a messy tangle between economic theory and economic practice which leads to two opposing views - either Mussolini had an economic plan, or that he did not, but instead reacted to changes without forward planning” [19] . Mussolini’s first failure was though he did have an economic agenda which was both short and long term in nature, he attempted to completely change the economy in one phase. The government had two major tasks, one, to modernise the economy, and two, to improve the country's dire lack of resources. To attempt these tasks, the government stimulated development through creating a “…modern capitalistic sector in the service of the state, intervening directly as needed to create collaboration between the industrialists, the workers, and the state” [20] . This was achieved by removing class and implementing corporations and “in the short-term the government worked to reform the widely-abused tax system, dispose of inefficient state-owned industry, cut government costs, and introduce tariffs to protect the new industries” [21] .

The government's second failure was that it started to sell off legislative monopolies. The first of these was the 19 April 1923 law which transferred life insurance policy from a state run company to private enterprise. This effectively cancelled “…the 1912 law which had created a State Institute for insurances and which had envisioned to give a state monopoly ten years later” [22] . By doing this the government lost one sector of income it rely on and with a rapidly growing inflation Up until 1925 the country enjoyed modest growth but structural weaknesses increasing rate of inflation the value of currency slowly dropped. Then in 1925 “…the Italian state abandoned its monopoly on telephones' infrastructure, while the state production of matches was handed over to a private consortium of matches' producers" [23] . This led to increase in speculation against the strength of the lira. This then caused the government to intervene and De Stefani, the finance minister “…was sacked, his program side-tracked, and the Fascist government became more involved in the economy in step with the increased security of their power” [24] .

The great depression of the early 1930s was the third major economic failure to beset the Italian government. As companies came close to failure, the policy of the government was for banks to buy out the companies. This was largely an illusionary bail-out as the funds used to pay for the purchases were largely worthless and this led a financial crisis which peaked in 1932 and led to the need for major government intervention [25] . “After the bankruptcy of the Austrian Kredit Anstalt in May 1931, Italian banks followed, with the bankruptcy of the Banco di Milano, the Credito Italiano and the Banca Commerciale” [26] . In response to this, the state created three financial management institutions funded by the Italian treasury which were designed to buy back all the debt made by the failed banks. This aid was in the form of $5.5 billion and was to be paid back within ten years.

Throughout the period of 1923 and 1939, there were a number of decisions that Benito Mussolini and his fascist government of Italy made that led to both successful and unsuccessful ventures. They were successful with implementing a number of new political policies through taking advantage of the circumstances and solidifying Mussolini’s position in as leader and creating new powerful policing agencies that answered directly to them and through exerting fear into the populous. Once their position was solidifies they then commencing working on the education standards of Italy and through the fascist influence increased the literacy rate of the country and also the support of their movement by the students and teachers of the school. The government also built support up through their introduction of the OND, a social organisation that grew to include over 80% of salary workers. Though this being said, their major failure was their inability to manage funds appropriately. The economy of the country wasn’t great when they came to power, and they then attempted to achieve too much too quickly and send the economy into a downward spiral once they sold off their monopolies and then failed to act appropriately when the great depression hit the country. All in all, there were a number of both successes and failures that the Italian fascist government had during the inter war years of 1923 to 1939.

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