Fascism in Italy : Background

Elements of fascism:

•      The individual should distrust reason and simply obey
•     Denial of equality – the strong have an obligation to destroy the weak
•      Violence is an essential tool
•      Government by an elite as the average person is incapable
•     Totalitarian – total state control of the lives of the individuals
•      Racism and Imperialism justified in that certain nations are elite and are obligated to control
•     Permanent mobilization – soldier valued above all other citizens
•      Anything is justified if it serves that states ends
•     Fascism emphasizes victory, glorifies war, is cruel to the weak, and is irrational and intolerant.
•      By providing a uniform, someone to blame, someone to hate and a leader, fascism restores self-respect


•      Post WWI, Italy was intensely dissatisfied with her efforts in the war and the “spoils” she was awarded by the treaties.
•      After the war, the economy was chaotic, the government was corrupt, and there was no order
•      “When times are bad, extreme political viewpoints become attractive”

Benito Mussolini

•      After actually being a socialist for a while, Mussolini switched his views and started the Fascist Party
•      Skilled use of Fascist tools to gain some support – parades, propaganda, great speeches
•      Mussolini appealed to ex-servicemen, students, the middle-class and to all anti-Communists

The March on Rome – 1922

•      Mussolini’s Blackshirts began a march on Rome to gain power, as the Prime Minister has refused to allow the Fascists into government
•      This created a threat of Civil War
•      King Victor Emmanuelle feared a civil war, and offered the government to Mussolini to avoid this
•      So, Mussolini took power with relatively little bloodshed
•      By 1925, Italy was a Totalitarian State, ruled by a Fascist dictator, with all personal freedoms abolished, and all opposition eliminated.

The Lateran Accords: 1929

•      Mussolini concludes a treaty with the Pope and the Catholic Church
•      The Vatican would remain the domain of the Pope (had previously lost Papal estates)
•      Catholicism would be declared the only state religion, and a compulsory school subject

Fascist Imperialism

•      Italy had a small number of overseas colonies (3) and wanted more
•      Mussolini declared the Mediterranean Sea as “Mare Nostrum” Our Sea
•      This would obviously threaten Britain and France’s trade routes
•      To show his newly found power, Mussolini decides to invade Ethiopia in 1935
•      Emperor Selassie appeals to the League of Nations but gets little support – the economic sanctions did not affect Italy
•      It takes the Italian army of mechanized equipment 3 weeks to defeat the Ethiopian army of horseback and turn of the century rifles and swords
•      The British and French decide to appease Mussolini through the Hoare-Laval Plan
•      This meant “Take half, leave half”


Since the unification of Italy Italy’s governments had proved themselves weak, and the majority of the Italian polulation still remained poor. During the first twenty years of the twentieth century, there were frequent riots and strikes during which Italian workers had occupied the factories where they worked. The Italian government of the time was unable to maintain order and control these upheavals. The state of affairs gave Benito Mussolini (picture on left) the opportunity to rise to power in Italy.

Teacher, journalist and soldier, Mussolini advocated extreme right-wing policies. Promising order and upholding the ideal of patriotism, Mussolini had gathered around him his own private brigade and army. Mussolini’s followers carried out a campaign of violence against opposing political parties and against all those who did not share their ideals.  By 1922 Mussolini had enough power to demand representation in the actual government of the country. When this demand was turned down, Mussolini and his followers decided to make the challenge of force. On 28th October 1922 supporters of Mussolini converged on the city of Rome from various parts of the country, in what was to be called « La Marcia su Roma » (The March on Rome). King Victor Emanuel III and the army refused to resist them, and they enetered Rome unopposed. The King then asked Mussolini to form a government and assume the post of prime minister. This famous march on Rome heralded the rise of Fascism to importance in Italy.

The fascist Party was formed in Milan by Mussolini in 1919 and its members were known as « camicie nere » (the Black Shirts), because of the black shirts they wore as uniforms. The word fascism is derived from the Latin « fasces », a bundle of rods round an axe which was carried before a magistrate in Ancient Rome, denoting authority, power and discipline. The term « fascio » was the Italian form of the word meaning a group or squad.

The fascist regime which took power in 1922 improved various sectors of Italian affairs, such as the cultivation of more lands, irrigation of the marshes in Northern Italy, increasing the production of corn, improvements in the railway and road networks, and the creation of more employment. It was through such measures that MUssolini and the Fascists won the support of the working class. In 1929 Mussolini reached an agreement with the Papacy over the jurisdiction of the Vatican. By this Lateran Pact, which won Mussolini the support of the Roman Catholic Church, the Italian State gave the Pope full sovereignity over the Vatican City.

However, on the other hand, the Fascist Regime was turning Italy into an authoritarian state with Mussolini as « Il-Duce » (the absolute leader). Mussolini based his patriotism on pride, glory and honour. He wanted to restore to Italy its former might and glory of Roman Empire times. Militarism was put high in the Fascists’ agenda, with Mussolini himself praising warfare as the highest peak of human endeavour. Therefore, it came as no surprise when in 1923 the Italian Navy bombarded the island of Corfu` because of a dispute with Greece over an Italian general who had been previously assassinated.

Mussolini still remembered the humiliating defeat Italy had suffered by the Abyssinians at the Battle of Adowa in 1896. He wanted to restore the prestige Italy had lost through that defeat. In 1935 Italian troops led by General De Bono invaded Abyssinia but were held back. De Bono was shortly replaced by General Badaglio, and by continuous aircraft attacks and the use of poison gas the Italians ultimately prevailed. In May 1936 addis Ababa, the capital of Abyssinia, was captured by Italian troops and the native emperor was forced to flee to England.

England and France were now faced with a delicate situation, because Italy was one of the principal members of the League of Nations. In order not to weaken the League, both countries did not wish to act harshly towards Italy. Eventually, it was agreed that economic sanctions should be imposed against Italy. However these sanctions had little or no effect on Italy because they did not include such items as the manufacture of motor vehicles and the production of coal and oil, items necessary for an invasion such as the one Italy was then undertaking. Neither France nor England was prepared to take military action against Italy.

The Abyssinian Adventure proved to be a resounding victory for Mussolini and the Fascists, and a severe blow to the credibility of the League of Nations. Ultimately it helped to underline one of the Fascists’ important creeds that « Mussolini is always right ».