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UNIT E1E3: THE COLLAPSE OF THE LIBERAL STATE AND THE

TRIUMPH OF FASCISM IN ITALY, 1896-1943.

A: Weaknesses of the political system and attempts to stabilise it from 1903


under Giolitti; social discontent and political disorder, 1896-1912.

Why was Italy politically unstable in the late nineteenth century?

 Political life was monopolised by a small social élite elected by a small percentage of the
population. Before 1912, only 2 million men had the right to vote.

 In Parliament, political parties were weak and ineffective. Large political coalitions were
created – TRASFORMISMO.

 Giovanni Giolitti was the politician most closely associated with trasformismo. Between
1892 and 1922, he was Prime Minister on five occasions.

 Under his influence, the Liberals did not develop as a structured party. They were,
instead, a series of informal personal groupings with no formal links to political
constituencies.

 The King offered some stability but some radicals wanted reform of the monarchy and
lower taxes. A Republican Party was created in 1895 but could not work with the radicals in
Parliament.

 Italy suffered from limited industrial development and generally inefficient farming. A
fundamental economic weakness was the North-South divide.

 In the North, revolutionary farming changes between 1890 and 1910 led to the
introduction of new crops like sugar beet and more diverse products such as grapes, rice,
olives and maize.

 In the South, farming changed little. Primitive peasant farming supported a social and
political system dominated by a few land-owning families.

 In the twenty years before 1914, Italy witnessed some industrial development but
compared with other European nations, such development was limited. Hydro-electric power
in the North led to the growth of some steel production but most had to be imported.

 State subsidies were introduced for some industries such as shipbuilding whilst others
were protected by high tariffs.

 In 1905, the railway system was nationalised. As industry developed in the North, an
urban working class began to emerge.

 Political thinkers such as Gabriele D’Annunzio, Filippo Marinetti and Benedetto Croce
attacked the corruption and drift of the Liberal Society and began to suggest cleaner, simpler
and more extreme models of political action.

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Why did stronger parties emerge in 1900-1914?

 The Socialist Party (PSI), founded in Genoa in 1892, was based in the northern industrial
towns. By 1900, it had 32 seats in The Chamber of Deputies and published its own daily
newspaper, Avanti. But Giolitti found it difficult to include Socialist deputies in any
coalition.

 The Papacy, fearing the growth of socialism, relaxed its prohibition on Catholic
involvement in politics. In 1909, 17 Catholic deputies were elected to the Chamber.

 The main issue dividing Church and state was ‘the Roman Question’ – who controlled
Rome. The Papacy felt that Rome had been illegally taken from them in 1871.

 The years before 1914 saw the growth of a right-wing Nationalist Party. Many Italians
felt that the Liberal State had failed to build a proper nation and that Italy had fallen behind
other European countries in the race to build an empire.

 Many nationalists believed in the idea of irredentism. The word was coined in Italy from
the phrase Italia irredenta (unredeemed Italy).

 It originally referred to Austro-Hungarian rule over mostly or partly Italian-inhabited


territories such as Trentino and Trieste during the 19th and early 20th century.

 In 1911, a war to seize Libya from the collapsing Turkish Empire caused great
excitement among nationalists. Italy gained not only Libya but also Rhodes and the
Dodecanese.

 However, the cost of the war necessitated heavy taxation and this contributed to
Giolitti’s unpopularity. He was forced to resign after the country was paralysed by a General
Strike.

 In ‘Red Week’, in June 1914, there was widespread rioting and large-scale strikes
throughout the Italian provinces of Romagna and the Marche.

 The rioters were protesting against reforms initiated by Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti
aimed at ‘absorbing’ the working class into Italy’s liberal system.

 Red Week frightened the lower middle classes and proved that the problems of Italian
unification remained, in particular, inequalities between the industrialised north and the
agricultural south. Giolitti’s liberal policies did not appear to address these problems.

 Following the events of June 1914, editorials in Mussolini’s political journal ‘Avanti’
urged drastic action against the Italian government which was portrayed as weak and
indecisive.

 Nationalist politicians demanded a more active foreign policy and more military
spending. They were anti-socialist and wanted strong laws to curb trade unions. They saw
the Liberal State as weak and would not co-operate with it.

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 The arrival of new political groups was a serious challenge to the Liberal State that had
dominated Italian politics since unification.

 The increase in the size of the electorate from 3 million to 8 million males in 1912 was
an important part of this challenge particularly when it was estimated that 70% of these new
electors were illiterate.

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B: The impact of the First World War on Italy and its impact on the Liberal
State 1918-23: Mussolini and the message and appeal of Fascism, 1919-22.

 In the years before World War One, Italy sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in
the Triple Alliance.

 But, on 26th April 1915, she entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente – Britain,
France and Russia.

 To do this, Italy signed the secret Treaty of London. In this treaty, Britain offered large
sections of territory in the Tyrol, Dalmatia and Istria in return for Italian involvement.

 The decision to join the war left Italy deeply divided. Giolitti and most Liberals opposed
involvement as did most members of parliament.

 To begin with, Mussolini was against the war. By October 1914, he had changed his
mind and with others, was thrown out of the Socialist Party as a result.

 The Nationalists strongly favoured intervention as did many radicals and republicans.
Marinetti and D’Annunzio promoted Italian involvement.

 The war went badly. Between 1915 and 1917, Italian troops advanced 10 miles inside
Austrian territory. But in October 1917 came the disaster of Caporetto.

 Although the Italians won a widely publicised victory over the Austrians at Vittorio
Veneto in 1918, Caporetto had a huge impact – it brought shame and humiliation to the
whole nation.

 Between 1915 and 1918, five million men, mainly conscripts, fought in appalling
conditions. There were 1.3 million casualties.

 To achieve maximum war production, the government borrowed heavily. As a result, the
post-war national debt stood at 85 billion liras – 5 times the 1914 figure.

 Inflation rose dramatically – prices were four times higher in 1918 than they were in
1914.

 Discontent among industrial workers grew leading to increased trade union and Socialist
Party membership. High inflation destroyed the savings of the middle classes who felt the
growing threat of revolution.

 The rapid demobilisation of 5 million conscripts and 160,000 junior officers followed
the end of the war. Many felt bitter about their experiences..

 Nationalists were quick to foster the idea that Versailles was a betrayal of the Italian
army and people.

 Italians recognised the humiliation of their leaders in the peace negotiations by Wilson
(USA), Lloyd George (Britain) and Clemenceau (France

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The Fiume Crisis

 The seizure of Fiume by Gabriele D’Annunzio in September 1919 attracted great public
support.

 D’Annunzio and 2000 followers seized the area and occupied it for fifteen months.
Thousands of supporters rushed to join him – throughout the occupation, D’Annunzio was
constantly in the public eye.

 The Fiume Crisis was the responsibility of Francesco Nitti who was Prime Minister of
three separate governments from June 1919 to June 1920. He took no action against the
illegal military occupation in case the army refused to obey orders.

 In June 1920, Giovanni Giolitti negotiated a compromise over Fiume with Yugoslavia in
the Treaty of Rapallo in November 1920. On Christmas Day 1920, the occupation was
ended by Italian military action.

 The action taken by D’Annunzio over Fiume weakened the Liberal State. It increased the
growing dissatisfaction with political leaders like Nitti and Giolitti who were seen as
cowardly and unpatriotic.

Political problems after the War

 After the war, liberal politicians tried to maintain the old trasformismo system of
coalition governments but with increasing difficulty.

 The extension of the franchise following the introduction of universal male suffrage in
1918 was particularly helpful to the Socialists. The Liberals introduced proportional
representation in 1919 in an attempt to block the extremist parties.

 The trasformismo system was challenged further when the Catholics founded the
Popular Party (Popolari) in 1919.

 The 1919 and 1921 Elections were a disaster for the Liberals and increased political
instability. The Socialists and their bitter enemies the Popolari became the main parties in
the Chamber.

 After the 1919 elections, a number of prime ministers attempted to build and maintain
parliamentary coalitions. Giolitti made a series of deals with the Popolari but relations were
difficult. Attempts to seek a deal with the Socialists angered leading Catholics.

 To broaden the appeal of the liberals, Giolitti was persuaded to make an electoral pact
with the Fascists led by Mussolini in the 1921 elections. The pact had little effect on the
result.

 The voting strengths of the Socialists and Popolari remained unchanged. The Fascists
declined to give the government its support and Giolitti resigned.

 In the next sixteen months, there were three different coalition governments all lacking a
secure parliamentary majority.

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 This succession of weak governments proved incapable of tackling Italy’s economic
problems. As military orders were reduced, large industrial firms went bankrupt.

Economic difficulties

 The rapid demobilisation of 5 million soldiers resulted in an unemployment figure of 2


millions. Post-war inflation hit the economy – in 1919, the lira lost half its value.

 These economic difficulties led to widespread social dislocation. By 1920, 3½ million


workers were in trade unions – 2 million in the increasingly socialist General Confederation
of Labour.

 In April 1920, there were localised general strikes in the North followed in June by an
army mutiny in Ancona.

 In the same year, committees of workers were running factories in Turin. By September
1920, the occupation of factories by workers led many to the view that revolution was
imminent.

 Land on the large estates was forcibly occupied by returning soldiers. Labour Leagues
fought a series of bitter disputes on behalf of agricultural labourers with farmers over wage
rates.

 Bad harvests in 1919 and 1920 resulted in many local governments in rural areas falling
under socialist control.

 Strikes, food riots and rising violence gave the impression of a society on the edge of
breakdown with the government too weak to act.

 In reality, much of the violence took the form of street fighting between the Communists
and the fascist street fighters of Mussolini.

 With the government apparently unwilling to act against the ‘Red Menace’, middle-class
Italians fearing a Communist Revolution, began to look more and more to the political right
– the Fascists – to save them.

 Like most Italians, Mussolini felt the shame and humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. He
was also a supporter of D’Annunzio’s seizure of Fiume.

 As editor of the newspaper ‘Il Popolo d’Italia’, Mussolini raised money for D’Annunzio
via an appeal in the paper.

What was the message and appeal of Fascism?

 On 23rd March 1919, about 100 ex-servicemen and left-wing revolutionaries attended a
meeting in Milan advertised in ‘Il Popolo d’Italia’.

 Those attending called themselves Fascio Di Combattimento (Italian Combat Group).


They included Marinetti, the leader of the Futurists and Vecchi, a leading member of The
Arditi.

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 The main speaker was Mussolini and the early Fascist ideas he put forward came mainly
from the Futurists:

 Creating a republic to replace the monarchy.


 Confiscating the property of the Catholic Church.
 Increasing peasant ownership of land and workers’ control of industry.
 Increasing the taxation on the rich – especially war profiteers.
 Creating a national minimum wage.
 Introducing votes for women.

 Marinetti and Vecchi led an attack on the socialist newspaper ‘Avanti’. Mussolini took
no part but organised a private army of several hundred for whom he provided arms – the
Arditi.

 The early Fascist movement was based in the cities and was supported by ex-servicemen
and students. It spread from Milan to other northern industrial cities but was only one of
several right-wing groups attacking Giolitti and the coalition governments.

 Fascism seemed to offer simple solutions to the complex social and economic problems
facing Italy. It stressed the importance of national identity, strength and glory.

 In 1920, the movement began to move from the cities into the countryside. Young
fascists known as squadristi went into the countryside and violently attacked socialist
Labour Leagues set up to take land from landowners and farmers and give it to the peasants.

 The squadristi had the support of the landowners and large farmers. They were easily
able to obtain firearms from the army and the police who were often indifferent to their
violence.

 The actions of the squadristi were often very violent – during 1920, over 200 were
killed. Some liberals gave their support seeing them as a defence against a left-wing take-
over.

 Mussolini remained detached from the violence of the squadristi but was delighted by
the number of recruits to the movement and ready to take credit for it.

 Most important of all was the way in which the squadristi were re-defining the nature of
Italian fascism. By 1921, the radical left-wing programme of 1919 with its strongly socialist
elements was being abandoned in favour of more right-wing policies.

 The rising importance of the squadristi did present problems for Mussolini. The local
squadristi leaders (ras) each had their own power base and often a large following. Very
often, the ras held social and political views more right wing than Mussolini himself.

 Concerned at the growing violence between right and left and its possible threat to the
fascist movement, Mussolini signed a deal between the fascist and socialist trade unions –
the Pact of Pacification of August 1921.

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 The deal was rejected by several leading ras, some of whom urged D’Annunzio to
replace Mussolini as leader.

 Mussolini immediately abandoned the pact but the incident highlights his difficulty in
controlling the movement he helped to create.

How did Fascism change its programme between 1919 and 1922?

 By 1921, the Fascist programme had become more conservative. Its opposition to
communism and socialism appealed to the middle classes

 It also had wide appeal to almost everyone – its belief in family values and opposition to
divorce was likely to attract support from the Catholic Church. To others, it meant
squadrismo – anti-communist, fiercely patriotic and involved in violent strikebreaking.

 The inclusion of Fascist candidates in Giolitti’s government list in 1921 made Mussolini
and the party respectable.
 In October 1921, the Fascist Party was established on a national basis (Partito Nazionale
Fascista) – by mid-1922 it had 300,000 members.

 It stressed the importance of patriotism in contrast to the failures of the liberals. It was
vigorously anti-socialist. It also emphasised the importance of the leadership of Mussolini,
beginning the cult of the Duce.

The March on Rome, October 1922.

 From the beginning of 1922, fascist violence increased throughout northern and central
Italy – they were now set on gaining control of towns and provinces.

 In May, the leading ras, Balbo used 50,000 unemployed followers to occupy Ferrara and
forced the council to set up public works schemes to give them work.

 In July, the radical ras leader of Cremona, Farinacci launched an attack on the lives and
property of non-fascists in the town.

 Against this mounting Northern violence, the government and opponents of fascism
seemed powerless – in some areas, the squadristi were in control.

 In July 1922, socialist trade unions formed an Alliance of Labour. To protest at the
growing threat of fascism, they called a general strike. Strikers participating received violent
treatment from fascist groups.

 The government, led from February 1922 by Luigi Facta, made no serious attempt either
to negotiate with Mussolini or to end the violence.

 This failure to act prompted Mussolini to announce at a Naples rally on 24th October his
intention to lead a fascist march on Rome.

 Mussolini tried to assure the king and the army that he did not intend to change their
role.

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 He continued to negotiate with political leaders, often in secret, demanding the inclusion
of more fascists in government.

 In public, Mussolini declared that a fascist take-over was inevitable – either legally or
violently. He therefore left the Naples rally to return to Milan to prepare for the March on
Rome.

 On 28th October, Prime Minister Facta decided to resist the rising. He strengthened the
Rome garrison, assured himself of its loyalty and prepared to ask the king to declare martial
law.

 When King Victor Emmanuel refused to sign the martial law decree, Facta resigned. The
King had no alternative but to offer Mussolini the position of prime minister.

 On 30th October, Victor Emmanuel formally asked Mussolini to form a government. On


31st October, a victory parade of 70,000 fascists marched through Rome.

Why did the political system break down and allow Mussolini to come to power?

 The political weaknesses of the Liberal State were worsened by the extension of the
franchise and the growth of new parties. The trasformismo system of coalition politics could
not cope with these changes.

 World War One created serious divisions within Italian society between those who
supported Italian involvement and those who opposed it.

 World War One had disastrous social and economic consequences for Italy – e.g.
unemployment and inflation.

 After World War One, extremist political parties and violence grew. Many Italians,
including the King, saw the growing fascist movement led by Mussolini as a means of
defending the state against a communist revolution.

 Politicians such as Facta, Salandra and Giolitti proved to be ineffective either in


negotiating with Mussolini or in standing up to the threat he represented. They often tended
to take no action or act too late.

 Many influential Italians failed to appreciate the importance of Mussolini and the rising
power of the Fascists. They simply regarded it as a short-lived further development of
trasformismo politics.

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C: Power and control in Fascist Italy: propaganda; terror; the PNF (Partita
Nazionale Fascista; the relationship of the regime with the Church and the
old elites

Which social groups supported Mussolini?

 When Mussolini and the fascists came to power in 1922, they enjoyed considerable
support from across the political spectrum.

 Mussolini appeared to offer a new beginning after the terrible events of World War 1 and
its aftermath.

 But it is not easy to quantify accurately the extent of this support because:

 tight control of the newspapers and radio from 1925, the wide use of the secret
police and the removal of political opponents made criticism of the regime difficult.

 the clever use of propaganda and the cult of the Duce created the impression of a
nation completely united behind Mussolini and the values he represented.

Support from the King

 Throughout Mussolini’s dictatorship, Italy remained a monarchy. Although the king,


Victor Emmanuel, had the power to dismiss Mussolini, in reality, he had little control over
him.

 In 1922, he failed to stop him taking power and the Fascist victory parade through Rome
on 31st October received the royal salute.

 Mussolini needed the unquestioning support of the King to ensure that the armed forces
would support him.

 Although Mussolini and Victor Emmanuel did not get on personally, they needed each
other to survive. Not until 1943 did the King stand up against him when he gave back to
Parliament those powers which Mussolini had taken from them.

The armed forces

 The armed forces gave support to the plans of Mussolini to restore national greatness and
pursue an active foreign policy.

 They approved of his decision to dismiss the War Minister in 1925 and to assume the
position himself.

 They were delighted by his announcement abandoning plans to reduce the size of the
army. Attacks on left-wing dissidents and a strong line on law and order enjoyed military
support.

 The success of military conquests raised the profile of the military in Italian society.

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Industry and the middle classes

 Large industrialists were impressed by Fascist strike breaking activities and their
opposition to trade unions. Pirelli the tyre manufacturers and Olivetti who made typewriters
were particularly impressed by Mussolini.

 Police officers, rural landlords and middle-class business people all supported the Fascist
attacks on left-wing groups.

 Many liberal politicians preferred a fascist government to a full-blown socialist regime


and backed the move to grant Mussolini emergency powers.

The Catholic Church

 Mussolini had to build relations with the Roman Catholic Church because it was a very
powerful institution.

 He was helped in 1921 by the election of a new Pope, Pius X1, who was strongly anti-
communist. The violent disturbances of 1920-21 worried Church leaders who saw a right-
wing government as a means of ensuring stability and protecting Christian values.

 As a young man, Mussolini had shared his father’s dislike of the Catholic Church and its
priests. He was therefore concerned by the formation of the Catholic-based Popolari Party in
1919.

 However, once in power in 1922, he was more guarded: Popolari Party members joined
his coalition. Mussolini had to decide whether to challenge the power of the Catholic Church
in Italy or work with it. He chose the latter.

 For this reason, state grants were introduced to improve clergy salaries, anti-church
journals were banned and proposals to take over Church property were dropped.

 Mussolini pleased the Church even more by making R.E. compulsory in schools and
universities and by making contraception and birth control a criminal offence.

 He closed down many wine shops and night clubs and even attempted to stop swearing
in public. He tried to enforce the idea that women should stay at home and look after the
family while their husbands worked. He voiced his disapproval of contraception and wanted
divorce banned.

 In particular, Mussolini and the Roman Catholic Church clashed over the control of
education. To ensure that children grew up as good Fascists, Mussolini wanted the state to
control it – as it did.

 Efforts at compromise began in 1926 and it took until February 1929 for agreements to
be signed – the Lateran Treaties. They covered areas other than education.

 The treaties restored relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian state.

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 They set up Vatican City as an independent state within Rome with the Pope as Head.

 The state gave the Church compensation for land taken at unification – the Church
received 750 million liras and 1 billion liras in state bonds.

 The Concordat made the Roman Catholic Church the state religion. The Pope appointed
the bishops although they had to receive the blessing of the government.

 Religion had to be taught in both primary and secondary schools. The Roman Catholic
Church was given full control of marriage.

 The Lateran treaties were among the most important of all Mussolini’s achievements.

 Generally, relations between Church and the Fascist state remained friendly until July
1938 when Mussolini introduced the Charter of Race.

How did Mussolini and the Fascists consolidate their power so quickly?

 After 1922, Mussolini attempted to end the political violence and return to normal
constitutional methods. With only 32 fascist deputies in a Chamber of 535, he formed a
government made up largely of non-fascist, mainly right wing elements – a national
government.

 It was made up of 4 Fascists, including Mussolini, 4 Liberals, 2 from the Popolari


(Catholic Party), 1 Nationalist and 3 Independents - General Diaz, Admiral Di Revel and
Giovanni Gentile.

 The national government was generally welcomed. In November 1922, in a speech to the
Chamber, Mussolini demanded powers to rule alone - emergency powers.

 Although the Socialists and Communists opposed this demand, leading trasformismo
politicians Orlando, Giolitti and Salandra voted in favour.

 Controlling the fascist squads, 1922-3. The first major problem facing Mussolini was the
need to control the squadristi. Some of their leaders, the ras, had extreme aims.

The organisation of the Fascist Party

 In an attempt to solve this problem, Mussolini created the Fascist Militia (MSVN) in
January 1923. Ex-army officers were put in charge of local units – 200 unruly ras were
expelled from the movement.

 The militia were put into uniform and given a high profile – on public occasions they
mounted a ceremonial guard. Their loyalty was to the Duce not the King.

 The militia had no real power but was a clear sign that Italy was a fascist state and that
Mussolini controlled the movement.

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 The Cheka was the secret personal bodyguard of Mussolini made up of fascist thugs who
terrorised all opponents. Its leader was Ameriqo Dumini one of Mussolini’s closest advisers
who played a central role in the murder of Matteoti.

 The Fascist Grand Council was established in December 1922. It was dominated by
Mussolini who used it to control leading party members and thereby the party itself.

 A significant growth in Fascist Party membership helped Mussolini to consolidate his


power. In October 1922, the PNF had 300,000 members. By the end of 1923, membership
had reached 800,000.

 In February 1923, the Nationalists closed down their party organisation and many
members joined the Fascists with their own paramilitary organisation the ‘Blueshirts’
merging with the Fascist Militia.

 Controlling the press was of crucial importance in consolidating Mussolini’s power. In


June 1923, he took powers to control the work of the press by decree.

 Those considered to be opponents of the regime were often dealt with violently and with
the full force of the law.

 From 1923, left-wing political and union leaders were harassed by the Fascist Militia and
spied on by the state police. In late 1922, the Fascist Militia stormed the working class areas
of Parma and Turin injuring the inhabitants and damaging houses and shops.

Fascism in the Mezzogiorno

 Fascism started as an urban movement in the towns of central and northern Italy with
little impact in the South. On becoming Prime Minister, Mussolini pledged himself to solve
the social and economic problems of that region.

 In the South there were few fascists. Many nationalists were attracted to the fascists.
This increased their influence but the success of fascism in the South really depended on
doing a deal with the old liberal and conservative families who controlled that region.

 These families realised that they had to work with Mussolini if they were to receive
money from the fascist government in Rome.

 In the 1924 election, the more acceptable leaders were included on a list of fascist
government candidates - they attracted over two-thirds of the votes cast.

 Thus to consolidate fascism in the South, Mussolini encouraged it to become


conservative and acceptable to those families who had so much influence in that region.

The Acerbo Law

 Changing the electoral system was another tactic used by Mussolini to consolidate his
fascist regime.

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 It was widely thought that the existing system of proportional representation through 54
constituencies was the main reason for the instability that had plagued Italian politics for
many years.

 The Fascists proposed modifications to this system put together by the fascist deputy,
Giacomo Acerbo.

 The main change suggested was that the votes cast across the constituencies would be
totalled and the party list that had gained most votes would receive ⅔rds of the seats in the
Chamber

 Many liberals including Giolitti, Salandra and Orlando supported the Acerbo proposals.

 Other deputies supported them after fascist threats that Mussolini would assume
emergency powers if they were not approved.

 When the vote on the proposals was taken, they were approved by 235 votes to 139. The
socialists and communists voted against – the Popolari abstained. The Acerbo proposals now
became the Acerbo Law.

 The 1924 general election

 In the 1924 Election the Acerbo proposals worked well to the advantage of Mussolini
and the Fascists. The list of government supported candidates, made up of fascists and other
right wing politicians, gained two-thirds of the votes cast.

 As a result of the 1924 election, government supporters had 374 seats in the Chamber of
Deputies. The Popolari had 39 seats, the Socialists 46 and the Communists gained 12.

 The Fascists were successful in the South because powerful Southern families joined the
government list of candidates.

 Parliament reassembled on 30th May 1924 and was soon plunged into the Matteotti
Crisis.

The murder of Matteotti

 Giacomo Matteoti a Socialist member of the Chamber of Deputies spoke passionately


about the way in which the election had been conducted. He gave examples of threats
against both electors and candidates and claimed that the results were not valid.

 On 10th June, Matteoti was kidnapped in broad daylight on his way to Parliament and
beaten to death. Although his body was not found until August, rumours circulated that
Mussolini himself was deeply involved in his death.

 Written evidence from Angelo Rossi, published in late December, seemed to confirm his
involvement.

 In disgust, about 150 opposition deputies walked out of the Chamber in protest at the
disappearance of Matteoti. This is known as the Aventine Secession.

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 They hoped that their gesture and the suspicions surrounding Mussolini would influence
Victor Emmanuel to dismiss him. But their departure meant they lost their voice in
parliament and could no longer attack Mussolini there.

 Mussolini tried to please his critics. Rossi was dismissed from the government.
Mussolini gave up his post as Interior Minister. Fascist Militia members now had to swear
an oath of allegiance to the King not Mussolini.

 The ras were angered by the dismissal of leading fascists and by plans to bring the
squadristi under army control. In August 1924, the Fascist Grand Council set up a committee
to prepare plans for a fascist constitution.

 On 31st December 1924, 33 of the ras visited Mussolini and demanded an end to his
attempts to buy peace and the creation of a fully fascist state.

 On 3rd January 1925, Mussolini addressed the Chamber of Deputies. He took a strong
line emphasising how his attempts at conciliation had been rejected.

 Mussolini survived the Matteoti Crisis. An attempt to pass a vote of censure on him on
16th January 1925 was shouted down by his supporters.

 He survived because the majority of the Chamber of Deputies and the King supported
him. The press generally supported him.

Mussolini takes control

 After January 1925, Mussolini increased his control of the Italian state. Press censorship
was tightened, newspapers were confiscated, journalists had to be registered and editors
critical of the regime were dismissed.

 Those deputies who walked out of the Chamber in 1924 were not permitted to return.
The Popolari declined and the Socialists were incapable of opposing Mussolini.

 The Legge Fascistissime of 1925 banned all political parties and non-fascist trade
unions. It strengthened control over the press and set up a new secret police service.

 In local government, elected mayors were replaced with government-appointed officials,


the podesta. In January 1926, Mussolini was given the power to issue laws by personal
decree.

 The removal of the extreme party secretary Roberto Farinacci in 1926 marked the end of
the power and illegal activities of the squadristi. Mussolini had now consolidated his power
over the party as well as the country.

How did Mussolini and the Fascists control the Italian state?

 Individuals had little control over their personal lives and the state controlled as much as
they could. Those who opposed the state were punished.

 Assassination attempts on Mussolini in 1925 and 1926 provided the excuse to introduce
strong measures against possible opponents.

15
 In 1926, the Special Tribunal for the Defence of the State was set up to try cases
involving anti-fascist activity. The Tribunal was run by the militia. The judges were from the
military and they tried political offences.

 The government withdrew all passports and reissued them only to suitable applicants.

 Mussolini used the police and the courts to round up known opponents of the regime and
many were banished to remote parts of the country. This was known as Confino.

 All Italians were expected to obey Mussolini and the Fascist Party. Authority was
enforced by the Blackshirts – the Fasci di Combattimenti.

 Italy did have a secret police under Mussolini. It was called the OVRA and was set up in
1927 under Arturo Bocchini. The death penalty was restored under Mussolini for serious
offences.

 Prisons were set up on remote Mediterranean islands such as Ponza and Lipari.
Conditions for those sentenced to the prisons here were crude and many anti-fascists left
Italy for their own safety.

 A significant growth in Fascist Party membership helped Mussolini to increase his


power.

 In February 1923, the Nationalists had closed down their party organisation. Many
members joined the Fascists with their own paramilitary organisation the ‘Blueshirts’
merging with the Fascist Militia.

 The dismissal of Roberto Farinacci in 1926 as party secretary was followed by the
attempt by Mussolini to bring the party under his personal control.

 Augusto Turati, who succeeded Farinacci, began a process of centralising power within
the party and destroying the power of local fascist leaders.

The decline of Party control and the rise of Mussolini’s dictatorship

 Party officers were now appointed from above, not elected. The party no longer had any
power and had no influence over policy. No party congress was held after 1925.

 The Fascist Grand Council was the central executive of the Fascist Party and was
established in 1922. It met only when summoned by Mussolini and did not meet at all
between 1939 and 1942.

 Many ordinary fascists were disappointed that a fascist revolution did not take place
under Mussolini. Instead, fascism became conservative and many of the old ways continued.

 Nevertheless, the Fascist Party remained strong in the provinces. It distributed


propaganda, it was a source of jobs and patronage and it organised leisure activities.

16
 Membership grew from 1 million in 1932 to 2 million in 1934. In 1939, it reached 2.6
million.

Mussolini’s role

 Mussolini could make laws by personal decree and there was no scrutiny of proposed
laws.

 The king, Victor Emmanuel, could easily be persuaded into accepting whatever the Duce
decreed.

 His practice of regularly addressing both houses of parliament on many issues increased
his personal standing.

 For long periods Mussolini himself headed key ministries – foreign affairs, law and
order and those responsible for the armed forces. By 1929, he was in charge of eight
ministries including the Ministry of War.

 He interfered regularly in a wide range of policy issues. Without the support of the Duce,
ministers had little chance of promoting their own policies. With his backing, they could
hardly fail.

 A vast propaganda machine supported the powerful position Mussolini enjoyed.


Censored newspapers, state-controlled radio and compulsory cinema newsreels provided a
wide range of images of the Duce to impress the Italian public.

 Such propaganda created around Mussolini a strong cult of personality which silenced
both opposition and criticism.

Weaknesses in Mussolini’s dictatorship

 In reality, his interference in the work of various ministries had detrimental effects. He
did not delegate effectively and could not rise above petty detail.

 With Mussolini in charge, there was no sense of cabinet government and responsibility.
Each minister derived his authority from the Duce and had to follow his instructions without
question.

 Many able ministers either resigned or were replaced. Rossoni (trade union leader) was
dismissed in 1928. Turati (party secretary) was removed in 1930. He was followed by Rocco
(Justice) and the ex-ras Dino Grandi in1932. Air Minister Italo Balbo was dismissed in
1934.

 Achille Starace, the new party secretary, increased the size of the party but his obsession
with the cult of the Duce and his pursuit of physical fitness turned him into a figure of
ridicule.

 Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, was a second rate foreign minister from 1936
until 1943 who simply carried out the orders of the Duce.

17
 To maintain control of the state, Mussolini allied himself with conservative forces in
Italian society.

 In 1925, he made himself the minister responsible for the armed forces. Perhaps because
of this and other factors, Italy was not ready for war in 1939 and the armed forces performed
badly when it entered the war in 1940.

 Mussolini allowed the police force and the courts to continue to provide law and order.
They did much to bring an end to political violence.

 They also either destroyed or drove the mafia underground. The battle was brutal and
effective. In 1928, the number of murders in Palermo (Sicily) fell to 25 from 278 in 1924.

 Thousands of civil servants joined the Fascist Party to protect their jobs. Under
Mussolini the number of civil servants increased as did the bureaucracy.

 There was very little opposition to the regime. Some opponents were forced into exile
whilst others went voluntarily.

 With the media censored or controlled by the state, there was little opportunity for
criticism of the government.

Mussolini and Italian youth

 Like Hitler in Germany, Mussolini realised that children were the Fascists of the future.
Mussolini wanted a nation of warriors. Boys were expected to grow into fierce soldiers who
would fight for Italy.

 Girls were expected to be good mothers and to provide Italy with the population a great
nation needed.

 Children were taught at school that the great days of modern Italy began with The March
on Rome in 1922. They were told that Mussolini was the only man to lead Italy to greatness
and that they should call him ‘Il Duce’.

 Boys were encouraged to attend after school youth movements: The Sons of the She
Wolf (4-8); the Balilla (8-14); the Avanguardista (14-18).

 Boys were taught that fighting was a natural extension of the normal male lifestyle. One
of the more famous Fascist slogans was ‘War is to the male what childbearing is to the
female’.

 Girls were taught that giving birth was natural whilst for boys, fighting was the same –
natural.

 Children were taught to obey those in charge: all future adults of Fascist Italy would be
model citizens and not challenge those in charge.

 As members of the Balilla, boys took part in semi-military exercises. They marched and
used imitation guns.

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 The glory of the old Roman Empire was always in the background of much of what
children did. A child in the youth movements was a ‘legionary’ whilst an adult officer was a
‘centurion’ – a throw-back to the days of Ancient Rome.

The role of women in Mussolini’s Italy

 As in Nazi Germany, women were seen as having a specific role in Fascist Italy. The
task of young girls was to get married and have children – lots of them. In 1927, Mussolini
launched his Battle of Births.

 Mussolini believed that Italy should try to increase her population because without a
large population and a large army, she could not become a major force in Europe.

 Women were encouraged to have children and more children brought better tax benefits.
Large families received high tax benefits but bachelors were hit by high taxes.

 Families were given a target of 5 children. In 1933, Mussolini met 93 mothers at the
Palazzo Venezia who had produced over 1300 children – an average of 13 each.

 Mussolini wanted Italy to have a population of 60 million by 1950. In 1920, it stood at


37 million. In fact, the Battle of Births was a failure.

The Dopolavaro

 These programmes were known as the Dopolavaro and were administered by a


government agency, the Opera Nazionale Dopolavaro (OND), set up in 1925.

 Initially, education and skills training were important aspects but, as numbers grew, the
emphasis was placed on sport provision, heavily subsidised day trips and seaside holidays,
summer camps and cheap railway fares.

 OND schemes provided marvellous propaganda for the regime, particularly with foreign
observers and were used as compensation for lower wages.

Entertainment and sport

 In the cinema newsreels were screened everywhere provided a useful outlet for
propaganda about the regime. The state put money into subsidising Italian film-making and
into training technicians.

 Italian sporting achievements included twelve Olympic gold medals in 1932 and a world
heavyweight boxing champion (Primo Carnera) from 1933 to 1935.

 Cycling and skiing also expanded greatly. Cycling was the first popular mass sport in
Italy. The first organisation to regulate cycling was the Touring Club Italiano and was set up
in 1894.

 Italy won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938.

19
 Such sporting activity and success enhanced the self-esteem of the nation. It helps to
explain why many Italians remained content with the regime.

Mussolini and the Italian economy – Corporatism, Industrial and Agricultural Policy

The Corporate State

 In theory, this was a state where all economic activity and political life would be
organised through corporations with both workers and employers involved.

 Mussolini saw the corporate state as the third way between communism and capitalism.

 Under laws passed between 1926 and 1928, Alfredo Rocco set up in each major area of
the economy separate corporations of workers and employers each with state-appointed
officials on its committee.

 The corporations would simply negotiate with each other about labour relations,
including wage-rates. In 1926, a Ministry of Corporations was created to control the
working of the system.

 In reality, the corporations had only limited use and were dominated by state-appointed
officials. Industrialists disliked them and Mussolini failed to back them. As late as 1934,
they existed in only 22 areas of the economy.

The Battle for the Lira

 By 1922, Mussolini had abandoned the strongly anti-capitalist ideas of 1919 and
economic policy moved further to the right.

 Between 1922 and 1925, the Italian economy flourished under liberal free-market
policies and aided by a post-war economic boom. Exports rose and unemployment fell. Until
1925, there were regular tax cuts and an annual budget surplus.

 The economic situation worsened in 1924 with a poor harvest. The value of the lira fell
and price inflation began.

 In 1926, Mussolini pushed through a revaluation of the lira from 150 to 90 against the
British pound (the Battle of the Lira).

 A strong lira was symbolic of a strong Italy but as a consequence, the Italian currency
was over-valued against other currencies.

 The revaluation was a turning point in economic policy. The free market was abandoned
and the state intervened increasingly to control the economy, e.g. by introducing tariffs on
imports.

 The revaluation hit Italy’s export trade but by making imports cheaper, it helped heavy
industries such as steel and chemicals which relied on imported raw materials.

20
 Tariffs on unwanted imports such as consumer goods and foodstuffs kept their prices
high and restricted demand.

Banking and the Great Depression

 The world trade depression of the 1930s hit the Italian banking system particularly badly
– the banks had too much money tied up in long-term loans to depressed industries.

 Through the Instituto Mobilare Italiano (IMI) founded in 1931 and the Institute of
Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) founded in 1933, the government bought the industrial
securities deposited with the banks as security for loans and went on to buy the bank shares
as well.

 Banks were prevented from long-term lending which became increasingly the
responsibility of state agencies like the IRI.

 Most historians agree that the Italian economy survived the depression fairly well: the
Italian economy was more agricultural than industrial.

 After the Depression, government involvement in the economy continued. Industries


remained in private ownership with the government in support of large firms.

 State involvement in the economy had disadvantages. It often led to increased


bureaucracy and the emergence of monopolies.

Autarky

 Self-sufficiency was the most important economic policy aim from as early as 1930.
After 1935, its importance increased.

 It involved encouraging heavy industry, particularly of any military importance. It meant


self-sufficiency in food, especially grain.

 The need for self-sufficiency dominated economic policy. Demand for consumer goods
was depressed in order to reduce imports. As a result, the living standards of both industrial
workers and peasants were lower than in the 1920s.

 After the League of Nations imposed sanctions on Italy following the invasion of
Ethiopia in 1935, self-sufficiency became even more important.

 The drive for autarky had mixed results. In practice, self-sufficiency could never be
achieved in key areas such as coal, oil and raw materials for metal industries.

 The idea that economic shortages could be made up from the Italian colonies in Africa
was badly mistaken. The only real chance of making up these shortages came with help from
her ally, Germany.

 However, backed by heavy state subsidies, the shipbuilding industry developed rapidly
as did programmes of electrification and road building.

21
 The first traffic roads or autostrade were built to connect towns in northern Italy.

 The car industry concentrated very successfully on the home market, doubling its
workforce in the 1930s.

 In 1922, there were 47,164 registered cars on Italian roads. By 1938, this figure had
increased to 345,000, mainly due to techniques of mass production introduced by Fiat.

Railways

 The railways did improve but this was not due to Fascist policies since much had been
done to repair trains, track and rolling stock before 1922.

 The main tourist trains ran more punctually than before and by 1939, around 5,000
kilometres of track had been electrified. Fascist propaganda was eager to portray railway
progress.

22
The Battle for Grain, 1925

 The aim of the Battle for Grain was to reduce the volume of foreign wheat imports, now
subject to high import duties.

 The state provided storage facilities and marketing agencies as well as training courses
and publicity campaigns in new methods. New areas of land were brought into production,
sometimes on unsuitable hilly areas in the North.

 In the late 1930s, wheat production was double what it had been in the era before
Mussolini and 40% higher than in the early 1920s. Wheat imports were dramatically
reduced.

 BUT wheat yields remained low and costs high. Much of the new wheat land could have
been better used for olive production and pastureland.

 The propaganda machine claimed the Battle of Grain to be an overwhelming success, but
Italy began to import olive oil.

The Battle for Land, 1928

 In 1928, under the ‘Mussolini Law’, the government began a policy of land reclamation
known as ‘The Battle for Land’ – a battle to clear marshland so that it could be used for
farming.

 Some projects were a success. One area that was cleared was the Pontine Marshes – an
area of mosquito-infested land that was to have housing built on it. By 1935, they were
providing land for settlement.

 But in reality, the Battle of Land was abandoned in 1940. Most land reclamation projects
were a failure.

 In theory, the Battle of Land was part of a bigger programme of land redistribution
linked to the Battle for Births and the Battle for Grain. But again, programmes of land
redistribution failed. Fewer than 10,000 peasant families were actually re-settled on
reclaimed land.

 Fascism did little to change traditional patterns of land-holding or to revive rural Italy.
In 1940, the peasants who comprised 90% of the farming population owned only 13% of the
land. The richest 0.5% of the population owned over 40% of the land.

How successful were Fascist economic policies?

 Government involvement helped the Italian economy through the worst effects of the
Depression. The banking system was protected, heavy industries were built up and the
country became self-sufficient in wheat.

 Government subsidies helped to develop the electricity network based upon


hydroelectric power and a programme of road building.

23
 But the Battles for Grain and Land had very limited success. High import tariffs often
protected inefficient industries.

 Most serious of all was the unquestioning investment in armaments and the way in
which the economy was directed to military needs.

 However in 1939, despite the emphasis on armaments and military spending, Italy was
not ready for war.

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D: Building the new Roman Empire: Abyssinia, Spain and Italy’s diplomatic
and military preparations for war, 1933-41.

 Italian foreign policy under Mussolini had to be aggressive and robust to show how
powerful Italy was under his leadership.

 He also believed that conquering foreign territory was the sign of a great nation – hence
the invasion of Abyssinia.

 Mussolini shared with many Italians grievances about the Treaty of Versailles.

 He believed that the Mediterranean Sea should be an Italian sphere of influence. He


referred to the sea as ‘Mare Nostrum’ – ‘Our Sea’.

 Unfortunately for Italy, Great Britain dominated the Mediterranean with naval bases in
Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus.

1922 – 1935

 1922 - 1925, the Italian army worked to control Libya, taken by Italy from the Turks in
1912.

 In 1923, following a naval bombardment of the Greek-controlled island of Corfu, the


Italians were forced to withdraw.

 In 1924, Mussolini managed to persuade Yugoslavia to accept Fiume as part of Italy – it


was duly annexed.

 In 1926, Mussolini established an Italian protectorate over Albania – the first step in
Italian imperial expansion.

 In the 1920s, Italy took full control of the north of Somalia but like nearby Eritrea, a
colony since 1889, it yielded little benefit.

 In 1934, Mussolini moved Italian troops to the Austrian border to discourage Hitler from
pursuing his ambitions against Austria.

 In 1935, at a conference held at Stresa in the Italian lakes region, Britain, France and
Italy formed the Stresa Front. They issued a joint protest at German rearmament and pledged
themselves to maintain the peace treaties signed at the end of World War 1.

1935 – 1939

 Initially, Mussolini was alarmed at the increasing power of Germany and the threat it
represented to Austrian independence and thereby the security of the Italian northern
frontier.

25
 He soon realised however, that an increasingly aggressive Germany would revive French
fears for its own security. France might therefore be less interested in blocking his ambitions
in the Mediterranean and in Africa.

 He also realised that if the territorial ambitions of Hitler lay in northern and eastern
Europe then the way could be cleared for Italian expansion into the Mediterranean, the
Balkans and Africa.

 The failure of France and Britain to stand up to Hitler not only filled Mussolini with
contempt for western democracies, it made him determined to follow a more aggressive
approach himself – hence the attack on Abyssinia in 1935.

War with Abyssinia

 Italy had acquired few colonies in Africa in the late nineteenth century.

 The Italians attempted further expansion in eastern Africa by joining Abyssinia to her
conquests but were heavily defeated by the Abyssinians in 1896 at the Battle of Adowa.

 This defeat badly damaged Italian pride. The loss of 6,000 men against a backward
Abyssinian army was difficult to bear.

 Mussolini saw himself as a modern day Julius Caesar who would one day rule a vast
Italian empire as in the days of Caesar.

 From 1932, Mussolini took personal charge of Italian foreign policy. He prepared to
attack Abyssinia.

 In December 1934, Mussolini accused the Abyssinians of aggression at Wal Wal oasis
on the Ethiopian border with Italian Somaliland – several Italian soldiers were killed.

 He ordered Italian troops in Somaliland and Eritrea to attack Abyssinia. Large amounts
of ammunition and supplies had already been stockpiled there.

 In October 1935, the Italians invaded Abyssinia with 400,000 men. The Italians used
armoured vehicles and even mustard gas in their attack.

 The capital Addis Ababa fell in May 1936. Haile Selassie was removed from the throne
and replaced by the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel.

International reaction to the invasion of Abyssinia

 The Abyssinians appealed to the League of Nations for help. The League condemned the
attack and League members were ordered to impose economic sanctions on Italy.

 It took six weeks for the sanctions to be organised and they did not include vital
materials such as oil. Germany, Japan and the United States did not carry out any sanctions.

 Britain and France were also concerned about provoking Mussolini in the Mediterranean
Sea where Britain had two large naval bases – Gibraltar and Malta.

26
 Both the British and French overestimated the size of the Italian navy but it was this
anxiety which also led Britain to keep open the Suez Canal.

 It is also possible that both Britain and France considered the war too far away to be of
any importance to them.

 In an attempt to end the war, the British Foreign Secretary Samuel Hoare and the French
Prime Minister Pierre Laval met in December 1935. They came up with the Hoare-Laval
Pact.

 Mussolini accepted the plan but in Britain there was a huge outcry. It was widely
believed that a British government minister had betrayed the people of Abyssinia. The
protests caused Hoare to resign and the plan was dropped.

 The pact had indicated that two major European League members were prepared to
negotiate with a nation that had used aggression to impose its will on a weaker nation.

 The involvement of the League in the Abyssinia crisis was a disaster.

What was the reaction in Italy to the Abyssinian invasion?

 Galeazzo Ciano launched a massive propaganda campaign to convince the Italian people
that the invasion and conquest of Abyssinia was an outstanding success and a great personal
triumph for Mussolini.

 With less than 2,000 casualties and against considerable opposition, it was fairly easy to
portray Mussolini as a heroic figure.

 Sanctions imposed by the League of Nations encouraged many Italians to support


Mussolini as the whole venture was portrayed as a fight for national survival.

What was the outcome for Italy of the invasion?

 The country remained under Italian control until 1941, often with considerable brutality.
It proved to be of little benefit to Italy.

 The success of the invasion encouraged Mussolini to continue the development of the
fascist state and the personality cult of the Duce.

 The most negative aspect of the invasion was the high cost. In the year 1934-5, state
expenditure was running a deficit of 2,195 million lira. In the year 1939-40, the deficit was
28,039 million lira.

The Civil War in Spain

 After the international rebuff Italy experienced after the invasion of Abyssinia, the only
choice of allies left for Mussolini was Germany and Spain.

 In July 1936, a civil war broke out in Spain between the Republicans and the
Nationalists led by the army general, Franco.

27
 This Communist support tended to condemn the Republicans in the eyes of many in
Europe. Mussolini and Hitler sent support and ‘volunteers’ to Franco.

 Mussolini saw Italian involvement in Spain as another opportunity to expand his power
and influence.

 Mussolini sent 70,000 men, 700 aircraft and 1,000 tanks to fight in Spain – it was by far
the most important contribution from any country.

 Not all Italians supported Franco. Some who had moved abroad during Mussolini’s time
in power formed the Garibaldi Brigade. They fought on the Republican side.

 Involvement in The Spanish Civil War was deeply unpopular in Italy. It damaged public
finances, made relations with Britain and France more difficult and forced Italy closer to
Germany. The Italian dream of an empire in the Mediterranean was short-lived.

Mussolini and Hitler

 In 1933, Mussolini regarded Hitler as the junior in any relationship between the two
dictators. He also saw Hitler as a possible rival.

 Mussolini tried to maintain friendly relations with France and Britain. In June 1933, he
invited representatives from France, Germany and Britain to a meeting in Rome.

 Mussolini met Hitler in Venice in 1934 – the meeting went badly. Relationships between
Hitler and Mussolini reached a low when Austrian Nazis murdered Chancellor Dollfuss of
Austria.

 After the Abyssinia campaign, Germany and Italy grew closer. Economic sanctions
imposed by Britain and France led to a deterioration in their relations with Italy.

 Involvement in The Spanish Civil War brought Italy and Germany closer together.

 In October 1936, the new Italian foreign minister, Ciano, visited Berlin. Hitler assured
him that German territorial ambitions did not extend into the Mediterranean.

 In return, Italy acknowledged the German right to rearm and German influence in
Austria. Within days, Mussolini announced the formation of the Berlin-Rome Axis.

 In 1937, Mussolini took Italy out of the League of Nations after it imposed sanctions on
Italy following the invasion of Abyssinia.

 In November 1937, Italy joined Germany and Japan in The Anti-Comintern Pact.

 In 1938, Germany occupied Austria in the Anschluss. Mussolini received no warning of


the German invasion and could do nothing to prevent it.

 Mussolini tried to revive his position by suggesting the Munich Conference in


September 1938.

28
 Mussolini received considerable credit for this – his reputation as a leading statesman of
Europe was at its height.

 The German invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 angered Mussolini because it


appeared that Hitler was carving out his own empire with no regard for Italy.

 To compensate for this, Mussolini took over Albania on Good Friday 1939 – for him a
sign of Italy’s expanding power in Europe.

 Mussolini made it clear to Hitler that he considered the Adriatic Sea to be an Italian
sphere of influence.

 In May 1939, the Germans and Italians strengthened their friendship with the Pact of
Steel.

The impact of War

 On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Hitler fully expected Italian help.
Despite his boasts about Italian military strength, Mussolini decided that the Italian army
was not ready to fight – the promises he had made in the Pact of Steel were not kept.

 Italy finally entered the war on 10th June 1940. Mussolini was clearly envious of German
successes and wanted a share of the spoils.

 On 17th June, Mussolini ordered an invasion of southern France. A small piece of land
was seized but fierce French resistance ensured that a full-scale attack never took place.

 In September 1940, Mussolini ordered the Italian army to attack British troops in Egypt.
This was the start of a war which was to have disastrous results for Italy.

 From June 1940 until September 1943, Italy fought alongside Germany in World War
Two.

 The first mistake was the failure to make any move to capture the strategically important
island of Malta – it remained a British naval base throughout the war.

 Without any aircraft carriers, the Italians were not able to command the western
Mediterranean.

 There was no assault on the British base at Gibraltar - it commanded the western
entrance to the Mediterranean.

 Mussolini failed to take up the German offer to occupy the defeated French colony of
Tunisia with its modern naval base at Bizerta.

 In the summer of 1940, Mussolini was sent 300 Italian aircraft to Belgium. They all
lacked the range and the speed to be of any use in this theatre but could have been invaluable
attacking British targets in the Mediterranean.

 His decision to invade Greece in 1940 had serious consequences. The Greek army
counter-attacked and invaded Albania.

29
 There was no co-ordination of the efforts of the attacking forces. Supply lines through
The Adriatic and Albania were totally inadequate.

 The size of the Greek army and its fighting capacity were underestimated. The Italian
navy was defeated in March 1941 at Cape Matapan.

 In June 1941, against German wishes, Mussolini declared war on the Soviet Union and
sent a large Italian force to The Eastern Front. Short of tanks and with inadequate motor
transport, the force proved completely ineffective.

 The Italian defeat in Greece coincided with the rout of Italian forces in Libya by the
British – 30,000 British soldiers made prisoners of the majority of the Italian army
numbering 200,000.

 Italian attempts in North Africa to seize Egypt and The Suez Canal failed. The Italians
refused offers of German help but it was the Germans who had to intervene later to support
them.

 With the Suez Canal in British hands, the fate of 250,000 Italian troops in Ethiopia and
east Africa was settled.

 In July 1943, the King removed Mussolini from office.

Why was the Italian military performance so disappointing?

 Pre-war claims that Italy could field an army of between 8 and 9 million soldiers or even
12 million were unfounded. The Italian army, in fact, numbered under 3 millions - well
below WW1 figures.

 All branches of the Italian armed forces were poorly supplied. The army had virtually no
tanks. The navy had large numbers of battleships but no aircraft carriers. The air force had
too many bombers (647) but too few fighters (191). It also had no knowledge of radar.

 There was no combined general staff and therefore no overall strategy for the 3 branches
of the armed forces.

 The intelligence network was shown to be woefully inadequate and there was no proper
defence system against aerial bombing.

 The occupation of Ethiopia and involvement in The Spanish Civil War sapped much of
Italy’s military strength.

 The Italian economy was not strong enough to support a major military campaign.

 Essential war industries were not sufficiently protected and there was no co-ordinating
ministry to organise the future war effort.

 The propaganda machine was removed from reality and there was no questioning of
plans or figures.

30
 Mussolini was personally involved in all major policy decisions and became a bottleneck
in the task of fighting the war.

How did Italian involvement in World War Two impact on The Home Front?

 There was no general call-up of men into the military and the rationing of food and
consumer goods came very slowly.

 There were no restrictions on the use of private cars and luxury goods continued to be on
sale in the shops. It was 1942 before the armaments industry exceeded peacetime production
levels.

 As shortages began to be felt, peasant farmers started hoarding food and a vast black
market emerged.

 The Italian economy was unable to respond to wartime demand and suffered badly from
shortages of fuel and raw materials.

 Hydro-electric power could not be quickly expanded. The only source of coal was
Germany but it needed all the coal produced for its own use.

 As a result, steel production, essential to the war effort, fell from 2.3 million tons in 1938
to 1.9 million tons in 1942.

 The shortage of raw materials and inadequate power supplies led to a sharp decline in
armaments and military transport production at the onset of the war.

 Before 1940, the state had controlled the leading firms of Italy and much of its economy.
In the war itself, the Fascist run economy failed to function effectively.

 In October 1941, bread was rationed at 200 grammes per week for most people – it was
reduced to 150 grammes in March 1942. Potatoes, beans, lentils, milk, cheese and eggs were
also subsequently rationed.

 Also in 1942, shoes and clothing were rationed, private cars were banned and the heating
of buildings was restricted.

 To prevent illegal trading, food markets were placed under Fascist Party control. Savage
punishments, including the death penalty, were available to deal with those hoarding food.

 In the second year of the war, food shortages became worse following the conscription
of young farm labourers and peasants into the army.

 German demands that Italy should continue to export food made shortages worse and a
black market developed.

 The economy was further disrupted by the regime compelling civilian workers to go to
work in Germany. 200,000 were sent in 1941 and perhaps twice that number in 1942.

 Industrial workers in Genoa, Milan and Turin suffered most from Allied bombing
attacks which became more intense in 1942.

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 In April 1942, the normal working hours in heavy industry were set at 12 per day – 14 in
exceptional circumstances.

 By 1942, the Fascist controlled press was conducting virulent campaigns against
defeatists and grumblers who were accused of links with the British and international
Communism.

 Early in 1943, there was a series of short strikes protesting not only about wage levels
but living conditions generally.

The overthrow and death of Mussolini

 By late 1942, military defeats on the Soviet and North African fronts led to a serious loss
of civilian morale as the propaganda machine became less convincing.

 As the military news worsened, the Fascist Party collapsed – initially at the local level
and then nationally. In 1942, with the war in North Africa being lost, public support was
ebbing away.

 Some leading Fascists thought of making a separate peace but realised that Mussolini
would not agree. The Allied landings on Sicily in mid-July 1943 made them decide to take
further action.

 In late July 1943, Mussolini was persuaded to call a meeting of The Fascist Grand
Council – the first since 1939. The Council voted by 19 votes to 7 to ask Victor Emmanuel
III to give back to Parliament and the other constitutional bodies all the powers which
Mussolini had taken from them.

 Next day, Mussolini tried to override this decision but the King stood up to him.
Mussolini was arrested and replaced by the aged soldier, Marshal Badoglio.

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