Many democracies, including the United States, Britain, and France, remained strong despite the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression. However, millions of people lost faith in democratic government. In response, they turned to an extreme system of government called fascism.
Fascist Beliefs and Policies:
This new, militant political movement called fascism emphasised loyalty to the state and obedience to its leader.Fascists promised to revive the economy, punish those responsible for hard times, and restore national pride. Their message attracted many people who felt frustrated and angered by the peace treaties that followed World War I and by the Great Depression.
Unlike communism, fascism had no clearly defined theory or program. Nevertheless, most Fascists shared several ideas. They preached an extreme form of nationalism, or loyalty to one’s country. Fascists believed that nations must struggle—peaceful states were doomed to be conquered. They pledged loyalty to an authoritarian leader who guided the state. In each nation, Fascists wore uniforms of a certain color, used special salutes, and held mass rallies.
In some ways, fascism was similar to communism. Both systems were ruled by dictators who allowed only their political party (one-party rule). Both denied individual rights. In both, the state was supreme. Neither practiced any kind of democracy. However, unlike Com- munists, Fascists did not seek a classless society. Rather, they believed that each class had its place and function. Communism claimed to be a dictatorship of the working class. In most cases, fascist parties were made up of aristocrats and industrialists, war veterans, and the lower middle class. Also, Fascists were nationalists, and Communists were internationalists, hoping to unite workers worldwide.
Mussolini Comes to Power in Italy
Fascism’s rise in Italy was fueled by bitter disappointment over the failure to win large territorial gains at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Rising inflation and unemployment also contributed to widespread social unrest. Italy’s upper and middle classes feared a Communist revolution, as in Russia. To growing numbers of Italians, their democratic government seemed helpless to deal with the country’s problems. They wanted a leader who would take action.
The Rise of Mussolini: A newspaper editor and politician named Benito Mussolini boldly promised to rescue Italy by reviving its economy and rebuilding its armed forces. He vowed to give Italy strong leadership. Mussolini had founded the Fascist Party in 1919. At first, he failed to win widespread support. As economic conditions worsened, however, his popularity rapidly increased. Finally, Mussolini publicly criticized Italy’s government. Groups of Fascists wearing black shirts attacked Communists and Socialists on the streets. This campaign of terror weakened his opponents. Because Mussolini played on the fear of a workers’ revolt, he began to win support from the middle classes, the aristocracy, and industrial leaders.
In October 1922, about 30,000 Fascists marched on Rome. They demanded that King Victor Emmanuel III put Mussolini in charge of the government. The king decided that Mussolini was the best hope for his dynasty to survive, so he let Mussolini form a government. Thus, after widespread violence and a threat of armed uprising, Mussolini took power “legally.” At the time, a foreign diplomat described him as “an actor, a dangerous rascal, and possibly slightly off his head.”
Il Duce’s Leadership: Mussolini was now Il Duce (ihl DOO•chay), or the leader. He abolished democracy and outlawed all political parties except the Fascists. Secret police jailed his opponents. Government censors forced radio stations and publications to broadcast or publish only Fascist doctrines. Mussolini outlawed strikes. He sought to control the economy by allying the Fascists with the industrialists and large landowners.
Under His Leadership, Italy became the model for Fascists in other countries. However, Mussolini never had the total control achieved by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union or Adolf Hitler in Germany.