Fascism in Italy

1.  Why did Mussolini's Fascist Party become popular in Italy after World War I?

* Italy had suffered badly during the war - 460,000 soldiers were killed and the country was heavily in debt. the Italian army had been heavily defeated and had only won its first major victory at Vittorio Veneto in October 1918.

* Italy had been promised extra land by Britain and France during the war, but when the war ended it was not handed over. This made it look as if the Italian Government had been ignored.
* the governments after the war were weak. they were coalitions (made up of more than one party) and were not able to take decisions.
* there was rising unemployment and this led to unrest in many cities and many people began to support the Communists.
* Mussolini set up the Fascist Party and posed as a strong man who could sort out Italy's problems. He promised to rebuild Italy and recreate the Roman Empire.
* Mussolini organzed armed gangs, called the Blackshirts, who dealt with troublemakers and criminals. they also broke up strikes. In some cities, Bologna for example, the Fascists were the police force.
* Mussolini's newspaper, "Il Popolo d'Italia", spread his ideas. As unemployment grew and people became more desperate, they turned to Mussolini to solve Italy's problems.
* In October 1922 Mussolini threatened to march on Rome if he was not appointed prime minister. the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, who supported Mussolini, refused to back the existing government and invited him to become prime minister.
* Once he was prime minister, Mussolini persuaded the king to allow him to rule as a dictator for one year and then passed the Acerbo Law. This stated that whichever party won the next general election would receive two-thirds of the seats in parliament.
* In April 1924 the Fascists won 60% of the votes and gained 375 seats out of 535. When a leader of the Socialist party, Giacomo Matteotti, spoke out against the Fascists he was kidnapped and found murdered. Mussolini was not involved, but it was a warning for the future.
* In the next few years Mussolini set up a secret police force, the OVRA, and built concentration camps on the Lipari Islands for his opponents.

2.  In what ways did Mussolini change Italy?

Mussolini was the first of the Dictators who came to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the others copied his ideas, but also avoided his mistakes:

* All political parties, except for the Fascists, were banned, and trade unions were almost made illegal. Instead workers and employers were made to join "Corporations", which were intended to sort out differences between them.
* Newspapers and books were censored.
* Education was controlled, and all schoolbooks were rewritten. 1922 was renamed the Year One. Boys were expected to become soldiers and all children were encouraged to join the Balilla [Wolf Packs] - an organization which trained them to be good fascists.
* Women were discouraged from working, horse-riding, and wearing trousers. Instead, they were encouraged to stay at home and have as many children as possible.
* Mussolini began a series of schemes to improve the Italian economy; he called these the "Battles". He tried to make Italy self-sufficient in food and to increase the Italian population - farmers were encouraged to grow more wheat (the Battle for Grain), families were encouraged to have more children (the Battle for Births), and land for agriculture (the Battle for Land) was reclaimed.
* Mussolini began to build motorways (autostrada) to provide work for Italians during the Depression. He also built new public buildings and claimed that he "made the railways run on time". He began to build a new city "Mussolinia" in southern Italy as part of the "Battle of the Southern Problem", which was intended to make southern Italy more prosperous.
* In 1929 Mussolini even managed to make an agreement with the Pope called the Lateran Treaties. This settled an argument between the Italian Government and the Pope that had been going on for nearly sixty years. the Pope agreed to accept the Fascists and Mussolini agreed that the Catholic religion would be taught in every Italian school. He also promised to pay the salaries of Catholic priests and set up the Vatican City in Rome. This convinced many Italians that they should support Mussolini.

At first Mussolini was very popular. In the 1920s Italy appeared to be becoming more prosperous and more powerful. Many Italians found work in the industries that Mussolini set up and Italy seemed to be recovering from the effects of the First World War. But in the 1930s Mussolini began to become less popular in Italy.

3.  If Mussolini was initially popular, how did he fall out of favor with the Italian people?

Mussolini tried to build up a picture of himself as a superman. He had photographs taken of himself flying an aeroplane, driving a racing car, playing the violin, winning a chess game, and even jogging. Unfortunately, many of these photographs were faked and Italians began to realize that many of Mussolini's claims were not true.

* Many of Mussolini's plans were not well planned and failed. The Italian population actually shrunk, and while he grew more wheat, there was less olive oil and fruits - which were important exports. Although he tried to build the new city in southern Italy called Mussolinia, only a few foundations were finished. If his plans did not work quickly, Mussolini usually gave up.
* Most Italians found themselves getting worse off by the early 1930s. Mussolini's attempts to make Italy self-sufficient made most things more expensive. Wages did not go up as quickly as prices.
* From 1935 Mussolini came more and more under the influence of Hitler - before that Hitler had been the follower and Mussolini the leader. Many Italians did not like this. When Mussolini tried to begin persecuting Jews, most Italians refused.

To try to regain popularity Mussolini began to build an empire. He invaded Abyssini {Ethiopia] in 1935. The Abyssinians did not have a modern army and it was an easy victory. It made Mussolini popular for a time, but it also meant that he became even more under the influence of Hitler. In 1936 they signed the Rome-Berlin Axis.

Mussolini declared war on Britain and France in 1940, but the Italian armed forces were not very successful. He tried to invade North Africa and Yugoslavia, but each time his army had to be rescued by the Germans. In 1943 the Allies invaded Italy and Mussolini was overthrown. He was rescued by German paratroopers, but at the end of the war he was caught trying to escape in April 1945 and shot by Italian resistance fighters. His body was hung upside down outside the gates of Milan.

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