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5.3 Fascism in Italy
In 1939, Hitler asserted that Fascism succeeded in saving Italy from Bolshevism. To an extent, Fascism in Italy was an answer to the communist threat posed by Russia. Italy belonged to the group of Allied powers who were victorious in the World War of 1914. Still she did not get the facilities that she deserved. She was disillusioned and a sense of discontentment prevailed in the country. Due to this fact the economic conditions of people in Italy worsened and revolutionaries found a suitable opportunity to create chaos in the nation. At that time the government was incompetent. It failed in taking control of the conditions in the country. Gradually the nationalists grouped together to emerge as the Fascist party. According to Ketelbey, author of the book History of Modern Time Europe, "It was this urgent need of a strong unifying force that formed the background for the rise of Fascism in Italy."
The rise of Fascism is unprecedented in the History of Europe and in the world at large. Mussolini led the Fascist party. He acquainted people with the basic tenets of Fascism. About 15 months before the Fascists gained power, Mussolini wrote, "To say that there still exists a Bolshevist peril in Italy is for interested motives, to substitute fears. Bolshevism has been vanquished."
An eminent Italian historian gives a very different picture. He says that although there were disturbance, riots and strikes in pre-fascist Italy, there was never a breakdown in the economic machinery of the country. According to an Italian economist, Italy had decidedly improved her condition at that time, and the lives of Italian people, on the economic front, seemed to recover. So to say that Fascism arose on account of either chaos, especially on the economic front would not be correct.
Benito Mussolini in the early days of his life pursued varied careers, as a schoolteacher, a mason, a farmer, a blacksmith. When he went to Switzerland for higher studies, he came in contact with socialist propaganda. He returned to become an editor of a socialist newspaper in Italy. He served in the Italian army for some time and later organized a Fascist group of fighters (fasci di combattimento). Its basic idea was the promotion of the Rightist ideology and the destruction of the leftists. The main aim of the group was to govern the nation and ensure the moral and national greatness of the people of Italy. The objectives of Mussolini were twofold. He attempted to strengthen the authority of the state and encouraged natural syndicatism.
The Fascist group was instituted at Milan in 1919. This movement soon spread to other towns and then penetrated the villages too. The members of the organization were mostly the recruited from among combatants and students. They wore black shirts as their common dress which reflected their uniformity. By organizing the labor unions i.e. the syndicates, Mussolini won many socialists to his fold. The objectives of labor unions were that they be given control of industries, that a capital levy and an inheritance tax be installed and that there be an eight-hour work day. Mussolini ordered a mobilization of the army of the Black Shirts. Together they began their March on to Rome. The king of Italy invited Mussolini to form the ministry.
Fascists were anti-democratic, anti-individualist and also anti-socialist. They also declared that political factors make history and not the economic factors. Fascism was also against laissez-faire and pacifism. Instead it exalted war.
Mussolini had ambitious ideas of expanding the borders of Italy. This began to alarm Europe. When the Second World War broke out, Mussolini hesitated to enter into the fracas. Later the temptation to take quick and easy spoil proved irresistible to him. Italy waged war with Britain and France and gained easy success. This encouraged him to make an even a bigger attempt on Egypt and Greece and also North Africa. But he failed in this attempt. Due to this, Fascism was shattered. Mussolini was murdered in 1945. What Italy gained in the war was lost during the peace treaty. According to Hazen, an eminent historian, "Fascism began an impulse towards law and order and it sought to safeguard the existing institutions of Italy against the ruinous influence."