Fascism in Italy: Definition, History & Origins

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Fascism in Italy – Italian Fascist

What is Italian Fascism?

Italian fascism was a totalitarian political movement, led by Benito Mussolini. It was developed between the years 1920 and 1943, especially after the political and economic crisis that generated the First World War. Italy was the first fascist state in history.

Fascism was an ideology that reconciled various policies that extol nationalism and central totalitarianism. However, he did not identify with either the political ideals of the right or the left.

On the contrary, it consisted in exalting the idea of ​​the nation before the individual, promoting violence, a one-party system and limiting freedom of expression.

Italian fascism emerged as a political-cultural response that attended to the deep economic and political crisis faced by the Kingdom of Italy after the First World War.

It was presented as a political “third position“. Its purpose was to respond to the changes facing Western civilization such as the class struggle, the loss of European influence, the struggle against the Bolsheviks or the emergence of the intellectual and artistic vanguards, among others.

This third position was a political alternative that was characterized as a position contrary to capitalism and communism. His intention was to promote ultra-nationalism and centralism.

Italian fascism has been the model to follow, throughout the 20th century, of many political systems characterized by being nationalist, revolutionary and having charismatic and populist leaders.

Origin of Italian fascism

The postwar crisis in Italy gave way to the militants of patriotic groups, former trade unionists and other agitators regrouping again to defend nationalist ideas of a radical kind.

The poet Gabrielle D’Annunzio was among the first to lead these movements. It was thus that he founded the Free State of Fiume (1920), and wrote a constitution in which he notably exposed his fascist tendency.

For his part, Benito Mussolini took advantage of the poverty and political crisis of his country to re-found in March 1919, in Milan, the Fascis italiani di combattimento (in Spanish, Fascios italianos de combat), known as fascists. The following years were characterized by being very violent.

Fascist Violence

Fascist groups, backed by landowners and various members of the middle class, provoked numerous violent confrontations against the working and economic conditions faced by the Italian people.

Most of these attacks occurred in northern Italy and were led by squads of ” Black Shirts “. These groups especially attacked left-wing parties that supported socialism and communism, all whom they considered political enemies, and trade union organizations.

Creation of the National Fascist Party

In 1921, Mussolini converted the Fascis italiani di combattimento into the National Fascist Party (PNF), and from that moment he also became known as Duce (Leader). This was the only legal political formation in Italy between 1925 and 1943, considered the highest representation of Italian fascism.

March to Rome, Italy

In October 1922, Mussolini summoned the militants of the PNF and the Black Shirts to carry out violent acts throughout the country. Faced with the passivity of the military and police forces, the fascists headed for Rome to seize power and leave it in the hands of Mussolinni.

This is known as the “March to Rome“, which ended the Italian parliamentary system and started the fascist regime that led to a totalitarian dictatorship.

Mussolini’s Rise to Power

On October 25, after pressure from the Black Shirts, King Victor Emmanuel III called Benito Mussolini to power. His intention was to avoid a civil war and to try to stop his actions. However, Mussolini demanded to be the head of government and the king had to agree to his request. On October 30, 1922, Mussolini formed his government as prime minister.

Features of Italian Fascism

  • The nation over the individual

The most important thing for fascism was to defend and fight for the nation. The figure of the individual was displaced and suppressed by limiting his freedom.

  • Totalitarianism

It was a dictatorial and totalitarian government system whose leader was characterized by being charismatic and having the power to regulate all areas of human development to impose his ideology and control. For example, education, lawmaking, public entities, the media, etc.

  • Corporatism

A single union was established that grouped all the unions, which had to follow the orders of the fascist leader.

  • Use of Violence

The fascists reinforced the vision that from violent struggle they could achieve power. The paramilitary violence with the Black Shirts was an effective tool.

  • Restricted liberties

Freedom of expression was censored. The mass media were used to expose Mussolini’s fascist propaganda and slogans.

Freedom of association was also censored, leading to the near extinction of anti-fascist movements and a ban on strikes because they were considered illegal. Even Freemasonry was forbidden.

The National Fascist Party based its bases on Italian nationalism, it was the only legal party and the highest representation of Italian fascism.

  • Suspension of elections

The fascist government annulled the elections, for this reason, during the time that Benito Mussolini ruled in Italy, no elections were held. The people did not have the right to vote.

  • Illegalization of opposition parties

The political organizations were dissolved, so the union parties and other opposition political parties disappeared. The National Fascist Party was the only political party considered legal.

  • Repressive judicial system

Through the Special State Defense Court, all those who opposed fascism were tried. Many opponents were imprisoned on distant islands, other exiles, there were even those who received the death penalty.

  • Absolute dominance of public life

The National Fascist Party managed to dominate almost all aspects of Italian life (work, education, leisure activities, etc.), especially since 1930, when Mussolini had greater control of power.

  • Unconscionable use of propaganda

Mussolini’s popularity was consolidated through continuous propaganda that exhibited the plans of political, economic, cultural and sports types to be carried out.

  • Fascist Italianization

Ethnic minorities were seen as an impediment to creating a fully Italian state. This gave way to the fascist Italianization, which consisted of forcing citizens of foreign origin to assume the Italian culture and language.

  • Expansionism

Italian fascism founded the idea of ​​expanding its political power over other territories abroad, such as the invasion of Ethiopia (1935-1936) or Albania (1939).

Symbol of Italian Fascism

Symbol of Italian fascism
Fascism in Italy – Italian Fascist

Italian fascism had as its representative symbol the fasces or bundle of lictors (civil servants of classical Rome). The symbol is composed of the union of 30 wooden rods, tied in the shape of a cylinder with a red leather ribbon, which hold an ax.

It is a symbol that represents the strength of the union, and that has been used by different political organizations, from ancient Rome to Italian fascism.

Likewise, the Italian fascist groups used black uniforms, especially the Black Shirts, inspired by the arditi (elite stormtroopers in the First World War). The black color represented death.

Consequences of Italian Fascism

  • It gave rise to German Nazism

Italian fascism predates German Nazism, whose leader Adolf Hitler took a much more radical anti-Semitic stance than Mussolini’s.

  • Participation in World War II

Mussolini and Hitler allied themselves during the war. However, many Italians did not support such an alliance. Italy participated and the result was a military disaster given the number of defeats, as well as the lack of weapons and economic resources to sustain the troops.

  • Fascism in Latin America

Italian fascism also reached Latin America, where various political leaders imposed military dictatorships of great repression.

Of particular note are the dictatorships of the Dominican Republic under Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (1930-1961), the Chilean dictatorship imposed by Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) or the dictatorship in Paraguay imposed by Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), among others.

Historic Context

During World War I, the Kingdom of Italy was part of the Triple Entente to fight against the Central Powers (the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire).

France and the Kingdom of Britain and Ireland, had offered the Kingdom of Italy to grant territories of the defeated empires. However, they did not keep their word, and in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye it was considered that Italian economic and military support had been less compared to the other allied countries.

This situation generated widespread discontent among Italians and had an impact on the re-founding of the fascist organization in Milan, at the time led by Benito Mussolini. However, fascist organizations are older and date back to the late 19th century.

After the end of the First World War, Italy faced a great economic, political and social crisis that lasted approximately between the 1920s and 1930s.

During this period there were numerous violent confrontations led by the fascist movement and that promoted Mussolini’s leadership, until they brought him to power and imposed a fascist dictatorship.

In July 1943, following the request of the Great Fascist Council, King Victor Emmanuel III removed Benito Mussolini from his post as Prime Minister and was replaced by Pietro Badoglio.

This was followed by 20 months of war that led to the end of Italian fascism and the division of the country, to the north the Italian Social Republic and to the south the Kingdom of Italy.

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