Definition and Characteristics
Fascism is a political ideology that promotes high expressions of nationalism and aggressive approach in the defence of one’s nation (Passmore 72).
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It is characterised by a one-party rule usually under a dictator and denial of individual rights. The basic principles of a fascist nation include authoritarianism, a deep understanding of state being more important than the individual, presence of an enigmatic leader and action oriented governance.
Unlike communism, fascism did not strive for a class-less society. Rather, it was supported by industrialists, lower middle class and the military. Great examples where fascism existed are Italy under Benito Mussolini, Germany under Adolf Hitler and Spain under Francisco Franco among others (Payne 15).
Dr. Britt Lawrence (22) found fourteen distinct defining characteristics common to every fascist regime. These were powerful and continuing nationalism where symbols and patriotic slogans were used in public displays; disregard for the recognition of human rights which led to executions and torture; identification of a perceived common enemy which was used as a uniting cause like communists and socialist were used as scapegoats; the military is highly idealized with great amounts of government funding going to them in the expense of domestic agendas; most fascist nations are male-dominated hence rampant sexism; censorship of mass media, where the government directly controls the media content; fear and intimidation is used to motivate the masses towards National security under fascism rule; they use a common religion that supports their ideals and uses it to manipulate public opinion; the industrial and business upper classes which form corporate power enjoy government protection; in fascist nations labour unions are either banned or harshly suppressed; contempt for intellectuals and the arts with hostility to academia; occurrence of a police force that has limitless power showing fascination with crime and punishment of opponents; rampant corruption and eventually fraudulent elections.
Fascism in Italy and Germany
The First World War had a great impact and devastating consequences for Italy, although it was among the winning powers. The war brought inflation which increased greatly due to military expenses; there were political divisions and frequent social unrest, and unsatisfactory peace treaty because it received a small portion of the territory they wanted. There was mistrust in the Liberal politicians leading to the rise of Fascism.
As Martin Blinkhorn puts it, one cause of the rise of fascism in Italy was the problems it faced after World War 1, which are post war economic crises, mass demobilisation and acute social unrest (Blinkhorn 34). After the unification in Italy, which was dominated by the elite, the south was neglected leading to chronic poverty that was worsened by limited spending and soaring taxes.
The Liberals failed to transform the economy which was severely suffering from post-war depression after World War 1, giving fascism a chance to increase its mass backing.
The western powers which included Britain and France, failed to fulfil the agreement after World War 1 and Italy felt the land they were promised was not given to him; hence Italy did not want to corporate much with them. These gave Mussolini a great opportunity to grip the power and he set up a Fascist Party which promised to have solutions to Italy’s problems
Alexander De Grand cites the opportunistic nature of Italian fascism when he says that Mussolini recognised that the Liberals did not create peace with the church and he lessened anti-clerical feelings in the Fascist Party (De Grand 89). This created an influential ally and improved the appeal of the Party. Fascism looked to be an easy answer to immense economic and social problems.
Mussolini undertook to restore Italy and reinstate the Roman Empire. He organised armed gangs called the “black shirts” which helped him come to power in 1922. King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini as the Prime Minister of Italy to prevent a communist revolution. The famous 1922 March on Rome took place to institute Mussolini and the Fascist Party as the most significant party in Italy.
The rise of Mussolini to power instigated the birth of Versailles and combat communism. Mussolini as the leader (II Duce) ended democracy and banned all other political parties except the Fascists (Macdonald 19). The government was run by secret police that he controlled and often jailed his opponents. The Fascist Government took over the media and ensured only Fascist doctrines were broadcasted or published. He outlawed strikes and allayed the Fascists with the industrialists and large landowners.
In Germany, the group, Nazi (National Socialist German Worker’s Party), had policies like fascism, hence Nazism- the German brand of fascism. Hitler as the Nazi Party leader was impressed by Mussolini’s March on Rome, and he plotted for Nazi’s to seize power in Munich in 1923, but the attempt failed and he was arrested. He was tried for treason and sentenced to five years in jail but only served less than nine months (Woolf 18).
Just as in Italy, the great depression caused the German economy to collapse and civil unrest broke out. Hitler’s Nazi party looked to be the solution to the economic crisis.
As a chancellor and by winning majority of parliament, Hitler turned Germany into a totalitarian state. Just like Mussolini, other opponent political parties were banned. Being against Hitler meant that one was an enemy to him and his loyalties, and arrest and murder would follow. The Nazi secret police, Gestapo, used brutal action and terror to shock many Germans to total obedience.
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Despite their aggressiveness, the Nazis under Hitler had several achievements such as they constructed factories, built highways, manufactured weapons, served in military thus dramatically reducing the number of unemployed. Beyond his economic and political power, Hitler also took control over the media; both print and press making them his propaganda tools.
He was successful in raising the Germany economy from the great depression, giving him popularity with the middle class (Blamires and Paul 16). It is worth noting that Mussolini never had the total control in Italy as achieved by Adolf Hitler in Germany.
Effects of Fascism in Italy and Germany
Some effects of fascism were World War II, preservation of social classes and dictatorship. As in all fascist governments there was absolute dictatorial government. The citizens were oppressed it was not acceptable to speak against the dictator. The dictators become the only men who had the authority to make any decisions.
Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany were among the main causes of World War II. Fascisms ideals were aggressive in nature hence it led Italy and Germany directly to war. Labour unions were banned besides political parties. Education was reviewed to favour the fascist government.
There were similarities in Italian fascism and German Nazism in the following respects. In both cases individuality was rejected and emphasis was on role will power in individuals to protect their state. There was a negative view if the masses human understanding and the dictators used propaganda to manipulate them politically.
They viewed that the leader was from the elite and there were great differences between the intellectual capabilities of the masses and the political elite. Liberals and social democrats were viewed as the enemies in both cases. However several differences were evident between the German Nazism and Italian fascism.
Firstly, racialism was strongly evident with the Nazis and less evident with the fascist. Moreover, Italian foreign policy objectives were limited to gaining additional territories, while German foreign policy objectives were huge and were driven by their biased attitudes especially toward the Jews. Generally, there were positive effects in both fascist governments in that they stabilized the economy after the great depression, and there were great cuts in unemployment levels as well as decrease in social unrest.
Mussolini political agenda
Benito Mussolini is best remembered as the father of Fascism. He began his political career as a Socialist. He is well admired by his fellow fascist in the successful execution of the March on Rome which bestowed him the powers he wanted. After Mussolini became the Prime minister, he did not have control over the parliament hence he formed a coalition government (Smith 17).
Mussolini and the Fascists party were highly successful in their efforts to promote a growing economy and industrial powerhouse. Mussolini wanted to model his government after the Roman Empire and saw himself as Julius Caesar. He was a strong believer in the strength of the people as the backbone of the country and not the strength of the individual.
He felt that his country would be the strongest if the citizens of Italy would come together as one, under a central idea and philosophy and be allied by the bonds of nationalism. This government primarily pursued economic policies which included balancing the budget through several cuts to the civil service.
At the same time he reinforced his control over the Fascist Party by forming an executive body for the party, the Grand Council of Fascism, responsible for governing the party but whose agenda he was in full control. In addition, he formed corporations for every single line of work to reinforce both economic and social control. This ensured labour unions had no power hence minimal workers’ strikes or social unrest. Mussolini’s supporters carried out operations of violence towards opposing political parties and against anyone who did not agree with their ideals. He was successful in changing the election procedure to favour him and assumed dictatorial rule in 1925-26 by dissolving all other political parties (Townley 52).
Mussolini’s foreign policy of anti-imperialism commanded an extreme form of nationalism with the attack of Corfu in 1923 marking his policies (Lowe and Marzari, 81). The fascist Italy pursued an aggressive foreign policy which led to attacks in several nations such as Albania, Ethiopia and Libya, to fulfil Mussolini’s ambition of expanding the Italian territory. It also planned attacks on Turkey and Yugoslavia.
These lead to mass killings and forced starvation of thousands of people. Mussolini was dedicated to solidifying Italy’s army, while tirelessly supporting that war was essential in keeping the economy alive. Mussolini did this with flawless effort and succeeded on the highest level by tweaking the media in his favor, and using force to persuade the citizens of Italy to support him and their country. The fascist government made improvements in various sectors in Italy.
This included; Increase in acreage of cultivated land, irrigation was introduced in the marshes found on the Northern part of created more employment opportunities. To win the support of the Roman Catholic Church, Mussolini reached an agreement with the Papacy (Lateran Pact), which gave the Pope full authority over the Vatican City (Macdonald 21). Mussolini was able to gain power since he had a following from the middle class Italians who supported fascism due to general anxiety, fear and insecurity.
The pact of Steel
The Pact of Steel was Mussolini’s name used to refer to the Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Nazism Germany and Fascism Italy (Kallis 20). He had originally named it ‘the Pact of Blood’ but was advised that it was likely to be received poorly in Italy if it went by that name hence ‘the Pact of Steel’.
It was signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers, Count Ciano for Italy and Joachim von Ribbentrop for Germany, in Berlin in May 1939. The Pact of Steel was an agreement in which Germany and Italy entered into an alliance, pledging neutral support in war. Generally, the Pact of steel obliged Italy and Germany to co-operate in military and war production. They would aid each other in the occasion of a war starting, militarily or otherwise (Tonge 39).
The agreement was divided into two parts; the first part was an open declaration of continued mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries; the second section was a ‘Secret supplementary protocol’ which encouraged a union of military and economic policies. Within its clauses it stated that the validity of the pact within the time of its completion until 1949.
It also urged the two countries to maintain relations with nations that were only friendly towards either of them. An enemy of one was to be perceived as an enemy of both. The ‘Secret Supplementary Protocols’ part was further divided into two sections; the first section pressed hasty joint action on military and economic cooperation; the second section urged the two countries to promote power and image of fascism through propaganda via media.
This part as the name depicts was not made public during the signing of the agreement (Gregor 23). The agreement made sure that neither nation was able to make peace without consent from the other. The Italian’s, mistakenly, signed on the verbal understanding that neither power would start a war before 1943. The understanding was that Italy would direct Mediterranean strategy, leaving Germany free to conquer Europe.
The signing of the pact of steel
It was after World War 1 that Italy and Germany underwent different problems in governance that led them to look for support in one another. Both countries were unsatisfied with the status quo imposed on them after World War 1. Germany was on the losing side of the Central Powers during World War 1.
Germany lost significant portions of its territory including border lands along the Polish borders and critical sectors along the western French border (Payne 45). It was Germany’s ambition to regain its military might that led Nazism to power. Italy on the other hand was on the victorious Allied side, which include Britain and France in World War 1, paying a heavy price in its involvement to the victory.
Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost fighting for the Austrians and Italians were seriously unhappy at the marginal gains they were rewarded compared to the heavy cost they paid. To them they received a raw deal after the end of World War 1. Italy became ambitious to expand the territory.
Like Germany, the western powers lost good will with Italy due its aggressive conduct. Between 1936 -1939, Italy and Germany cooperated in the Spanish Civil War where they fought on the same fascist side to help the authoritative regime of Franco to achieve victory over the Socialist opposition.
This really encouraged their relationship. Mussolini withdrew from the League of Nations in December 1937 after receiving sanctions by the United Nations, and in the same year he visited Germany when he was captivated by the splendour and ceremony of Hitler. This drew the two countries together and given they had two similarly driven powers, Hitler and Mussolini developed a close relationship. Hitler, in a Munich conference, impressed Mussolini further with his boldness and aggressive stand on the weakness on the West (Gregor 47).
The ambitions of the two fascist leaders lead Germany and Italy to conquer territories each felt were rightfully theirs. Hitler decided to move his military into the Rhineland, a de-militarized zone that was protected by the Treaty of Versailles in in order to protect France. It was when Hitler occupied the devastated Czechoslovakia in March 1939, that Mussolini’s pathetically poor reaction was to invade Albania where he acted individually, making it impossible for any reunion with the other western powers.
In fact the Allies responded with strong threats of military response if territorial conquests continued. By May 1939, Mussolini’s concern was to safeguard his alliance such that Hitler could not abandon him and hence Italy was propelled into the Pact of Steel with Germany. Italy and Germany being under dictators Mussolini and Hitler respectively ensured the two countries’ shared comparable fascist ideologies and an antagonistic view on governance hence the signing of the Pact of Steel. This sparked the beginning of World War II and the beginning of the Mussolini- Hitler era.
The effects of the agreement on Italy and Germany
During World War 1 Italy had lost many men while fighting along Austria along its borders, since it was among the Allies. Having fallen apart with the Allies, and found new alliance with Germany, Mussolini abandoned Austria, whose independence he had avowed to secure by agreement, letting Hitler to gain a great strategic victory.
In 1936, army general Franco attacked the republican government leading a Spain into a civil war between the republicans and the Nationalist whom he lead. Mussolini saw yet another opportunity to expand his power and influence by getting involved in the war in Spain. He joined with Hitler to support Franco in the Spanish Civil War, provoking armed conflict in Europe. Back at home, his reputation was falling.
Mussolini’s stock in the League of Nation fell further when Britain and France eventually revealed that he was pretending to be neutral arbitrator at the Munich conference while he was aiding Hitler achieve his goals. Mussolini did not support a Europe-wide conflict, but he was powerless to influence events, when Hitler decided on military action and invaded Poland. The League of Nations finally imposed economic sanctions on Italy (Reich 197).
As Hitler’s influence over Mussolini increased, Mussolini become unpopular among the Italian people who did not have their hearts in Hitler’s wars and wanted nothing to do with the persecutions of the Jews. As much as Hitler’s assistance was valuable to Mussolini a number of times when Italians found themselves in trouble, the end result was utter defeat on all fronts. Mussolini popularity diminished and he was eventually removed from power, and eventually executed.
It was after the great alliance with Mussolini that Hitler felt confident enough to initiate his aggressive moves. Without Mussolini, he would have been isolated diplomatically, he would have not taken over Austria and the Munich Conference would have been a flop. The Munich conference gave Hitler a great chance to denude the Czechs giving him a strategic position to invade Poland (Tonge 67).
Without the Alliance of the two fascist leaders, may be World War II might well have been avoided. World War II led to Germany’s total defeat and it was Mussolini who enabled Hitler in his pursuit of the war.
Hitler advanced to conquer France and when Mussolini realized that Hitler was defeating France, he mobilised his troop to invade France, only his forces were soon pushed back and Hitler’s forces were to come to his rescue to save Mussolini’s ‘honour’. Mussolini went ahead and invaded Greece without consulting Hitler and once again found himself in trouble.
Hitler was again forced to send troops to assist the Italians, necessitating him to divert from Barbarossa costing him another necessary victory. Hitler was also forced to sacrifice troops which would have been utilised in the Eastern front to rescue Mussolini in his African adventure.
In the end, Italy’s Military alliance was more of a hindrance to Hitler’s conquests and Mussolini proved himself to be more of a liability than a valuable reinforcement though his assistance was of great value to Hitler’s pre-war diplomatic manoeuvring. There were adverse effects to both nations in the quest to fulfil the agreement in the hope of achieving their goals. In the end, the pact of steel became a great disaster for the two fascist leaders and their countries and lead to their eventual fall and defeat in the World War II.
Significance of the Pact of Steel on the World War II
In view of his understanding of the Pact of Steel, the eruption of war between Germany and the Allied western powers in September 1939, following Hitler’s conquest of Poland come as a surprise to Mussolini ( Blamires and Paul 56). It definitely offered him some food for thought, and from uncertainty he opted for neutrality.
He felt that Hitler had bitten more than he could chew by provoking the hostility of Britain and France and he had slim chances of defeating them. He was also unhappy with the direction that the Germany foreign policy had taken since the pact of steel.
Since the agreement minimized the possibility of reconciliation between Mussolini and his former allied friends, the western powers, Hitler pursued to protect his position in the Eastern part of Europe by the Non-aggression Pact with Stalin in August 1939 which opened the way for a successful invasion and defeat of Poland (Tonge 29). This may be when Mussolini seriously suspected Germany duplicity.
Mussolini supported his ‘non-aggression’ to the Germans with the fact that Italy was totally unprepared to engage in war in September 1939. The Italian armed forces were awfully ill-equipped to fight a major war due to enormous expenditure of military resources in their quest to conquer Ethiopia, Spain and Albania as well as the underlying economic weakness (Townley 78).
However, Mussolini frequently reiterated his moral and Diplomatic support for Hitler, and continually insisted that he intended to enter the war just as soon as the circumstances would permit. As the Germans occupied more countries, Mussolini felt the urge to join the war so as to share the spoils of victory alongside Hitler and his army.
Mussolini’s original hesitancy turned into an urge for war as Hitler’s armies advanced in their invasion of France and it didn’t take him long to declare war on Britain and France. Many writers who sided with fascism claimed that Mussolini did was unwilling to engage in a war against Britain and France in 1940 but was forced into the decision by the slip-ups, inflexibility and antagonism of British diplomacy.
This picture of Mussolini does not fit the circumstances given that Mussolini being a fascist opportunist wanted to acquire domination over the Mediterranean at the expense of Britain and France, and he saw the opportunity to do so in a splendid, warlike manner. Mussolini’s war aims were very predictable from the creation of a new Roman empire to the hazier goal of Italy becoming a world super power.
He also had a secondary agenda where the Fascist Italy were to conduct its military operations parallel to and free of Nazi Germany, and with a clear line of separation between their relevant spheres in Europe. By this he hoped to establish the power balance between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. However Mussolini did not have a very articulate or coherent plan to rival that of Hitler.
The Post WWII Era
World War II was viewed by many to be the last good war with a clear purpose of abolishing Nazism and Fascism and all the horrible ideals they stood for. The triumph of the Allies in the World War II was the greatest defeat of Germany and Italy. It marked the downfall of fascism and the victory of democratic ideals and values over totalitarianism and dictatorial rule. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were transformed into unthreatening democracies.
Prior to World War 2 Italy had completed two conquests in Ethiopia and Albania, and despite the Pact of steel, it did not join the war until1940, planning to get a share of the Allied territory. With the defeat of France, Italy’s war efforts went poorly resulting in defeats in Greece, North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea (Payne 110). In 1943, Italy was invaded by Allies and Mussolini’s government collapsed.
Though the Germans kept to the agreement and helped him back to power, it was only for a while before he was removed from power again. Italy was also split an occupied allied South and the remnants of the fascist government in the North. Eventually Italians embraced democracy and Italy became a member of NATO after the war. After the war, German was divided into four occupied zones among France, Britain and America.
After World War 1, there was extensive damage in all countries across Europe, both for the winning allied side and the losing central powers. Italy having been on the victorious allied side had high expectations after the peace treaty that ended the war, but when it came to sharing the territories it didn’t get its share as expected.
They felt the other western powers, United Kingdom and France, had short-changed them, and hence began their own ideals to fulfil their enormous ambitions of being a super power. The great depression was a perfect chance for the fascist Mussolini to acquire leadership and preach the doctrines of fascism.
On achieving this, he impressed his fellow fascist Hitler, in the neighbouring Germany, which was on the losing side after WWI and was looking to regain its military powers. Hitler borrowed a leaf from Mussolini and used the same fascism doctrines, in the version of Nazis to take control of Germany. The relationship of the two fascist, Mussolini and Hitler, grew to greater lengths having been driven by similar ambitions for their countries and fascist ideologies that gave them power as sole decision makers.
Their growing ‘friendship’ and mistrust with the Allies (Britain and France) led them to make an Alliance of friendship and military assistance in the form of the ‘Pact of Steel’ agreement. This was to fulfil their own selfish goals of territorial conquest to be powerful empires.
This was to be the poorest decision for them and their countrymen. They did not know they were signing a ticket to their downfall. Both were too ambitious to be cautious of the aftermath. After terrible defeats in the World War II for both Italy and Germany, fascism was replaced by democracy.
In my own informed view, both countries would have been better off without the Pact of Steel agreement, and just may be World War II would never be in our History books. On the other hand, it was a great lesson for most countries in Europe on Fascism and its effects.
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