Fascism is one of the most negative radical forms of dictatorship the emergence of which had a dramatic effect on many countries of the world. Having developed in Europe in the 1920s, fascism played an important role at the beginning of World War II. However, the most extensive evolution of this far-right ultranationalism took place before the war, which impacted the relationships between the countries after World War I and led to tragic processes and consequences. Fascism first appeared in Italy, but it reached its peak in Germany. The main reason why fascist dictators’ rise to power became possible was that the countries defeated in World War I was put in rather harsh conditions by the Peace Treaty of Versailles.
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By the policies expressed in the Versailles declaration, the countries that lost the Great War were quite limited in their actions. They were deprived of almost all ammunition and had to pay reparations to the winners. However, such fate was destined not only to the countries that lost the Great War. Some winners also felt under pressure and did not experience any satisfaction from the fact that they gained a victory. In the 1920s, Italy was the closest to an “authentic social explosion” of all winning states.1 Citizens did not feel any satisfaction even though they won the war. The expectations concerning territorial gains were not fulfilled, whereas the losses of people and resources were immense. Because of the ineffective work of the war government, social conflict in the country was intensified.2 Italy, which had already been separated into “feudal south” and “industrial north,” could not cope with the aftermath of the war.3 Along with inflation and the increased cost of living, the atmosphere in 1920 Italy was hardly peaceful and satisfactory.
The revolutionary wave that covered Italy in 1920 found its exit in the rise of fascism. Benito Mussolini, who had gained some reputation prior to the Great War, quickly became the new leader of those who felt deceived by the victory. Supporting syndicalist views, Mussolini denied both the Marxist strategy of taking over the state prevailing in Russia and gradualist parliamentary socialism.4 The early fascism program, established in 1919, combined social radicalism, nationalism, and the desire to release Italy from complacent ineffectiveness.5 Fascists demanded the vote for women, a share in control for workers, an eight-hour working day, and the appropriation of church property.6 In 1920, Mussolini’s intentions became more radical, and fascists initiated a series of military conflicts within the country, which led to the destruction of numerous buildings and industry offices. Italian fascists later got hold of the government and exercised their power in a way that made people doubt whether they could control their violence and power.7 Although the Italian fascist movement emerged prior to the German one, it is much less discussed in the context of World War II and other significant world events.
While Italy was a winner of the Great War, and Germany was a loser, the two countries were put in similar conditions by the Treaty of Versailles. Hence, fascist ideas soon became popular in Germany, as well. Nationalism, which was the ground for fascism, had four dimensions: ethnic, economic, scientific, and religious.8 The nation was suffering from hunger, poverty, and humiliation, and the level of trust in the government was rather low.9 The unsettled situation in the country led to the formation of the Nazi party, the leader of which was Adolf Hitler. The new leader was supported both by small artisans, nationalist journalists, politically minded military officers, and wealthy people.10 The Nazi program included not only the demand to invalidate the Versailles Treaty but also the intention to expel Jews from office and citizenship. Such ethnic cleansing made the fascist movement in Germany much more infamous than that in Italy.
Although Italy and Germany are most known for their fascist ideas and leaders, some other countries also joined the movement in the 1920s-1930s. One of such states was Spain, the military and social currents of which raise doubts among the historians as to how they should be defined. Among the opinions on this subject matter, there is the idea that the Spanish Civil War may be categorized as a fascist movement.11 The development of the radical right-wing in Spain, which led to a civil war, is viewed by some scholars as a movement with a fascist nature. A common view of Spanish politics of the 1930s is that it had little in common with German nationalism and Italian fascism. The main argument in support of considering the Spanish political current of the 1930s as fascism is the abilities of the latter. Particularly, fascism was capable of organizing a mass movement by integrating parts of society in the period of radicalization of a national crisis.12 Furthermore, the fascist nature of some Spanish parties was evident, which allows concluding that Spain was indeed influenced by the fascist movement in the interwar period.
Hence, the fascist movements in Italy, Germany, and Spain have some common roots, but their representation in these countries was different. While fascism originated in Italy, its German manifestation became most widely known. In Germany, fascism was accompanied by the process of ethnic cleansing, which involved first the removal of the whole Jewish population from the country and then murdering of millions of innocent people. The ideology of Italian and German fascism was not the most distinctive feature of the movements. The most prominent characteristic was the exploitation of stormtroopers to carry on the struggle against democracy in a resolute and devastating way.13 The increased popularity of fascism in Germany was probably the reason why this country became most closely associated with the movement despite the fact that it originated in Italy. Unlike Germany, Italy did not undergo a Nuremberg process after World War II.14 Italy’s leader in the 1930s, Mussolini, hoped for a short war in the 1940s, which made people follow his hopes and resulted in their support. However, neither Italy nor Germany succeeded in the war, which caused losses even more aggravating than after the Great War.
Radical forms of power may be successful, but such success comes at a high price and is rarely justified. In the 1930s, several countries in Europe made an attempt to regain what they lost in World War I. Whether winners or losers of the Great War, countries felt that their current leaders were not doing enough for the people. Because of such a depressive atmosphere, several European states allowed fascism to emerge and gain power. Italy, German, and Spain are known for their radical fascist movements that governed the countries to a great extent. Despite some differences in the development of fascism in these states, the common cause of such a tendency was the aftermath of the Versailles Treaty.
Eatwell, Roger. “Explaining Fascism and Ethnic Cleansing: The Three Dimensions of Charisma and the Four Dark Sides of Nationalism.” Political Studies Review 4, no. 3 (2006): 263-278.
Gallego, Ferran. “Fascistization and Fascism: Spanish Dynamics in a European Process.” International Journal of Iberian Studies 25, no. 3 (2013): 159-181.
Morgan, Philip. “Italy’s Fascist War.” History Today 57, no. 3 (March 2007): 40-46.
Paxton, Robert O., and Julie Hessler. Europe in the Twentieth Century. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012.
Rosenberg, Arthur. “Fascism as a Mass Movement.” Historical Materialism 20, no. 1 (2012): 144-189.
- Robert O. Paxton and Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012), 192.
- Paxton and Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 192.
- Paxton and Hessler, 192.
- Paxton and Hessler, 203.
- Ibid., 205.
- Ibid., 210.
- Roger Eatwell, “Explaining Fascism and Ethnic Cleansing: The Three Dimensions of Charisma and the Four Dark Sides of Nationalism,” Political Studies Review 4, no. 3: 263.
- Paxton and Hessler, 211.
- Ibid., 213.
- Ferran Gallego, “Fascistization and Fascism: Spanish Dynamics in a European Process,” International Journal of Iberian Studies 25, no. 3 (2013): 159.
- Gallego, “Fascistization and Fascism,” 161.
- Arthur Rosenberg, “Fascism as a Mass Movement,” Historical Materialism 20, no. 1 (2012): 144.
- Philip Morgan, “Italy’s Fascist War,” History Today 57, no. 3 (2007): 43.