Rise And Fall Of Fascism Essay, Research Paper
Rise and Fall of Fascism In 1912 Italy, under the rule of Giolitti and its Socialist Party,introduced universal manhood suffrage. This was considered a victory ofDemocracy. Ten years later in 1922, King Emmanuel III called BenitoMussolini, the founder of the Italian Fascist Party, to head thegovernment. Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister put an end thoseyears of democracy. Both internal and external causes can account therise and fall of Democracy in Italy, where political and socialinstability created an overall crisis. In ten years of Democratic rule, the Italian economic and politicalsituation had not improved. On the contrary, it had created a situationof political discontent and chaos. The decline of Democracy and rise ofFascism in Italy was accelerated by international events such as the breakof World War I and the Bolshevik revolution. The rise of Democracytended to benefit the economic and political interest of a dominant group. While Fascism movement arose to crush the basis of socialist power thatthreatened to take the control of Italian politics between 1918 and 1920. The revolutionary threat emerged from the difficulties faced by the rulingItalian Socialist Party which internal conflict plagued, organizationalproblems, but more important, by the precarious economic situation of theworking class. Before the twentieth century Italy was overwhelming agricultural, andmuch of the industry that exist-was based on agricultural production. Atthe turn of the century agriculture accounted for 51 percent of the GrossDomestic Product and only 15 percent of the total work force was in theindustry. Between 1896 and 1908, the country experience a positiveeconomic growth. Agriculture made progress in the fertile and rich PoValley, where new techniques and a reorganization of the agriculturallabor force increased grain production. Nevertheless, tensions between peasants and the elite over workingconditions were not extinct. During the late twentieth century the eliteswere particularly concern over the increasing radicalism and militaryamong the land peasants, especially in the central regions of the country. Peasant demands of injustice and repression along with their actionstriggered most of the strikes in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Their typicalactivities were communal riots and the occasional large-scale landoccupation. Although it was as scene of some small-scale politicalorganization, the mass of peasants in some areas were able to unite. Asearly as the mid 1880’s an organized worker’s movement started growing inMilan, where the Italian workers’ Party was created in 1882, and by 1895had evolved into the Socialist Party ( PSI ). Between 1860 and 1912 Italy entered a transitional period in whichmajor changes in economic and social power was taken place. Tensionsexisted not only between regions, but political interests of the newgroups of industrial and agrarian entrepreneurs, produced stress betweenthem and the political class. In 1901, Giovani Giolitti sought to bring the radical and socialistleft into the constitutional picture and introduced a policy of reform tomeet the demands of the upper strata of the working classes. Giolitti’spolicy encouraged the rapid growth of the organized labor movement. Inthat same year there was notable expansion of the trade unions’ councils,which later became increasingly socialist. While there was a gradualspread of peasants’ associations in regions with big Capitalistic farms,such as in the Po Valley. In this way masses of farms workers wereorganized and set of the strikes designed to raised low wages and improveworking conditions. However, many of the labor aspirations of the upperstrata aim to improve their own labor conditions while limiting those ofthe peasants. The National unification of the Socialist trade unionsocurred in 1906 with the establishment of the General ConfederationLabour. Where again, only the upper strata were able to benefit from theany improvement in labor conditions. During the Giolitti period, the government actively acted in theeconomy and tended to favor the interest of those in the upper strata. With the economic expansion of those years, the liberal government engagedwith the Banca Italiana in an expensive but important railroad expansion. Nevertheless, not long after Italy had to face a dramatic economic crisisand the social conflicts that later followed. An internal crisis in Italy arose by economic discontent along withlower stratum resentment against their working conditions, creating socialand political instability. By 1911, the country’s political instabilitiesworsen caused by an external conflict with Giolitti’s decision to conquestLibya. The nationalists opposed the Libyan War, who were starting to growaggressive and gained the supported by the Catholic world. Underpolitical and social pressure Giolitti introduced an alternative forItaly’s Liberal political system. In 1912 Giolitti and its Socialist Party, universal manhood suffragewas introduced. Even though it was considered a victory of Democracy, itcaused an imbalance in the existing Liberal politics. Overnight, theelectorate had increased from just more than three million voters toalmost nine million. The existing monarchs’ associations were notprepared for this increase as it threatened their status quo. Giolittitrying to hold on to his power sought the support of the Catholics thatalienated the anti-clerical left wing of his government coalition. Thegeneral state of Italian politics was one of confusion and discontent,especially among young middle class Italians. Blue-collar workers hadbegun to organize and to win concessions that narrowed the gap betweenindustrial and white-collar salaries. Democracy failed to bridge the gapbetween the different social groups and by 1922 Italy was a country at warwith itself. World War I was an accelerator for the downfall of an already shakyDemocratic System. It widened cleavages that had already existed sincethe nation’s unification and it increased dissension within the politicalparties. At the time World War I broke out, in 1914, Giolitti stillgoverned Italy. He decided that it was in Italy’s best interest tomaintain a neutral position. However, other sectors of the Parliament andthe population overall did not agree to this decision. Even withinparties Italy’s role on the War could not be agreeing on. The Democrats,Social Reformists and Socialists on the left believed an intervention. Onthe right, the Liberals, the Popolari and the Nationalist also called forItaly’s intervention. Neutralists included the Socialists, the LeftistPopolari and the Liberals. While the interventionists found a common goal and could worktogether, the neutraslists’ unwillingness to decide resulted in theChamber of Deputies voting for the intervention by more than a five to onemargin. Although a minority, the interventionists’ parties weresuccessful in convincing Parliament that it was economic and politicalviable for a major power such as Italy to take part in the War. However,parliaments’ decision to involve Italy in the War was not only the resultof the interventionist’ pressure, it was also a response to the pressurefrom the nationalist mobs that staged unruly demonstrations in thePiazzas. Most of the people in favor of the intervention belonged to theupper and middle classes. The government realized that the participationin the War was not the best decision, but at the same time it was greatlyconcerned with the rise people into violent riots. This was another signthat the government was not able to exercise its authority and alloweditself to be pressure by small groups. This course of action shows anerosion of the Democratic system. Italy entered the War on the side of the Allies on May 24, 1915 underthe terms agreed upon the Treaty of London of April 26, of the same year. The Treaty promised Italy a frontier on the Brenner Pass in the Northeast,annexation of the Trieste and the Istrian Peninsula part of the DalmatianCoast. Italy’s new Prime Minister Salandra ,believed that the War wouldnot last a long time. They expected a quick victory. However, the Warlasted three and a half years. This created much unrest among the Italianpopulation. Italy came out of the War victorious but a generaldisappointment was felt among Italians. The army which peasants made,returned from the War unhappy with the government and with the treatmentthey received in the front. “With the War at an end, they were returningin a mood that was far from being passive and many peasants came in touchwith a newly acquired sense of solidarity and appreciation of large scaleorganization and cooperation.” It is not a coincidence then, that much ofthe peasants sided with the Socialists in the next election and helpedthem increase their power. Nationalism also grew in the Post-War inItaly. Nationalists were not satisfied with the outcome of the War. Theybelieved that Italy should have received more territory than it wasgranted. “The Parliamentary system emerged from the War with its staturestill further diminished in the eyes of the peasants.” Thedissatisfaction with the government role in the War resulted in a shift ofthe power to the left after the War. This served to increased the fearsof a leftist take over from the middle and upper class. Post-War Italy saw the rise of the Socialist Party and the downfallof liberalism. The “Bienno Rosso,” the Red two years, took place from1919-1920. These two years compromise the period when mass politicsbecame a reality. Even though universal manhood suffrage had been grantedin 1912, it was not until the end of the decade when politics in Italyreally involved the masses. The PSI and PPI were the two parties thatcontrolled Italian politics during these years. Italy was swept away bythe idea of a revolution that it never occur. It was during the Red years that workers began to strike, peasantsdemanded land and threats of revolution grew. “Day Labourers and sharecroppers agitated for, and won so many significant improvements that thecontracts came to be called the Red Pacts. The Pacts granted peasantswith basic rights such as the freedom to choose what crops were to beplanted. These Pacts made landowners unhappy and to look for alternativeway that would put them back in control. “Discontent took the form of anaggressive nationalism.” Politics became a test of will between classes. Middle class Italians were frustrated with the political forces ofpower and the growing power of the working class. They sought areplacement to Socialism and a return to the old political class. Fascism
seemed to provide the answers for the middle class Italians. Socialism had failed to achieve a unified and effective form ofgovernment. “The Socialist Party significantly failed to provide anational organization to take advantage of the working class distress.”The failure of the Socialists to provide national policies and toimplement them were openings for the emergence of the Fascist Party. Amidst the dissatisfaction of thousands of workers that had no jobs,veterans that were bitter against their government, and two mass partiesthat opposed each other and criticized the government, Fascism began togain the support of many Italians. Fascism was led by Mussolini, a former Socialist who promised tobring order to Italy and to make it a great nation. Fascism favoredstrict government control of labor and industry. “The threat ofBolshevism was exploited cunningly by Mussolini and it is difficult tooverestimate its importance in lunging Fascism to power.” Fascism exposedthe government’s inability to exercise its authority. Fascism prospered in the provinces with the aid of the stateauthorities that after years of “Subservience to provinces socialistbosses” were happy to exert their authority. “Policemen andarmy officers refused to regard Fascism as subversive and justified itsillegality and violence by its patriotic aims.” The authorities failed tosee Fascism’s violence as the very essence of the movement or to recognizeit as a movement dedicated to destroy the new Democratic system. After the War the major problem facing the Italian governing classand the upper class groups was the restoration of social control of therural and urban class. The established Parliament system had broken downunder the conflict that the War brought about. The social unrest was notsuppressed by calling out the army or the police. The Fascist movementcreated its own body of control alongside the existing state apparatus. It did not meet any resistance from the governments as it took placemainly in the rural areas and away from Rome. However, it was an everincreasing paramilitary force that included large numbers of discontentyoung officers, students, estate managers, small farmers and somesharecroppers. This body was created to defend the existing social orderand to prevent a revolution of masses. The Fascist movement met with the approval of the Church, industryand even the military as the saw Fascism as an alternative to a weak,inefficient Liberal political system. Fascism offered them way ofreasserting control over the workers and the peasants that after the Warhad become actively political. Fascism would give them a chance toreorganize the political system and to find more suitable leadership. Mussolini’s coming to power was eased by the chaotic and politicalsituation of Italy during the ten years of democracy, the economic ruin ofthe country, and the exclusion of a large part of society from thepolitical life of the nation. Once these sectors of population startedparticipating, fascism emerges as a deterrent. It was relatively easy todestroy these sources of power as they were separated units rather than astrong unify front. In many provinces, by 1920, unions and cooperatives had formed tochallenge the control of large landowners and the traditional politicalhierarchies. However each provincial socialist organization was a worldinto it self and could be attacked singularly. This became a main targetof the new Fascist movement. The peasants’ leagues were a threat to theestablished order. A successful Agrarian Fascism paved the way for thetaken over of 1922. In 1920, there were more than one million strikers inagriculture, where in the next year only 80,000. This was accomplished bythe fascist use of physical punishment as well as intimidation. Withmilitary precision, whole towns were surrounded by fascist squads. Duringthe first six months of 1921, 119 labour chambers, 107 cooperatives and 83peasant league offices were attacked and destroyed. The peasants,depraved of protection and poor, did not have the means to resist theattacks. The Fascist movement became the instrument of the Burgoise revival. Most of the Fascist support came from the middle class. Absent at leastinitially were the representative of the heavy industry. The movement wasa protest of the rural and small-town Italy with some large participationof the urban professionals. Among all the different groups that formedthe Fascist Party the common enemy the Socialist and the threats thattheir institutions posed to the security of the established order. While the Fascist movement kept on growing and taking control of thenation, the Liberal government was not able to come up with ways ofcontrolling Fascism and Socialism. Furthermore, they allowed the Fascismmovement to transform from a loose movement into the National FascistParty ( PNF ) a party with a conservative orientation. By 1922, political control could not be exercise by Parliamentarymeans. The system had become weak and it was clear that a change wasneeded. Even Liberals who had supported Democracy, believed by Fascism wasa necessary alternative for the malfunctioning of the Democratic system. However, it was supposed to be only a temporary alternative until orderwas reestablished. Even Italy’s social and economic elite was open to anunderstanding with this system. Fascism seizure of power was semi-constitutional, it was not arevolutionary victory nor did really saved Italy from the revolution. TheSocialist Party, had become so divided that it did not pose any threat tothe state. Fascism provided the structure for the burgeois to take awaythe power from the unions and workers. During the last years of the Democratic regime there were many othersother than the landowners and the industrialists waiting for revenge. Small peasant propieters and tenant farmers had also suffered just as muchas the large landowners from the pressure of organized labor. They werescared by talks of nationalizing the land. They had collaborated with theSocialist Unions more out of fear than out of conviction. Shopkeepers hadalso lost income through a reduction of prices. And even some houseowners had lost income through rent control. Affirming that much of thefear of losing social position, was not exclusively existent among themiddle class. Besides the threat of revolution by the organized labor,many people felt insulted by the anti-militarism and the revolutionaryslogans of the socialists. To all these the government lack of action orineffectiveness to control a situation that was coming out of hand,provided the perfect path for the emergence of the Fascist movement. Mussolini who had been a socialist himself knew the weakness of the Party. This knowledge combine with his personal charisma made him a leader thatthe middle class and the elite had been looking for. By the end of 1920, there was ample material, in both industrial andrural areas for a reactionary movement which would promise stronggovernment, order and discipline. In 1921, Mussolini participated in the elections as way of enteringParliament. These served two purposes: to legitimatize his movement andto have a position from which to manipulate in the Parliament itself. Fascism was able to exploit the political confusion created by theattempted democratization of Italian society. The rise of Democracy facedan economic and a social crisis that created overall politicalinstability. The Liberal, Socialist and the Catholic political forces,failed to provide the means of easing tensions between society and thestate. It is a fact that the universal suffrage was granted in 1912. However, this did not mean that the masses had an active politicalparticipation. The Socialist Party represented ameer urban minority. Itdid not take into account the needs nor the demands of the largediscontent of the rural population. After the War, many peasants who hadparticipated in it did not in fact returned to their rural towns, insteadthey established in the cities. Their mobilization to the cities was alsoseen as threat to the young professional urban population. Fascism grewout of both the governing and opposition forces of Giolitti in Italy. Itwas the outcome of the incapability of Liberalism to turn into liberaldemocracy based on universal suffrage and the fear of the bourgeois tolose the established status quo. “Italy was profoundly immature and badlyadjusted to Democracy. From this came all the events that later followed.”The rise and decline of Democracy in Italy reflects a consisted politicaland social inestability that made possible the shifts of its politicalsystem. BIBLIOGRAPHYSeton-Watson, Christopher. Italy from liberalism to fascism. London:Meuthen, 1967. This book does provide detail on the important events that occurredduring both Liberal and Fascism Period. It is useful because though thereader may have an overview on how Fascism occurred, this book providesdetailed information on the events that preceded it.De Grand, Alexander. Italian Fascism: Its Origins and Development. U.S.:Nebraska University Press, 1989. This book is very well written and easy to understand. The authordivides it into clearly define subsections, where he explains in synthesisthe events that led to Fascism. The reader may find it very useful becauseit identifies the external conflicts and the internal political divisionthat influenced the development of Fascism. Allen, Christopher. European Politics in Transition. New York: Health &Co., 1987. Although this book mainly concentrates on Italy after Fascism hadtaken over, it provides a good political history to understand why suchtransformation took place. Linz, Juan. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Georgetown: The HopkinsUniversity Press, 1978. This book concentrates on the political instability that Italy facedbefore and after universal suffrage was introduced. It went into greatdetail to show the reader just how divided Parliament was. It does a goodjob of outlining what each political party believed and why they disagreeon certain issues such as Italy’s part in the war. Alan, Cassels. Fascist Italy. London: Routledge & Kegan, 1969. This book gives a brief description of what caused the downfall ofDemocracy. It mentions the most events that occurred but it does not getinto great detail. The book is useful because it gives the reader a basicidea of what occurred in simpler matter.villari, Luigi. The Fascist experiment. London: Faber & Cwyer, 1972 . The author tries to explain the rise of Fascism through a socialpoint of view. He focuses for example in the labor conditions of themiddle class Italians. It is useful because it shows the reader theimportance of the economic and labor conditions that influence thepolitical stability. Hebert Matthews, The Fruits of Fascism. NewYork: Harcourt, Bruce &Co., 1943. This book concentrates when the Fascism had taken over. Althoughthey may outdate this information, it does provide the reader with a firsthand experience of what was occurring at this time.