Italian fascism (Italian: fascismo italiano), also known as classical fascism or simply fascism, is the original fascist ideology as developed in Italy by Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini. The ideology is associated with a series of two political parties led by Benito Mussolini: the National Fascist Party (PNF), which ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1922 until 1943, and the Republican Fascist Party (PFR) that ruled the Italian Social Republic from 1943 to 1945. Italian fascism is also associated with the post-war Italian Social Movement (MSI) and subsequent Italian neo-fascist movements.
Italian fascism was rooted in ultranationalism, Italian nationalism, national syndicalism, revolutionary nationalism, and the desire to restore and expand Italian territories, which Italian Fascists deemed necessary for a nation to assert its superiority and strength and to avoid succumbing to decay. Italian Fascists also claimed that modern Italy was the heir to ancient Rome and its legacy, and historically supported the creation of an imperial Italy to provide spazio vitale ("living space") for colonization by Italian settlers and to establish control over the Mediterranean Sea.
Italian fascism promoted a corporatist economic system, whereby employer and employee syndicates are linked together in associations to collectively represent the nation's economic producers and work alongside the state to set national economic policy. This economic system intended to resolve class conflict through collaboration between the classes.
Italian fascism opposed liberalism, especially classical liberalism, which fascist leaders denounced as "the debacle of individualism". Fascism was opposed to socialism because of the latter's frequent opposition to nationalism, but it was also opposed to the reactionary conservatism developed by Joseph de Maistre. It believed the success of Italian nationalism required respect for tradition and a clear sense of a shared past among the Italian people, alongside a commitment to a modernised Italy.
Originally, many Italian fascists were opposed to Nazism, as fascism in Italy did not espouse Nordicism nor, initially, the antisemitism inherent in Nazi ideology; however, many fascists, in particular Mussolini himself, held racist ideas (specifically anti-Slavism) that were enshrined into law as official policy over the course of fascist rule. As Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany grew politically closer in the latter half of the 1930s, Italian laws and policies became explicitly antisemitic due to pressure from Nazi Germany (even though antisemitic laws were not commonly enforced in Italy), including the passage of the Italian racial laws. When the fascists were in power, they also persecuted some linguistic minorities in Italy. In addition, the Greeks in Dodecanese and Northern Epirus, which were then under Italian occupation and influence, were persecuted.
Italian fascism is based upon Italian nationalism and in particular seeks to complete what it considers as the incomplete project of Risorgimento by incorporating Italia Irredenta (unredeemed Italy) into the state of Italy. The National Fascist Party (PNF) founded in 1921 declared that the party was to serve as "a revolutionary militia placed at the service of the nation. It follows a policy based on three principles: order, discipline, hierarchy".
It identifies modern Italy as the heir to the Roman Empire and Italy during the Renaissance and promotes the cultural identity of Romanitas (Roman-ness). Italian fascism historically sought to forge a strong Italian Empire as a Third Rome, identifying ancient Rome as the First Rome and Renaissance-era Italy as the Second Rome. Italian fascism has emulated ancient Rome and Mussolini in particular emulated ancient Roman leaders, such as Julius Caesar as a model for the fascists' rise to power and Augustus as a model for empire-building. Italian fascism has directly promoted imperialism, such as within the Doctrine of Fascism (1932), ghostwritten by Giovanni Gentile on behalf of Mussolini:
The Fascist state is a will to power and empire. The Roman tradition is here a powerful force. According to the Doctrine of Fascism, an empire is not only a territorial or military or mercantile concept, but a spiritual and moral one. One can think of an empire, that is, a nation, which directly or indirectly guides other nations, without the need to conquer a single square kilometre of territory.
Fascism emphasized the need for the restoration of the Mazzinian Risorgimento tradition that followed the unification of Italy, that the fascists claimed had been left incomplete and abandoned in the Giolittian-era Italy. Fascism sought the incorporation of claimed "unredeemed" territories into Italy.
To the east of Italy, the fascists claimed that Dalmatia was a land of Italian culture whose Italians (Dalmatian Italians), including those of Italianized South Slavic descent, had been driven out of Dalmatia and into exile in Italy, and supported the return of Italians of Dalmatian heritage. Mussolini identified Dalmatia as having strong Italian cultural roots for centuries via the Roman Empire and the Republic of Venice. The fascists especially focused their claims based on the Venetian cultural heritage of Dalmatia, claiming that Venetian rule had been beneficial for all Dalmatians and had been accepted by the Dalmatian population. The fascists were outraged when in 1919, after World War I, the agreement between Italy and the Entente Allies to have Dalmatia join Italy made in the 1915 Treaty of London was revoked. The fascist regime supported the annexation of Yugoslavia's region of Slovenia into Italy that already held a portion of the Slovene population, whereby Slovenia would become an Italian province, resulting in a quarter of Slovene ethnic territory and approximately 327,000 out of a total population of 1.3 million Slovenes being subjected to forced Italianization. The fascist regime imposed mandatory Italianization upon the German and South Slavic populations living within Italy's borders. The fascist regime abolished the teaching of minority German and Slavic languages in schools, German and Slavic language newspapers were shut down and geographical and family names in areas of German or Slavic languages were to be Italianized. This resulted in significant violence against South Slavs deemed to be resisting Italianization. The fascist regime supported the annexation of Albania, claimed that Albanians were ethnically linked to Italians through links with the prehistoric Italiotes, Illyrian and Roman populations and that the major influence exerted by the Roman and Venetian empires over Albania justified Italy's right to possess it. The fascist regime also justified the annexation of Albania on the basis that—because several hundred thousand people of Albanian descent had been absorbed into society in southern Italy already—the incorporation of Albania was a reasonable measure that would unite people of Albanian descent into one state. The fascist regime endorsed Albanian irredentism, directed against the predominantly Albanian-populated Kosovo and Epirus, particularly in Chameria inhabited by a substantial number of Albanians. After Italy annexed Albania in 1939, the fascist regime endorsed assimilating Albanians into Italians and colonizing Albania with Italian settlers from the Italian Peninsula to gradually transform it into an Italian land. The fascist regime claimed the Ionian Islands as Italian territory on the basis that the islands had belonged to the Venetian Republic from the mid-14th until the late 18th century.
To the west of Italy, the fascists claimed that the territories of Corsica, Nice and Savoy held by France were Italian lands. During the period of Italian unification in 1860 to 1861, Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who was leading the unification effort, faced opposition from French Emperor Napoleon III who indicated that France would oppose Italian unification unless France was given Nice and Savoy that were held by Piedmont-Sardinia, as France did not want a powerful state having control of all the passages of the Alps. As a result, Piedmont-Sardinia was pressured to concede Nice and Savoy to France in exchange for France accepting the unification of Italy. The fascist regime produced literature on Corsica that presented evidence of the italianità (Italianness) of the island. The fascist regime produced literature on Nice that justified that Nice was an Italian land based on historic, ethnic and linguistic grounds. The fascists quoted Medieval Italian scholar Petrarch who said: "The border of Italy is the Var; consequently Nice is a part of Italy". The fascists quoted Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi who said: "Corsica and Nice must not belong to France; there will come the day when an Italy mindful of its true worth will reclaim its provinces now so shamefully languishing under foreign domination". Mussolini initially pursued promoting annexation of Corsica through political and diplomatic means, believing that Corsica could be annexed to Italy through first encouraging the existing autonomist tendencies in Corsica and then the independence of Corsica from France, that would be followed by the annexation of Corsica into Italy.
To the north of Italy, the fascist regime in the 1930s had designs on the largely Italian-populated region of Ticino and the Romansch-populated region of Graubünden in Switzerland (the Romansch are a people with a Latin-based language). In November 1938, Mussolini declared to the Grand Fascist Council: "We shall bring our border to the Gotthard Pass". The fascist regime accused the Swiss government of oppressing the Romansch people in Graubünden. Mussolini argued that Romansch was an Italian dialect and thus Graubünden should be incorporated into Italy. Ticino was also claimed because the region had belonged to the Duchy of Milan from the mid-fourteenth century until 1515, as well as being inhabited by Italian speakers of Italian ethnicity. Claim was also raised on the basis that areas now part of Graubünden in the Mesolcina valley and Hinterrhein were held by the Milanese Trivulzio family, who ruled from the Mesocco Castle in the late 15th century. Also during the summer of 1940, Galeazzo Ciano met with Hitler and Ribbentrop and proposed to them the dissection of Switzerland along the central chain of the Western Alps, which would have left Italy also with the canton of Valais in addition to the claims raised earlier.
To the south, the regime claimed the archipelago of Malta, which had been held by the British since 1800. Mussolini claimed that the Maltese language was a dialect of Italian and theories about Malta being the cradle of the Latin civilization were promoted. Italian had been widely used in Malta in the literary, scientific and legal fields and it was one of Malta's official languages until 1937 when its status was abolished by the British as a response to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. Italian irredentists had claimed that territories on the coast of North Africa were Italy's Fourth Shore and used the historical Roman rule in North Africa as a precedent to justify the incorporation of such territories to Italian jurisdiction as being a "return" of Italy to North Africa. In January 1939, Italy annexed territories in Libya that it considered within Italy's Fourth Shore, with Libya's four coastal provinces of Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi and Derna becoming an integral part of metropolitan Italy. At the same time, indigenous Libyans were given the ability to apply for "Special Italian Citizenship" which required such people to be literate in the Italian language and confined this type of citizenship to be valid in Libya only. Tunisia that had been taken by France as a protectorate in 1881 had the highest concentration of Italians in North Africa and its seizure by France had been viewed as an injury to national honour in Italy at what they perceived as a "loss" of Tunisia from Italian plans to incorporate it. Upon entering World War II, Italy declared its intention to seize Tunisia as well as the province of Constantine of Algeria from France.
To the south, the fascist regime held an interest in expanding Italy's African colonial possessions. In the 1920s, Italy regarded Portugal as a weak country that was unbecoming of a colonial power due to its weak hold on its colonies and mismanagement of them and as such Italy desired to annexe Portugal's colonies. Italy's relations with Portugal were influenced by the rise to power of the authoritarian conservative nationalist regime of Salazar, which borrowed fascist methods, though Salazar upheld Portugal's traditional alliance with Britain.
Until Benito Mussolini's alliance with Adolf Hitler, he had always denied any antisemitism within the National Fascist Party (PNF). In the early 1920s, Mussolini wrote an article which stated that Fascism would never elevate a "Jewish Question" and that "Italy knows no antisemitism and we believe that it will never know it" and then elaborated "let us hope that Italian Jews will continue to be sensible enough so as not to give rise to antisemitism in the only country where it has never existed". In 1932 during a conversation with Emil Ludwig, Mussolini described antisemitism as a "German vice" and stated: "There was 'no Jewish Question' in Italy and could not be one in a country with a healthy system of government". On several occasions, Mussolini spoke positively about Jews and the Zionist movement. Mussolini had initially rejected Nazi racism, especially the idea of a master race, as "arrant nonsense, stupid and idiotic".
In 1929, Mussolini acknowledged the contributions of Italian Jews to Italian society, despite their minority status, and believed that Jewish culture was Mediterranean, aligning with his early Mediterraneanist perspective. He also argued that Jews were natives to Italy, after living for a long period in the Italian Peninsula. Initially, Fascist Italy did not enact comprehensive racist policies like those policies which were enacted by its World War II Axis partner Nazi Germany. Italy's National Fascist Party leader, Benito Mussolini, expressed different views on the subject of race throughout his career. In an interview conducted in 1932 at the Palazzo di Venezia in Rome, he said "Race? It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today". By 1938, however, he began to actively support racist policies in the Italian Fascist regime, as evidenced by his endorsement of the "Manifesto of Race", the seventh point of which stated that "it is time that Italians proclaim themselves to be openly racist", although Mussolini said that the Manifesto was endorsed "entirely for political reasons", in deference to Nazi German wishes. The "Manifesto of Race", which was published on 14 July 1938, paved the way for the enactment of the Racial Laws. Leading members of the National Fascist Party (PNF), such as Dino Grandi and Italo Balbo, reportedly opposed the Racial Laws. Balbo, in particular, regarded antisemitism as having nothing to do with fascism and staunchly opposed the antisemitic laws. After 1938, discrimination and persecution intensified and became an increasingly important hallmark of Italian Fascist ideology and policies. Nevertheless, Mussolini and the Italian military did not consistently apply the laws adopted in the Manifesto of Race. In 1943, Mussolini expressed regret for the endorsement, saying that it could've been avoided. After the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, the Italian Fascist government implemented strict racial segregation between white people and black people in Ethiopia.
In 1925, the PNF declared that Italy's fascist state would be totalitarian. The term "totalitarian" had initially been used as a pejorative accusation by Italy's liberal opposition that denounced the fascist movement for seeking to create a total dictatorship. However, the fascists responded by accepting that they were totalitarian, but presented totalitarianism from a positive viewpoint. Mussolini described totalitarianism as seeking to forge an authoritarian national state that would be capable of completing Risorgimento of the Italia Irredenta, forge a powerful modern Italy and create a new kind of citizen – politically active fascist Italians.
The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) described the nature of Italian fascism's totalitarianism, stating the following:
Fascism is for the only liberty which can be a serious thing, the liberty of the state and of the individual in the state. Therefore for the fascist, everything is in the state, and no human or spiritual thing exists, or has any sort of value, outside the state. In this sense fascism is totalitarian, and the fascist state which is the synthesis and unity of every value, interprets, develops and strengthens the entire life of the people.
American journalist H. R. Knickerbocker wrote in 1941: "Mussolini's Fascist state is the least terroristic of the three totalitarian states. The terror is so mild in comparison with the Soviet or Nazi varieties, that it almost fails to qualify as terroristic at all." As example he described an Italian journalist friend who refused to become a fascist. He was fired from his newspaper and put under 24-hour surveillance, but otherwise not harassed; his employment contract was settled for a lump sum and he was allowed to work for the foreign press. Knickerbocker contrasted his treatment with the inevitable torture and execution under Stalin or Hitler, and stated "you have a fair idea of the comparative mildness of the Italian kind of totalitarianism".
However, since World War II historians have noted that in Italy's colonies Italian fascism displayed extreme levels of violence. The deaths of one-tenth of the population of the Italian colony of Libya occurred during the fascist era, including from the use of gassings, concentration camps, starvation and disease; and in Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and afterwards by 1938 a quarter of a million Ethiopians had died.
Italian fascism promoted a corporatist economic system. The economy involved employer and employee syndicates being linked together in corporative associations to collectively represent the nation's economic producers and work alongside the state to set national economic policy. Mussolini declared such economics as a "Third Alternative" to capitalism and Marxism that Italian fascism regarded as "obsolete doctrines". For instance, he said in 1935 that orthodox capitalism no longer existed in the country. Preliminary plans as of 1939 intended to divide the country into 22 corporations which would send representatives to Parliament from each industry.
State permission was required for almost any business activity, such as expanding a factory, merging a business, or to fire or lay off an employee. All wages were set by the government, and a minimum wage was imposed in Italy. Restrictions on labor increased. While corporations still could earn profits, Italian fascism supported criminalization of strikes by employees and lockouts by employers as illegal acts it deemed as prejudicial to the national community as a whole.
The Italian fascists' political anthem was called Giovinezza (Youth). Fascism identifies the physical age period of youth as a critical time for the moral development of people that will affect society.
Italian fascism pursued what it called "moral hygiene" of youth, particularly regarding sexuality. Fascist Italy promoted what it considered normal sexual behaviour in youth while denouncing what it considered deviant sexual behaviour. It condemned pornography, most forms of birth control and contraceptive devices (with the exception of the condom), homosexuality and prostitution as deviant sexual behaviour. Fascist Italy regarded the promotion of male sexual excitation before puberty as the cause of criminality amongst male youth. Fascist Italy reflected the belief of most Italians that homosexuality was wrong. Instead of the traditional Catholic teaching that it was a sin, a new approach was taken, based on the contemporary psychoanalysis, that it was a social disease. Fascist Italy pursued an aggressive campaign to reduce prostitution of young women.
Mussolini perceived women's primary role to be childbearers while men were warriors, once saying that "war is to man what maternity is to the woman". In an effort to increase birthrates, the Italian fascist government initiated policies designed to reduce a need for families to be dependent on a dual-income. The most evident policy to lessen female participation in the workplace was a program to encourage large families, where parents were given subsidies for a second child, and proportionally increased subsidies for a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth child. Italian fascism called for women to be honoured as "reproducers of the nation" and the Italian fascist government held ritual ceremonies to honour women's role within the Italian nation. In 1934, Mussolini declared that employment of women was a "major aspect of the thorny problem of unemployment" and that for women working was "incompatible with childbearing". Mussolini went on to say that the solution to unemployment for men was the "exodus of women from the work force". Although the initial Fascist Manifesto contained a reference to universal suffrage, this broad opposition to feminism meant that when it granted women the right to vote in 1925 it was limited purely to voting in local elections.
Italian fascism believed that the success of Italian nationalism required a clear sense of a shared past amongst the Italian people along with a commitment to a modernized Italy. In a famous speech in 1926, Mussolini called for fascist art that was "traditionalist and at the same time modern, that looks to the past and at the same time to the future".
Traditional symbols of Roman civilization were utilized by the fascists, particularly the fasces that symbolized unity, authority and the exercise of power. Other traditional symbols of ancient Rome used by the fascists included the she-wolf. The fasces and the she-wolf symbolized the shared Roman heritage of all the regions that constituted the Italian nation. In 1926, the fasces was adopted by the fascist government of Italy as a symbol of the state. In that year, the fascist government attempted to have the Italian national flag redesigned to incorporate the fasces on it. This attempt to incorporate the fasces on the flag was stopped by strong opposition to the proposal by Italian monarchists. Afterwards, the fascist government in public ceremonies rose the national tricolour flag along with a fascist black flag. Years later, and after Mussolini was forced from power by the King in 1943 only to be rescued by German forces, the Italian Social Republic founded by Mussolini and the fascists did incorporate the fasces on the state's war flag, which was a variant of the Italian tricolour national flag.
The issue of the rule of monarchy or republic in Italy was an issue that changed several times through the development of Italian fascism, as initially Italian fascism was republican and denounced the Savoy monarchy. However, Mussolini tactically abandoned republicanism in 1922 and recognized that the acceptance of the monarchy was a necessary compromise to gain the support of the establishment to challenge the liberal constitutional order that also supported the monarchy. King Victor Emmanuel III had become a popular ruler in the aftermath of Italy's gains after World War I and the army held close loyalty to the King, thus any idea of overthrowing the monarchy was discarded as foolhardy by the fascists at this point. Importantly, fascism's recognition of monarchy provided fascism with a sense of historical continuity and legitimacy. The fascists publicly identified King Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of a reunited Italy who had initiated the Risorgimento, along with other historic Italian figures such as Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar, Giuseppe Mazzini, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi and others, for being within a tradition of dictatorship in Italy that the fascists declared that they emulated. However, this compromise with the monarchy did not yield a cordial relationship between the King and Mussolini. Although Mussolini had formally accepted the monarchy, he pursued and largely achieved reducing the power of the King to that of a figurehead. The King initially held complete nominal legal authority over the military through the Statuto Albertino, but this was ended during the fascist regime when Mussolini created the position of First Marshal of the Empire in 1938, a two-person position of control over the military held by both the King and the head of government that had the effect of eliminating the King's previously exclusive legal authority over the military by giving Mussolini equal legal authority to the King over the military. In the 1930s, Mussolini became aggravated by the monarchy's continued existence due to envy of the fact that his counterpart in Germany Adolf Hitler was both head of state and head of government of a republic; and Mussolini in private denounced the monarchy and indicated that he had plans to dismantle the monarchy and create a republic with himself as head of state of Italy upon an Italian success in the then-anticipated major war about to erupt in Europe.
After being removed from office and placed under arrest by the King in 1943, with the Kingdom of Italy's new non-fascist government switching sides from the Axis to the Allies, Italian fascism returned to republicanism and condemnation of the monarchy. On 18 September 1943, Mussolini made his first public address to the Italian people since his rescue from arrest by allied German forces, in which he commended the loyalty of Hitler as an ally while condemning King Victor Emmanuel III of the Kingdom of Italy for betraying Italian fascism. On the topic of the monarchy removing him from power and dismantling the fascist regime, Mussolini stated: "It is not the regime that has betrayed the monarchy, it is the monarchy that has betrayed the regime" and that "When a monarchy fails in its duties, it loses every reason for being. ... The state we want to establish will be national and social in the highest sense of the word; that is, it will be fascist, thus returning to our origins". The fascists at this point did not denounce the House of Savoy in the entirety of its history and credited Victor Emmanuel II for his rejection of "scornfully dishonourable pacts" and denounced Victor Emmanuel III for betraying Victor Emmanuel II by entering a dishonourable pact with the Allies.
The relationship between Italian fascism and the Catholic Church was mixed, as originally the fascists were highly anti-clerical and hostile to Catholicism, though from the mid to late 1920s anti-clericalism lost ground in the movement as Mussolini in power sought to seek accord with the Church as the Church held major influence in Italian society with most Italians being Catholic. In 1929, the Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See, a concordat between Italy and the Catholic Church that allowed for the creation of a small enclave known as Vatican City as a sovereign state representing the papacy. This ended years of perceived alienation between the Church and the Italian government after Italy annexed the Papal States in 1870. Italian fascism justified its adoption of antisemitic laws in 1938 by claiming that Italy was fulfilling the Christian religious mandate of the Catholic Church that had been initiated by Pope Innocent III in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, whereby the Pope issued strict regulation of the life of Jews in Christian lands. Jews were prohibited from holding any public office that would give them power over Christians and Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing to distinguish them from Christians.
The Doctrine of Fascism (La dottrina del fascismo, 1932) by the actualist philosopher Giovanni Gentile is the official formulation of Italian fascism, published under Benito Mussolini's name in 1933. Gentile was intellectually influenced by Hegel, Plato, Benedetto Croce and Giambattista Vico, thus his actual idealism philosophy was the basis for fascism. Hence, the Doctrine's Weltanschauung proposes the world as action in the realm of humanity – beyond the quotidian constrictions of contemporary political trend, by rejecting "perpetual peace" as fantastical and accepting Man as a species continually at war; those who meet the challenge, achieve nobility. To wit, actual idealism generally accepted that conquerors were the men of historical consequence, e.g. the Roman Julius Caesar, the Greek Alexander the Great, the Frank Charlemagne and the French Napoleon. The philosopher–intellectual Gentile was especially inspired by the Roman Empire (27 BC – AD 476, 1453), from whence derives fascism:
The Fascist accepts and loves life; he rejects and despises suicide as cowardly. Life as he understands it means duty, elevation, conquest; life must be lofty and full, it must be lived for oneself but above all for others, both near bye and far off, present and future.
In 1925, Mussolini assumed the title Duce (Leader), derived from the Latin dux (leader), a Roman Republic military-command title. Moreover, although fascist Italy (1922–1943) is historically considered an authoritarian–totalitarian dictatorship, it retained the original "liberal democratic" government façade: the Grand Council of Fascism remained active as administrators; and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy could—at the risk of his crown—dismiss Mussolini as Italian Prime Minister as in the event he did.
Gentile defined fascism as an anti-intellectual doctrine, epistemologically based on faith rather than reason. Fascist mysticism emphasized the importance of political myths, which were true not as empirical facts, but as "metareality". Fascist art, architecture and symbols constituted a process which converted Fascism into a sort of a civil religion or political religion. La dottrina del fascismo states that fascism is a "religious conception of life" and forms a "spiritual community" in contrast to bourgeois materialism. The slogan Credere Obbedire Combattere ("Believe, Obey, Fight") reflects the importance of political faith in fascism.
According to historian Zeev Sternhell, "most syndicalist leaders were among the founders of the fascist movement", who in later years gained key posts in Mussolini's regime. Mussolini expressed great admiration for the ideas of Georges Sorel, who he claimed was instrumental in birthing the core principles of Italian fascism. J. L. Talmon argued that fascism billed itself "not only as an alternative, but also as the heir to socialism".
La dottrina del fascismo proposed an Italy of greater living standards under a one-party fascist system than under the multi-party liberal democratic government of 1920. As the leader of the National Fascist Party (PNF, Partito Nazionale Fascista), Mussolini said that democracy is "beautiful in theory; in practice, it is a fallacy" and spoke of celebrating the burial of the "putrid corpse of liberty". In 1923, to give Deputy Mussolini control of the pluralist parliamentary government of the Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946), an economist, the Baron Giacomo Acerbo, proposed—and the Italian Parliament approved—the Acerbo Law, changing the electoral system from proportional representation to majority representation. The party who received the most votes (provided they possessed at least 25 percent of cast votes) won two-thirds of the parliament; the remaining third was proportionately shared among the other parties, thus the fascist manipulation of liberal democratic law that rendered Italy a one-party state.
In 1924, the PNF won the election with 65 percent of the votes, yet the United Socialist Party refused to accept such a defeat—especially Deputy Giacomo Matteotti, who on 30 May 1924 in Parliament formally accused the PNF of electoral fraud and reiterated his denunciations of PNF Blackshirt political violence and was publishing The Fascisti Exposed: A Year of Fascist Domination, a book substantiating his accusations. Consequently, on 10 June 1924, the Ceka (ostensibly a party secret police, modelled on the Soviet Cheka) assassinated Matteotti and of the five men arrested, Amerigo Dumini, also known as Sicario del Duce (The Leader's Assassin), was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but served only eleven months and was freed under amnesty from King Victor Emmanuel III. Moreover, when the King supported Prime Minister Mussolini the socialists quit Parliament in protest, leaving the fascists to govern unopposed. In that time, assassination was not yet the modus operandi norm and the Italian fascist Duce usually disposed of opponents in the Imperial Roman way: political arrest punished with island banishment.
After World War I (1914–1918), despite the Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) being a full-partner Allied Power against the Central Powers, Italian nationalism claimed Italy was cheated in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919), thus the Allies had impeded Italy's progress to becoming a "Great Power". Thenceforth, the PNF successfully exploited that "slight" to Italian nationalism in presenting fascism as best-suited for governing the country by successfully claiming that democracy, socialism and liberalism were failed systems. The PNF assumed Italian government in 1922, consequent to the fascist Leader Mussolini's oratory and Blackshirt paramilitary political violence.
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Allies compelled the Kingdom of Italy to yield to Yugoslavia the Croatian seaport of Fiume (Rijeka), a mostly Italian city of little nationalist significance, until early 1919. Moreover, elsewhere Italy was then excluded from the wartime secret Treaty of London (1915) it had concorded with the Triple Entente; wherein Italy was to leave the Triple Alliance and join the enemy by declaring war against the German Empire and Austria-Hungary in exchange for territories at war's end, upon which the Kingdom of Italy held claims (see Italia irredenta).
In September 1919, the nationalist response of outraged war hero Gabriele D'Annunzio was declaring the establishment of the Italian Regency of Carnaro. To his independent Italian state, he installed himself as the Regent Duce and promulgated the Carta del Carnaro (Charter of Carnaro, 8 September 1920), a politically syncretic constitutional amalgamation of right-wing and left-wing anarchist, proto-fascist and democratic republican politics, which much influenced the politico-philosophic development of early Italian fascism. Consequent to the Treaty of Rapallo (1920), the metropolitan Italian military deposed the Regency of Duce D'Annunzio on Christmas 1920. In the development of the fascist model of government, D'Annunzio was a nationalist and not a fascist, whose legacy of political–praxis ("Politics as Theatre") was stylistic (ceremony, uniform, harangue and chanting) and not substantive, which Italian Fascism artfully developed as a government model.
At the same time, Mussolini and many of his revolutionary syndicalist adherents gravitated towards a form of revolutionary nationalism in an effort to "identify the 'communality' of man not with class, but with the nation". According to A. James Gregor, Mussolini came to believe that "Fascism was the only form of 'socialism' appropriate to the proletarian nations of the twentieth century" while he was in the process of shifting his views from socialism to nationalism. Enrico Corradini, one of the early influences on Mussolini's thought and later a member of his administration, championed the concept of proletarian nationalism, writing about Italy in 1910: "We are the proletarian people in respect to the rest of the world. Nationalism is our socialism". Mussolini would come to use similar wording, for instance referring to fascist Italy during World War II as the "proletarian nations that rise up against the plutocrats".
Given Italian fascism's pragmatic political amalgamations of left-wing and right-wing socio-economic policies, discontented workers and peasants proved an abundant source of popular political power, especially because of peasant opposition to socialist agricultural collectivism. Thus armed, the former socialist Benito Mussolini oratorically inspired and mobilized country and working-class people: "We declare war on socialism, not because it is socialist, but because it has opposed nationalism". Moreover, for campaign financing in the 1920–1921 period the National fascist Party also courted the industrialists and (historically feudal) landowners by appealing to their fears of left-wing socialist and Bolshevik labor politics and urban and rural strikes. The fascists promised a good business climate of cost-effective labor, wage and political stability; and the fascist Party was en route to power.
Historian Charles F. Delzell reports: "At first, the fascist Revolutionary Party was concentrated in Milan and a few other cities. They gained ground quite slowly, between 1919 and 1920; not until after the scare, brought about by the workers "occupation of the factories" in the late summer of 1920 did fascism become really widespread. The industrialists began to throw their financial support behind Mussolini after he renamed his party and retracted his former support for Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Moreover, toward the end of 1920, fascism began to spread into the countryside, bidding for the support of large landowners, particularly in the area between Bologna and Ferrara, a traditional stronghold of the Left, and scene of frequent violence. Socialist and Catholic organizers of farm hands in that region, Venezia Giulia, Tuscany, and even distant Apulia, were soon attacked by Blackshirt squads of fascists, armed with castor oil, blackjacks, and more lethal weapons. The era of squadrismo and nightly expeditions to burn Socialist and Catholic labor headquarters had begun. During this time period, Mussolini's fascist squads also engaged in violent attacks against the Church where "several priests were assassinated and churches burned by the fascists".
Italy's use of daredevil elite shock troops, known as the Arditi, beginning in 1917, was an important influence on fascism. The Arditi were soldiers who were specifically trained for a life of violence and wore unique blackshirt uniforms and fezzes. The Arditi formed a national organization in November 1918, the Associazione fra gli Arditi d'Italia, which by mid-1919 had about twenty thousand young men within it. Mussolini appealed to the Arditi and the Fascists' squadristi, developed after the war, were based upon the Arditi.
World War I inflated Italy's economy with great debts, unemployment (aggravated by thousands of demobilised soldiers), social discontent featuring strikes, organised crime and anarchist, socialist and communist insurrections. When the elected Italian Liberal Party Government could not control Italy, the fascist leader Mussolini took matters in hand, combating those issues with the Blackshirts, paramilitary squads of First World War veterans and ex socialists when Prime Ministers such as Giovanni Giolitti allowed the fascists taking the law in hand. The violence between socialists and the mostly self-organized squadristi militias, especially in the countryside, had increased so dramatically that Mussolini was pressured to call a truce to bring about "reconciliation with the Socialists". Signed in early August 1921, Mussolini and the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) agreed to the Pact of Pacification, which was immediately condemned by most ras leaders in the squadrismo. The peace pact was officially denounced during the Third Fascist Congress on 7–10 November 1921.
The Liberal government preferred fascist class collaboration to the Communist Party of Italy's class conflict should they assume government as had Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks in the recent Russian Revolution of 1917, although Mussolini had originally praised Lenin's October Revolution and publicly referred to himself in 1919 as "Lenin of Italy".
The Manifesto of the Fascist Struggle (June 1919) of the PFR presented the politico-philosophic tenets of fascism. The manifesto was authored by national syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and Futurist movement leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The manifesto was divided into four sections, describing the movement's objectives in political, social, military and financial fields.
By the early 1920s, popular support for the fascist movement's fight against Bolshevism numbered some 250,000 people. In 1921, the fascists metamorphosed into the PNF and achieved political legitimacy when Mussolini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1922. Although the Liberal Party retained power, the governing prime ministries proved ephemeral, especially that of the fifth Prime Minister Luigi Facta, whose government proved vacillating.
To depose the weak parliamentary democracy, Deputy Mussolini (with military, business and liberal right-wing support) launched the PNF March on Rome (27–31 October 1922) coup d'état to oust Prime Minister Luigi Facta and assume the government of Italy to restore nationalist pride, restart the economy, increase productivity with labor controls, remove economic business controls and impose law and order. On 28 October, whilst the "March" occurred, King Victor Emmanuel III withdrew his support of Prime Minister Facta and appointed PNF Leader Benito Mussolini as the sixth Prime Minister of Italy.
The March on Rome became a victory parade: the fascists believed their success was revolutionary and traditionalist.
Until 1925, when the liberal economist Alberto de' Stefani, although a former member of the squadristi, was removed from his post as Minister of Economics (1922–1925), Italy's coalition government was able to restart the economy and balanced the national budget. Stefani developed economic policies that were aligned with classical liberalism principles as inheritance, luxury and foreign capital taxes were abolished; and life insurance (1923) and the state communications monopolies were privatised and so on. During Italy's coalition government era, pro-business policies apparently did not contradict the State's financing of banks and industry. Political scientist Franklin Hugh Adler referred to this coalition period between Mussolini's appointment as prime minister on 31 October 1922 and his 1925 dictatorship as "Liberal-Fascism, a hybrid, unstable, and transitory regime type under which the formal juridical-institutional framework of the liberal regime was conserved", which still allowed pluralism, competitive elections, freedom of the press and the right of trade unions to strike. Liberal Party leaders and industrialists thought that they could neutralize Mussolini by making him the head of a coalition government, where as Luigi Albertini remarked that "he will be much more subject to influence".
One of Prime Minister Mussolini's first acts was the 400-million-lira financing of Gio. Ansaldo & C., one of the country's most important engineering companies. Subsequent to the 1926 deflation crisis, banks such as the Banco di Roma (Bank of Rome), the Banco di Napoli (Bank of Naples) and the Banco di Sicilia (Bank of Sicily) also were state-financed. In 1924, a private business enterprise established Unione Radiofonica Italiana (URI) as part of the Marconi company, to which the Italian fascist Government granted official radio-broadcast monopoly. After the defeat of fascism in 1944, URI became Radio Audizioni Italiane (RAI) and was renamed RAI — Radiotelevisione Italiana with the advent of television in 1954.
Given the overwhelmingly rural nature of Italian economy in the period, agriculture was vital to fascist economic policies and propaganda. To strengthen the domestic Italian production of grain, the fascist Government established in 1925 protectionist policies that ultimately failed (see the Battle for Grain).
From 1926 following the Pact of the Vidoni Palace and the Syndical Laws, business and labour were organized into 12 separate associations, outlawing or integrating all others. These organizations negotiated labour contracts on behalf of all its members with the state acting as the arbitrator. The state tended to favour big industry over small industry, commerce, banking, agriculture, labour and transport even though each sector officially had equal representation. Pricing, production and distribution practices were controlled by employer associations rather than individual firms and labour syndicates negotiated collective labour contracts binding all firms in the particular sector. Enforcement of contracts was difficult and the large bureaucracy delayed resolutions of labour disputes.
After 1929, the fascist regime countered the Great Depression with massive public works programs, such as the draining of the Pontine Marshes, hydroelectricity development, railway improvement and rearmament. In 1933, the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI – Institute for Industrial Reconstruction) was established to subsidize failing companies and soon controlled important portions of the national economy via government-linked companies, among them Alfa Romeo. The Italian economy's Gross National Product increased 2 percent; automobile production was increased, especially that of the Fiat motor company; and the aeronautical industry was developing. Especially after the 1936 League of Nations sanctions against Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Mussolini strongly advocated agrarianism and autarchy as part of his economic "battles" for Land, the Lira and Grain. As Prime Minister, Mussolini physically participated with the workers in doing the work; the "politics as theatre" legacy of Gabriele D' Annunzio yielded great propaganda images of Il Duce as "Man of the People".
A year after the creation of the IRI, Mussolini boasted to his Chamber of Deputies: "Three-fourths of the Italian economy, industrial and agricultural, is in the hands of the state". As Italy continued to nationalize its economy, the IRI "became the owner not only of the three most important Italian banks, which were clearly too big to fail, but also of the lion's share of the Italian industries". During this period, Mussolini identified his economic policies with "state capitalism" and "state socialism", which later was described as "economic dirigisme", an economic system where the state has the power to direct economic production and allocation of resources. By 1939, fascist Italy attained the highest rate of state–ownership of an economy in the world other than the Soviet Union, where the Italian state "controlled over four-fifths of Italy's shipping and shipbuilding, three-quarters of its pig iron production and almost half that of steel".
In the 19th century, the forces of Risorgimento (1815–1871) had conquered Rome and taken control of it away from the Papacy, which saw itself henceforth as a prisoner in the Vatican. In February 1929, as Italian Head of Government, Mussolini concluded the unresolved Church–State conflict of the Roman Question (La Questione romana) with the Lateran Treaty between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See, establishing the Vatican City microstate in Rome. Upon ratification of the Lateran Treaty, the papacy recognized the state of Italy in exchange for diplomatic recognition of the Vatican City, territorial compensations, introduction of religious education into all state funded schools in Italy and 50 million pounds sterling that were shifted from Italian bank shares into a Swiss company Profima SA. British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew also confirmed Profima SA as the Vatican's company which was accused during WW II of engaging in "activities contrary to Allied interests". Cambridge historian John F. Pollard wrote in his book that this financial settlement ensured the "papacy [...] would never be poor again".
Not long after the Lateran Treaty was signed, Mussolini was almost "excommunicated" over his "intractable" determination to prevent the Vatican from having control over education. In reply, the Pope protested Mussolini's "pagan worship of the state" and the imposition of an "exclusive oath of obedience" that obligated everyone to uphold fascism. Once declaring in his youth that "religion is a species of mental disease", Mussolini "wanted the appearance of being greatly favoured by the Pope" while simultaneously "subordinate to no one". Mussolini's widow attested in her 1974 book that her husband was "basically irreligious until the later years of his life".
The fascist government's model was very influential beyond Italy. In the twenty-one-year interbellum period, many political scientists and philosophers sought ideological inspiration from Italy. Mussolini's establishment of law and order to Italy and its society was praised by Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Edison as the fascist government combated organised crime and the Sicilian Mafia.
Italian fascism was copied by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party, the Russian Fascist Organization, the Romanian National Fascist Movement (the National Romanian Fascia, National Italo-Romanian Cultural and Economic Movement) and the Dutch fascists were based upon the Verbond van Actualisten journal of H. A. Sinclair de Rochemont and Alfred Haighton. The Sammarinese Fascist Party established an early fascist government in San Marino and their politico-philosophic basis essentially was Italian fascism. In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Milan Stojadinović established his Yugoslav Radical Union. They wore green shirts and Šajkača caps and used the Roman salute. Stojadinović also adopted the title of Vodja. In Switzerland, pro-Nazi Colonel Arthur Fonjallaz of the National Front became an ardent Mussolini admirer after visiting Italy in 1932 and advocated the Italian annexation of Switzerland whilst receiving fascist foreign aid. The country was host for two Italian politico-cultural activities: the International Centre for Fascist Studies (CINEF — Centre International d' Études Fascistes) and the 1934 congress of the Action Committee for the Universality of Rome (CAUR — Comitato d' Azione della Università de Roma). In Spain, the writer Ernesto Giménez Caballero in Genio de España (The Genius of Spain, 1932) called for the Italian annexation of Spain, led by Mussolini presiding an international Latin Roman Catholic empire. He then progressed to close associated with Falangism, leading to discarding the Spanish annexation to Italy.
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