Fascisti - History - World War I and Aftermath (1914–1929)

World War I and Aftermath (1914–1929)

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the Italian political left became severely split over its position on the war. The Italian Socialist Party (PSI) opposed the war on the grounds of internationalism, but a number of Italian revolutionary syndicalists supported intervention against Germany and Austria-Hungary on the grounds that their reactionary regimes needed to be defeated to ensure the success of socialism. Corradini presented the same need for Italy as a "proletarian nation" to defeat a reactionary Germany from a nationalist perspective. The origins of Italian Fascism resulted from this split, first with Angelo Oliviero Olivetti forming an pro-interventionist fasci called the Fasci of International Action in October 1914. Benito Mussolini upon being expelled from his position as chief editor of the PSI's newspaper Avanti! for his pro-Entente stance, joined the interventionist cause in a separate fasci. The term "Fascism" was first used in 1915 by members of Mussolini's movement, the Fasci of Revolutionary Action.

Mussolini accused conventional socialists for being dogmatic and in December 1914 criticized the PSI for their association with Marxism that Mussolini declared had become obsolete. Mussolini made a list of socialist figures ranging from the top of admirable socialist figures at the top like Mazzini, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Charles Fourier, and Henri de Saint-Simon; while placing unadmirable socialists at the bottom, including Karl Marx. The first meeting of the Fasci of Revolutionary Action was held on 24 January 1915. At the meeting Mussolini declared that it was necessary for Europe to resolve its national problems - including national borders - of Italy and elsewhere "for the ideals of justice and liberty for which oppressed peoples must acquire the right to belong to those national communities from which they descended". Amidst discussion on the question of irredentism, Mussolini noted from the proceedings of the members that "the difficult question of irredentism was posed and resolved in the ambit of ideals of socialism and liberty which do not however exclude the safeguarding of a positive national interest". Its attempts to hold mass meetings were ineffective and it was regularly harassed by government authorities and socialists. Antagonism between interventionists, including Fascists, and anti-interventionist socialists resulted in violence.

Similar political ideas arose in Germany after the outbreak of the war. German sociologist Johann Plenge spoke of the rise of a "National Socialism" in Germany within what he termed the "ideas of 1914" that were a declaration of war against the "ideas of 1789" (the French Revolution). According to Plenge, the "ideas of 1789" that included rights of man, democracy, individualism and liberalism were being rejected in favour of "the ideas of 1914" that included "German values" of duty, discipline, law, and order. Plenge believed that ethnic solidarity (volksgemeinschaft) would replace class division and that "racial comrades" would unite to create a socialist society in the struggle of "proletarian" Germany against "capitalist" Britain. He believed that the "Spirit of 1914" manifested itself in the concept of the "People's League of National Socialism". This National Socialism was a form of state socialism that rejected the "idea of boundless freedom" and promoted an economy that would serve the whole of Germany under the leadership of the state. This National Socialism was opposed to capitalism because of the components that were against "the national interest" of Germany, but insisted that National Socialism would strive for greater efficiency in the economy. Plenge advocated an authoritarian rational ruling elite to develop National Socialism through a hierarchical technocratic state.

Fascists viewed World War I as bringing revolutionary changes in the nature of war, society, the state, and technology, as the advent of total war and mass mobilization had broken down the distinction between civilian and combatant, as civilians had become a critical part in economic production for the war effort, and thus arose a "military citizenship" in which all citizens were involved to the military in some manner during the war. World War I had resulted in the rise of a powerful state capable of mobilizing millions of people to serve on the frontlines or provide economic production and logistics to support those on the front lines, as well as having precedented authority to intervene in the lives of citizens. Fascists viewed technological developments of weaponry and the state's total mobilization of its population in the war as symbolizing the beginning a new era fusing state power with mass politics, technology, and particularly the mobilizing myth that they contended had triumphed over the myth of progress and the era of liberalism.

A major event that greatly influenced the development of fascism was the October Revolution of 1917 in which Bolshevik communists led by Vladimir Lenin seized power in Russia. In 1917, Mussolini as leader of the Fasci of Revolutionary Action praised the October Revolution, however Mussolini later became unimpressed with Lenin, regarding him as merely a new version of Tsar Nicholas. After World War I fascists have commonly campaigned on anti-Marxist agendas. However both Bolshevism and fascism hold ideological similarities: both advocate a revolutionary ideology, both believe in the necessity of a vanguard elite, both have disdain for bourgeois values, and both had totalitarian ambitions. In practice, fascism and Bolshevism have commonly emphasized revolutionary action, proletarian nation theories, single-party states, and party-armies.

With the antagonism between anti-interventionist Marxists and pro-interventionist Fascists complete by the end of the war, the two sides became irreconcilable. The Fascists presented themselves as anti-Marxists and as opposed to the Marxists. Benito Mussolini consolidated control over the Fascist movement in 1919 with the founding of the Fasci italiani di combattimento, whose opposition to socialism he declared:

We declare war against socialism, not because it is socialism, but because it has opposed nationalism. Although we can discuss the question of what socialism is, what is its program, and what are its tactics, one thing is obvious: the official Italian Socialist Party has been reactionary and absolutely conservative. If its views had prevailed, our survival in the world of today would be impossible.

In 1919, Alceste De Ambris and Futurist movement leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti created The Manifesto of the Italian Fasci of Combat (a.k.a. the Fascist Manifesto). The Manifesto was presented on June 6, 1919 in the Fascist newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia. The Manifesto supported the creation of universal suffrage for both men and women (the latter being realized only partly in late 1925, with all opposition parties banned or disbanded); proportional representation on a regional basis; government representation through a corporatist system of "National Councils" of experts, selected from professionals and tradespeople, elected to represent and hold legislative power over their respective areas, including labour, industry, transportation, public health, communications, etc.; and the abolition of the Italian Senate. The Manifesto supported the creation of an eight-hour work day for all workers, a minimum wage, worker representation in industrial management, equal confidence in labour unions as in industrial executives and public servants, reorganization of the transportation sector, revision of the draft law on invalidity insurance, reduction of the retirement age from 65 to 55, a strong progressive tax on capital, confiscation of the property of religious institutions and abolishment of bishoprics, and revision of military contracts to allow the government to seize 85% of their profits. It also called for the creation of a short-service national militia to serve defensive duties, nationalization of the armaments industry, and a foreign policy designed to be peaceful but also competitive.

The next events that influenced the Fascists in Italy was the raid of Fiume by Italian nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio and the founding of the Charter of Carnaro in 1920. D'Annunzio and De Ambris designed the Charter, which advocated national-syndicalist corporatist productionism alongside D'Annunzio's political views. Many Fascists saw the Charter of Carnaro as an ideal constitution for a Fascist Italy. This behaviour of aggression towards Yugoslavia and South Slavs was pursued by Italian Fascists with their persecution of South Slavs - especially Slovenes and Croats.

With the 1920, militant strike activity by industrial workers reached its peak in Italy, where 1919 and 1920 were known as the "Red Years". Mussolini and the Fascists took advantage of the situation by allying with industrial businesses and attacking workers and peasants in the name of preserving order and internal peace in Italy.

Fascists identified their primary opponents as the majority of socialists on the left who had opposed intervention in World War I. The Fascists and the Italian political right held common ground: both held Marxism in contempt, discounted class consciousness and believed in the rule of elites. The Fascists assisted the anti-socialist campaign by allying with the other parties and the conservative right in a mutual effort to destroy the Italian Socialist Party and labour organizations committed to class identity above national identity.

Fascism sought to accommodate Italian conservatives by making major alterations to its political agenda;– abandoning its previous populism, republicanism, and anticlericalism, adopting policies in support of free enterprise, and accepting the Roman Catholic Church and the monarchy as institutions in Italy. To appeal to Italian conservatives, Fascism adopted policies such as promoting family values, including promotion policies designed to reduce the number of women in the workforce limiting the woman's role to that of a mother. The fascists banned literature on birth control and increased penalties for abortion in 1926, declaring both crimes against the state. Though Fascism adopted a number of positions designed to appeal to reactionaries, the Fascists sought to maintain Fascism's revolutionary character, with Angelo Oliviero Olivetti saying "Fascism would like to be conservative, but it will by being revolutionary." The Fascists supported revolutionary action and committed to secure law and order to appeal to both conservatives and syndicalists.

Prior to Fascism's accommodation of the political right, Fascism was a small, urban, northern Italian movement that had about a thousand members. After Fascism's accommodation of the political right, the Fascist movement's membership soared to approximately 250,000 by 1921.

Beginning in 1922, Fascist paramilitaries escalated their strategy from one of attacking socialist offices and homes of socialist leadership figures to one of violent occupation of cities. The Fascists met little serious resistance from authorities and proceeded to take over several northern Italian cities. The Fascists attacked the headquarters of socialist and Catholic unions in Cremona and imposed forced Italianization upon the German-speaking population of Trent and Bolzano. After seizing these cities, the Fascists made plans to take Rome.

On 24 October 1922, the Fascist party held its annual congress in Naples, where Mussolini ordered Blackshirts to take control of public buildings and trains and to converge on three points around Rome. The Fascists managed to seize control of several post offices and trains in northern Italy while the Italian government, led by a left-wing coalition, was internally divided and unable to respond to the Fascist advances. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy perceived the risk of bloodshed in Rome in response to attempting to disperse the Fascists to be too high. Victor Emmanuel III decided to appoint Mussolini as Prime Minister of Italy, and Mussolini arrived in Rome on 30 October to accept the appointment. Fascist propaganda aggrandized this event, known as "March on Rome", as a "seizure" of power because of Fascists' heroic exploits.

Upon being appointed Prime Minister of Italy, Mussolini had to form a coalition government, because the Fascists did not have control over the Italian parliament. Mussolini's coalition government initially pursued economically liberal policies under the direction of liberal finance minister Alberto De Stefani, including balancing the budget through deep cuts to the civil service. Initially, little drastic change in government policy had occurred and repressive police actions were limited.

The Fascists began their attempt to entrench Fascism in Italy with the Acerbo Law, which guaranteed a plurality of the seats in parliament to any party or coalition list in an election that received 25% or more of the vote. Through considerable Fascist violence and intimidation, the list won a majority of the vote, allowing many seats to go to the Fascists. In the aftermath of the election, a crisis and political scandal erupted after Socialist Party deputy Giacomo Matteoti was kidnapped and murdered by a Fascist. The liberals and the leftist minority in parliament walked out in protest in what became known as the Aventine Secession. On 3 January 1925, Mussolini addressed the Fascist-dominated Italian parliament and declared that he was personally responsible for what happened, but he insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He proclaimed himself dictator of Italy, assuming full responsibility over the government and announcing the dismissal of parliament. From 1925 to 1929, Fascism steadily became entrenched in power: opposition deputies were denied access to parliament, censorship was introduced, and a December 1925 decree made Mussolini solely responsible to the King.

In 1929, the Fascist regime gained the political support and blessing of the Roman Catholic Church after the regime signed a concordat with the Church, known as the Lateran Treaty, which gave the papacy state sovereignty and financial compensation for the seizure of Church lands by the liberal state in the nineteenth century.

The Fascist regime created a corporatist economic system in 1925 with creation of the Palazzo Vidioni Pact, in which the Italian employers' association Confindustria and Fascist trade unions agreed to recognize each other as the sole representatives of Italy's employers and employees, excluding non-Fascist trade unions. The Fascist regime first created a Ministry of Corporations that organized the Italian economy into 22 sectoral corporations, banned workers' strikes and lock-outs, and in 1927 created the Charter of Labour, which established workers' rights and duties and created labour tribunals to arbitrate employer-employee disputes. In practice, the sectoral corporations exercised little independence and were largely controlled by the regime, and employee organizations were rarely led by employees themselves but instead by appointed Fascist party members.

In the 1920s, Fascist Italy pursued an aggressive foreign policy that included an attack on the Greek island of Corfu, aims to expand Italian territory in the Balkans, plans to wage war against Turkey and Yugoslavia, attempts to bring Yugoslavia into civil war by supporting Croat and Macedonian separatists to legitimize Italian intervention, and making Albania a de facto protectorate of Italy, which was achieved through diplomatic means by 1927. In response to revolt in the Italian colony of Libya, Fascist Italy abandoned previous liberal-era colonial policy of cooperation with local leaders. Instead, claiming that Italians were a superior race to African races and thereby had the right to colonize the "inferior" Africans, it sought to settle 10 to 15 million Italians in Libya. This resulted in an aggressive military campaign known as the Pacification of Libya against natives in Libya, including mass killings, the use of concentration camps, and the forced starvation of thousands of people. Italian authorities committed ethnic cleansing by forcibly expelling 100,000 Bedouin Cyrenaicans, half the population of Cyrenaica in Libya, from their settlements that was slated to be given to Italian settlers.

The March on Rome brought Fascism international attention. One early admirer of the Italian Fascists was Adolf Hitler, who, less than a month after the March, had begun to model himself and the Nazi Party upon Mussolini and the Fascists. The Nazis, led by Hitler and the German war hero Erich Ludendorff, attempted a "March on Berlin" modeled upon the March on Rome, which resulted in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in November 1923.

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