Tag Archives: fascism

Il Duce Gets The Boot-Mussolini Dismissed From Office (25 July 1943)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

On 25 Jul 1943 the Fascist Grand Council formerly voted Mussolini from power and was arrested later after meeting with King Victor Emmanuel III. So what happened to the once all powerful Duce? Let’s find out.

Italy had entered into the Pact of Steel with Germany in 1939 which committed Italy to fighting along with Germany if it declared war or was attacked. Mussolini entered the agreement knowing full well Italy did have the resources or industrial capability for a sustained military conflict. Mussolini had grand ambitions about expanding the Italian sphere of influence in the region and even into central Europe. Mussolini believed that Fascism was on the march and aligning with Hitler seemed a good choice at the time. Italy had successfully invaded Ethiopia (1935-1937) though not without them putting up a strong fight. Using mustard gas against troops and civilians had gotten Mussolini severely criticized and international sanctions.

The war in Ethiopia and his intervention on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War had brought Italy closer to Germany with a treaty of mutual interest in 1936.  And he needed coal from Germany since international sanctions over Ethiopia had made acquiring it more difficult. Mussolini believed a German-Rome Axis would be how Europe would turn but relying on Germany to supply items like coal meant Italy was more dependent on Germany rather than a true partnership. Mussolini tried to get all kinds of concessions from the British and French after the Munich Agreement in 1938; none were given. He made it clear in speeches (and those by others) that they wanted territory in France, Tunisia, a small part of Switzerland, and Albania. He upped his demands to demand free access to the world’s oceans by breaking British control of key places such as Gibraltar.

From the viewpoint in London, Paris, and elsewhere, his bellicose talk signaled major territorial ambitions. The Fascists mostly supported this though some, like his foreign minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, were concerned about aligning with Germany. Taking on both Britain and France became accepted since they were the major colonial powers that Italy saw as blocking them from achieving their rightful position in the world. On 7 April 1938, Italy invaded Albania and took control in three days. The formal military alliance with Germany (the Pact of Steel) was signed on 2 May 1939 cementing further the military ambitions of both countries together. The Italians thought war with Britain and France would not occur for years but dreadfully miscalculated Hitler’s ambitions.

Italy was not ready for major war operations until 1942 according to his own advisors. The Pact of Steel had said neither side was to enter war until 1943. Italy desperately needed this time in order to get its industry running and lacked critical military industrial production. Both Britain and France had highly developed military industrial production, but Italy was woefully behind in key areas such as automobile production (key to making tanks and other mobile artillery). Additionally Italy needed to acquire all the needed raw resources needed for war production. Italy was primarily an agriculturally based economy with small pockets of industrial sectors. They needed to setup a supply chain to bring in all the raw materials like coal and import steel. Italy’s merchant marine was not managed in preparation for war and would lose those ships as they were in foreign ports when war was declared by Italy in 1940.

Prior to that, raw materials being sent from European ports to Italy were subject to seizure. Coal, for instance, was shipped out of Rotterdam. The British declared it contraband and seized it, infuriating Mussolini. The Germans offered to ship by train over the Alps while the British countered saying they would supply all of his country’s needs if Italy supplied them armaments. The British hoped to lure Italy away from its alliance with Germany. And it appeared to work as Mussolini had approved a draft contract to provide military equipment. It was suddenly scrapped under intense pressure from Germany caused Mussolini to fold. This decision would come back to haunt him much later down the road.

Italian debt, already large when Mussolini, came to power, had increased thanks to his generous support of General Franco in Spain that increased it. The blockade of coal was strengthened and deeper reliance on German imports of raw materials occurred. The economy was bolstered by the important of goods from Germany, but inflation was occurring causing basic goods and service to become more expensive. When Italy entered the war in 1940, its merchant marine in foreign ports were seized leaving the country without hardly any means of getting needed supplies by cargo vessels.

Adding more to the woes, the warnings of his advisors were accurate. Italy’s army was huge making it a major land force on paper but in reality lacked modern transport and weapons. The army, because of the weak economy, did not have the needed armaments or supplies for war, and was the major reason it failed. Lightly armored infantry is no match for a fully equipped company of troops with full battle-ready equipment like the British had. Along with both a navy and air force that did not work together well, Italy was ill-prepared for general warfare except for a country that had a worse military than it had. There was poor leadership as well at the top that never had clearly defined military objectives and seemed to go at the whim of whatever Duce wanted them to do. They easily took the lower portions of Vichy France and Corsica. About the only good thing they did in taking that was providing a refuge for fleeing Jews. The Italians did not follow the German lead much regarding the Jews, which caused the Germans frustration over the Italian non-compliance in this area.

The succeeding campaigns in North Africa and Greece ended badly. In North Africa the British pulled up a good fight and had routed the Italians. Then the Germans arrived with Rommel in charge making it a much tougher campaign for the British and later the Americans, Greece was a total debacle. They invaded from Albania, but the Greeks pushed them back into Albania ending up in a stalemate that cost both sides. Once again, the Germans invaded (the British were using Greece to fly bombing raids into Romania) and successfully took Greece and Crete. Only Yugoslavia was a success but that was because the Germans were part of the campaign and once the country was divided up, Italy got the coastal area.

By 1943 though, things had gotten worse for most Italians. Food and other items were rationed, wartime inflation made everything more expensive, and the war itself was unpopular with most Italians. Mussolini was no longer seen as the great leader and the recent bombing of Rome showed how his boasts were hollow. The invasion of Sicily and later the south by Allied forces showed the proverbial “writing was on the wall.” Mussolini knew that his military could not successfully fight the Allies but stuck to the war because he saw no other option but to fight it out. The Fascist Grand Council knew the war was lost and that Mussolini had lost his stature with the people.

On the night of 24 July and in the early morning of 25 July, the Grand Council met with Mussolini. Accounts of the meeting indicate he was sick, tired, and felt the burden of the military reverses suffered by the Italian military. To some, it seemed he was looking for a way out and it was given to him. The Grand Council voted to remove him from power and transfer some of his duties to the King. While some opposed it, the vote was carried by the majority. Even his son-in-law Count Galeazzo Ciano voted for his ouster. Mussolini seemed dazed by the vote and while his supporters tried to get him to act, he seemed unable to do anything. He would go to his meeting with the King (unshaven and groggy) where he would be arrested. The King told him that General Pietro Badoglio would be taking over as Prime Minister and that the war was lost. He and his family were assured of their safety, and he was whisked away.

When it was declared Mussolini was out, the general response was one of relief. His fellow Fascists did not stage marches or protests over his dismissal and did nothing to release him from his incarceration on La Maddalena (he would be moved elsewhere). Hitler was furious and knew that the Italians would seek an armistice with the Allies (which was true but in public said otherwise to keep the Germans at bay). For the Allies his dismissal was good news as they hoped it might bring an end to the Italian campaign. And many Italians thought it would as well, Unfortunately the Germans had other plans and that would drag out the war in Italy until June 1944, but that is a story for another time.

 

Sources


Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded and Ardeatine massacre (23 March)

Remembering History:

  • Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)
  • Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

Mussolini Founds Italian Fascist Party (23 Mar 1919)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Benito Mussolini, publisher of Socialist newspapers and veteran of World War I, founds the Fasci di Combattimento (“Fighting Bands) based on 19th century Italian peasant revolutionaries. In forming this party, more commonly called Fascist Party, Mussolini formally broke away from his Socialist peers creating a movement that fused elements of Socialism and Nationalism into this new movement. Fascism repudiated, as both Communism and Socialism does, democracy and civil liberties with governance done by a single party with a powerful central figure. Fascism rejects the Communist argument against capitalism and instead argues it can be made to serve the nation without taking it away from its owners. Nationalism, also derided by Communists, was elevated, and made an important element to bring people to support the goals of the new order.

Italy was suffering the after effects of World War I. Inflation was high, the morale of the people was low, and the parliamentary democracy that ran Italy seemed weak and ineffectual. Worse despite Italian support for Great Britain and France, they got little from the Treaty of Versailles which made Italians unhappy as well. Mussolini’s Fascist Party stepped in during this time to offer an alternative to the chaos. And it drew many wanting to remake Italy into a more powerful nation. Dressed in black shirts as their uniforms, they began a program of intimidation and terrorism against Communists, Socialists, and those that supported the current system.

In October 1922, Mussolini led a march on Rome which led to King Victor Emmanuel III appointing him as prime minister. He formed a three- member cabinet and presided over the parliamentary government. Using his Black Shirts and others, they quickly came down hard on political opponents and anyone who disobeyed the new orders edicts on how things were to be done. By 1925, the parliamentary government was formally ended with the proclamation of Mussolini as Il Duce (The Leader).

Adolf Hitler admired Mussolini’s rise to power and copied his tactics and beliefs in forming the National Socialism movement in Germany.

The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.”  Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932

Germans Massacre Italians (23 Mar 1944)

 In July 1943 the allies landed in Sicily beginning the Italian campaign. Rome itself was being bombed and Allied troops would likely land in the south and march north once they completed the Sicilian operation. The war had not gone well for the Italian military with more defeats than victories (and often the Germans having to assist them). The rationing of food, higher costs, and people generally upset with how things were being run by Mussolini led to widespread dissatisfaction. Believing the war was no longer in the interests of Italy, in late July Mussolini was rejected by his own Grand Council and arrested. Pietro Badoglio, the new Prime Minister, negotiated in secret with the allies to surrender and its terms. The Germans though were not going to allow the Allies access to Italian airbases or other support facilities. The armistice declared on 8 September by Badoglio resulted in the Germans taking Rome forcing the new government and the king to flee. Rome was occupied from September 1943-June 1944 when the Germans left making it an open city.

During the occupation of Rome, the German’s came down hard on its citizens especially those who had aided in the ouster of Mussolini and anyone who opposed them. It was not a happy time to live in Rome with German troops everywhere along with their vicious elements of the SS operating as well. The Italian partisans, who had been fighting Mussolini, now turned all their efforts on the Germans. They began acts of sabotage, coordinated attacks on Germans, and causing all kinds of mayhem. It led to a 23 March 1994 attack on a SS unit. A bomb was tossed at them killing 33 soldiers. The Germans were outraged, and reprisals were ordered. 335 Italian citizens were rounded up and taken to the Ardeatine caves. They were all shot dead as revenge for the deaths of the SS soldiers. 250 were Catholic, 70 were Jews, and the remaining unknown.

Fosse Ardeatine, Roma, Italia
24 November 2005
Image credit: antmoose (Flikr via Creative Commons)

After the killing was done, the cave was sealed. When the Allies liberated Rome on 4 June 1944, the massacre became widely known. It shocked Rome, all of Italy and the world when the details emerged. In the postwar trials that took place, many were held to account for their part in it. Generals von Mackensen and Mälzer were sentenced to death in 1945 by a British military tribunal. Field Marshal Kesselring was sentenced to death in 1947 though pardoned later. Former SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prision in 1948 by the Italians. There is also an interesting story of Kappler’s game of wits with Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who spearheaded the Vatican’s assistance to allied soldiers who fled to the Vatican for protection against the Germans. He visited Kappler in jail which led to his conversion to Catholicism. In 1997 his wife managed to smuggle the now old and frail Kappler (who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer) to West Germany. Italy wanted him back but West Germany saw no point to it: he was dying from cancer and in fact died a year later from it.

The Ardeatine Caves outside of Rome have become a national memorial.

Sources:

Mussolini founds the Fascist party (History.com)
Fascist Party (Britannica.com)
“The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932) by Benito Mussolini (pdf)

Germans slaughter Italian civilians (History.com)
Ardeatine Caves Massacre (U.S. Holocaust Memorial)
The Italian Resistance and the Ardeatine Caves Massacre (National WWII Museum)
Mausoleo Fosse Ardeatine

Remembering History: Italian Fascist Party Founded

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

On 23 March 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci de Combattimento, a name drawn from peasant revolutionaries from the 19th century. These “fighting bands” as they were commonly called back then, became the foundation of the Italian Fascist Party. Mussolini, who had been committed to Socialism but disenchanted how it did not support defending France during World War I, broke away from his former allies to found this new party. The Fascist Party incorporated many aspects of Communism and Socialism within its ideology (please see my write up on Fascism here) but differed when it came to private property and nationalism. Mussolini believed that using nationalism could unify a nation without having to seize private property but rather convince the owners to serve the state in its goals. And like Communists and Socialists, Fascists did not believe in democracy but one party and, more importantly, one person rule.

Why This Is Important

The Italian Fascist Party would inspire others to follow in the same vein such as Adolf Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, and Salazar in Portugal. And still inspires movements today.

Why  Fascism Appealed to Italians

Italy faced many problems in the wake of World War I though it had been on the winning side. It acquired new territory as the Austrian-Hungarian empire was dismantled but the cost of the war left Italy in an economic depression. Italy lost 600,000 in battle, 950,000 wounded and 250,000 crippled for life. The cost of the war on the nation’s treasury was staggering resulting in its currency having reduced value, unemployment spiked and massive inflation set in as well due to the devalued currency. Despite being on the winning side, Italians felt betrayed at Versailles as their delegation was ignored. The government came across as weak and having little pride in Italy. This is what gave Mussolini his opportunity. With millions unhappy with how things were being done by the parliamentary government combined with a feeling of betrayal at Versailles, Mussolini knew he would be able to bring the Fascist Party to power. In October 1922, he led the Fascists on a march to Rome where King Emmanuel III asked him to form a new government. He was appointed head of the Fascist cabinet and appeared to work with the parliamentary government. Backed up by his own brutal police force, he became the de facto dictator of Italy and suppressed a Socialist revolt in 1924. In January, 1925 he proclaimed Italy a Fascist state and he was its leader (Il Duce). He would remain in power until 1943 when he was removed from office.

Sources:

1. Books
Pipes, Richards : Communism: A History, Modern Library, New York 2001

2. Internet
Britannica.com
History.com
History Learning Site

Understanding history: Fascism

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Recently a discussion occurred about Fascism. Those who were discussing it could easily point to historical figures such as Franco, Hitler and Mussolini as examples. However what Fascism really means they did not understand. And it appears many are not sure either.

Fascism was a created by Italian leader Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) and led Italy from 1922-1943. Fascism would inspire other totalitarian regimes such as Germany, Spain and Portugal. Unlike Communism, which rejected private property and capitalism, Fascism allowed both but that it had to support the goals of the nation. Communism rejects nationalism but Fascism embraces it and uses it to unite people.

Between us and the Communists there are no political affinities but there are intellectual ones. Like you, we consider necessary a centralized and unitary state which imposes iron discipline on all persons, with this difference, that you reach this conclusion by way of the concept of class, and we by the way of the concept of nations. Benito Mussolini, 1921 , before Chamber of Deputies.

Both disliked liberal democracy and replaced it with a one party state led by a dictator. People were to be molded to better serve the state. Communists and Fascists both believed in total control of their country from top to bottom and such regimes are totalitarian. They went beyond autocratic regimes of the past that simply enforced their will. Even if they never achieved the full aims of total control, they created systems of surveillance and control never seen before (and copied by similar regimes since then) to keep the populace in check. Capitalism under Fascism continued to exist but was subordinated to the needs of the state (which could lead to interesting contradictions) and was understood as a revocable trust.

The Soviet Union proved to be a model to follow for fascists such as Hitler. The Soviet Union was a one party state with all legislative and executive power vested into one person. Hitler and Mussolini might not have liked Communism but admired how they ran things. Both would use the fear of Communists to gain power. For Hitler, this fear was used to broker his ascent into power with the last election of 1932 left no clear winner (the Communists gained seats while the Nazi’s lost seats).

Intellectually Fascism is closer to Communism and has little connection to liberal democracy or conservative political movements. Fascists reject liberal democracy in all of its forms (European parliamentary models, constitutional monarchies, republics). They also reject most conservative political movements since they are often based on reducing government and putting citizens above the state. While Fascists might be sympathetic with autocratic parties (generally aligned with old school military or monarchy), they would ally with them only as a means to get power (Hitler did this).