The Uses of History, 29 – Mussolini and Fascism, 1

Fascism1. Hist. the totalitarian principles and organization of the extreme right-wing nationalist movement in Italy (1922-43). 2. (also fascism) a any similar nationalist and authoritarian movement. esp. German National Socialism [Nazism]. b derogatory any system of extreme right-wing or authoritarian views.

Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary, 2002

The last few years have witnessed the fast and loose use of the term fascism in both social media and what is supposed to pass these days as serious, public political expression of views. Regrettably, most of the latter comes out as diatribe aimed to dismiss people the speaker doesn’t want to hear and who, it is implied if not actually stated, shouldn’t even have the opportunity to inhabit the public forum. For example, the Prime Minister of Canada’s way of questioning such “misguided souls” having the right of free, public speech is to label them as “unCanadian”, despite being born in Canada, which makes them fully Canadian entitled to all constitutional guarantees, such as freedom of expression and association and equality under the law.

Whether in Canada, the USA, or any number of other venues, most of the loose use of fascism has been in sense 2b of our above definition – derogatory, as an accusation targeting “right-wingers” holding what the accusers view as “extreme right-wing, authoritarian views”. In the present socio-political climate in the West, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have any sort of true public dialogue. Even universities, the original bastions of free speech, have caved into the pressure to censure and exclude people (almost always labelled as “right-wing”) with the wrong views on the current crop of hot-button social engineering issues. As an old friend used to express this fashion of shouting at the other people to drown out any possibility of hearing them and having an actual discussion that does not degenerate into verbal violence, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Even so, here is some factual (as in real) information about real-life fascism rather than the misinformed accusatory variety which vicious tongues use to silence by shaming people whose opinions they don’t want to hear. Perhaps the reader will be able to better assess the next use of the derogatory, belittling form of the term in comparison.

Benito Mussolini is the ideological “Father of Fascism.” As a socio-economic-political ideology it did not exist until he created it. For most of the 20th Century it was the only original ideology to emerge from those tumultuous 100 years. Unless we want to baptize the Green Movement as another one, Fascism remains the only genuine 20th-Century political ideology. As to what that suggests about the quality of our global community’s political and social evolution since World War I, the reader may formulate her own judgment.

Mussolini and the Fascist Party of Italy (which he founded) seized power in that country in October 1922. Modern revolutions until that point had been “leftist” in orientation. Perhaps Americans would dispute such a description for the events of 1774-83 in their country, but comparatively speaking, it was a move to what we now call “the left”, or the “progressive” side of the socio-political spectrum. The various French Revolutions (1789-99, 1830, 1840, 1870-1) were definitely movements to the left in what was Europe’s leading continental power in those days. The Communist Revolution in Russia was the most radical move to the left yet, at least in intent. (We will leave China and South-East Asia to another time.)

Thus, when we behold the Italian Fascist Revolution of 1922, we are seeing something new. Its goals were very different from those of Socialists or Communists, and its agents fervently hated Communism and Socialism. It was anti-democratic (although so is Communism in all its formulations from Marx to Mao). Unlike the Communist ideology, Mussolini and the Italian Fascists originally had no aim to infiltrate and overthrow neighboring states to convert them to a new ideology and wipe out their national identity in a great new international fraternity of like-minded proletarian egalitarianism.

Mussolini’s ideology was unabashedly nationalistic, militaristic, right-wing populist, anti-socialist, anti-communist, and mucho testosterone-driven. The strong male was dominant and was meant to dominate. Fascism favoured a form of Capitalism Mussolini called the “Corporate State”. He did not mean government ownership of industries and commercial entities. There could be a few exceptions as in the national rail service and state radio. The general economic concept was careful and very close, hands-on regulation of key economic sectors and enterprises to coordinate the economy in order to create a centrally controlled economic plan. In theory, this would better satisfy the needs of ordinary folks while also allowing entrepreneurs and corporations to reap profits from their expertise and opportunities. New talent could rise to the top if they did what was required within the bounds of the “Big Vision”.

It is no longer very popular to suggest that anything positive or of lasting benefit was produced under a Fascist regime that lasted slightly longer than 20 years. At the time, for the first ten years or so, a good many Italians (obviously not of socialist or leftist persuasion) thought that overall conditions in the country really improved. Most people had jobs and could make ends meet, contrary to the unrest and turmoil of the years before “Musso” took power. “The trains actually run on time,” was one famous quip. The Mafia was reigned in, suffering the same brutal treatment from Fascist strong-arms that they were accustomed to use against their opponents. Godfathers going to prison was not unusual.

In 1929, the Roman Catholic Church made a deal to recognize the loss of its former central Italian territory (the Papal States, annexed by Italy in 1870) and Rome as Italy’s capital. In return Roman Catholicism became Italy’s State Religion and Vatican City became the smallest independent State in the world, under Italian protection. While “Il Duce” had no interest in religion, he knew, like Napoleon, that making peace with the Church meant increased loyalty from the large majority of ordinary Italians who were still practising Catholics.

The Great Depression hit Italy hard after it had been churning on for three years. Italy had at first weathered it somewhat better than other European states and even the US. But, as it did for almost all countries, foreign trade withered as protectionism closed markets around the world. Unemployment, hardship, and poverty returned to large numbers of Italians. Similarly to other countries, the Fasicst regime had no significant answers to these problems. Social security measures were very limited by Italy’s increasingly poor balance of payments and steep economic downturn. The government’s unpopularity grew and harsh measures were used to silence dissent.

As noted above, Fascism is strongly nationalistic and militaristic. One of the common methods of diverting attention from domestic social and economic woes is to find a scapegoat outside the country. In World War I Italy had taken the Allied side in May 1915, after having backed out of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Allies had coaxed the Italians into this by promising significant territorial compensation along the Adriatic Coast and in the Austrian Tyrol. In addition, Italy eyed some of Turkey’s Aegean island possessions. (Turkey had taken Italy’s place as an ally to Germany and A-H in October 1914.)

In 1933 and going forward, deep in the grip of the world-wide depression, Mussolini needed a notable “success” to convince Italians that his regime was still strong and able to fulfill national aspirations. The face of Europe was changing too. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in Germany, legally and constitutionally. A second major country of Europe now had a Fascist-style government. The German edition called itself “National Socialist”, but most of the characteristics of Fascism as originally defined by Mussolini stamped Germany’s new regime as genuinely “fascist”. It did not take Hitler long to demonstrate this reality with deeds.

The rise of a second fascist nation across the Alps was not originally welcomed by Mussolini, despite Hitler’s having openly expressed his admiration of Il Duce and his achievements. For one thing, the Nazi program was outlined in Mein Kampf, Hitler’s blueprint for Germany and Europe’s future, written from prison in 1924 and available to read for anyone who cared to and managed to wade through its stultified and turgid prose. Hitler was very clear that a revived Germany under National Socialism would annex Austria as one of its first acts. As one of the victorious Allied powers of 1918, Italy had guaranteed the integrity and independence of Austria within its post-war frontiers.


Published by VJM

Vincent is a retired High School teacher, Educational Consultant, and author in Ontario, Canada. He is an enthusiastic student of History, life, and human nature. He has loved writing since he was a kid. He has been happily married for almost 50 years and has 4 grown children and ten grandchildren. He and his wife ran a nationally successful Canadian Educational Supply business for home educators and private schools for fifteen years. Vincent has published Study Guides for Canadian Social Studies, a biography of a Canadian Father of Confederation, and short semi-fictional accounts of episodes in Canadian History. He has recently published his first novel, Book One in a Historical Fantasy series called "Dragoonen". The first book is "Awakening" and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. He is currently working on further books in this series and a number of other writing projects in both non-fiction and fiction. Vincent is a gifted teacher and communicator.

One thought on “The Uses of History, 29 – Mussolini and Fascism, 1

  1. Another fascinating historical sketch. Thanks, Vince,



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