Hello, it’s your friendly neighborhood last minute sweeper here to comment on the discussions this week regarding the Italian Fascist state.
Now, the first responders have pretty accurately summed up both the similarities and differences between different fascist states (notably Italy and Germany). Of course, there are many similarities, and there is no doubt that the rise of Mussolini influenced the Nazis. The circumstances were also similar, with the population being so desperate to regain a sense of belonging and nationalistic pride that they were willing to give up freedoms and overlook (and participate in) violence. However, I think this also points to one of the reasons why they differ.
We should not be lulled into thinking that Italian fascism was “nicer” than German fascism. Rather, due to the nationalism being the core of fascist ideology, the form fascism takes will vary depending on the country. They may turn to fascism due to a similar sense of desperation, but each country has a different past, different problems, different resources, different social views, etc. It is only natural that the focus of each fascist regime reflects that. As others have pointed out, Italy was certainly not “nice” in Ethiopia. However, their anti-Semitic policies were not as extreme as Germany because that was less of a concern for them.
I think this is something to keep in mind for future weeks. While Italy might have made the blueprint for future fascist states, these new states can never be direct copies of Italy, or the Nazis, or any other previous fascist regime due to the uniquely nationalistic core of its ideologies.
This week’s examination of Italian Fascism brought to light several ideas that are essential to keep in mind when examining the rise of fascism generally. Some of the important points that were brought up, both in class and in the primary responses, were ideas about the way in which fascism began in contrast to other ideologies.
One of the main points that stood out in class was taken from Federico Finchelstein’s reading. It is the idea that fascist movements in different countries are not just imitations of what happened in Italy. In each different country there were circumstances that lead to the rise of a fascist group. For example, it could come from general social anxiety and a loss of faith in institutions.
Another idea that stood out in particular to me, and in my classmates responses, is the premise of fascism being distinct from other political theories, like communism. The main principles of fascism seek to distinguish it from other ideologies. In particular, this theory was developed to counter enlightenment ideals. This is clear in some of the twelve attributes of fascism that we discussed, such as the glorification of violence, and a leader cult.
Clearly, this is an ideology based on sentiments that reflect a desire to react to the social and political situation of a given moment, such as the post WWI landscape of Mussolini’s Italy. As my classmates have noted, this movement that sought to bring back an ideal, by any means possible. Many of my classmates noted in their blog posts one of the driving forces behind this, and one of the twelve attributes, a way of defining oneself in opposition to the other.
Italian fascism had a clear goal to rid of their society of what they deemed to be undesirable aspects of liberalism and socialism. It is quite easy to see why so many people can fall prey to this ideology. Those who feel patriotic and proud of their heritage can be easily coerced into thinking of the heroism and unbending wills of their forefathers. Moreover, utterly rejecting any idea of the Marxist concept of class conflict can be a uniting force for a whole nation. It brings together the poor who no longer feel as if the rich are putting them down, and the rich no longer see the poor as lazy. It gives unity and gives them a reason to work together for a common cause. Besides, capitalism often leads to a culture of consumerism. The more things you have, the happier you will be. This idea often leads individuals to have feelings that life is something more to than just acquiring material goods. These beliefs and insecurities are easily exploited. In my opinion what fascism uses the most is the idea of ‘the good old days.’ This notion that if you give us the power will bring back the good times in the past, by riding of all what they consider to be degeneracy. What made it more interesting is why do so many people believe they were countering “masonic” bodies in their nations? What is with this obsession with masonic power? Who are these Masonic influences and how do they manifest themselves? Are they a real force to reckon with or are they all just a big conspiracy?
The prime principles of fascism is systematic violence against an enemy. This ideology manifested itself circa 1920’s Italy, where Benito Mussolini took control of the country as an authoritarian leader. As mentioned in his doctrines,
“War alone maximizes to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it”.
As a counter-resistance to Socialism and Liberalism, the rise of fascism as an ideology was defined by Mussolini through action rather than theory or principle. This idea of being able to act, rather than just theorizing concepts of war and conflict, allow for leaders like Mussolini to mobilize quickly.
The Italians were able to find national unity in the demographic colonization of Ethiopia. The examples given in the Ben-Ghiat chapter which include the obvious racism against Ethiopians and sexual exploitation of women demonstrate the ability under fascist regimes to act swiftly and place these violent principles into action, and as a unifying factor in their [Italy’s] state building.
What is most interesting about this principle of structured violence within a political theory is that while Italian fascism is the first concrete example, it is but the first example of many. Finchelstein makes reference to many examples in Asia, the Middle East and South America, as well as the infamous Nazism, as German fascism. The transnational aspect of this ideology shows the universality, especially historically, in violence as a means of identity, action, and legitimate justice. In each country example, while there are different ends, the means of consolidating power through violence is still the same.
Fascism in Italy appears to have stemmed from a deep-seated sense of a loss of international supremacy and world power. Twice in Italy’s long and respected history has it gained unquestionable world prestige and power and twice squandered it in a failure to adapt with the ages. By this I am referring to the the fall of the infamous Roman Empire, and their demise from their central position in the economic advancement and the Renaissance in the 16th and 17th century in Florence and Venice. By the 1930s, Italy had lost a World War and was being comprehensively punished by the Paris Peace treaty of 1919. After reading Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s chapter of the emergence and progression of Italian fascism, it appears clear that fascism was a reaction to their repeated falls from power in history. The Abyssinian crisis in 1936 exacerbated this: it led to them leaving the League of Nations and creating an Axis-Alliance with Germany. Originally, this led to a feeling of empowerment in Italy, as it was as if they had acquired central Europe in an equal alliance with Germany. However, this was not the case: the alliance made Italy even more extreme fascists (evident by the increase in anti-semitic laws and the increase in support for Mussolini in this year) and Germany had no intention of making Italy an equal. Italians saw this Axis alliance as a success for Italy as a fascist nation. However Hitler, who had gained a lot of his insight from the ideas of Mussolini, made sure that this was not the case.
A couple of questions clearly appeared for me from the reading from Ben-Ghiat, and these were:
Was the alliance between Italy and Germany beneficial or obstructive for the progression of fascism?
Is Fascism inherently anti-semitic or was it something that was developed with the atmosphere of the 1930s?
I found Finkelstein’s chapter also particularly interesting in observing how the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, which made it the communist Soviet Union, increased the popularity of fascism in Italy and in other places, such as Ireland. This was because it did not reject the idea of capitalism or the free market, but it made it a totalitarian state.
Had the Bolshevik revolution not happened, do you think that fascism would have spread as quickly and as powerfully as it did in the interwar period?
Italian fascism is credited with being the first fascist state in mainland Europe in the 20th century and for providing a model that other authoritarian states sought to emulate or expand on. While whether it was the first to engage in extreme state control can be debated, the impact that Italian fascism had on the ideologies of other authoritarian state is very evident.
One of the readings this week was a primary source document by Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile that outlined what the considered some of the essential tenets of fascism. A key quote from this reading that embodies Italian fascism (and all fascism) is “he Fascist idea is embodied in the State. It is for the individual insofar as the individual coincides with the State, [which is] the conscience and the universal will of Man in his historical existence” . All individual needs and characteristics must be ignored for the benefit of the construction of the state. Mussolini, as shown as well in the Ruth Ben-Ghiat reading, was more pragmatic about the controls his state put into place. In comparison to Hitler, “For Mussolini and most of his officials, unlike the Nazis, national prerogatives almost always took precedence over racial ones” is used to describe the process in which they instituted anti-Semitic laws.
However, attempts to portray Italian fascism as the ‘nicer’ version is both useless to debate and also untrue. The casualties of their war with Ethiopia are examined in the Ben-Ghiat reading, as well as the lack of recognition of the atrocities committed. Comparatively, they pale against the holocaust but framing the atrocities of two separate regimes against each other in order to diminish the significance of one is not a fair examination of the events. Overall, the readings do a good job of outlining what was significant about Italian fascism and gives some context as to why it is often overlooked in popular understanding, at least compared to Nazi Germany and the USSR: their fascism was more pragmatic and focused the outright slaughter less on people inside the regime.