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10-08-2015, 16:56

The Birth of Fascism

In the early 1920s, in the wake of economic turmoil, political disorder, and the general insecurity and fear stemming from World War I, Mussolini (1883–1945) burst upon the Italian scene with the first Fascist movement in Europe. Mussolini began his political career as a socialist but was expelled from the Socialist Party after supporting Italy’s entry into World War I, a position contrary to the socialist principle of ardent neutrality in imperialist wars. In 1919, Mussolini established a new political group, the Fascio di Combattimento, or League of Combat. It received little attention in the parliamentary elections of 1919, but Italy’s three major political parties were unable to form an effective governmental coalition. When socialists began to speak of the need for revolution, provoking worker strikes and a general climate of class violence, alarmed conservatives turned to the Fascists, who formed armed squads to attack socialist offices and newspapers. By 1922, Mussolini’s nationalist rhetoric and ability to play to middle-class fears of radicalism, revolution, and disorder were attracting ever more adherents. On October 29, 1922, after Mussolini and the Fascists threatened to march on Rome if they were not given power, King Victor Emmanuel III (1900 –1946) capitulated and made Mussolini prime minister of Italy. By 1926, Mussolini had established the institutional framework for his Fascist dictatorship. Press laws gave the government the right to suspend any publication that fostered disrespect for the Catholic church, the monarchy, or the state. The prime minister was made “head of government” with the power to legislate by decree. A police law empowered the police to arrest and confine anybody for both nonpolitical and political crimes without due process of law. In 1926, all anti-Fascist parties were outlawed. By the end of 1926, Mussolini ruled Italy as Il Duce, the leader. Mussolini left no doubt of his intentions. Fascism, he said, “is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people.” 1 His regime attempted to mold Italians into a single-minded community by developing Fascist organizations. By 1939, about two-thirds of the population between eight and eighteen had been enrolled in some kind of Fascist youth group. Activities for these groups included Saturday afternoon marching drills and calisthenics, seaside and mountain summer camps, and youth contests. Beginning in the 1930s, all young men were given some kind of premilitary exercises to develop discipline and provide training for war. Mussolini hoped to create a new Italian: hardworking, physically fit, disciplined, intellectually sharp, and martially inclined. In practice, the Fascists largely reinforced traditional social attitudes, as is evident in their policies toward women. The Fascists portrayed the family as the pillar of the state and women as the foundation of the family. “Woman into the home” became the Fascist slogan. Women were to be homemakers and baby producers, “their natural and fundamental mission in life,” according to Mussolini, who viewed population growth as an indicator of national strength. A practical consideration also underlay the Fascist attitude toward women: working women would compete with males for jobs in the depression economy of the 1930s. Eliminating women from the market reduced male unemployment.