Fascist Italy

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    The idea of a young child saying “mine” about everything they see is so common it's caricatured. But how similar is it to the example of dictators who implement policies only to increase their power instead of benefiting the lives of the people of the country they rule? Let's explore this thought in this article, where we will learn more about what Fascism meant in Italy and how it developed. We'll also look at its economic and foreign policies and how Fascist Italy contributed to World War II.

    Fascist Italy timeline

    Fascism in Italy lasted between 1922 and 1945 during which time Benito Mussolini was Prime Minister.

    Benito Mussolini was an Italian journalist and politician. He was initially a member of the socialist party. After being expelled for supporting military intervention in World War I, he founded the National Fascist Party (in Italian the Partito Nazionale Fascista, or PNF) in 1921. The party ruled Italy until 1943 when Mussolini was overthrown and arrested. He was later rescued by the German army and created the Republican Fascist Party. This party was dissolved at the end of the war in 1945, and Mussolini was executed.

    The PNF exemplified Italian Fascism. This ideology was developed by Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile and stood for Italian nationalism, aggressive territorial expansion, social conservativism, economic corporatism, and autarky.

    Fascist Italy Mussolini and Hitler in Munich 1940 StudySmarterFig. 1 Mussolini and Hitler in Munich 1940

    NationalismThe identification with our nation of origin and its interests, often to the detriment of other nations.
    Social ConservatismA political ideology that prioritises traditional values and power dynamics, for example, traditional family structures and gender roles, religious values and patriotism
    Economic CorporatismA system that encourages cooperation between employees and employers to represent the national economic aims as set by the state. This system also aimed to resolve the conflict between the economic classes.
    AutarkyA state of national economic self-sufficiency that minimises dependency on international trade.

    Economic corporatism which encourages cooperation between the classes is one of the main differences between the ideologies of Fascism and Communism. The latter, instead, believes in class struggle culminating in the working class overthrowing the business owners.

    The period covered by Italian Fascism can be subdivided into 6 main phases.

    First phase

    This phase, lasting between 1922-1925, included a continuation of the previous political situation as Mussolini was made prime minister in coalition with the existing government. However, at this time he also started creating his dictatorship.

    A dictatorship is a form of government often achieved by force where the dictator has virtually unlimited powers. A dictatorship will often make the power of the dictator permanent and will suppress any opposition.

    Giacomo Matteotti, an Italian Socialist politician, was assassinated in 1924 by the members of the Fascist secret police for openly accusing the fascist party of election fraud.

    Second phase

    This phase lasted between 1925-1929 and included the actual construction of the dictatorship.

    During this phase, union membership became compulsory for all workers, and through the unions, state control of the economy became more pervasive. Moreover, in 1927 the Organisation for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism was created. Its main aim was the suppression of political opponents through terror and torture.

    Third phase

    This phase lasted between 1929-1934 and saw less interventionism in foreign policy, and moves to create a closer relationship with the Catholic Church.

    Interventionism refers to a state intervening in other territories it doesn't have control over. The third phase of Fascism in Italy being less interventionist is worth mentioning as revanchism is a core fascist foreign policy. Revanchism is a policy, usually embraced during wartime, focused on reclaiming previously controlled territories.

    Check out our explanation on Fascism for a more detailed description of this political ideology!

    Fourth phase

    This phase lasted between 1935-1940 and was characterised by an aggressive foreign policy. We'll explore this in more detail below.

    Fifth phase

    The fifth phase, between 1940-1943, corresponds with the beginning of World War II.

    World War II (1939-1945) was a war which involved the vast majority of the world's countries. One of the main contributing factors was the rise of Fascism in Europe. The two opposing military alliances during the war were the Axis powers including Italy, Germany, and Japan, and the Allied powers. The Allied powers, or Allies, included the United Kingdom, United States, France, the Soviet Union and China.

    Check our explanations on World War II and the United Nations for more details.

    Sixth phase

    The sixth and last phase, between 1943-1945, involved the German occupation of Northern Italy in the latter part of World War II.

    Fascist Italy economy

    Near the end of World War I, in 1918, Italy was in poor economic conditions. Years of intense social conflict followed. The workers joined the socialist and anarchist parties in participating in strikes, protests, and occupations. The businesses and landowners aligned themselves with Mussolini's fascist party. The fascist paramilitia had a reputation for violence and had intervened several times to attack socialist leaders and suppress the workers' uprising.

    In this climate, Mussolini organised a march and coup-de-etat on the Italian capital, Rome. To avoid a violent confrontation, and given Mussolini's widespread popular support, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, intervened and appointed Mussolini Prime Minister.

    StrikeA joint refusal to work by the employees.
    OccupationAn act of protest that involves occupying an employment or symbolic building to render it unusable.
    ParamiliatiaAn unofficial military group.

    Initially, Mussolini appointed a classic liberal economist as his Finance Minister, Alberto De Stefani.

    Classic liberalism is a political ideology that emphasises the importance of civil liberties, and minimal government intervention.

    During De Stefani ministership, the Italian economy grew by over 20% and unemployment fell by 77% thanks to policies such as tax cuts and softening of trade restrictions1.

    In this phase, a substantial amount of money was spent on structural improvements and social welfare. However, as this increased the national debt, in 1925 De Stefani was dismissed and Mussolini insisted on increased state control of the economy. Mussolini forced the nationalisation of all trade unions and used this control to suppress opposition while benefiting those who supported fascism within each trade. This also meant that all trades, how they were carried out, and to what purpose, were controlled by the state. However, the successes of the programmes were greatly inflated by state propaganda.

    In 1925 Mussolini started a campaign called “the Battle for grain.” It intended to make Italy self-sufficient in wheat production. He forced landowners to dedicate their land to mostly growing wheat. Although this did increase Italian wheat production, it decreased the production of everything else, meaning families were paying more for foods that now had to be imported.

    Great depression

    When the Great Depression hit, Italy's economy was already struggling. Industries were bought by banks.

    The Great Depression was a period of economic depression that began with the American stock market crash in 1929 and lasted till 1939.

    Check out our explanation on the Great Depression.

    As the banks were also struggling, the state created three institutions that took control of the industries the banks had bailed out. This led to Italy being the second country in the world, after the Soviet Union, with the most state-controlled economy. Though this did not improve the situation for the population as state control was just a way of accumulating power rather than actually dealing with the issues at hand.

    After the depression, Mussolini's focus shifted to his foreign policy, as the costs of Italy's colonial infrastructure were greater than Italy's annual revenue2. This discrepancy was mainly dealt with by increasing the national debt.

    Fascist Italy foreign policy

    Fascist Italy's foreign policy aimed at restoring the greatness of the Roman Empire, as promised by Mussolini. The fascist dictatorship aimed to reclaim the territories perceived to be historically Italian, expand to the Balkans, and gain more North African territories.

    Italy engaged in a war with Lybia, and invasions in France, Ethiopia, Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia.

    Fascist Italy Italian Empire in 1940 StudySmarterFig. 1 Italian Empire in 1940

    All the territories gained in this period were surrendered at the end of WWII due to the Allies' victory.

    Fascist Italy WW2

    Although Italy's military forces were stretched due to its ongoing invasions, Italy joined WWII in 1940 as part of the Axis powers to further its imperial ambitions.

    During the war, with German support, Italy gained control of most of Greece and administered French Corsica and Tunisia. It invaded Croatia and Yugoslavia, among other Eastern European territories, and started bombing British-held territories with the aim of occupying them.

    Italy's initial war gains came to an end when the US and the Soviet Union joined the war, provoked by German and Japanese actions.

    In 1941 Nazi Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler, decided to invade the Soviet Union, while Japan attacked the US fleet in Pear Harbour.

    In 1943, the Allies invaded southern Italy, and, as ordered by King Victor Emmanuel III, Mussolini was arrested. Italian military actions abroad stopped, and all the territories it had gained so far went under German control.

    Republican Fascist Party of Italy

    As a consequence of the Allies' Invasion of southern Italy, Nazi Germany invaded northern and central Italy and gained control of its army and supplies. Mussolini was rescued and his Prime Ministership re-instated under Hitler's protection. As the National Fascist Party had been dissolved, Mussolini founded the Republican Fascist Party, which headed the newly created Italian Social Republic that spanned down to Rome.

    The Italian Social Republic was a state, completely dependent on German support and with little international recognition.

    This geographically and politically divided Italy, naturally led to substantial internal resistance and caused the Italian Civil War. The Italian Civil War ended with the German surrender to the Allied forces, and the end of the WWII.

    Italian Civil War is a war fought between the Italian Social Republic, under the control of Nazi Germany, and the Italian resistance (the partisans) supported by the Allied forces. It started with the arrest of Mussolini and ended with his execution. As well as by the army, this war was fought in the form of a civilian resistance guerrilla war. The end of the Italian Civil War also marked the beginning of Italy going from being a monarchy, headed by the king, to a republic, headed by a democratically elected government.

    Fascist Italy - Key takeaways

    • Fascist Italy lasted from 1922 to 1945 and coincided with Benito Mussolini as Prime Minister.
    • Italian Fascism stood for Italian nationalism, aggressive territorial expansion, social conservativism, economic corporatism and autarky.
    • Fascism in Italy initially introduced liberal policies that benefited the economy, but later nationalised the trade unions, increasing the fascist party's power, but failing the population.
    • Fascist Italy had grand imperial ambitions.
    • Due to the Allies' WWII victory, all the power and territories gained by Fascist Italy were lost.


    1. Jim Powell, The Economic Leadership Secrets of Benito Mussolini, Forbes, 2012
    2. Cannistraro, Philip V. Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy 1982
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fascist Italy

    What did fascist Italy do?

    Fascist Italy nationalised the economy to the detriment of the population, and joined WWII in an attempt to further its imperial ambition.

    Why did Italy become fascist?

    Internal economic and political struggles led to Mussolini, supported by the businesses and landowners, to march on Rome and be appointed Prime Minister by the then King of Italy.

    When did Italy become fascist?

    Italy became Fascist when Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister in 1922.

    What does fascism mean in Italy?

    Italian nationalism, aggressive territorial expansion, social conservativism, economic corporatism and autarky. 

    Why did fascism fail in Italy?

    Fascism failed in Italy due to Italy being on the side that lost in WWII.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Between which years did Fascism rule in Italy?

    Which of these countries was part of the Axis powers with Italy and Germany during WWII?

    Which of these wasn't one of Fascist Italy's aims?


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