After the First World War “liberal” Italy was beset with numerous problems from many different aspects, like many other countries to this certain point of time. Italy was the first country to come up with the idea of Fascism and the first country to actually have Fascism as a regime. Benito Mussolini found the first Fascist party “fascia di combattimento” in 1919 and therefore is the inventor of Fascism.
The participation Italy’s at the First World War had enormous consequences for Italy. The Italian government had to lend big credits from Great Britain and the United States to pay the big amount of money the war cost. To keep the soldiers and the army fed heavy burden on Italy. The national debt before the war, in 1914, amounted about 16 billion Lire, but after the war the debt has increased to 85 billion Lire.
To repay these huge amounts of debts the government resorted to print bank notes, but this meant that the current money wasn’t covered e.g. through gold. The result of this was a highly inflation. Another financial consequence of the war, was the heavily uprasing of taxation. The prices quadrupled in those two years of war. The inflation hit the peasants and ex-soldiers especially heavily.
The inflation wasn’t falling so heavily on the financial debt within the country, but the Lire lost its value in term of the change into a foreign currency .That hit Italy quite hard, she had a great import trade and those mostly had to be paid in dollar or pound. So was Italy importing most of her grain, so it cost her far more.
Italy’s economic started flourish with the entrance of the First World War. The whole industry was directed on war production, she started to the in 1915 with about 600 machine guns and in the end in 1918 they had about 20 000 guns. Although the industry flourished, just a few industrialists did well out of the war, the production were actually linked to the war, like Pirelli Tyres, Montecatini Chemicals and Fiat ( the largest vehicles manufacture in Europe by 1918). But after the there were several problems in the factories. Obviously the production had to be changed into peace industry, which took a long and cost again a big amount of money.
The bigger problems were the workers itself. During the war the workers worked really hard and long hours, but after it the war-time discipline was flagged. They had resented the longer hours of work, additionally their wages fell by 25 % between 1915 and 1918, they couldn’t keep up with the increasing prices. This fact caused great frustration by the factory workers, inspired by Marxism and Communism, both popular regimes at this point of time, they were forms of socialism that abolishes private ownership, the membership in Trade Unions grew from 1/4 million in 1918 to 2 million in 1920 and the wokers got on strikes. The Trade Unions financially supported the workers during their strikes, during which they hadn’t been paid. The workers demanded higher wages and less work hours. Reclusively in 1929 there were over 1 800 strikes with over 1 million participants, so the production in the factories stagnated.
The agricultural situation wasn’t better, the prices were falling sharply. Agriculture was mainly plied in the south of Italy, which was rather poor. Whereas the north developed into a big industrial centre, right after the unification and became quite rich. The living standard for the most people fell of a minimal.
The political situation in Italy wasn’t even better. Italy had had political struggles before the entrance in the First World War. So was the entrance itself a great political debate, Italy’s prime minister and foreign secretary made a secret alliances of entering the war. The pope, therefore the Catholic Church didn’t stand behind the war; the pope denoted the war as a “useless slaughter”.
So already in 1916 the government was blamed from the population when things went in the army went wrong. AT the end of World War One, the regime was blamed for the conduct in the war and for the failure of achieving territorial profit. The support of the Italian population, towards the entrance in the war, had been achieved through the desire to win back the “Italia Irredenta” from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Italians just got Trentino, South Tyrol and Istria as a territorial achievement. Although they gained all this land, the Italians still felt cheated, because of the promises made to them through the Treaty of London (Art. 4, Treaty of Peace). So the regime was widely condemned for this.
The government also had to fight with anarchism, syndicalism and communism, additionally the massive strikes of the factory workers, all those contributed to weaken to basis of the government and the idea of democracy. So came and went five coalition governments between the armistice in 1918 and the Fascist coup in 1922. None of them were popular with the Italian population and none of them seemed to stabilize the economy or to banish the threat of revolutions. The governments tried to stop the strikes in a conventional way that means with the stake of police and military but they failed. They resulted just more frustration and anger, so were 145 workers killed and over 445 wounded in 1919. Just 30% of the whole Italian population had the right to vote. Therefore the government was based on those 30% of votes.
The Italians requested a strong government to deal with the revolutionary unrest in post-war Italy; people were searching for alternatives to the current governments, in several political directions.
The domestic situation in post-war Italy started to get really worse when the ex-soldiers were returning from the war. About 5 million people were sent to war in 1915 and about 650 000 had died and ca. 1 million was wounded in those three years of Italy’s participation. The living standards for the soldiers were extremely bad in the army. They got poor food rations, an extremely low payment and just 15 days off per year. Also important to notice is that the majority of front-line soldiers were peasants.
The soldiers returning from the war were plunged into this deteriorating economic situation, most of them disappointed over the poor rewards to their sacrifices. They felt not minded, their places in the factories or wherever they had worked where taken over and industries were unlikely to take new workers. Therefore the unemployment was raising over 2 million people when demobilisation took place in 1919.
But not all soldiers could return directly in 1919, some of them had to wait years before they could turn back to the civilian life.
Fascism changed over the years, so that Mussolini had for all those problems a solution. He promised to rescue Italy form the “feeble government”.
He promised to build up a republic, where all people have the right to vote. Further he assured a decentralisation of the government and an abolition of conscription, which was especially for the families important, which suffered under the lost of relatives.
Fascism turned into an Anti-Socialism and Anti-Communism movement. In the Fascist point of view, Communism is one of the prime sources of disunity in the state for its unending class conflicts and therefore divides the people. Another important factor for the rise of Fascism is the support by the Catholic Church for Fascism.
Mussolini point of view was that the country should be governed by those who fought in the war for their country. Mussolini himself had fought in the war and he harvested great approval and support from the ex-soldiers with this statement. He propagated his views through his newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia (The People of Italy), which firstly became a newspaper for veterans and later the organ of the Fascist movement.
When the time went on, more and more people became devotees of the Fascist party. The rise of Fascism is divided into three waves. Mussolini’s first devotees were the ex-soldiers who felt themselves misunderstood and who were angry about the factory wokers, who had job and just complained about the wages and hours of work. In the veteran’s point of view, which was unemployed, they should be lucky about having a job at all.
The factory owners supported Mussolini, because he promised to end the strikes, which damaged the economy and therefore costs a lot of money. Because of this, the Fascist party had much more money than other parties. For example Fiat, which did quite well out of the war, supported Mussolini financially.
The support of the peasants gained Mussolini through their unsatisfaction with the current political situation and their desperateness and Mussolini’s promise for something new and a betterment of the economic.
Military support gained he with the view of a state of law and order, which always includes the use of military and police and they expected a financial betterment and therefore a better technology.
The main support brought him the promise to re-establishment of law and order and therewith the end of the civil war similar circumstances in Italy.
When you look at the unrest situation in post-war Italy you’ll notice it was a divided nation with an angry public force inside. Italy was heading for change it was just a matter of how and how long. Nobody did really know what Fascism was about and what it was turning into; it just seemed to be the perfect answer for all struggles. Therefore the account for the rise of Fascism is quite reasonable and understandable.