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Mussolini's Italy

'Interwar States' as a HL unit as a whole deals with domestic developments in certain key European states in the period between the two world wars. It requires the study of four European countries including Germany, Italy, and Spain. 


The section considers the impact of the end of the First World War, then examines the economic, social and cultural changes in each country during the 1920s and 1930s.

  • Weimar Germany: constitutional, political, economic/financial and social issues (1918–1933); initial challenges (1918–1923); “Golden Era” under Stresemann (1924–1929); the crisis years and the rise of Hitler (1929–1933)

  • Hitler’s Germany (1933–1939): consolidation of power; Hitler’s pre-war domestic policies, including economic, social and political policies; nature of the Nazi state; the extent of resistance to the Nazis

  • Italy (1918–1939): rise of Mussolini; consolidation of power; Mussolini’s pre-war domestic policies, including economic, social and political policies; nature of the fascist state

  • Spain (1918–1939): political, social and economic conditions in Spain; the Primo de Rivera regime; polarization and political parties under the Second Republic; Azaña and Gil Robles; causes of the Civil War; foreign involvement; reasons for nationalist victory under Franco

italian fascism gaetano salvemino.jpeg
Gaetano Salvemini (1938)

Italian anti-fascist politician, historian and writer. Born in a family of modest means, he became an acclaimed historian both in Italy and abroad, in particular in the United States where he was a professor at Harvard from 1934 onwards, after he was forced into exile by Mussolini's Fascist regime

1-28 - Fascist political power and control

28-60 - Fascist economic policy

60-94 - Fascist foreign policy

Italian Fascism (1922-1939)

Five years on from the events in St Petersburg and the subsequent establishment  of the USSR, Europe had begun to appreciate the threat this socialist authoritarian state posed to its borders, traditions and values.  The first manifestation of this fear of the 'Bolshevik hordes' can be seen in the rise to power of Benito Mussolini in 1922 as leader of the Fascist Party in Italy.........

What is fascism?


Where did Mussolini's ideas come from?


The Bolshevik state created by the October Revolution was based around central economic planning, Lenin was determined to create from scratch a modern socialist state in a backward agrarian society. 


His success arrived at the same time as Europe was attempting to recover from the apocalypse of WWI. 


As a result, capitalist states in Europe felt vulnerable not only to a growing threat from the East, but also to the danger of internal revolution from their own population seeking to recreate the success of the Russian Communists

In this climate of fear and anger, a new political ideology arose in direct opposition to the threat seen to be posed by Soviet socialism.....

This History Today article by Roger Easton explores how we can define fascism.....

Lecture at LUMS based on Richard Wolin's book "The Seduction of Unreason" on how counter-enlightenment ideas formed the basis of the fascist reaction to modernity

How did Mussolini rise to power?


Benito Mussolini did not arrive out of nowhere.  He emerged from an Italy ravaged by war and whose people were seeing the attractions of new ideas in how their recently unified nation was to be organised + managed.

One of the key influences on his ideology was Gabriele d'Annunzio - a flamboyant and infamous soldier poet, nationalist and war hero.  Using the texts on the left + your knowledge of fascism, identify a list of ideas and concepts that can be traced from d'Annunzio to Italian Fascism...

In 1902, after leaving school, Mussolini escaped to Switzerland in order to avoid military service; this was a crime that later in his life he would have people shot for. Mussolini continued in socialist politics and was arrested several times by the Swiss police for ‘political agitation’. At this stage of his life Mussolini was hardly recognisable in his political values. He preached against the church, the king and the exploitation of the people. However characteristics were clearly developing that would enable him to seize power for himself in 1922. He was a vocal and radical member of the unions; many feared and admired him and his ideas. Mussolini often openly spoke out about the need for a revolution with such conviction that shocked many of the more moderate socialists.

The Socialist party in Italy saw Mussolini as an influential figure and as a result he was rewarded with the position of editor of the leading socialist newspaper Avanti! Mussolini has been seen as one of the first political leaders to see the true value of media in controlling the population. Under his leadership the amount of people that read Avanti rose from 20,000 to 100,000.

Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party in 1914 after coming in to dispute with leaders of the party over their view that Italy should remain neutral, whereas his increasingly nationalist stance saw him embrace the prospect of war. He then joined the army in 1915 and was injured in 1917. This was an extremely important stage in Mussolini’s political and personal development. He later described it as ‘the most beautiful moment of my life.’ It was to be incorporated heavily into the cult of personality myth he created when in power as he created an image as a modern Julius Caesar .

After the war he returned to journalism and began to champion the many grievances of soldiers. He described his writing as ‘the finger on the pulse of the masses.’ In 1919 Italy was on the brink of civil war with high unemployment helping fuel an increasingly popular communist movement amongst many workers in both cities and the countryside. There was fear in the middle class that there would be a revolution similar to that seen in Russia. Mussolini saw that this was his chance, and promised that he would destroy the communists and restore law and order to Italy......

muss rtp.jpg

Excerpted from Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy by Michael R. Ebner.


Mussolini had by 1922 succeeded in creating his own unique post-war political ideology which had helped him acquire power.  However, as always with RTP investigations, how much of this success was by his own hands, and how much was the result of favourable conditions and forces?

Using the reading and research already completed, compile a list on the left-hand  document of decisions, tactics, ideas, events, forces, conditions etc that allow Mussolini to become Prime Minister of Italy by the end of 1922


Now practise your OPCVL skills on the sources below using this exam style Q2...

With clear reference to the origin, purpose and content of the source, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses to the historian studying the rise to power of Benito Mussolini

'Never before have the peoples thirsted for authority, direction, order, as they do now. If each age has its doctrine, then innumerable symptoms indicate that the doctrine of our age is the Fascist. That it is vital is shown by the fact that it has aroused a faith; that this faith has conquered souls is shown by the fact that Fascism can point to its fallen heroes and its martyrs.


Fascism has now acquired throughout the world that universally which belongs to all doctrines which by achieving self-expression represent a moment in the history of human thought.'

- Benito Mussolini 'The Doctrine of Fascism' (1932)

'Why did Fascism break through in Italy but nowhere else during the post-war crisis?  Crucial to Mussolini's success were the existing, and rapidly worsening, crisis of legitimacy of the liberal state, the impact of the war, and the perceived revolutionary threat.  Nowhere else but Spain was the crisis of legitimacy so profound in the immediate post-war years.  The impact of the war in Italy, by contrast, can scarcely be exaggerated.  Millions of Italians had been mobilized to fight - many were now open to political mobilization.  The belief that, in the eyes of countless thousands of ex-servicemen and many others, that victory had been 'mutilated', that Italy had been cheated out of promises of national glory and imperial expansion, that all the sacrifices had not been worth it, fed a vitriolic rejection of the existing state.  Big electoral gains for a Socialist Part preaching the need for a violent seizure of power made the threat of revolution, so soon after the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, seem very real.'

- Ian Kershaw ' To Hell & Back: Europe 1914-1949' (Allen Lane Publishers; 2015)

'At the beginning of October 1922, Mussolini increased the pressure by starting to organise a Facist March on Rome.  The Fascist squads were organised into a militia and plans were drawn up to seize the major towns and cities of northern and central Italy.  Around 30 000 Fascists would then converge on the capital and install themselves in power.  If they met resistance, they would crush it.  Many Fascists genuinely believed that their coup was finally at hand.  However, their leader saw the march much more as the ultimate piece of political blackmail.  Given the alternatives, he was sure they would hand over power.'

Mark Robson 'Italy: The Rise of Fascism' (Hodder Education; 2008)

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Giovinezza in Marcia

Children’s school notebooks, 1935.


Children were required to use these notebooks with colored Fascist cartoons and quotations from Mussolini on the front and back.

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Benito Mussolini May 9, 1936 Rome, following the capture of Addis Ababa

How did Mussolini consolidate power?

How did Mussolini use Fascist ideology to consolidate power?

  • What problems did Mussolini face as leader?

  • How were these problems addressed?

  • Which aspects of Fascism helped him deal with these problems?

  • Which aspects of Fascism were part of the problems he faced?

The nature of Fascist ideology was vague and multifaceted.  It had made itself out of the anger and uncertainty created by WWI and then rose in opposition to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.  However, within Fascism itself there were a variety of strands ranging from paramilitary thug to devout revolutionary, from political opportunist to intellectual elitist. 


They all wanted a powerful Italy, but for differing fundamental reasons.  Benito Mussolini's success lay in his ability to manipulate these competing aspects of the movement into a coherent whole, whilst also consolidating his own position as Duce and the Party's position as the fulcrum of Fascist Italy. 


How was he able to manage this + what arose within Fascist Italy as a result?

How total was his control once his position was consolidated?

Where did he succeed and where did he fail in his political aims?

How close did he het to his stated goal of totalitarian control?

Use the resources above and below to research these questions


how successful were mussolini's domestic policies?

How successful were Mussolini's social and economic policies?

Having established that by manipulation, use of rhetoric and Realpolitik, Mussolini had consolidated his position at the heart of the Party by the end of the 1920s, the next enquiry needs to focus on his policy.  Domestically, Fascism required a number of key aims be met if it was to achieve its overall goal of Italy becoming a Great Power, a new Rome. 


Chief amongst these were the creation of a state of economic autarky by which Italy would become self sufficient and independent allowing rearmament irrespective of the League of Nations; and social engineering which would allow for a notoriously divided and independent Italian people to unite behind Fascism in all respects

  • What were his policies that succeeded in their aims?

  • How close did these policies get to achieving those aims?

  • What policies failed to secure their aims?

  • Why did they fail and what effect did they have on Mussolini's vision for Italy?

It is easy to dismiss Mussolini's policies as all style no substance, but how accurate is this judgement? 

To what degree and where were these policies lacking?

How successful a leader was Mussolini in terms of his domestic policy?

Use the resources above and below, along with your Todd + Waller text (pp181-192 on social policy), to complete the interactive googledoc available above right by clicking on the question mark....


Mussolini's Foreign Policy 1933- 40

Italian expansion (1933–1940)


This newly forged Fascist Italy was continually involved in military expansion from 1933 to 1940 in search of Empire...

The focus of this section therefore is on the causes of expansion, key events, and international responses to that expansion.


Discussion of domestic and ideological issues should therefore be considered in terms of the extent to which they contributed to this expansion, for example, economic issues, such as the long-term impact of the Great Depression, should be assessed in terms of their role in shaping more aggressive foreign policy.

Causes of expansion

  • Impact of fascism on the foreign policy of Italy 

  • Impact of domestic economic issues on the foreign policy of Italy 

  • Changing diplomatic alignments in Europe; the end of collective security; appeasement


  • Italian expansion: Abyssinia (1935–1936); Albania; Pact of Steel; entry into the Second World War  


  • International response to Italian aggression 1935–1936 & 1940

Mussolini's Foreign Policy - text I (MGW)
Mussolini's Foreign Policy - text II (ATH)

TWE did the WSC + Great Depression create a crisis in European diplomacy?

Italy had several aims for its foreign policy:

- Empire - resources + prestige

- Autarky - self-sufficient independence

- Access - control of Mediterranean

However, given its recent history, it would need to involve itself in diplomatic circles in order to achieve these goals - it simply wasn't strong enough to get them alone.  The 1920s and early 30s therefore were characterised by on-off cordial relations with UK and France as Italy sought to obtain a chair at the top table of European diplomacy - it got there by the 1930s, but TWE was the WSC + GD responsible?

- access googledoc left for class answers..

What was the Wall St Crash?
Haile Selassie speech to LON 1937ile 
Mussolini's Foreign Policy in 1920s and 30s
Mussolini, Armed Forces + War 1922-40
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