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Italy achieved her unification in 1870. She had a constitutional monarchy like that of Great Britain, but democratic society failed to develop in Italy because the government was controlled by corrupt politicians, called the party bosses. They controlled the elections by bribing the voters. Once they were in power, they were more interested in achieving personal gains for themselves than in solving the social and economic problems of the people. As a result of this political corruption, Italy remained a poor country. Industrial progress was slow. Italy was poor in natural resources and lack of fertile land. Many of the farm laborers were landless and were often unemployed, so millions of Italians were forced to emigrate.
The Italian government was faced with many new problems after the First World War. The first one was the Italian dissatisfaction with the territorial settlement made at the Paris Peace Conference. Most of the Italians had expected a big territorial gain when they entered the war. According to the Treaty of London, Italy was promised: Trentino, Trieste, Southern Tyrol, Istria, Dalmatia, the coastal districts of Albania, a share in the division of the Ottoman Empire and of the German colonies in Africa. Although the Italians fought bravely and lost 600,000 men, the territories that surrendered to Italy in the Pairs Peace Conference were not as many as had originally been promised.
Italy was a poor nation. She could only support her war effort by obtaining foreign loans. Immediately after the war, as Europe became exhausted, the Italian tourist trade and export trade came to a standstill and there was large scale unemployment throughout the country. The problem of unemployment was aggravated by the return of millions of ex-soldiers to Italy and a new immigration law of the U.S. government which restricted entry of immigrants. Runaway inflation added to the sufferings of the Italians. The lira (the Italian dollar) had only one fifth of its pre war value.
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The fear of a revolution and the desire for national glory were used to the advantage of a new political group, the Fascists, led by Benito Mussolini. He was born in 1883. His father was a blacksmith and also an anarchist. His mother was a school teacher. His birthplace, Romagna, was known for its rebellious spirit. When he was young, Mussolini did not make much achievement in education. From 1902 and on, he picked up socialist ideas, mainly the syndicalism of Sorel. After 1904, he became a famous socialist journalist. His literary and speaking ability made him the editor of a socialist newspaper, Avanti, which would later on help him in politics. Mussolini was never a convinced socialist. The views expressed in his newspaper were not consistent. When anarchism was popular among the Italian workers, Mussolini advocated anarchist ideas in his newspaper. This seemed to signify that he was an opportunist, very interested in winning followers and power.
In Spring of 1919, he formed the Milan fascio. The Milan fascio had no clear views except a belief in action. It only had unclear ideas about radical reforms. For the purpose of propaganda, Mussolini advocated universal suffrage, the abolition of the Senate, land for the peasants, improvement of workers' conditions and a strong foreign policy.
After his first success, Mussolini became more violent and anti-Bolshevik than ever in order to win more support from the property class. He stopped attacking the monarchy, the Catholics and capitalists. He promised a strong government which could suppress the socialists' disturbances and a strong foreign policy which could bring national glory to Italy. Economically, he won economic liberalism and a improvement in the conditions of the workers. As a result of Mussolini's tactics, finances poured in from the industrialists.
From the early spring of 1921, the Fascists, also know as the Black Shirts, carried out a systematic terrorist campaign against the Socialist and Communist groups. During 1922 the Black Shirts and Communists fought bitter street battles against each other. The government army officers were friendly to the Black Shirts and gave them weapons. Soon after the armed Black Shirts were ruling some small towns.
The Socialists and Communists set up a general strike in August 1922, against the Black Shirts. The strike was not well planned. The government and the Black Shirts ended the strike with force. After the strike, the property class relied more and more upon the Black Shirts to stop Socialism and Communism by force.
On October 26, 1922, Mussolini decided to take advantage of the chaotic situation to snatch power. He threatened a March on Rome if he was not accepted into the cabinet. Armed Fascists marched to Rome from various parts of the country. This threat caused an alarm to the politicians in Rome who failed to deal with the emergency. The Liberal Prime Minister resigned almost as soon as he heard of the march. The King, Victor Emmanuel, refused to call the army to oppose the Fascists partly because he was anxious to avoid civil war and partly because he wanted a strong government to restore law and order. The King asked Mussolini to form a new government. On October 31, Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy.
Mussolini was not satisfied with a coalition government. He aimed to be the ruler of a one party totalitarian state. In the 1920's, he destroyed all effective opposition at home. He placed loyal Black Shirts in key government positions, created the Voluntary Fascist Militia for National Security, and promoted the Grand Council of Fascism into a part of the state. In July 1923, Mussolini was able to secure a new electoral law from the parliament. In an atmosphere of intimidation and violence, with the Fascist Militia using strong arm methods, the 'National List' presented by the Fascists. In June 1924 when the new Parliament convened, the Socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti, denounced the Fascists of the use of force in the recent elections. Right after he denounced the use of force, he was murdered by the Fascists.
Matteotti's murder led to an outcry against Mussolini. The parties in opposition to Mussolini's government withdrew from the parliament. This was called the Aventine Secession. The Aventine Secession only strengthened Mussolini's determination to use force to wipe out all his opponents. In 1926, a law on association outlawed all political opposition, and a secret police force was established to arrest political opponents. In 1925-26, more than ten thousand anti-fascists were arrested, sentenced to death and exiled. To strengthen his control of the country, the worker's unions were dissolved and opposition newspapers were closed. In 1928, a new law abolished universal suffrage and restricted parliamentary elections to candidates officially nominated by the Fascist Grand Council. In the 1929 elections, a Parliament was elected. In the same year, Mussolini, the Duce, was given power by the pro-Fascist parliament to govern by decrees. He issued a series of decrees which transferred to him complete legislative authority. The King had to accept Mussolini as the permanent Prime Minister of Italy. From this time onwards, all other ministers were appointed, and dismissed by and directed to work under Mussolini alone.
The basic aim of all economic measures was to bring economic prosperity to Italy. Since 1921 Mussolini continued to adopt the high tariff policy to protect the home market from the competition of foreign goods. The most important economic reform was, however, the formation of the Corporate State.
On April 21, 1927 the Labour Charter solemnly expressed the ideas of Fascist Corporate State. According to the Charter, the government would bring both employers and employees of the same trade into one confederation. In 1934 twenty-two corporations were formed. Each corporation consisted of employer's and worker's representatives. The government also sent its representatives to participate in the administration of the corporations. All the corporations were put under the supervision of a National Council of Corporations, of which Mussolini was the Chairman. These Corporations provided accident, unemployment and health insurance for workers. Worker's strikes were forbidden. Workers could appeal to the Labour Courts of the Corporations if they had any disputes with the employers. The employers were urged by the government representatives of each corporation to improve the conditions of the workers. Besides the system of corporations, Mussolini helped the industries with financial subsidies. The state would buy the national products even though their prices were higher than the foreign products.
In spite of all his efforts Mussolini clearly failed to give economic prosperity to Italy and a real improvement in the standard of living of the workers and peasants.
First of all, the corporations benefited only the employers. Worker's interests were sacrificed in the name of national good. To the workers, no strikes were permitted. If they had a wage dispute, they could only appeal to the Labour Courts of the Corporations; but these Labour Courts were dominated by the employers and the state officials who always sided with the employers. Thus workers were forced to work without protest. To sum up, Mussolini gave to most of the Italians not economic betterment but a decline in their standard of living.
Mussolini wanted to secure the support of the Catholics for his regime because most of the Italians were Catholics. Mussolini understood that if he wanted to win over the support of the Catholics, he had to fix the dispute between the Papacy Italy. The dispute between the Papacy and the Italian Kingdom began in 1870. In that year, when the unification of Italy was achieved, the Papal Kingdom was confiscated by the Italian Kingdom, so the Pope refused to recognize the Italian Kingdom, or to step outside the Vatican City. After long and difficult negotiations between Mussolini and the Pope, the Lateran Agreements of February 1929 were made. They consisted of a Treaty, a Concordat, and a Financial Convention.
According to the Treaty, the state recognized papal sovereignty over the Vatican City, with full diplomatic rights. The state also recognized Catholicism as the national religion. In return, the Papacy declared that it recognized the Kingdom of Italy as the legitimate regime of Italy and surrendered its claim to the greater part of Rome. According the Concordat, the Papacy sought to regulate its relations with the state, such as the appointment of Bishops, marriage laws and education. Finally, by the Financial Convention, the Pope was compensated with ninety million dollars for the loss of Papal territories since 1870.
Fascism arose in Italy because the liberal parliamentary regime could solve almost none of the perplexing problems arising from the First World War. Under the stress of economic hardships and social unrest, the propertied class turned to support the Fascists. After Mussolini had seized political power in 1922, he maintained himself in power by imposing a strict control of the political, economic and political social life of the Italian people. During the rule of Mussolini (1922-1943), dictatorship Italians enjoyed a long period of stable government but they were deprived of political liberty and economic advancement. Italy remained a poor and backward country. It is no wonder that Italy met with defeats in the Second World War and Mussolini's regime was overthrown by the Italian people in the midst of the war.