Rise of Fascism and Nazism
The first of the nations of Western Europe to turn against the old ruling regime was Italy. During World War I the primary task of Italy was to keep the Austrians occupied on the Southern Front, while the British, French and Americans cornered Germany into submission along the battle lines in Flanders. The financial cost of the participation in the War was huge. Moreover, after the War, in the sharing of the spoils, Italy got less than she expected. The country suffered heavy losses in a war that was unpopular with both socialists and pro-Austrian Catholics. The nationalists were equally unhappy with the marginal gain in territory from the Treaty of Versailles. The War resulted in inflation. There were frequent protests and strikes. People held the rulers responsible for the humiliation at Versailles.
In the elections held November 1919 in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, Italian socialists, proclaiming that they were following Bolshevism (Communism in Soviet Russia), won about a third of the seats. Mussolini, son of a blacksmith and qualified as an elementary school master, in the end became a journalist with socialist views. A forceful speaker, Mussolini began to support the use of violence and broke with the socialists when they opposed Italy’s entry into the War. When the Fascist Party was founded in 1919 Mussolini immediately joined it. As Fascists stood for authority, strength and discipline, support came from industrialists, nationalists, ex-soldiers, the middle classes and discontented youth. The Fascists resorted to violence freely. In October 1922, in the context of a long ministerial crisis, Mussolini organised the Fascist March on Rome. Impressed by the show of force, the King invited Mussolini to form a government. The inability of the Democratic Party leaders to combine and act with resolution facilitated Mussolini’s triumph.
Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian ultra-nationalism, characterised by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. –Wikipedia.
In the 1924 elections, after intimidation of the electors, 65 per cent of the votes were cast for the Fascists. Matteotti, a socialist leader, who questioned the fairness of the elections was murdered. The opposition parties boycotted the Parliament in protest. Mussolini reacted by banning opposition parties and censoring the press. Opposition leaders were killed or imprisoned. Assuming the title of Il Duce (the leader), in 1926 he became a dictator with power to legislate. He passed a law forbidding strikes and lockouts. Unions and employers were organized into corporations. In 1938 Parliament was abolished and was replaced by a body representing the Fascist Party and the corporations. This new arrangement bolstered Mussolini’s dictatorial control of the economy, as well as enabling him to wield enormous power as head of the administration and the armed forces.
In order to give respectability to the Fascist Party, Mussolini won over the Roman Catholic Church by recognising the Vatican City as an independent state. In return the Church recognised the Kingdom of Italy. The Roman Catholic faith was made the religion of Italy and compulsory religious teaching in school was ordered. T e Lateran Treaty incorporating the said provisions was signed in 1929.
During the years of the Great Depression the much publicised public works of building new bridges, roads and canals, hospitals and schools did not provide solution to the unemployment problem. In 1935, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. This was useful to divert attention of the people away from the economic troubles.
From 1918 to 1993 Germany was a republic. The factors which led to the eventual triumph of Fascism in Germany were many. Between 1871 and 1914 Germany had risen to dizzy heights of economic, political and cultural accomplishments. Germany’s universities, its science, philosophy and music were known all over the world. Germany had surpassed even Britain and the US in several fields of industrial production.
Germany’s defeat and humiliation at the end of World War I caused a deep shock to the of German people. The Great Depression further deepened their frustration and prompted them to turn against the Republican government.
The origin of German fascism goes back to 1919 when a group of seven men met in Munich and founded the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (abbreviated as Nazi Party). One of them was Adolf Hitler. During World War I, he served in the Bavarian army. A gifted speaker, he could whip up the passion of the audience. In 1923 Hitler attempted to capture power in Bavaria. His launch of the National Revolution on the outskirts of Munich landed him in prison. During his time in prison wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), an autobiographical book containing his political ideas. In the Presidential election of 1932, the Communist Party polled about 6,000,000 votes. Alarmed capitalists and property owners tilted towards supporting fascism Hitler exploited this opportunity to usurp powers.
Social Democratic Party was founded as the General German Workers Association on 23 May 1863 in Leipzig. Founder was Ferdinand Lassalle. German elites of the late 19th century considered the very existence of a socialist party a threat to the security and stability of the newly unified Reich, and so Bismark outlawed this party from 1878 to 1890.
However, in 1945, with the fall of Hitler, the Social Democratic Party was revived. It was the only surviving party from the Weimar period with a record of opposition to Hitler.
Republican government fell, as the Communists refused to collaborate with the Social Democrats. Thereupon industrialists, bankers and Junkers prevailed upon President Von Hindenburg to designate Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. The Nazi state of Hitler, known as Third Reich, brought an end to the parliamentary democracy.
Hitler replaced the flag of the Weimar republic by the swastika banners () of National Socialism. Germany was converted into a highly centralised state. All political parties except the Nazi party were declared illegal. The army of brown-shirted and jack-booted storm-troopers was expanded. The Hitler Youth was created, and the Labour Front set up. Trade unions were abolished, their leaders arrested. Strikes were made illegal, wages were fixed by the government. Total state control was extended over the press, the theatre, the cinema, radio and over education.
T e Nazi Party’s propaganda was led by Josef Goebbels, who manipulated public opinion through planned propaganda. The Gestapo or Secret State Police was formed and run by Himmler.
Along with the repressive measures, Hitler’s government followed a policy of repressing Jewish people. The Jews were removed from government positions, excluded from the universities and deprived of citizenship. Jewish businesses were closed down, and their establishments were attacked. After the outbreak of World War II concentration camps, barracks surrounded by electrified fences and watch towers, were built where Jews were interred and used as forced labour. Later they were turned into extermination camps where industrial means of murder such as gas chambers were used to kill them in what the Nazis termed ‘The Final Solution’.
In August 1934 Hindenburg died and Hitler, apart from being Chancellor, became both President and Commander–in-Chief of the armed forces. Hitler’s foreign policy aimed at restoring the armed strength of Germany and annulling provisions of Versailles Treaty.