In Italy totalitarianism emerged in the shape of Fascism under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. The world ‘fascism’ draws its root from the Roman word ‘Fascio’ which means a bundle of rods, which was once the emblem of the authority of Roman victors.
It emerged as a movement in the post World War I period not only to meet the challenges of the international communist movement but also to tackic the various problems which confronted Italy and which the Italian government was not able to tackle.
Cause for the Rise of Fascism. A number of factors contributed to the rise of Fascism in Italy.
In the first place though Italy fought on the side of the victorious Allies in the First World War, she emerged from the war a defeated nation. She was not happy with the terms of peace settlement because she was not given what had been promised to her by the Treaty of London concluded during the war.
At the peace conference as the interests of Italy and Yugoslavia conflicted the Allies preferred to favour Yugoslavia. Naturally Italy felt dissatisfied, disappointed and considerably wounded in her self- esteem. Prof. J. Hampden Jakson has summed up the position thus “Italians felt themselves disgraced in the eyes of the world, swindled by their own politicians. War had cost Italy dear, draining her of money, saddling her with budget deficit of over twelve thousand million lire, forcing up the cost of living.”
Secondly, in the wake of war, Italy resorted to demobilization which created serious unemployment and bred discontent. There were wide spread strikes and lock-outs in the country.
Hungry mobs organized a number of uprisings and there were frequent riots. Even the middle classes were greatly impoverished. The existing democratic government was considered to be too feeble to tackle the numerous problems con fronting the country.
In fact there was complete political instability in the country and between 1919 and 1922 six coalition governments were formed in Italy. People thought that under the circumstances only a strong and powerful government could take the country forward.
The situation was fully exploited by the Fascists under the leadership of Mussolini and they fed the people with the idea of providing a strong truly national government.
Thirdly, the Russian revolution was also inspired the Italian leaders. The Italian Socialist leaders tried to fully exploit the extremely bad economic conditions prevailing in the post world war period and tried to transplant the Soviet system in Italy. They organized strikes, lock-outs, riots etc. in Italy and created chaotic conditions in Italy. This was fully exploited by the Fascists.
Fourthly, the faulty system of franchise prevailing in the country also greatly contributed to the rise of Fascism in Italy. Under the existing system of franchise numerous political parties entered the Parliament. The members of these parties often discussed irrevalent issues and did not pay attention to the public welfare. On account of their mutual differences and bickerings these parties could not take any concerted action against the terrorists and thereby greatly contributed to the rise of Fascism in Italy.
Finally, the programme of the Fascists which promised the people of Italy order and glory also greatly attracted the people and they extended willing support to its leaders.
The main principles emphasized by the Fascists were (i) democracy was not suitable for the country because it widens the gulf between the poor and the rich. The country could make progress only under one leader; (ii) the interests of country must get precedence over individual interests; (iii) quality was more important than quantity and the Fascists leaders who embodied the will, sentiments and emotions of people were symbols of nation’s pride; (iv) it favoured equal control over all sections of society viz. capitalists, industrialists, labourers, landlords, peasants, artisans and stood for proper guidance to all ; (v) it favoured aggressive foreign policy and regarded war as an instrument of national interest.
Commenting on the circumstances which give rise to Fascism in Italy Gathorne Hardy says, “the circumstances under which Fascism developed in Italy, though in a sense peculiar to that country, confirmed the thesis that this form of autocracy is the product of situation when democratic sentiment proves incompatible with effective parliamentary government.”