History Other / How Valid Is The Judgement That Mussolini’S Rise To Power Was Mainly The Result Of The Failures Of The Liberal State

How Valid Is The Judgement That Mussolini’S Rise To Power Was Mainly The Result Of The Failures Of The Liberal State

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Autor:  anton  16 March 2011
Tags:  Judgement,  Mussolinis,  Mainly
Words: 2301   |   Pages: 10
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Mussolini’s rise to power changed the course of western history as it brought about the new political idea of fascism, which would later spread, to Germany, Spain and Portugal. Mussolini’s rise to power is one that is widely debated in history. The strongest claim as to how Mussolini rose to power comes from the idea that the Italian liberal state was to open minded to supporting him and that the workings of its system were flawed allowing him to exploit this for his own gain. This argument is one put forward by historians such as Martin Clark and Antonio Gramsci. However other arguments given by historians such as Martin Blinkhorn claim that the fault should be placed on the socialists and communists for their failed attempted revolution as it allowed Mussolini to gain respectability among the Italian electorate due to his parties defeat of the revolution. There is also a school of thought led by the historian G M Trevelyan that says Mussolini managed to gain control of Italy due to the aftermath of the First World War and the situation caused by the war in Italy. It is clear to many however that the final two arguments heavily criticised and thus to weak to stand up to the scrutiny therefore it is clear that the Liberal state and its failings are the key reason for rise of Mussolini.

One major view argued by historians such as Martin Blinkhorn is that the rise of fascism in Italy is done to the socialists. Socialism grew as a political ideological view in Italy following the First World War. This rise led to two years of strikes known as the Biennio Russo or the Two Red Years in 1919 and 1920. These strikes however were not the start of a communist up rising however and were more to do with improved wages and workers rights. However many industrialists feared a revolution like that of Russia so generally paid off these strikes. However during September 1920 there were widespread workers occupations of factories and fears of a socialist revolution came back again. Due to the inactivity from the government the fascists manage to present themselves as the sole defenders of Italy from a communist revolution. The fascists manage to break these strikes by attacking both the trade unionists and the strikers. By �defending’ Italy from the �revolution’ Mussolini and the fascists gain major support amongst the middle class and also gained support from the moderates as the government had done nothing to stop this revolution. However, Martin Clark criticises this claim by saying that the inclusion on Giovanni Giolitti on the government supported candidate list in an attempt to move people away from voting socialists in the 1921 election. This support from the Prime Minister gave the fascist party an air of respectability and also helped they gain 35 seats in the election clearly showing how the Liberal state played the major role in Mussolini rise to power. Following these strikes and other activity in the socialist party in the early twenties the Socialist Party split with the more radical communists leaving to form the Communist Party. The forming of the more radical party fighting for played into Mussolini’s hands as the existence of a Communist Party gave him a reason for taking their �action’ in the streets meaning he could destroy his opposition. Clark however also argues that .The continued existence of a Socialist Party also meant that an anti-Fascist alliance between the rests of the parties was impossible as shown by Martin Blinkhorn: The existence of the Socialist Party also meant that an anti-fascist league was impossible as:

�The mutual antagonism of the socialist left and the Catholic right prevented a reformist alliance which might have guided Italy into a genuinely democratic ear.’ 1

However, this has been criticised by Martin Clark who argues that the Liberal State can also be blamed for the lack of this alliance as non of the major Liberals did give any sign of taking a tough stance against Mussolini and in fact bringing him into parliament meant that no league of anti fascist parties would ever take place as it would have no power without support from all the leading Liberals. Historians favouring the First World War as the cause for Mussolini’s rise to power would also say the divide between the Liberals who were pro war and anti war would have stopped this also. It is however clear then that the existence of the Socialist and Communist Part played a major role in Mussolini and his rise to power due to there allowance for him to gain a view as respectable. But this respectability would be nothing without the weaknesses it allowed Mussolini to exploit within the Liberal state.

Another reason for Mussolini’s rise to power given by historians such as G M Trevelyan is the aftermath of the First World War. In 1915 the Italians decided to join the war on the side of Britain and France. This decision to join however caused a rift to be created between the Liberals in the shape of the interventionalists and those arguing for no war. The interventionalists included top Liberal politicians such as Salandra and Orlando and the anti war side of the Liberals was led by Giolitti and also contained a majority of the Liberals. This rift led to the interventionalists feeling closer to the pro war fascist party and so made them cooperative towards them post war ear. The rift caused by the war between the major players in the Liberal parties was never healed and lead to a permanent split between the Liberals leading the two sides neither forming a government together again. The lack of will to work together following the war can also be seen as a major criticism of the Liberal system as the major players in the system could not work together over an issue that had passed almost four years before the March on Rome. This split stopping them working together meant that in 1922 when Mussolini was taking part in his March on Rome no government could be formed which was strong enough to resist him from gaining power. The lack of power shown by the government at the time of the March on Rome is however not caused by the split in the First World War but instead due to the a major weakness in the system of voting in the liberal state. Whilst in power Nitti had introduced the voting system of proportional representation that is meant to allow for a fairer election in which seats are shared according to how much percentage of the votes you gained across the whole country. This system however always leads to coalitions between a few parties as no one party can gain a clear majority. Coalition governments are notoriously weak as any small disagreement can cause to government to follow apart and the leading party losing its majority. This therefore means that a split between the liberals after the war did not help matters but due to a government being formed out of a lose alliance to each other would have meant that the government would not have had the control to stop the March on Rome that a single party government would have.

One major claim of historians such as Martin Clark and Antonio Gramsci is that Mussolini’s rise was due to the inhabitant weakness of the Italian liberal state. The Italian liberal state was formed in the 1870 but this new Italian liberal state was not fully controlled by one party in both pre and posts the First World War and was continually controlled in multi-party coalition governments. Along with this party leadership was not based on competence and political programmes and instead on personality. The consequence of this is when there were domestic problems there was no systematic attention as there were no one leading party in government who could push forward policies in times of trouble, also the lack of a strong minded Liberal leadership in the parties meant that decisions from the top were slow in coming and often un decisive as was needed in times of major events like the March on Rome

Martin Clark highlights this issue during the almost civil war status that was the fighting between the socialists and fascists:

�In any case, there was no tough minded Liberals around, except Salandra, Giolitti and (possible) Orlando. Salandra showed little sign of activity or ambition, had little support in parliament, and was not noticeably anti-fascist anyway. Giolitti was a man, who brought the Fascists into parliament and he alienated the Popualari. Orlando, the �President of Victory’, was still reasonably prestigious despite Versailles, but he had not been a tough Minister of the Interior in 1916-1917 and there is no reason to suppose he would be tougher in peacetime.’ 1

To go with this obvious weakness there was also wide spread public alienation with the government, which they made no really attempt to solve or help. Antonio Gramsci highlights this in his writing:

�The leaders of the Risorgimento said they were aiming at the creation of a modern Italy, and they in fact produced a bastard. They aimed at stimulating the formation of an extensive and energetic ruling class and they did not succeed, at integrating the people into a framework of the new state, and they did not succeed. The paltry political life from 1870-1900, the fundamental rebelliousness of the Italian popular classes, the narrow existence of a cowardly ruling stratum, they are all consequences of that failure.’2

From this it is clear to see that no individual can be blamed for the rise of fascism but instead the blame should be placed mainly on the Italian liberal state. Along with these inbuilt problems with the state there were also many changes made by the liberal state that also played into the hands of the Mussolini’s fascist party. Firstly in 1918 Orlando passed suffrage to all men over 21. This however was a problem as the electorate were becoming harder to control due to social and political problems such as the alienation already stated and were turning towards more extremist parties such as the socialist and fascists. Along with this change Nitti also changed the voting system to proportional representation. This system allows for smaller parties such as Mussolini’s fascist party to gain seats in parliament as the percentage of votes gained throughout the country are turned into the number of seats in parliament you gain. It also stops one party winning outright and forces coalitions together which tend to be weak due to their tendencies of following apart over small issues. Another mistake that can be seen to help the fascists is due to Giolitti added fascists on his candidate list in an attempt to stop socialists gaining votes in the 1921 election. This support from the Prime Minister gave the fascist party an air of respectability and also helped them gain 35 seats in the election. The Liberal State also made a mistake as the fascists stepped up their violent campaign against the socialists in both the north and central parts of Italy. This campaign climaxed in the planned �March on Rome’ in 1922. The mistakes in 1922 by the government and the liberal state allowed for Mussolini to step up and take power. Firstly the King had decided against implementing martial law to stop the fascists in their planed march. Another problem with the Liberal state was the fact that all the major Liberals were far to willing to listen to Mussolini as described by Denis Mack Smith:

�His chief luck was that the liberal parliamentarians, unable to agree amongst themselves, were all seeking to promote their own careers by bringing him into a coalition.’1

Along with this Mack Smith also points out that:

�The Fascists flattered and partially neutralised Giolitti by sending privately to say that they wanted him as head of government again. Unbeknown to him, they were saying much the same to Nitti, Salandra and Facta. Giolitti, like the others, therefore used his influence to try to bring the fascists into a coalition, encouraged by leading industrialists in Milan, including Pirelli and Olivetti…. He saw this as the best way to avoid a government that included socialists or popolari: without knowing it, he was playing Mussolini’s game’2

To add to this major problem the only man who would have a chance of forming a government without including Mussolini and the fascists was Giolitti but he chose not to return to Rome at this time. The twists and turns of Italian politics at this time made it impossible to form a strong and effective government at this time.

In conclusion the role of the Socialists and the First World has to be set against the rising tide of discontent with the Liberal State. Mussolini proved himself deceive in his defeat of the Socialists and also saw the propaganda value of this defeat in presenting himself as the sole defender of the Italy from a communist revolution giving him massive support amongst the middle and upper class. However, none of this would have been possible without the continuing failures of the Liberal State. Without a strong leader who took an anti-fascist stance and did not continue the look of respectability given by their inclusion on the government supported candidate list. The fall out of the first world war which caused a major rift amongst the liberals can also be seen as a failure of the liberal state and thus not even a reason on its own for Mussolini’s rise. It therefore has to be seen that the Liberal State needs to be seen as the cause for the rise of Mussolini and fascism.

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