How accurate is the claim that the effects of WWI were the most important reason for the rise of totalitarian governments in Italy during the period to 1939?

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The rise of totalitarian governments in Italy became a decisive issue in the history of Italian politics. Many historians believe that the effects of the First World War were the most important reason for the rise of these fascists. However the war simply accelerated the necessity for a new and reformed government. Many factors existed before the war and the First World War simply highlighted the necessity for change. In addition, without the determination and brilliant tactics of the Fascists, the rise of totalitarian governments would have been impossible.

Before the First World War, Italy was already facing economic and political hardships. The unification of Italy was achieved in 1870. A constitutional monarchy governed the country however democratic traditions failed to develop in Italy as the government was controlled by, according to T.K Chung, corrupt politicians called the party bosses. After bribing voters to win elections, they were more interested in making personal gains for themselves when they were in power rather than helping to eradicate the social and economic and social problems of the Italians.

Consequently, by 1914 Italy remained a poor and backward country. Additionally, industrial progress was slow and Italy suffered from the disadvantage of having a lack of fertile land and little natural resources. The majority of farm labourers were landless and often unemployed. Thus, around the time of imperialism, many Italians were forced to emigrate abroad. Italy tried to gain international prestige by acquiring overseas colonies however she was unsuccessful. She was defeated by the African state, Abyssinia, at the battle of Adowa in 1896. It is evident that Italy was unsuccessful in both domestic and foreign affairs. As a result of this, the parliamentary government was viewed as being decadent and corrupt. It was neither trusted nor respected by the Italian population.

It is quite obvious that a war at this crucial period of development in country's life would be impractical. However, in 1914, Italy joined the First World War. After this war, the government and people of Italy were faced with many new problems. Italy was pushed into a more severe political, economic and social crisis. It was during these crises that the Fascists strategically seized power by manipulating the minds of the Italian population while they possessed a distressed temperament.

Politically, having lost the war, they were totally disillusioned with the terms of the Paris Peace Conference. They were only awarded some territory from the dismembered Austro-Hungarian Empire although they were promised in the Treaty of London, 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. According to E. Lipson, resentment against the weak and unsuccessful foreign policy of Italy grew rapidly as the Italians felt as if their leaders had failed them once again as their achievements in the war were not commensurate with those of her Allies. In 1919, Gabrielle D'Annunzio, a poet and extreme nationalist, let a force of war veterans in seizing Fiume. He ruled Fiume for slightly more than a year and according to Birdsall S Viault, under the Treaty of Rapallo, signed by Italy and Yugoslavia in November 1930, Fiume became a free city.

The war had also seriously exacerbated Italy's economic and social problems. The country was now faced with enormous national debt, runaway inflation and massive unemployment. Between 1919 and 1921, social unrest mounted as angry industrial workers seized factories and poor peasants occupied land owned by the great landlords. A fear of social revolution grew and according to E. Lipson, Italy was undermined by extreme strife and rival factions, depressed by an unjust treaty of peace, devoid of resources, with a totally disorganized economic system, and she was rushing headlong on the road to complete anarchy. There were disturbances, strikes and riots as the plight of the Italians grew each day.

In this crisis situation, the liberal politicians who dominated the government failed to provide effective national leadership, while King Victor Emmanuel III proved weak and ineffective.

The Fascist party wasted no time in exploiting the reaction produced by these events. They recruited supporters from the war veterans who were taught to believe that the Government had mutilated the victory. A key tactic in their revolutionary movement was the embitterment of the army politicians. At Italy's time of social, political and economic darkness, the Fascists provided a ray of light. Their policies gave the Italians something to hope for - prospective change. E. Lipson states that although there were several parties, none seriously tackled the necessary reconstruction of Italy. Only the Fascists had a clearly defined programme to save Italy from ruin and they did not hesitate to share this to the public. Their main goal was to establish a new political and social order, that might make it possible to undertake the heavy task of reconstructing Italy and addressing the nation towards a future of laborious peace. Many historians believe that the political discontent and the social effervescence would have died down eventually but for the emergence of a dynamic leader whose primary aim was to supersede the existing regime and put himself in its place. Mussolini's charisma made him irresistible to many especially wealthy industrialists who feared the rise of socialism and communism. The population was drawn to his proposals; the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic, the decentralization of government, the abolition of conscription, the closure of all banks and of the stock exchange, the profit sharing and management participation by the workers and the seizure of church lands. To achieve the support of the majority of Italians he used his strategy of spreading chaos in the streets while posing as the champion of law and order who would lead Italy to victory, law and order. Many citizens, especially the middle class, who feared the Communists, looked to the Fascists to answer and solve Italy's problems. According to Mark Kishlansky et al the Fascists managed to enter the national political arena and succeeded on the local level in overthrowing city governments. In 1922 Mussolini refused to serve and a junior minister. On October 28th 1922 the extremes to which the fascists were ready to go to seize power was demonstrated in the March on Rome in which they saw the beginning of the end of parliamentary government and the emergence of Fascist dictatorship and institutionalized violence. The remainder of their rule was categorized by violence and the Italians were forced to comply with their new policies. They monopolized politics, suppressed the free press and created a secret police force. Italy was made into a one party dictatorship. According to Mark Kishlansky et al By 1929 Mussolini was at the height of his popularity and power. Apparent political harmony had been achieved by ruthlessly crushing fascism's opponents.

BibliographyT.K Chungwww.thecorner.orgMark Kishlansky et alBirdsall S. Viault - Western Civilization Since 1900E. Lipson - Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries 1815-1939