Mussolini the Duce was over-confident in his abilities as the Fascist leader of Italy. By aligning with Germany, Mussolini greatly over-estimated both the role of Italy in the European power play and in his foreign policy negotiating ability. In his article “Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War”, Clark asserts that Mussolini was “no diplomat, and seemed incapable of taking a long-term view.”1 Especially in comparison with Hitler and Stalin, who both were willing to sacrifice short-term public opinion for calculated long-term state-building, Mussolini and his sought after Roman revival come across as the weakest of the European powers in both the diplomatic and militaristic aspect of foreign policy.
Clark explains how Mussolini lost both the British and French as allies after competing with them over East African colonial territories.2 However, attempting to create a Rome-Berlin axis and seeking an ally out of Hitler proved to be his ultimate downfall. The Duce naively believed he could control Hitler and negotiate with him. When he successfully prevented Hitler’s initial invasion of Czechslovakia 1938, he blindly believed he had “single-handily avoided a world war”.3 However, Hitler invaded Czechslovakia in 1939 despite Mussolini’s wishes. Hitler was no ally to Mussolini in the war at all. Hitler’s interests were German interests and German interests alone. Mussolini did not realize the extent of Hitler’s nationalist and expansionist self-concerned goals until he invaded Poland and after that Denmark and Norway.4 When world war finally did break out, Mussolini believed it would be a short-lived. The other dominating European powers were much more advanced than Italy in politics and military might, but Mussolini’s Fascist aims would not allow him to remain neutral. “His whole past, his whole propaganda, his whole regime had glorified war. Now there was one, and he had to join in.”5 Therefore, in a further attempt to revive Roman greatness and power, Mussolini refused to sit idly by. He wanted to be remembered as a competitor and sought after power in anyway possible.
It was all in vain because the Italy army lacked morale, equipment, rations, transportation, and most other necessary supplies. This left Italy in a position of desperate dependence, forced to rely on ally Germany, who did not have much to spare because the German war effort was clearly the priority on the Eastern Front. The unsuccessful Italian war effort created an extremely unfavorable view of the Fascist party and Mussolini in his native Italy. Clark summarizes, “The party not only failed to boost morale, but positively lowered it. … Thus the party disintegrated from within.”6 War for wars sake was not the answer for Mussolini. Do you believe the Fascist party would have retained a more favorable view domestically if Mussolini had not taken a side-line position in WWII and did not attempt to join alliances with Germany in the war?
- Clark, Martin. “Chapter 14 – Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War.” In Modern Italy 1871-1995, 280-300. 2nd ed. London and New York: Longman, 1996. (p. 280) [↩]
- Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 282 [↩]
- Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 283 [↩]
- Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 284 [↩]
- Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 285 [↩]
- Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 292 [↩]