Mussolini: His Own Worst Enemy

Mussolini could talk the talk, but could he walk the walk? Simply put, no, he couldn’t. Mussolini’s Fascist diplomacy regarding his foreign and military policies exposed his true character and his illusions towards Italy’s true power and the relationship he maintained with Hitler. Pride remained Mussolini’s Achilles heel. Repeatedly, he ignored the word of his economic and political advisers to save the face of Fascism in the prewar period. Obsessed with prestige, Mussolini invaded and colonized Ethiopia to glorify Italy in the international community and perhaps gain the respect from Hitler and other European powers he thought Italy deserved. After Italy’s humiliating defeat in 1896 during their military conquest of Ethiopia, Mussolini visualized redemption. At huge economic losses, Italy occupied Ethiopia against British and French desire and damaged her relationship with the future allied powers. After defying the British and French, Mussolini decided to gain political favor from Hitler. Mussolini thought if he created an alliance with Hitler, the British and French would become frightened of Italy. This proved to be a mistake, however.

Mussolini “overestimated Italy’s bargaining position; and underestimated Hitler.” (Clark, 280) 1936 marked the signing of the Rome-Berlin Axis and Italian involvement in Spain during the Spanish Civil War alongside Hitler. This failed in two ways: to genuinely increases the strength in alliance between Hitler and Mussolini, while simultaneously destroying any chance of reconciliation with the French and British. The reason it became apparent that this military act did not protect Italy from Nazi invasion was illuminated when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, which was an obvious territorial threat. Mussolini pressed forward on the same path despite these warning signs, eventually playing himself into Hitler’s hands. In what Clark describes as a “foolish move,” Mussolini sealed his alliance with Nazi Germany with his Pact of Steel in 1939. (Clark, 283) This eventually served to draw Italy into a war that remained highly unpopular with Italian citizens.

Had Mussolini been more patient and less prideful, could Italy have avoided involvement in World War II?

The Epiphenomenon Of Fascism

Fascist Italy did not experience the same strict adherence by its citizenry to party ideologies like Nazism or Stalinism did. People who claimed they were loyal Fascists remained more indulged in self-serving behaviors than members of the other two regimes. Many accounts of this are given in Bosworth’s Everyday Mussolinism and it leads to speculation. What reasons evoked the ubiquitous corruption under Mussolini’s rule that appears far less prevalent under Hitler and Stalin?

Mussolini’s Fascism has no definitive goal. It mentions expansionism and transformation, but does not mention to what ends. It embraces the struggles of life, but fails to redirect the energy put towards life’s battles towards a unified vision. It has almost no inherently cohesive aspects. Perhaps this lack of unifying elements attributed to Fascism’s failure to overhaul cultural priorities such as communism or Nazism did. It appears Fascism became flexibly subjective depending on who wanted to do what–and claiming to be a member of the Fascist party could be used as justifying explanation for all behaviors, especially ones that affected family.

Corruption manifested as a byproduct of both a lack of common dream and authority. The police forces under Mussolini proved incomparably calm to both the SS and NKVD. The officers could be coerced, and according to Bosworth, acted out of their own self interests rather than the states. Bosworth claims that the evidence against societal dissidents often proved vague and there appeared to be a lack of uniform method of police control.

Comparatively, this type of conspicuous and and counterproductive behavior would have been impossible to carry out under Stalin. Why was there so little corruption and so little fear under Mussolini?

Soviet and Italian Planned Industry 1930s

While the United States and Western Europe raised eyebrows towards Stalin’s fantastical collectivization plans, Russia committed to several massive industrial projects in order to mobilize the Soviet Union’s rising communist dream. Many of these industrial projects were characterized by prometheanism, or, newfound strategies to subjugate and conquer lands for means of industry. The project of Magnitogorsk, a massive city constructed in the 1930s under Stalin’s five year plan, prevails as a paragon example of Soviet economic mobilization.

Magnitogorsk is located at the far south-east of the Ural Mountains, close to the Ural River. Unusually large iron deposits located there provided Stalin with enough incentive to build an entire city in proximity to harvest the iron for industry. To ensure efficiency, Stalin placed experienced industrial officials at the forefront of the project, while much of the hands on labor force became peasants, kulaks, or other Soviet agitators whose actions merited deportation out past the Urals to Magnitogorsk.

The first to catch on to the rise in Soviet industry, according to Wolfgang Schivelbusch in his Three New Deals, was Mussolini, who subsequently created plans to develop a series of small cities in order to rebuild a powerful Italy. Similarly to Stalin, but on a less grand scale, Mussolini created his city plans year-by-year called the “nuove citta.” Like Magnitogorsk (pre-perestroika), these impromptu, large industrial projects with little modification turned into “anti-cities.” Sabaudia, the city Schivelbusch uses as an example, is reminiscent of a deserted prison marked by its emptiness and harsh geographic structuring.

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch's example of an "anti-city." (p.147)

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch’s example of an “anti-city.” (p.147)

It seems as though both Stalin and Mussolini planned too far ahead for the immediate future. How beneficial were large construction projects for stimulating long term economic mobility for the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy in the 1930, despite the fact that many of these operations fell flat? Was the actual creation itself the goal?

The Age of Propaganda


“Jap Trap,” World War II propaganda poster, United States Information Service, 1941–45. Densho Digital Archive,

“Propaganda can tip the scales,” claims Schivelbusch in regards to state influence in times of political turmoil in his Three New Deals. (85) The usual dialogue on the topic of interwar propaganda mostly elicits imagery associated with the USSR and Nazi regime, but what about the propaganda and control by the United States government? This is an example:

This blatantly racist imagery not only compares the Japanese to rats, it also depicts the rat with the physical stereotypes American’s gave the Japanese during the time. The squinted eyes, protruding teeth, and cartoonishly animated circular spectacles reappeared throughout anti-Japanese propaganda. The simple process of dehumanization of the enemy through animation also appears commonly in the anti-semitic propaganda perpetuated by the Nazis.


The Nazis as well as America assimilated the rat with their enemies. Rats are grotesque, parasitic, and carry disease. Essentially, they are an animal no one loves. It is certainly easier to identify propaganda that is new or foreign, however, after those images are presented repeatedly they become automatically associated with the intended concept and sink into the subconscious. This, in effect, is what makes it so powerful.

If an audience is being persuaded without realizing, can they stop it?



The Mussolini Myth

Mussolini’s legend remains comparatively shrouded alongside Stalin and Hitler in the context of understanding the evolution of dictatorship and the perception of state leaders throughout interwar Europe. Historians consistently credit these leaders with having tremendous amounts of charisma favorably coupled with an appeal that the masses embraced with certainty. Mussolini’s mythic status, however, proves increasingly “hollow” in its analysis relative to his German and Russian counterparts. (60) Why?

B.J.B Bosworth, author of “Mussolini the Duce,” claims Mussolini’s status as Italy’s padreterno or eternal father merely reflected the superficial nature of the original Fascist regime; that the spirit of Mussolini materialized from the desires of Italians themselves and his self-perpetuated image manifested as a Ceasar esque figure. (65) Bosworth attempts to disillusion his audience by using primary sources to clarify that the process of Mussolini’s ascension to deific status mostly lended itself to self-promoting propaganda and not his realistic influence.

Although Bosworth criticizes Mussolini’s legitimacy regarding his reputation, he concludes the article by inserting the historiographical element that not enough is known about Mussolini’s direct relationship to Fascism to truly understand how the soul of Mussolini came to be. (81)


B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998.

Totalitarianism: A Comparison

Ian Kershaw’s Totalitarianism Revisited: Nazism and Stalinism in Comparative Perspective applies the modern definition of totalitarianism to Nazism, Fascism, and Stalinism. On the surface level, these three governments appear to be similar in their nature. A powerful figurehead dominating the governments ideologies and fueling the motives at large, while controlling their state with force and surveillance. Kershaw does a good job in pointing out while the term authoritarianism needs to be adjusted based on the evolution of Nazism and Stalinism, the term can be applied to Italy’s, Russia’s, and Germany’s governments spanning from a pre-WWII era to the transition the USSR endured following Stalin’s death, but emphasizes the importance of not losing track of their singularities.

Modernity is the reason why these government systems are so similarly equated under the scope of totalitarianism. The organized bureaucracy and structure share similar characteristics while the overall motive of the state differs greatly. Both Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR were surveillance states, but with different purposes. Stalin wanted surveillance to be used as a tool of repression; to weed out counter-revolutionaries and stabilize politics. In contrast, Nazi Germany used surveillance to concentrate its power in the State and to promote its ultimately racist motives and to strengthen expansion. Italy had a more similar goal to Germany than the USSR. Mussolini also desired to expand and strengthen the Italian empire to return it to its former glory.

What can historians potentially gain by comparing these three forms of government? How are they similar to the British and American governments during the same period?


Technology and Instincts: Modernizing Genocide

The Holocaust may not have been an unpredictable genocide in regards to the potential extremes of human nature, but when compared to other large scale pogroms it remains an anomaly through its modernized nature. The Holocaust does not elicit the usual genocidal imagery often characterized by a type of primitiveness and chaos, but is marked by a bureaucratic industrial system in which the organization of upscaled executions became reminiscent of a pragmatically scheduled business model. How should we expect our ethical values to progress relative to industry?

Zygmunt Bauman explores the pathology behind the Holocaust in Modernity and the Holocaust, an attempt to make sense of the psychology and behavior of modern constructs applied to genocide. Bauman concludes that science has become increasingly distinguished by a “self-imposed moral silence” (29) and that science seems to be making strides in efficiency while simultaneously abandoning morality. Bertrand Russell, a renowned British philosopher (1872-1970) came to a similar conclusion in his prediction of science’s relationship with ethics in his piece ICARUS or The Future of Science in 1924. Briefly put, Russell states that mankind can produce equal good with the power of science as potential harm, but there is a pattern between his observations of men’s passions revolving mainly around “evil” desires, which makes him highly wary of advance technology in the hands of mankind.

So far it seems as though humans have held onto our instinctual ethics while developing more efficient ways to pursue them. The Holocaust remains a perfect example of this. Oddly enough, calamitous events such as this provide short term devastation, but eventual enlightenment. Could it be argued that events like the Holocaust are actually societal building blocks to understanding human behavior and preventing genocide in the future? Or will violence always be as certain as death and taxes?


Three poignant things:

1) People in Germany do not particularly want it to become an immigrant state, as it has effects on both on the families already existing there and the new immigrants. But because immigrant workers are staying and not moving back to their old countries as many German citizens expected, they are staying, aggravating many Germans.

2) Islam is becoming prevalent in German culture as well as other countries in western Europe. According to the economist, many German citizens are wary of practicing Islamists, and are calling for some type of restricted practice, which would be a step backwards in social/religious rights and tolerance.

3) People are afraid of the decline or the original German, as younger German generations are not reproducing at the same rates as young immigrant generations, which could eventually lead to a massive national misplacement.

2 Questions

1) How do the older generations interpret immigrant labor as opposed to the younger generations?

2) How could Germany’s history of intolerance perhaps force them into an unwanted position? Are they under the international microscope and must tread more lightly with immigrant reforms than other countries would have to?

1 Interesting Point

1) A lot of comments disagree with the article, is this most likely a politically biased minority? Or an general reflective demographic?

Post World War II European Economic Relations

The European Free Market Trade Area published in 1957 served as a post war petition to bring economic unity to various European states previously in political opposition. Trade barriers prevent potentially valuable communications for solidifying positive social relations; historically, one country preventing the means of trade of another either served as a product of, or enabled political tension. Economic homogenization assisting as a method of political unification remained a common strategic political policy throughout the remainder of the century. The Maastricht treaty, the treaty on the European Union (1992), sought to aid in unifying Europe “through the strengthening of economic and social cohesion and through the establishment of economic and monetary union.” It also encouraged human rights reinforcements in the international sphere. European nations were not alone in promoting economic cohesion in the early 1990s, however. The Clinton Administration implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, which eliminated trade barriers between Canada, The United States, and Mexico, further stimulating trade between powerful North American nations, increasing solidarity. Nations seem to understand that economic inclusion is a powerful means to stimulate economies and maintain stability.

Nazi-Soviet Pact

1. The treaty was signed on August 23rd, 1939. Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1st shortly after. This pact was the final step the Nazi’s had to pursue in order to execute their expansionist agenda. Hitler knew if he had to fight a two front war, he would undoubtedly lose.

2. The treaty does not only take into consideration the emphasis on the non-violence/aggression aspects that were very important to avoiding a two front war, but considered the possibility of inadvertent war as a product of alternative foreign pacts.

3. The secret aspect of the treaty is the most significant aspect to understanding the motives behind its mutual signing. With a wink and a nod, the Russian’s signed this treaty with the secret hopes that they would regain territory in Poland and south east European nations. Germany would also gain Baltic lands and a portion of Europe as well.

Two questions

1. What could have been a potential result of World War II, had the Nazi’s not broken the pact by invading Russia in 1941?

2. Should Russia be held more liable for the invasion of Poland due to their acceptance of the Treaties obvious intentions?

It is interesting to think about how the two nations put aside their rivaling political ideologies in order to gain land. Would Russia rather have national socialism expand at the same time communism did than democracy?