Adolf Hitler is one of the most controversial and despised individuals in human history, considered by some to be an anti-Christ. Certainly, he most definitely did some awful things; he started wars with other countries, which caused WWII, and he perpetuated the Holocaust. However, there are certain parts of his story that get left out in popular knowledge. For one thing, Hitler himself was not even born in Germany, but rather, the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because of the state of the Habsburg Dynasty, Hitler, along with many youths like him, placed more support in adjacent Germany, with whom they felt a kinship. Therefore, his early years instill in him a huge amount of nationalist ideals. Among his other early struggles included poverty and living as a bohemian, differences with his father, and rejection from art school twice. It was not until WWI that he turned his life around, in which was a huge war hero. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class – an extremely high honor for his rank. Hitler valued his war experiences quite highly, but was shocked by Germany’s “defeat.” Looking for answers, perhaps it is not too surprising that when going undercover to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (the precursor to the Nazi Party), he became attracted to their ideas. In fact, many of the ideas that the party perpetuated were similar to what he grew up hearing and living by.
Aside from the context, Hitler appears to be similar in many ways to that of his popular image. Many of the points made in the pamphlet follow common knowledge: he was anti-Semitic, he was pro-Aryan race. However there were a few odd parts in his writing that really stood out. First, Hitler held a very strong view on education, and judging from the extent to which he goes into it on Point 20, he intended to make sure it went well. In thought, this could be the precursor to the Hitler youth, but at least it demonstrates a priority in equal education opportunity not held by many today. It was also intriguing to read about his high placement on physical education and gymnastics. In many ways, it’s a sneaky way of preparing students/children for war, similar to many Communist Chinese programs during the Mao era. The reading relates to past ideas as well, such as Fichte’s belief in shared culture leading to nationalism and borders, Herder’s belief that different groups should not mix, and Mussolini’s point that the state should mean everything (statist), with the “people” being an extension of that state.
 “Adolf Hitler.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 31, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler.
Once an avid supporter of socialism, Benito Mussolini became one of the most significant contributors in the creation of fascism. In What is Fascism (1932), he aimed to address the Italian people and bring forth how beneficial this new political movement would be for their country. In response to World War 1 and its appalling violence, fascism was intended to out-date movements like traditional conservatism, Marxism, and especially liberalism. It used aspects of socialism, but also reminds me of nationalism in some ways, due to the stresses in pride and unity. Mussolini penned, “The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State.” Overall, this right wing movement was due to WW1, and Mussolini was an integral part of this said movement.
AUTHOR: Benito Mussolini was a member of the Italian Socialist Party prior to WWI, when he disagreed with the parties advocacy for neutrality during the war he was kicked out. He denounced the party and began to work on his fascist movement.
CONTEXT: At the time of writing What is Fascism in 1932 Mussolini had already been in power for 10 years. He wrote a entry for an Italian encyclopedia at this time defining what exactly fascism was. Despite the fact that he and his party had been in power for 10 years the general public was unclear as to what exactly fascism was and this entry was meant to help define it.
LANGUAGE: Mussolini wrote this piece so that the general public could better understand his ideas, he did not use terribly scholarly language that was meant to overwhelm the people, he wanted them to understand. This piece is also persuasive, Mussolini needed public support for fascism so he was trying to gain it in this piece.
AUDIENCE: Mussolini’s audience was the people of Italy, he needed public support to keep fascism and himself in power so he was trying to persuade the people that fascism was a positive form of government.
INTENT: Mussolini’s intent was to define fascism for the people of Italy in his own way which he hoped would help the people see that they should support him and his political ideas.
MESSAGE: Mussolini’s goal in writing this piece was to show people that fascism was a good thing for Italy and that they would benefit from it, his message was the same and worked to accomplish that goal.
A: Benito Mussolini was the founder of the National Fascist Party during the first half of the twentieth century. As Prime Minister of Italy, he removed the state from the idea of democracy and established himself as the dictator of the state.
C: Mussolini experienced WWI and declared socialism was a failure. He wrote ‘What is Fascism’ in 1932, as a way to introduce a new political doctrine to the world.
L: Mussolini writes in the common tongue. It’s very easy to understand exactly what he’s presenting.
A: His intended audience is primarily the citizens of the Italian state. He aims to enlightened the on his new political system that will change the way in which the state operated.
I: His intent is to educate his people on why Fascism is a better alternative to democracy and communism. He believes the establishment of a legal absolute dictatorship to be very valuable to the success of a nation.
M: His message can be seen when he wrote, “ For Fascism, the growth of empire, this is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.” He believe fascism is the answer to solve Italy’s problems.
AUTHOR: Benito Mussolini started out as a strong advocate for socialism and was imprisoned multiple times for his promotion of strikes and the use of violence. He earned the reputation of a potential revolutionary with incredible rhetorical skills. Because he has such a strong background with socialism, many elements are prevalent in fascism.
CONTEXT: Mussolini had already been in power for ten years while writing this. Although fascism had been in place for years, it lacked a clear definition and people were unsure if they were benefitting from this system at all. To persuade the people of the benefits of fascism, the party published this document to prolong their time in control.
LANGUAGE: The language of this document is very straightforward and direct. Mussolini is concise, getting straight to the point. However, their is also some elements of persuasion throughout the piece as he is writing to convince the people to keep this method of government in place.
AUDIENCE: This document is most likely directed towards as many people of the Italian population as possible. As stated before, the context of the publication date requires Mussolini to persuade the population into keeping fascism.
INTENT: Mussolini’s intent is to promote Fascism throughout Italy and allow people to gain a better understanding of what it truly is. By publishing the true definition of fascism, Mussolini promotes the idea even more, allowing him and fascism to stay in power.
MESSAGE: Mussolini’s message was that fascism was the best choice for Italy at this moment. Mussolini displays all the benefits fascism will offer for Italy in order to maintain his power.
For Discussion: How big of an impact did Mussolini’s experience with socialism have on his later work with fascism?
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?
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.” (( 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) )) 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. (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 282 )) 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”. (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 283)) 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. ((Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 284)) 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.” (( Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 285)) 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.” ((Clark, Fascist Diplomacy, p. 292)) 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’s chapter, “Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War” was highly critical of Mussolini and his policies. He was described as “erratic”, obsessed with himself, and failing at every diplomatic attempt.1 Mussolini tried to outwit France, Great Britain, and Germany, all to his failure. He underestimated Hitler, and suffered as a result. Initially, Hitler supported Italy through the war, but the shipments of coal and military supplies were not sufficient. The people of Italy not only lost their sons, husbands and fathers, but many at home faced bombings and starvation.
Food rations were a mere 1,000 calories for an adult. A flourishing black market appeared to supplement peoples diets. The peasant farmers realized the favorable position they were now in. Many sold their crops on the black market, or kept everything for themselves rather than to the State warehouses.2 It appeared one of the few times the peasantry had the upper hand.
The people had no motivation to follow Mussolini and his plans. Initially, Italy appeared strong under his control, able to withstand trade sanctions and still flourish. However, with the entry of Italy into WWII, Mussolini lost all the morale he had gained. People spoke out against Mussolini and his fascist government, without fear of reprisal, something that would never be tolerated in Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany. The two countries stamped out any form of dissent. Mussolini did not have the power or influence to do so.
This article further demonstrates how Mussolini was a minor dictator. Clark was highly critical of Mussolini and even portrayed his political decisions as idiotic and childish, often in a petty game with England and France. Mussolini, in other articles, was portrayed as having minimal power within his own government and country, often implementing policies that failed. Does this article alter that perception in any way? Is it overly critical of Mussolini?
1. Clark, “Fascist Diplomacy and Fascist War”, Modern Italy 1871-1995, 280.
2. Clark, “Fascist Diplomacy”, 289-290.