In the violent post-war years from 1919 to the start of the Second World War, Europe saw the rise of several totalitarian regimes and ideologies. Amongst these were German Nazism, and Italian Fascism. The Nazi regime was led by Adolf Hitler, who gained power in 1933 by becoming the German Chancellor, and ultimately gave himself the title ”Fuhrer”, and established a Nazi dictatorship. Fascism was a dictatorial movement formed by Benito Mussolini in Italy. Fascism is an illiberal and highly nationalistic dictatorial ideology, aiming to overthrow democracy and set up a dictatorship. Fascism favours centralized control of private enterprise and repression and control of all opposition. Nazism is sometimes considered by scholars to be a form of fascism, and the two are fundamentally very similar. It has been said that much of Hitler’s fascist ideas came from his admiration of Mussolini.
Both Fascism and Nazism were popular political movements. Its respective leaders, Mussolini and Hitler, enjoyed absolute authority and were charismatic orators, having the notable ability of appealing to the masses by whipping crowds into frenzy. By exploiting the surge in nationalism following WWI, both posed as selfless patriots. Popularity was established by means of propaganda, and attractive promises meant to aid the general public. Both leaders headed mass movements whose uniforms, flags, rituals and comradeship appealed to nationalistic ex-soldiers in the aftermaths of the war. It promoted a sense of order, organization and uniformity that was missing from the Weimar Republic. The First World War had brought tremendous political, social and economic instability, and therefore, particularly to the middle classes, Hitler and Mussolini seemed to offer a return to stability and economic prosperity. Following the peace treaties of 1919, Germany in particular was filled with animosity towards the victors who lay such harsh terms on them. Hitler and Mussolini were quick to exploit their country’s resentments towards the Treaty of Versailles, and so gained support by pledging to reverse the terms, and retake lost territories. Italy had lost land in Africa, and Germany in Eastern Europe, and both were keen to reclaim them.
Both Fascism and Nazism criticised liberalism as a source of national weakness, and that their nations should be run by an authoritarian government. Both systems of government were based on the glory of the state and strength displayed through violence and constant conquest. They rejected the alternative political theories, and promoted the interests of the state above those of individuals. Communism was generally regarded by the public with distrust due to their links with the USSR, and their ideals both gained considerable support through their opposition to Socialism and Communism and the class conflict which it seemingly promoted. A common antipathy against Communism that pervaded in German and Italian society gave momentum to Nazi and Fascist rising. Another core feature of both Nazism and Fascism was the union of state and business. The industrial and business aristocracy were protected by the government. In return for running the businesses, the government ultimately had control over important decisions. The Reichstag fire in Germany and the issue of a formal decree banning all other political parties in Italy in 1926 destroyed the parliamentarian machinery completely in the two countries
In regards to domestic policies, Nazism and Fascism both employed methods to control their people. The Nazis made use propaganda mastermind Joseph Goebbels to spread their ideology and beliefs. Both Hitler and Mussolini were portrayed as heroic saviours, and they made much of their war record to further their image in the public’s eyes. Propaganda attempted to ensure that nobody in their nation could read or see anything that was hostile or damaging to their regime. Both systems employed violence and terror against targeted political enemies, and this was an integral part of their political tactics. Any opposition was dealt with swiftly, by the Gestapo in Germany, and the secret police force in Italy.
However, there were also many differences between Nazism and Fascism. It is important to note that Fascism had no clear set of aims, whilst Hitler had a firm ideology in place. He expressed Nazi ideology in his books Mein Kampf and The Second Book. The central theme of Nazism is racism, and the need for struggle to earn lebensraum, or living space. He regarded the German Aryan race as the “master race”, and all other races as inferior. This belief in the importance of racial purity led to the persecution of minorities. Hitler was a virulent anti-Semite, and he believed he had a divine mission to combat the Jewish menace. To promote Aryan supremacy, the Nazis attempted to rid Germany of beggars, prostitutes, alcoholics, and actively persecuted gypsies, homosexuals and thousands of people suffering from physical and mental defects. In comparison, there was no such violent racial ideology in Italian Fascism.
In Germany, the extent of change due to Nazism was larger than the change in Italy due to Fascism. Under Mussolini, no attempt was made to change the structure of Italian society. The monarchy and Catholic Church was retained, and civil servants and local police still remained powerful factors in Italian life. This contrasts with the extent to which Hitler changed Germany society under his total authoritarian regime. By becoming Fuhrer, he was the sole and unchallenged leader of the State. Nazis took control of local government, labour, education, the youth and the army, who swore an oath directly to the Fuhrer. Other groups, such as the Church and the industrialists retained their influence, but under Nazi leadership.
Before 1939, Hitler had shaped Germany into a war machine. He made rearmament a priority, and had an aggressive foreign policy. Despite Mussolini’s bluster, he did little to prepare Italy for war. Though his aims were to acquire territory, he was hesitant to use force. Italy was therefore totally unprepared for the Second World War.
In conclusion, Nazi dictatorship in Germany and the Fascist dictatorship in Italy shared more similarities than differences. Hitler’s Nazism was certainly more extreme than Mussolini’s Fascism, and emphasized racism as a policy. However, it is important to note that both systems shared the same fundamental ideology of dictatorship.