Benito Mussolini became prime minister of Italy in October 1922 at the age of 39, he is considered the creator of fascism. 11 years after Mussolini came to power, in 1933, Adolf Hitler became the leader of Germany at the age of 44. Both men became dictators, although Mussolini’s road to full dictatorship took much longer, and they both formed totalitarian governments in their countries. They had many similarities in their beliefs and their roads to power.
This essay will look at both Mussolini’s and Hitler’s rise to power. Their roads to dictatorship will be compared and contrasted, and their contributions to the start of WW2 will be discussed.
When WW1 ended in 1918, all of the countries involved had suffered great losses. Over 600.000 Italian men had lost their lives. The cost of the war had put a huge strain on Italy’s economy, and the Italian government had to resorted to borrowing money from the US and Britain just to cover the expenses, but it was not enough, and the government had to resort to printing more money instead; causing inflation. Prices started going up, which meant people could hardly afford to feed themselves.
There were no jobs for the soldiers that came back from the war, and unemployment rates soared across the country. Italy had been promised a lot of land when she signed the treaty of London, joining the entente in the war, but the treaty of Versailles; which was signed in 1919, did not live up to Italy’s expectations, and many felt that the war had been fought for nothing. Germany, which after the war became the Weimar Republic, had suffered the greatest losses in lives in the war however it was the treaty of Versailles, which was particularly harsh on Germany. According to the treaty Germany had to take the blame for causing the war, and was ordered to pay reparations to Britain and France; this was known as the war guilt clause. Also Germany lost all of her overseas colonies and was forbidden to have an army.
There was a lot of resentment towards the outcome of the war in both countries. Both Mussolini and Hitler; which were both believers in Nationalism, felt their countries had been treated unfairly. Mussolini felt that Italy should have gotten more out of the treaty of Versailles, he also believed that what Italy needed was a firm authoritarian government to sort out all her problems; He of course envisioned him self as the leader of that government. Hitler was also unhappy about the treaty of Versailles, and as he pointed out in his book Mein Kampf felt that it was unjust and should be ignored. Germany had, before WW1 been on it’s way to becoming very powerful, and he wanted to restore it’s former glory and power. Both men felt that their countries had been weakened.
In 1919, after returning home from the army, Mussolini established the Fascio Italiani di combattimento, which were squads of paramilitary ex-soldiers who became known as the black- shirts. The fasci spread across Italy engaging in violent attacks on strikers and socialist groups. This earned him a lot of supports among property owners who feared communist and socialist ideas.
In 1921 Mussolini decided to start focusing on getting into parliament. He transformed the fasci into the PNF; Partito Nazionale Fascista, a right-wing party. The party was based on extreme nationalism, focusing on building up the greatness of the state; viewing Italy as superior. The focus was also on establishing peace and order through a strong authoritarian government. This was the starting point of fascism. After WW1 this was exactly what people wanted to hear, and in the 1921 elections his party won 35 seats in parliament. Hitler had remained in the army after the war, employed as a spy; to go around political parties and report information about them.
It was doing just that, that in 1919 Hitler came across the DAP; Deutsche Abeiterpartei, which was a right-wing nationalist party. Hitler had found a party that represented everything he believed in and he decided to join. In February 1920 the DAP changed it’s name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP); which quickly became referred to as the Nazi party. The party was against Germany’s treatment by the Treaty of Versailles and that struck a cord with many Germans. Hitler soon became leader of the party, but the party remained relatively small. Hitler was very much inspired by Mussolini and his fascism, and Nazism was based on that. Like Mussolini Hitler had gathered a group of paramilitaries; storm-troopers (SA); often referred to as Brown shirts. Both men had by 1921 established themselves as leaders of their respective political parties, however it was only 1 year later that Mussolini came to power, while Hitler didn’t come to power until 11 years after him.
When Weimar Germany was unable to pay it’s restitution in 1922, France and Belgium invaded Ruhr, which was Germany’s biggest economic area; with many factories, the government ordered the people of Ruhr to go on strike as a form of passive resistance. This had severe consequences for Germany’s economy, and the Government resorted to printing new money. As a result prices started going up and hyperinflation set in. In 1923 Hitler decided, now was the time to try and seize power; and inspired by Mussolini’s March on Rome he planned to take over Munich with the help of his storm troopers.
The year before, in October 1922, Mussolini, on his way to Naples for a party conference, had stopped of in Rome to demand at least five cabinet ministries. If his conditions were not met he threatened a march on Rome; fascists would gather from all over the country, and prepare to take over all important buildings in the city. King Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to join the coalition government, but Mussolini wanted more power and declined the offer. The king was worried that any conflict could lead to civil war. His cousin was also a know supporter of the fascists, and the king worried that he might try to take the throne if were to refuse Mussolini to form his own government. Mussolini was sworn in as Italy’s Prime minister on the 30th of October 1922, and became known as Il Duce.
Hitler’s plot to overthrow the Weimar government; The Munich Putsch, proved to be less successful. On November 8th Hitler and some of his storm troopers burst into a meeting, being held by the Bavarian Prime minister Gustav Kahr, in the local beer hall. Here Hitler forced those present to agree to support him in overthrowing the Munich government. The next day Hitler and his Nazis started a march on Munich, but the government had been alarmed, so they were met with police force. Hitler fled but two days later, was arrested, charged with treason, and sent to prison. Hitler’s party had been relatively small at the time, and he had overestimated the amount of support he would gather; relying on the assumption that because of the economic conditions people would follow him. Mussolini’s fascists on the other hand had spread across Italy, and although small enough to be dismantled by the police and military, Mussolini had been better at judging the right timing, as he assumed the King would not want to go against him in fear of a civil war; which proved to be correct.
Hitler spent his time in prison writing Mein Kampf. The Book became very popular and was read by millions; who now became familiar with the name Hitler and his ideas. Mussolini had already had an audience for his ideas for many years, first through his position as editor of the socialist paper Avanti and later his own paper Il popolo d’italia. After being released from prison, after serving just 9 months, Hitler revived his Nazi party. Hitler had realised that he could not gain power through revolution and started focusing on using legal constitutional means to gain power. Both Hitler and Mussolini were men of great charisma, and excelled at public speaking. They told the people what they wanted to hear, and when they spoke people would listen. In fact Hitler’s voice has often been described as hypnotising. They knew how to work the crowds; by using gestures, tone of voice, building up momentum and getting the crowds involved; such as shouting back Sieg Heil. This skill proved very useful to these men in gathering support.
It wasn’t until the Wall Street crash in October 1929, that the Nazi party started becoming more popular. America started demanding all its foreign loans paid back. Weimar Germany had borrowed large sums from America after the Dawes plan, and the effect was a great depression. Hyperinflation again set in causing businesses to go bankrupt, and unemployment all across the country. This time people started turning to the Nazi party. As the economic situation got worse, and unemployment soared, the more seats the Nazi party got at elections. By 1932, in just three years, the Nazi party had become the largest party in Germany. Hitler was now in a position to demand that President Hindenburg made him Chancellor. Hindenburg refused at first however on January 30th 1933 Hindenburg summoned Hitler, and thinking he could be controlled, swore him in as chancellor. Hitler had succeeded in becoming a leader the legal way as opposed to the threat of violence by Mussolini.
Hitler established a dictatorship quite quickly after coming to power, whilst it would take Mussolini a few years to have the sort of power to be called a Dictator. Although Mussolini had become Prime Minister his power was still limited, and his government consisted of men who did not support fascism. Mussolini introduced a fascist grand council who would decide on laws without consulting non fascist members of the government. And in order to get more seats in parliament used the threat of violence to get members of parliament to vote for the Acerbo law; that would enable a party with more than 25% in the elections to get 66% of the seats in parliament. In the next elections the Fascist party got well over the 25% and now had majority of seats in parliament. In order to get support from the church he also made Religious education compulsory. Mussolini used his black-shirts to get rid of any opposition, and slowly his power grew. By 1926 all other political parties had been eliminated, and most decisions where now made by the fascist great council; whose members were appointed by Mussolini, and therefore did as he wished. Press censorship had been introduced to suppress anti-fascist papers, as well as radio. Mussolini proceeded to set up a diarchy; which meant he now shared power with the king, giving him complete control over Italy, essentially making him a dictator.
Hitler managed to establish complete power much quicker, and could use Mussolini’s tactics as inspiration. When Hitler became chancellor his government also contained members from many political parties. Only six days before the March 1933 election was to be held, the Reichstag building; where parliament gathered, was burned down. Hitler claimed it was a sign of an impending communist take-over, President Hindenburg fearful of the communists, issued the “Order of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State”; giving Hitler a lot of power. Hitler like Mussolini could now get rid of his opposing parties, and shut down any papers that opposed him. In a similar fashion to Mussolini, Hitler used his Brown shirts to suppress any opposition in the streets. In the March elections Hitler’s party managed to get a majority in parliament. Hitler’s next step towards dictatorship was to have his Enabling Act passed; which would give Hitler full legislative power. In a similar fashion to Mussolini, Hitler used his brownshirts, to make sure only Nazi or Nationalists could enter the building and the act was passed; giving Hitler dictatorial power. Hitler now passed laws banning other political parties; making the Nazi party the only legal party in Germany. Hitler finally gained absolute power when in 1934 he became the President of Germany, referred to as Das Fuhrer.
In order to further the power of Germany Hitler believed that he needed to take over more land. Germany had lost a lot of land and all of her overseas colonies after WW1, and it was time to start claiming territory back. Hitler had made it clear that one of his goals had been to ignore the Treaty of Versailles, and he began to re-arm the country. Hitler started by taking back Rhineland; where Germany had been forbidden to put troops in the Treaty of Versailles, he then moved on to Austria. Hitler had been born there, but had always believed Austria and Germany should be united, so in 1938, after Mussolini had allied himself with Hitler and stated that he would not protect Austria, Hitler also gained control over Austria.
Mussolini also wanting to further his empire had moved on Abbisinia in 1935; the League of Nations had reacted by imposing economic sanctions on Italy, Mussolini reacted by turning to Hitler for support. As Germany got stronger Mussolini now started looking to Hitler. He believed that Hitler was going to make Germany a great super power, and decided that he should ally himself with Hitler, hoping to become equal partners in conquering the world. Hitler however had no intention of sharing his power and when Hitler took Austria, Mussolini realised that they were not equal partners. In May 1939 Italy and Germany signed the Pact of Steel; in the pact the countries committed to helping each other in war. WW2 officially started when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, and Hitler expected Italy to help. Italy however realised that she was not ready for a war and did not join until 1940. Mussolini, also greedy for more land had now realised that helping Hitler was the way to go. Hitler was concuring Europe and Mussolini wanted a piece of it.
Both these men managed to establish totalitarian regimes. The effects of WW1 had left both countries in a bad state, with unemployment high and in effective governments, people were looking towards alternatives. Both Mussolini and Hitler were unhappy about their countries had come out of the war, Mussolini’s fascism, and Nazism inspired by it, told the people what they wanted to hear. They used force in the form of the black-shirts and brown-shirts to thwart anybody who was against them, and succeeded to gain power.
While Mussolini became Prime Minister under the threat of a March on Rome, Hitler chose to go the legal way to becoming Chancellor after his failed Munich Putsch. They used similar tactics to gain the upper hand in parliament. It took Hitler much less time to establish a dictatorship, but Mussolini had already provided the blue-print for Hitler to follow. Mussolini did not become the absolute ruler that Hitler did as the King still had the power to dismiss him, whereas Hitler’s rule was absolute. When Germany’s power grew, Mussolini allied himself with Hitler believing that Hitler would succeed, and ended up joining WW2 on Hitler’s side. Both men wanted more power and to make their countries greater. Hitler was succeeding in his campaigns and Mussolini realised that he would either join Germany and get a piece of the pie, or eventually have to succumb to Hitler. It was clear though that Mussolini and Hitler were not equal partner, but rather that Mussolini was simply trailing behind grabbing scraps on the way.
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