Compare and Contrast -Hitler and Mussolini- Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini both attempted their rises to power during interwar years in fascist parties. In many ways their attempts at state control were similar; large portions of society were unsatisfied by existing governments who were weak and dysfunctional, a war that made life very difficult, and a perceived threat from the Left led to support for the Fascists. Additionally, the similar ideologies of the soon-to-be dictators as well as mistakes made by individuals in power further added to their attempts at control.
However, it is common that there are differences in the manner in which similar results came to be. In Germany and Italy the formation of the country itself played a great role in weakening the current government, however, this occurred in different ways. After having been a strong monarchy under Bismarck, the democracy of the Weimar Republic was not met well. William Shirer argues that Germany was “[politically backward]” and how the German people worshipped authoritarian power. In some contrast, Italy was formed by a Piedmontese ruler who wanted to expand his territory, in both cases however, there was severe distrust in the governments.
This meant that the state formed did not attempt to satisfy the needs of the majority. In fact, during the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, many soldiers fighting did not even know what the word ‘Italy’ was. Additionally, the unification was only completed with the aid of foreign troops and this led to a national inferiority complex and a desire to show that Italy was a great power. Unfortunately, the liberal government of Italy had no desire to do so whereas Mussolini did, he used the appeal of becoming a great power very often.
Additionally, the dichotomy of privilege of the north of Italy compared to the extreme poverty of the south combined with the biased political agenda of the government meant that a very large portion of the population was not pleased with the ruling government, thus there was a severe lack of nationalism within the population. The creation of the new state raised expectations of social reform and national greatness which were not fulfilled by Liberal Italy and which Fascism promised to deliver. In both states proportional representation was a facet of the existing governments that played a significant role in their respective falls.
Proportional Representation refers to how parties gained seats in their respective Congress not through winning constituencies, but proportional to the number of votes they got nation-wide. In Germany, this system led to the creation of 28 distinct parties. Consequently, it was very difficult to establish a majority in the Reichstag. Additionally, it was very common for changes in Government occur. The inability to establish any majority made it very difficult for the Weimar government to take any real action as differing agendas clashed.
Proportional Representation hindered Italian politics, but a greater extent, when compared to that of the Germans. The major problem with this system was that it was very common for weak, coalition government to form in order to take action. In fact, there were five different administrations between 1919 and 1922. This weakness was important because it damaged the image of the Liberals – presenting them as incapable of dealing with problems, and showed they were too busy fighting each other to worry about the threat from extremist parties, such as the socialists and Fascists.
Both Germany and Italy experienced severe economic problems in wake of World War I, the hardship experienced was manipulated by the two dictators. During the First World War, approximately 1. 2 million Italians died and 148 billion Lire was spent, this was about two times the amount of all spending of the Italian state between 1861 and 1913. Essentially, the government spent twice as much during a three year span than all the governments put together since the unification of Italy. Additionally, during war, many resources are channeled into the production of military goods and thus, there is much hardship for those on the homefront.
During the war, Italy’s population suffered greatly as malnutrition, hard work, lack of consumer goods, loss of family members and disease was widespread. The dissatisfaction with the government was so great that some critics said, “it had been the Italian people who had won the war, not its leaders. ” At the end of the war a very large number of soldiers were dismissed and many industries stopped producing military goods, consequently, unemployment soared so high that in 1919, about two million Italians were without a job.
Additionally, consumer goods and food continued to be scarce, which led to a inflation as there was a relatively large sum of money chasing a few number of goods. This led to further suffering among people with low incomes, and thus, discontent. With reduced government revenue, social welfare was cut and tax rates rose, leading to further unemployment. It should be noted that many industrialists benefitted from the higher prices and this may have been used by competing parties to further antagonize the current government.
Even those with savings suffered as with those savings plans that did not take into consideration inflation saw their savings become worth less and less. Mussolini took great advantage of this hardship and suffering by offering the people with the prospect of an economically strong Italy. World War I left Italy in a state of economic disarray; unemployment soared as capable, strong soldiers returned to the work force while prices of essential consumer goods rose significantly, this lead to significant discontent in a large proportion of the population.
World War I affected Germany’s economy is much more severe manner. Facing reparations of unprecedented amounts, Weimar Germany had to rely on loans from the US to keep their economy afloat. Due to poor confidence and stability, investment rates were very low and thus growth barely occurred. Much like in Italy, there was an injection of workers into the economy that shot up unemployment rates. Unlike Italy, the German government decided to adopt a policy of being a “welfare state”, even though this curbed discontent, Germany’s government debt only increased.
Combined with the tariffs on German goods, a significant trade deficit as well as budget deficit arose, leading to more problems not only economically, but also politically, as the differing parties could not decide what course of action to take (as a result of proportional representation). In October 1929, one of the worst financial crises in history brought economies worldwide to a standstill. The Great Depression had a savage effect on the German economy. In light of the depression, American loans and investment dried up and requests for repayment followed quickly.
Additionally, industrialized nations reduced their imports of food and raw materials which led to a further decrease in price, in fact, export revenue fell from 14 billion Marks in 1929 to 4. 2 billion in 1933. The implication of is this is that German industries could no longer pay their way through the depression. Germany’s population experienced severe hardship. Not only did both states suffer economically in the wake of the Great War, but both existing governments were antagonized for their actions and unfulfilled promises post-war.
When Italy’s delegation at the Paris Peace Conference insisted on maximalist territorial demands and did not succeed in pushing them through – Italy gained Trent and South Tyrol, Istria and Gorizia, but failed to get Dalmatia (which had been promised to Italy in 1915), many Italians blamed their government; the term — Mutilated Victory was phrased. This peace settlement left Italians with a burning sense of injustice. They had received fewer territories than they had expected and little recognition in the Treaty of Versailles given the physical, monetary, and mental cost of the war.
Additionally, many soldiers felt betrayed by the liberal government as they had promised employment and prosperity after the war in an attempt to boost morale during the war, and many of these promises were not met. Similarly, but to a greater extent, Weimar Germany was antagonized to a great extent for their signing of the Treaty of Versailles and loss of the war. Virtually the whole nation of Germany resented and rejected the treaty; one national newspapers even ran the headline “Death rather than slavery”.
In reality, many Germans had expected a German victory, or at least Wilson’s 14 Points, thus the signing created further frustration and anger. The Weimar Republic became known as the “November Criminals” and Hitler would consistently lay blame at the Republic’s feet for this very reason. To antagonize Weimar Germany, opposing politicians played off the Anger of loss of territory, namely Alsace-Lorraine, and the War-Guilt-clause from the treaty. Socialist parties existed in both Italy and Germany and both played significant roles in politics however, in both cases the Left posed no real threat, even though it was perceived this way.
Despite whether or not Socialism presented a threat on the politics of either nation, many people perceived the movement to be a threat. In Italy, Socialists became the largest political party in parliament in 1919 however Liberal Italy appeared to be doing nothing in response to this. This is evident from the offering of reforms to workers that were seizing factories and allowing laborers to keep the unused land they had illegally occupied. Many Italians began to look for different responses that would restore the ‘balance’ and protect their interests.
A major facet of Left-wing operations was violence against civilians. The Fascists used this to their advantage, sharing their own hate of Socialism with the general population, this gained them support from a grassroots level. In July 1922, Socialist trade union called for a general strike in an attempt to force the government to act against the Fascists. Poor organization and support meant that this attempt was somewhat of a fiasco. Within days the strike collapsed and the Fascists were perceived as the sole defenders of law and order.
In Germany, a very similar situation was true in that there was a significant Socialist party present however their threat was non-existent, however they were perceived as a threat. In January 1919, the new Weimar government used their army to crush the Spartacist rising as industrial areas were racked with unrest. Over the next four years, Weimar faced a series of threats from the Left, such as a wave of strikes in Ruhr mines as workers were economic problems and lack of real gains from their revolution. According to Ebert, the “elite were terrified of a Socialist Revolution” as that would undermine the status quo they had obtained.
Much like in Italy, a left-wing threat was perceived rather than experienced. There was a severed lack of coordination, good leadership and support, which came as a result of government concessions. Additionally, many Socialist movements were violently suppressed by forces of the Right. German and Italian ideology was very similar however the manner in which they came same result varies slightly. Dennis Mack Smith argues that Mussolini avoided committing himself to any clear policy program and altered his message according the audience he was addressing.
For example, Mussolini could tell Fascists of his determination to transform Italian society yet tell Liberals that his goal was simply to destroy Socialism and inject some energy into the political system. AJP Taylor argues that “Mussolini was without either ideas or aims”. However, it can be argued that the appeal of Fascism was not any of its own ideals, but rather those it opposed, namely, Socialism. Thus, it could have been the social and economic conditions that existed in Italy at the time that accommodated a Fascist movement.
Hitler had defined his ideology fairly well in his book Mein Kampf, however, he used his hatred for a wide variety of groups to maneuver himself into power. Hitler’s pursuit of creating a Volksgemeinschaft (a strong, hopeful society) helped him build up nationalist support. Additionally, his hatred of the Treaty of the Versailles allowed him to consistently refer to the November Criminals and the Stab in the Back. Hitler’s anti-communist notions stemmed from his belief that the Soviet Union was the biggest danger to the German people and once again, this allowed him to relate to the masses while placing blame for events on competing groups.
Essentially, Hitler’s ideology was superficial and simplistic, however, this was appealing in some contexts, such as when he wanted to antagonize the Left. In the short run, Hitler and Mussolini both took advantage of dire mistakes committed by individuals in power at the time. The liberal government was just not working; there were severe structural weaknesses, they were seen as weak and incapable and proportional representation had severely hindered any attempt at action.
Some argue that Salandra convinced the king to make Mussolini Prime Minister in 1922 with the sole aim of keeping Giolitti out of power. Coupled with this argument is the notion that Giolitti believed he could manipulate Mussolini once he was in power. Ultimately however, the decision came down to King Victor Emmanuel and combination of his belief that Italian forces within Rome were greatly outnumbered, any form of conflict would lead to civil war and that his cousin, the Duke of Aosta, was a Fascist supporter convinced him to make Mussolini Prime Minister.
Hitler gained power through parliamentary means and was ultimately offered the job as Chancellor by his Head of State, President Hindenburg. A fire in the Reichstag scared people and allowed Hitler to gain dictatorial control as well as a lack of confidence in the Republic coupled with Bruning’s unnecessary Reichstag election in September 1930 gave way for the Nazis to gain seats in power. Consequently, Hindenburg removed Bruning from the position of Chancellor without consulting the Reichstag.
In January 1933, Hitler was invited to become the Chancellor by politicians who believed that he could be manipulated and that he would bring the support of the Reichstag. Much like Mussolini, Hitler was severely underestimated. In conclusion, in both states there was no real nationalistic feel or trust in democracy. In Germany, this was the case because the people had developed an intrinsic love for authoritarian control whereas a ruler aiming to expand his own borders and not create a unified, fair Italian state had formed Italy.
Proportional representation hindered the politics of both nations and led to further frustration and distaste for the existing governments. Both rulers in their rise to power manipulated the extreme hardship caused by post-war situations as well the Great Depression. The social impact of the war was also similar in that people in both nations were unsatisfied with the results of war, this is evident from the ‘Mutilated Victory’ in Italy and the name of the “November Criminals” being given to Weimar.
There was significant perceived threat from the Left in both nations, Hitler and Mussolini both used this fear to their advantage, gaining support from those who hated the Socialists. Hitler and Mussolini’s ideology, or lack thereof, allowed both of them to satisfy a myriad of individuals. Finally, the similar mistakes made by King Victor Emmanuel and Giolitti in Italy as well as President Hindenburg and politics in Germany solidified Mussolini and Hitler’s positions of power.