Monday, 3 December 2012

Mussolini Foreign/Domestic Policies

After participating in World War One, Italy faced severe economic and political difficulties at home. Between 1919 and 1922 there were five different governments, all of which were incapable of taking indecisive actions. Mussolini saw this as an opportunity to gain widespread attention. He therefore founded the fascist party in 1919. Due to lack of effective opposition and massive unemployment about 2 million according to Todd, many saw the fascist party as promising. Moreover, because of their anti-Bolsheviks ideology, they gained much more support from the rich people which funded their party. In 1923, Mussolini became prime minister through March on Rome and intimidating King Victor Emmanuel III. Under fascism, Mussolini sought to build up Italy industry through his domestic policies to support his foreign wars of conquest.

Mussolini first aim was to make Italy self-sufficient in wheat production. Tariffs on imported grain were raised and the government provided financial incentives to farmers to switch production from other crops to grain. As a result, grain production nearly doubled (1923-38) from 4.5 million metric tons per annum to 8.2 million metric tons per annum according to Gauci. Although successful in increasing grain output, this was achieved at the expense of other crops, which damaged Italy diversified agriculture production. Also, this policy was particularly damaging in the South where the soil was not conducive to wheat production but was better suited to fruit and wine growing. Historian Martin Clark stated, Mussolini wheat policy wasn’t an economic policy but rather politics and propaganda, like everything else he did: not bread but circuses- Gauci.

Prior to the Great depression in 1929, Mussolini decided to revalue the Lira.  Rising prices and increasing imports levels followed by a sharp fall in the Lira value. This proved catastrophic as it was fixed at an artificially high rate of 90 lire to the pound.  Consequently, the value of the Italian exports was halved in the period 1925-38; from 44 million lire to 22 million lire stated by Todd.

Mussolini saw the control of media as vital to maintain power as well as introducing his domestic policies; therefore he established several social reforms in his attempt to create a more powerful Italian state. Like many other dictators, Mussolini used his secret police to ensure his policies were followed and eliminate opposition by force. To gain control of the public, he used the media as a weapon, demonizing his enemies and promotes his own interest. He also utilized propaganda as an effective tool, to promote himself as the great “IL DUCE” and attempting to indoctrinate the youth into his military and political forces. However, Guaci estimated that 40% of children never joined.  He also managed to introduce education reforms consolidated under the 1923 educational act.  His reforms on education were rather successful, maintaining high literacy rate and a decent standard of learning.

To transform Italy into a great power, he wanted to increase Italy’s population. In 1927, he launched the battle for births. His main aim was to increase Italy population from 37 to 60 million. To encourage marriage and larger families, the government imposed higher taxes on single and awarded medals to mother who had the most children. Italians with 10 or more children were exempted from income tax acknowledge Gauci. To support his policy, the criminal code of 1932 banned contraception, abortion and sterilisation. Despite his attempt to increase the birth rate in Italy, it continues to fall. In 1911, there had been 148 births for every 1000 women of child bearing age but by 1936 this had fallen to 103 births. The overall population just rose to 44 million in 1940 short of his initial target.
Mussolini, desire to establish a closer link to Hitler, led him to introduce anti-Semitic laws. One theory was that he wanted to weaken the Jewish community because he was not sure they could be trusted to be loyal. The law was deeply unpopular within the fascist party where one third of Italian Jews were members.  Although this law proved unpopular, up to 10,000 Jews were deported from Italy.
Mussolini wanted “To make Italy great, respected and feared”.  By holding the position of Foreign Minister, he introduced his Foreign policies. He aimed to expand Italy influence in the Balkans, Near East Africa. Mussolini saw an aggressive foreign policy as essential in order to transform the country into dynamic, aggressive and united nation. This aim became more evident in the mid-30s when the Fascist regime became more radical.
Through diplomacy in 1924, Mussolini acquired Fiume from Yugoslavia. In the same year, Italy received small bits of French and British territory in East Africa. In 1925, Mussolini singed the Locarno Pacts in 1925, which involved Germany accepting its western frontiers and being admitted to the League of Nation. Later on, in 1928 Kellogg-Briand pact 1928 along with sixty other countries, Mussolini pledged to renounce war. Peaceful and restrained policy conducted by Mussolini during the 1920s lies in the fact that much of his attention was focused on extending and consolidating his political position within Italy.
However, in the 1920s, Mussolini demonstrated a preference for confrontation and aggression. Corfu crisis in 1923 reflected his intentions very well where Mussolini tried to bully Greece into paying compensation to Italy after the murder of an Italian general. He succeeded, as League of Nations ordered Greece to pay for compensation.  
In 1930s, Mussolini saw opportunity for expansion into Eastern Africa. Historians Knox, believed that Mussolini had long-term aims in foreign policy, argue that in the 1930s Mussolini was at last able to discard the cautious approach of the 1920s in order to realise those aims. In 1935, Italian troops invaded Abyssinia. Historian De Felice stated, Mussolini decided to invade Abyssinia in an attempt to divert the Italian people’s attention away from the domestic economic problems. However, the invasion of Abyssinia only made the Italian economy worst. Abyssinia didn’t prove of significant commercial value to Italy; in 1939 only 2% of Italy trade was with Abyssinia. Furthermore, the war was very expensive to sustain, costing 40 million lire-Gauci.

In 1936, Mussolini intervened in the Spanish civil war, in support of General Franco’s Nationalist against the Republican government.  Mussolini sends 70,000 troops to Spain but they performed very poor suffering a humiliating defeat in 1936. Mussolini hoped that Spain would become a satellite state of Italy by intervening in Spanish civil war. Moreover, to also acquire a naval base in the Balearic Islands. Despite intervention in Spanish civil war, Mussolini gained very little from it, which proved very costly about 14 million lire.

Italy entrance into World War two proved disastrous to Italy as the country was not economically prepared for another war.  Mussolini tempted to enter World War two as he saw many countries such as Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium falling into Hitler hands. Mussolini was keen not to lose out on any possible territory gains.  Between 1940-43, Italian was further weakened by the allies troops as they experienced several defeats. Italy ended their role in WW2 when the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943.

Despite economic problems and agricultural failure in the country through bad domestic policies, Mussolini still pushed forward his Foreign Policies knowing the great risk he took. War had never been popular in Italy and became unpopular as defeats mounted and economic conditions worsened. Wages fell by 30% in 1940-43; food price rose by 72% which sparked riots throughout the country. Due to Mussolini bad decision making and ignorance, King Victor Emmanuel III and fascist cabinets came to a conclusion to arrest Mussolini and sack him from office in 1943.

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