A totalitarian state is defined as a few control everything, and the government controls every aspect of the citizens life. This cannot be better exemplified than by Italy under the rule of the ruthless and violent dictator, Benito Mussolini. What a totalitarian state is, the characteristics it has, and how Italy turned into one are three points that will be studied in this essay. A brief look into Mussolinis life and his rise to power will also be examined, as well as how his reign resulted for Italy and in turn, how it affected the whole world. An assessment of Italy as a totalitarian state will bring this essay to a close.
A totalitarian state is a highly centralized government controlled by one political group, and usually one leader. The duties of the citizen to the state are all-important. Political, economic and social life are all directed by the official party. Totalitarianism has one official plan that covers all vital aspects of human existence. The government monopolizes police, weapons, all means of mass communication (press, radio and films, art, music and literature), and has tight control of the countrys economy. It is used to train people to think and behave in a specific way.
In Italy, the development of a totalitarian state was made possible because fascism appealed to Italians. There was much unrest in Italy, and it seemed to be the only option. In the summer of 1920, dissatisfied workers caused the unrest, and growing populations of socialist parties worried middle-class Italians. Mussolini used turmoil to gain power.
Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883 in Varnano dei Costa. He was named for the Mexican patriot Benito Juavez. He was the top of his class growing up, but he wasnt quite a model student – he hated rich children and was almost expelled for stabbing one with a knife. This seems to be the first hint of a very violent future for Mussolini. As a young man, Mussolini worked as a union organizer and was expelled from Switzerland and Austria for Socialist agitation. He was a very talented writer; he wrote poems and a novel, The Cardinals Mistress, and edited a newspaper, Avanti. After WWI, in 1922, Mussolini organized a March on Rome with 26,000 followers. This massive display of political support convinced the King to make him Prime Minister. He was the youngest Prime Minister Italy had ever seen.
Mussolini took many steps in order to achieve control of Italy. He began using power given to him by parliament. He turned Fascist militia into a private army, called the MVSN, and they dealt with his opponents. He also ordered police to arrest his opponents. Since Mussolini wanted support from the Pope, he increased pay for priests, ordered schools to teach religion, banned obscene books and made swearing in public a crime. He wanted to show efficiency, so he improved
public services, especially transport. People admired him, saying he made the trains run on time.1 Mussolini held a general election after a year in office. He introduced the Acerbo Law, which stated that the party with the most votes got two-thirds of the seats in parliament, so that Fascists could be fairly sure of a majority. Fascists had elections rigged in many towns. They confiscated opponents voting cards, put the names of dead people on voting lists and pretended to be them and stole the ballot box if they thought the vote was against them. They ended up winning 65% of the vote.
Mussolini was just getting started. He once said a good beating never did any harm.2 He had Socialist politicians beaten up, tortured, terrorized and killed. Mussolini truly wanted to control every aspect of Italians lives. He introduced censorship laws to the press. They could only print news approved by the government, and anti-Fascist papers were shut down. He banned all political parties, other than the Fascist party, expelled opposition MPs from parliament, and abolished trade unions. In 1927, he formed a secret police force, the OVRA. They hunted down Mussolinis political enemies, who were then imprisoned in concentration camps built in Islands off the coast of Italy. Mussolini changed the voting system so that only men over 21 who belonged to Fascist organizations called Syndicates could vote. In order to glorify himself, Mussolini gave himself new powers and a new title Head of Government. People were ordered to call him Il Duce, which means The Leader. He had giant posters with such slogans as Mussolini is always right or He is ours.3 These posters often had him doing such things as driving a car, a plane, playing sports, winning a chess match or jogging. The Italian people finally began to realize that, like these posters, Mussolini was fake.
For a while, Italy enjoyed a brief economic recovery. However, Mussolini was not able to prevent the severe impact the Great Depression had on Italy. He blamed Italys troubles on world economic conditions and tried to distract the Italian people by adopting an aggressive foreign policy. Mussolini defied the League of Nations and conquered Ethiopia. This made him very popular, but his popularity didnt last. After he sent troops to help General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War, linked Italy to Nazi Germany, enacted anti-Jewish laws, and invaded Albania, Italians started to resent him very much. Because their military was so unprepared, Italy suffered many defeats. After the occupation of Allies in Southern Italy, the King ordered that Mussolini be arrested so he would sign an armistice. German parachutists, who then took him to Northern Italy and made him organize a brutal Social Republic, rescued Mussolini. At the end of the war, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci tried to escape to Switzerland, but they were captured and executed by the Military Forces of Italian Resistance. His corpse hung in the Piazzale Loreto, Milan, for all of public to see. Hostility continued between political parties for about three years after Mussolinis death. These feelings of resentment had caused a civil war from 1943-1945. In 1946, Italians voted to dissolve the monarchy, and in 1948, the first political elections were held. Mussolinis reign of the totalitarian government was over.
Benito Mussolini was obviously a firm believer in totalitarian government. He ruled with a firm hand; and didnt let anything standing in the way of what he believed to be a perfect society. Evidently, things didnt turn out as planned for Mussolini, but during his time as the leader of Italy, he definitely controlled the lives of many Italians and had things done his way. It was said of him He is not, like Hitler, condemned out of his own mouth, nor by the notoriety and magnitude of his evil deeds. It may be that he began well and meant well, like so many of the Caesars before him, but that he ended ill as they did owing to the corruption of power.4
1 Josh Brooman, Italy and Mussolini, p.17
2 Josh Brooman, Italy and Mussolini, p.19
3 Josh Brooman, Italy and Mussolini, p.23
4 Derek Heater, Case Studies in Twentieth-Century World History, p.79
Skipper, G.C. Mussolini: A Dictator Dies. Childrens Press: Chicago, 1989.
Brooman, Josh. Italy and Mussolini. Longman Group Limited:
New York, 1985.
Heater, Derek. Case Studies in Twentieth-Century World History.
Longman Group Limited: New York, 1988.
Benito Mussolini. http://history1900s.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.falange.org%2Fbenito.htm.