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Benito Mussolini: Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall Part 3: Economic Stimulus
Introduction and Recap of Parts 1 and 2
In parts 1 and 2 of this hub series on Benito Mussolini, we discussed his early life and family of origin, education, introduction into socialism, life as journalist, and subsequent move to create the Italian Fascist Party. In this part 3, we look at why the Italian people embraced Mussolini ans the Fascist Party. Its simple really: desperate economic times, a highly charismatic leader promising to save the day, and a few good plans that ultimately go wrong. Sound like a story you've heard before? Read on...
Lazo Region of Italian West Coast
Economic Policies under Mussolini and the Italian Fascists
Mussolini launched several public construction programs and government initiatives throughout Italy to combat economic setbacks and high unemployment. He began with He initiated the “Battle of the Land“ and the "Battle for Grain", in which 5,000 new farms were established and five new agricultural towns on land reclaimed by draining the Pontine Marshes in in the Lazio Region of Central Italy, southeast of Rome. His plan diverted valuable resources to grain production, away from other less economically viable crops. His project was designed to not only provide jobs, and low income housing, it was designed to make Italy self-sufficient with out the need for imported foodstuffs.
Mussolini was actually quite innovative in his approach, and this type of land reclamation, known as the Green Movement, was replicated in several countries. Mexico began a similar project in 1945. With in eleven years, Mexico went from importing over half of its grains to being self-sufficient and a few years later began large exports as well. Unfortunately, Mussolini’s plan did not faire so well.
The Pontine Marshes were drained and utilized for a variety of crops including wine grapes, olives, fruits and vegetables. These farms did provide jobs during their establishment, and provided food supplies, but, the grain production never took off. Large corporate farms controlled almost all of the production, leaving the small farmers in the the same situation as before the initiative.
In Sardinia, a model agricultural town was founded and named Mussolinia. It has since been renamed as Arborea. This town was the first of what Mussolini hoped would have been thousands of new agricultural settlements across the country.
Mussolinia became Arborea after WWII
The huge taxes needed to fund the project, widespread inefficiencies, and the government subsidies given to farmers; pushed the country further into debt. Fewer than 10,000 people, including workers, women, and children, settled on the redistributed land, and poverty remained high. By 1940 the Battle for the Land and the Battle for the Grain programs were abandoned. Today however, after many years of struggle, the area Mussolini once dreamed of as his pilot economic success story in Sardinia, flourishes with agriculture and tourism.
To further combat an economic recession, Mussolini introduced the "Gold for the Fatherland" initiative, which asked people to voluntarily donate gold jewelry such as necklaces and wedding rings to the government in exchange for steel wristbands bearing the words "Gold for the Fatherland". The collected gold was melted down into gold bars, which were then sent to the national banks to prevent bank failures. Even his wife donated her wedding ring. Mussolini seized control of 3/4 of Italian private businesses by the mid 1930s, as well as forcing all banks, businesses, and private citizens to give up all their foreign-issued stocks and bonds to the Bank of Italy. Additionally, he instituted wage and price controls which further broke the common worker; and trade barriers with almost all countries save, Spain and Germany, made trade almost impossible with Italy.
In 1935, Mussolini gained even more support of Italians in the northern provinces by bailing out Auto Manufacturer Alfa Romero. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy when the government came in to buy up its bad debt, effectively taking ownership of the company. Mussolini was seen as somewhat of a hero with this move, however, it was in fact the government cancellation of military contracts that caused the collapse of Alfa Romero in the first place - a fact the was never publicized in Italy. Later this same year 3/4 of all Italian business were under government control. Mussolini saw this as the most viable method for the country to gain stability as stated publicly that:
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”
Mussolini Begins to Align with Other Dictators
By 1936, Mussolini had become closely connected to Francisco Franco and his Spanish State, and Adolph Hitler's Nazi Regime.Although the Italian Fascists differed in a few strong areas from Franco's regime, they had in common the belief in strong national unity, the need for a powerful authoritarian government and strict controls of the populace. Franco, however, was a staunch Roman Catholic and saw his government as providing stability for the the masses through the heavy hand of religion, whereas Mussolini never truly embraced the Catholic church or any other religion.
The religious aspects of Hitler's Nazism bothered both Franco and Mussolini. Franco, because Hitler dove deeply into pseudo-pagan mysticism and wove it into what he believed to be a Christian base, which Franco saw as blasphemous; and Mussolini, because he saw religion and the church as just another method of imperialistic control. These three regimes did have enough in common to provide military support to one another throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Additionally, unlike Italy and Germany, Spain never had antisemitic laws. In fact, Franco's diplomats extended their diplomatic protection over Sephardic Jews in Hungary, Slovakia and the Balkans. Spain was a safe haven for all Jewish refugees.
Mussolini did provide massive military support to Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He sent an army of over 12,000 "volunteer" troops to be completely under Franco's direction and provided numerous tanks and airplanes - all built by Alfa Romero and Fiat. This angered many Italians, most notably in the southern regions, due to the lack of prosperity within their own country.
The alliance known as the “Axis of Power” became official in 1939 with the Pact of Steel treaty outlining the "friendship and alliance" between Germany and Italy. The Pact consisted of two parts: the first section was an open declaration of continuing trust and cooperation between Germany and Italy , and the second, encouraged a joint military and economic policy known as the "Secret Supplementary Protocol". The Pact was signed by foreign ministers representing both Hitler and Mussolini. Italy's king Victor Emanuel III was not in favor of the pact, instead he wanted to maintain the more traditional Italian allies of Britain and France. However, by this time, Italy’s king had virtually no power and was a figure head for the people only.
The next installment of Benito Mussolini: Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall, (Part 4), will follow in a hub that details the “Manifesto of racial scientists“, summarizes the Italian Racial Laws against the Jews, and continues a look at the Hilter/Mussolini partnership. As Always, I would appreciate reading your comments and thoughts about these fascinating men and their times. Until then....Ciao!