The horrors of World War I shattered many of the old certainties in Europe. Empires had fallen, and governments seemed unsure. In many countries, people turned to a new movement, called fascism. Fascism, which first emerged in Italy, was a new and violent political movement. It appealed to traditional virtues, such as unity, nationalism and love of motherland. Its leaders mainly military men, offered strong discipline and demanded absolute obedience to their orders. Fascism quickly gathered strength, spreading across Europe and South America.
The fascists hated communism, but they also wanted to destroy the old aristocracy. This combination of ideas appealed to the poor, and to the middle classes whose comforts and savings were threatened by the chaos of inflation, falling wages and unemployment.
Following World War I, Italy faced unemployment and soaring prices, despite being on the winning side. People lost faith in the faltering government. Many, especially powerful factory owners and church leaders, feared a communist takeover. The time was ripe for Benito Mussolini, a journalist and ex- soldier, to launch the first fascist movement. He promised to smash the threat of communism and make Italy a powerful nation. Many people welcomed his strong leadership.Mussolini’s supporters black-shirted young thugs, fought on streets and terrorized politicians. The government was unable to tame them. King Victor Emmanuel III was afraid of the communist revolution, so in 1922 he decided to make Mussolini prime minister. Gradually Mussolini removed all his enemies and became a dictator.
The German economy was shattered by World War I. After the New York stock exchange clash in 1929, German money became almost worthless. Inflation meant that people needed a suitcase full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. In this climate, a new form of fascism quickly took hold. It was called Nazism, and was built on violent race hatred. The Nazism encouraged anti- Semitism, or hatred of Jews, whom they blamed for all Germany’s economic problems. Adolf Hitler, a fanatic anti- Semite had set up the Nazi party in 1920. It grew rapidly. His rabble-rousing speeches offered a vision of a glorious German master race, superior to Jews and dark- skinned peoples. Led by a powerful leader, they would build a thousand- year empire. Hungry, desperate and still resentful of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, millions of Germans rallied to Hitler’s call.
Elected as chancellor, on 1933, Hitler soon removed all other parties from power. He set up vicious prison camps such as Dachau, and on the “Night of the long Knives”, in June 1934, his henchmen murdered over a hundred of his rivals. Nazi thugs attacked German Jews and their homes and shops. Jewish children were expelled from schools. In 1938, hundreds of synagogues were burned down and thousands of Jews were arrested- a grim sign of things to come.
Having promised their people glory, fascist leaders needed to produce victories to satisfy them. By the mid 1930, Mussolini’s economic plans were in ruins and the people were growing restless. To distract them, in 1935 he launched an attack on Ethiopia. The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, asked for support from the League of Nations. However, it failed to stop Mussolini. On the other hand, Hitler ordered troops into the Rhineland, although this was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. The League of Nations made no response at all. In Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, both Mussolini and Hitler pursued territorial expansionist and interventionist foreign policy agendas from the 1930 through the 1940 culminated in World War II.