Source questions for Part II: The rise of fascism and governments of the right
Italian historian and liberal politician Benedetto Croce, who became a member of the Italian government in 1944 after the overthrow of Mussolini, gives his view of Fascism (1944).
Fascism was an interruption in Italy’s achievement of ever greater ‘freedom’, a short-term moral infection. Since the turn of the century, the liberal ‘sense of freedom’ was debased by materialism, nationalism and a growing admiration for ‘heroic’ figures. The masses and the liberal politicians were easily manipulated by a majority of Fascist hooligans.
Italian historian Renzo de Felice gives his view of fascism (1977).
The Fascist movement was mainly one of an emerging middle class eager to challenge the traditional, liberal political class for power. The spirit of this new middle class was vital, optimistic and creative; it was, in fact, a revolutionary phenomenon. However, the only way Mussolini was able to get to power was with help from the conservatives, and he was unfortunately always dependent on them afterwards. He was therefore never able to achieve the full aims of Fascism – to revolutionise Italy by transforming it into a totalitarian, corporative society.
Source: Both sources are summarized briefly in Martin Blinkhorn, Mussolini and Fascist Italy (Methuen, 1984).
(a) What reasons can you suggest for such widely differing views of the same system from two Italian historians?
(b) Using the sources and your own knowledge, explain why Mussolini was able to come to power in 1922.
(c) Using your knowledge of Italy under Fascist rule, show which of the two interpretations you find the more convincing.
The view of German historian Martin Broszat, writing in 1981.
What presented itself as the new government of National Socialist Germany in 1933/4 was, in effect, a form of power sharing between the new National Socialist mass movement and the old conservative forces in state and society. . . . Hitler practised no direct and systematic leadership but from time to time jolted the government or the party into action, supported one or other initiative of Party functionaries or departmental heads and thwarted others, ignored them, or left them to carry on without a decision . . . in practice this was not conducive to the survival of the regime.
Source: Martin Broszat, The Hitler State (Longman, 1983).
The view of British historian Alan Bullock, writing in 1991.
When he [Hitler] wanted something done, he created special agencies outside the framework of the Reich government: Goering’s organisation of the Four-Year Plan, for example, which cut across the jurisdiction of at least four ministries. . . .
Hitler’s personal withdrawal from the day-to-day business of government left the more powerful of the Nazi leaders free not only to build up rival empires but to feud with each other and with the established ministries. This state of affairs extended to the policy making and legislative functions of the government as well as the administration. Henceforward decrees and laws alike were issued on the authority of the Chancellor. . . . Hitler’s authority was unquestioned and, whenever he chose to intervene, was decisive.
Source: Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (HarperCollins, 1991).
(a) How far does the evidence provided by these sources support the view that Hitler was a ‘weak dictator’?
(b) To what extent did Hitler’s methods of government enable him to carry out successful domestic and foreign policies up to 1939?
Some thoughts on the war from historian Eric Hobsbawm.
Eventually over forty thousand young foreigners from over fifty nations went to fight and many to die in a country about which most of them probably knew no more than what it looked like in a school atlas. It is significant that no more than a thousand volunteers fought on the Franco side . . . yet the Spanish republic, in spite of all our sympathies and the (insufficient) help it received, fought a rearguard action against defeat from the start. In retrospect, it is clear that this was due to its own weaknesses . . . it made no serious use of that powerful weapon against superior conventional forces, guerrilla warfare – a strange omission in a country which gave this form of irregular warfare its name. Unlike the Nationalists, who enjoyed a single military and political direction, the Republic remained politically divided, and – in spite of the communists’ contribution – did not acquire a single military will and strategic command, or not until it was too late.
Source: Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (Michael Joseph, 1994).
(a) What evidence does the source provide to explain why the Republic was defeated in the war?
(b) Using your own knowledge, describe in what ways ‘the Republic remained politically divided’.
(c) Explain why civil war had broken out in Spain in 1936.