Why Did Fascism Rise in Europe During the 1920s? Could It Have in the 1930s US?
What kind of economic environment would embrace Fascism? What kind of society would allow their country’s freedoms and future to be placed into one dictator’s hands? Germany was surrounded by perceived forces of evil. The exploitation of fear from the French to the West and the Russians to the East would break the spirit of the German people. The fear of these two forces against a nationalized Germany would be used by Adolf Hitler to gain power. In Italy, Benito Mussolini used alliances with the Catholic Church, unions, and industry bosses to gain political power.
That, along with using brute force against his political opponents, Mussolini’s form of Fascism was gradually built with eleven years of severe political maneuvering. Both Hitler and Mussolini took advantage of a political environment to form a new lofty ideal, fascism, an ideal that would lead to a second escalation in the early 20th century. World War I ended very badly for the Prussians. They were broken into smaller nations. Lands were taken from them. Their methods of wealth gathering from previous investments were seized away from them.
Any possible modes of financial stability were looking bleaker with the continuance of the reparations coming out of the Great War. Even when the new Germany did create wealth, the French would take it away from them because of overdue payments. There was no financial hope because the French were so relentless with their strict enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles. The enduring vengeance that the French leaders had towards Germany after WWI was eventually viewed by Germans as greed.
The ruthless attitude of the French capitalists developed into an overall German distaste for the existing capitalist movement. To the East there was also a newly formed communist Russia that was growing in structure and power. There was an anxiety among the German people with what was going on in Russia. By outsiders, communism was understood as simply a loss of private property. The loss of private property was something that the new Furher, or leader, of Germany would claim to protect.
Exploiting the people’s anxiety for a state-owned economic system was a main tool used by Hitler. Germany didn’t want to be like the greedy French capitalists, nor did they want to be like the War-Communist, Stalin-led Russians. These two forces to either side of Germany created a vacuum of ideas. Within this vacuum, Hitler forced his own ideas that in 1926 he laid-out in his work Mein Kampf . At this point of Germany’s economic disrepair, Hitler could have sold the German near anything especially because it was neither like the French nor the Russian respective economic futures.
Hitler also used the Jews as his own capitalist scapegoats for why the country was in such economic peril. He used this as a rallying cry, a distraction for something to move against at home. All they had to do was to exterminate the Jews, follow Furher, and he would lead Germany back to being a reunified world power. Benito Mussolini in Italy went another route. After he was elected Prime Minister in 1922 he slowly used political force to gain and maintain power. He gained the support of the Catholic Church by mandating Catholic school for children.
He somehow aligned himself with both unions and industry bosses by mandating an eight hour workday and freeing the industries of back payments from WWI. And in order to get his way in the elected government he would use his seemingly endless political power to dissuade the elected liberals. He would threaten or even assassinate anyone who opposed his rise to power. “I declare…. in front of the Italian people……that I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm.
I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary. ” Peace via force? Somehow that doesn’t seem possible, but the fascist government led by its Il Duce, or leader, got its way. Exterminating, not Jews as Hitler was then doing, but liberals in Italian places of power. In the 1930’s America it was a dire time financially. People were voting with their stomachs and they were all ears in following the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was a very popular American leader as he was voted into the highest office four times.
America was not quite as broken as Germany was. America still had its ideals intact as evidenced by its strong opposition to FDRs attempted amendment to the Constitution adding six members to the Supreme Court. Despite the financial hardships that the American people were experiencing in the 1930s, Fascism was much too different for appeal to the Americans. They were too proud of their existing American democracy to ever be influenced enough to change the ideology from a capitalist democracy towards a fascist dictator.
Americans were much more interested in FDR’s ‘tweaks’ than in a complete government overhaul as either Mussolini or Hitler would have advocated. With a thriving fascist government, when is enough, enough? When dealing with fascism there is never really a true stopping point. Whether it was someone within the nation, like the liberals in Italy or the Jews of Germany, or an outside threat, like the communists of Russia or the French Capitalists, there will always be an opposing party. It begs the question whether a successful WWII campaign by Italy and Germany would have eventually pitted them against each other?