The challenges to, and the fall of the Fascist state in Italy c1935-1946

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  • Created on: 08-05-18 13:52

Challenges to and the fall of the Fascist state c1

Mussolini's foreign policy aims:

  • Achieve 'great power' and influence in the international stage and equal that of Britain and France
  • Assert and claim colonial territories
  • Establish his influence in the Mediterranean, Balkans, Adriatic sea, especially in Albania

Problems with achieving these aims: In 1922, Italy had very little influence in the international political arena, and Britain and France were the main powers. They supported the Versailles settlement and both ruled very powerful empires. At this point Italy was in no position to challenge either of the powers politically or militarily. But Mussolini was still determined to reverse the effects of the Treaty of Versailles and the 'Mutilated Victory' although for a long time he tried to retain good relationships with them outwardly.

Mussolini's theory of encirclement: In Mussolini's speeches he both declared frienship with Britain and France as well as denouncing them as 'parasites'. He declared that he would destory the British Empire and believed that Italy was a trapped within the Mediterranean by British and French military bases and this became a significant aspect of his pursuit of foreign policy.

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Impact of foreign policy

Mussolini and the search for the Allies: Strong alliances were nessecary if Italy was to assert a powerful and strong foreign policy. Mussolini signed treaties with many European countres in the early and mid-1920s. They were largely commercial treaties and did not achieve him the prestige he wanted. Mussolini had a reputation for switching allegiances depending on what would suit him best, so the treaties were worth little politically. Mussolin's search for allies had a reverse effect than the one he intended, and he acquired a rather negative reputation as a politician- as a result.

Corfu 1923:August 23, Italian general Tellini and four of his aides were assassinated whilst visiting Greece. They were part of a League of Nations mission to establish the location of the border between Greece and Albania. Mussolini made extensive demands on Greece- including a payment of 50 million lire- Greece refused to pay, and thus Mussolini ordered bombing in the area.

League of Nations got involved and they largely supported Italy at the Conference of Ambassadors. Greece was ordered to pay the money and Italy was ordered to withdraw their bombardment in the region and Mussolini was forced to comply. The Corfu Incident showed that Italy could not claim an equal status as a 'great power' and it revealed the constraints of Italian foreign policy. It did show that international organisations could condone the threats of dictators like Mussolini

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Impact of foreign policy

Balkans 1924-26: When Zog took power of Albania in 1924 Mussolini was keen to pressurise Yogoslavia into accepting the Italian influence in the Balkans. He gave Zog financial support and in 1926 he signed a treaty which recognised Albania as a satelite state of Italy. Albania bordered Yugoslavia, and Mussolini increased tensions by supporting Croatian seperatist groups and right-wing milita.

Locarno Treaties, 1925: A conference of representatives from Britain, France, Italy and Germany was held at Locarno in Switzerland in an attempt to settle ease rising European tensions. The treaty proved very successful and it confirmed Germany's western frontiers and they also pledged to try to reach an agreement on settling the eastern borders in Germany as well. Mussolini seemed content working with European powers and the Locarno Treaty showed Italy as a major European power.

Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928: It outlawed war and was committed to peaceful forms of reaching agreement. Initially 9 powers signed the pact but 56 signed it afterwards. Mussolini tried to use the pact to demonstrate his influence, attemptin to persuade it to be signed in Rome- this proposal failed and the Pact carried little weight in the powers and Mussolini denounced it in parliament shortly after signing it

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Britain and France

Britain and France: Mussolini was very wary of straining relations with Britain and France. He portrayed himself as supportive of their interests and he showed this by:

  • Italy remained a member of the League of Nations
  • Mussolini signed the Locarno Treaties in 1925
  • He signed the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928
  • He reached agreements with Britain and France over claims in North Africa

Though Mussolini signed these agreements, he was not fully committed to them but was prepared to exploit the changing international situation to benefit himself and Italy. He hoped his actions would win him support of Britain and France so that they could make concessions in Italy's favour

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Germany and Italy

Germany: In the late 1920s Mussolini began to fund far-right German political groups in the hope that a pro-Fascist government would emerge. He was aware that a strong Germany would act as a counter-balance to the power of Britain and France and he hoped that this would make them more supportive of Italian aims in the Balkans and North Africa.

Relations were tense when Hitler came into power in 1933. Mussolin called for a Four-Power conference with Italy, Britain, France and Germany following Hitler's withdrawal from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. Mussolini prononced the conference a great triumph in Italy but it ended with no resolution and Mussolini was still afraid that Fascist Italy would become subordinated to Nazi Germany

Austria was Italy's northern border and Mussolini was concerned that Germany might attempt to seize it. He encouraged the Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss to clamp down on Austrian Nazis and create a regime based on Fascist principles. When Dolfuss was assassinated in July 1934 Mussolin feared a German invasion so he sent 40,000 troops onto Austria's border to stop Hitler from taking action

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Foreign policy

Stresa April 1935: Hitler's announcement that Germany would be developing her air force, introducing conscription and rearmament contravened the Treaty of Versailles which was signed in 1919. Mussolin called for a meeting with Britain and France to discuss these actions and it was held in Stresa, northern Italy

  • They all criticised German rearmament which contravened the Treaty of Versailles
  • All three powers agreed to co-operate and prevent any country from abandoning their agreements signed at the previous peace treaties
  • They reaffirmed their support for the 1925 Locarno Treaties
  • They agreed to support an independent Austria

Result: This was a high point of relations with Britain and France, the Stresa Front was vague however, ad did not include specific commitments for action from any of the powers. They were not prepared to invade Germany to prevent further breaches of the Treaty of Versailles.

There was also division between the three powers on how to deal with Hitler. Britain undermined the pact when they signed the Anglo-German naval agreement in June 1395 and Mussolini dismissed this as a great sign of betrayal, as they did not consult France or Italy.

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Abyssinia 1935

At the Stresa conference, Mussolini seemed to have misunderstood that Britain and France supported his invasion of Abyssinia- or maybe because he felt betrayed by Britain signing agreement with Germany. Why did he want to invade Abyssinia:

  • Catholics supported it because they felt they could take their faith somewhere else
  • Satisfy Italy's Nationalist and colonial ambitions and increase the regime's popularity at home.
  • To provide fascism with a major propaganda victory.
  • To demonstrate to the world that Italy was a major world power

He built up his troops throughout the summer of 1935 and had around 220,000 troops on the Abyssinian border by October. Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie went to the League of Nations but they refused to intervene after the Wal Wal Oasis incident of December 1934.

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Abyssinia 1935

Invasion, 1935: He hoped for a quick victory- he captured Adowa on 6 October(site of humiliating defeat for Italians in 1896)- after this however, the advance was slow.

  • In 1936 Italy finally won the war with a massive military build up and an army of 600,000 troops and air power. The final assult on the capital Addis Ababa resulted in Selassie'e exile and the end of the war in 5 May 1936.
  • It was trumpeted as a great success domestically and increased Mussolini's popularity. There were also many negative consequences
  • The economic cost of the war was huge. It led to the devaluation of the lira and reduced Italy's trade with Africa
  • Garrisons were established which occupied a large number of troops
  • Italy used mustard gas against the Abyssinians and this gave them a reputation for brutality

Impact of the campaign: Tensions grew with Britain and France as a result. They did not want to push Mussolini towards Nazi Germany but recognised the need to prevent further agression by him. They supported only limited sanctions against Italy and in the 1925 Hoare-Laval pact it was stated that they could retain most of Abyssinia but a smaller, independent nation would be established. This was rejected by Mussolini who condemned Britain and France. 

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Spanish Civil War

Mussolni decided to support right-wing Franco during the civil war against those who supported the Spanish Second Republic. This was partly because France supported the Republicans and Mussolni wanted to gain more influence in the Mediterranean. He also did not want to seem subservient to Hitler, who also supported Franco.

He supplied soldiers to the region and provided ground and air artillerary too. Franco defeated the rebublicans in 1939 and the German and Italian support was a key reason for this. Britain and France refused to offer any official support and it was not equal to that offered to Franco by Italy and Germany. Britain and France supported neutrality and Italy and Germany argued they were preventing the rise of Socialism in Europe as the Republicans also recieved support from Stalin and the USSR.

Public opinion turned against Italy in western democracies. There was widespread sympathies with the Republicans cause across Europe and Mussolini's relationship with Hitler became closer as a result, particularly as they were further away from Britain and France.

Franco's victory strengthened Italy and Germany's position in Europe but the intervention was very expensive for Italy and Italian trade was disrupted as a result and fighting went on for much longer than Mussolini had hoped.

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Move towards Germany

The relationship between Italy and Germany was heavily influenced by the personalities of the two leaders. Mussolini both admired and feared Hitler and he was worried that Italy would become subservient in a Nazi-ruled Europe by the end of the the 1930s. Hitler influenced much of Italy's foreign policy moves during the 1930s.

  • In 1938 Hiter carried out Anchluss which directly contravened th Treaty of Versailles. Mussolini's agreement to Anchluss led to him losing support at home-especially after Stresa 1935 where he agreed to support Austrian independence.
  • It also led to Mussolni becoming the weaker partner in the relationship with Germany
  • Mussolini and Hitler came together because of the worsening relationship between Italy, Britain and France and the breakdown of the Stresa Front of 1935
  • The Italian economy became largely dependent on Germany from 1936
  • By the end of the 1930s Mussolini was becoming more impressed by Hitler personally

These factors resulted in the pact being signed with Japan and Germany in 1937 which was driven by a hatred of communism. These powers were known as the Axis Powers and made a formal alliance between Italy and Germany more likely

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Sudetenland 1938

In 1938 Hitler sought the return of the Sudetenland given to Czechoslovakia in the Treaty of Versailles. This worsened European tensions and Mussolini recommended a conference in Munich  between Britain, Italy, France and Germany to solve the crisis. This provided Hitler with a diplomatic way to regain the territory and the resulting agreement did this on the 10 September.

Albania 1939: In March 1939 Mussolini ordered the invasion of Albania, it was launched and the small Albanian force were quickly defeated and King Zog fled to London and  Fascist regime was established. As a result Britain and France agreed to support Turkey and Greece, convincing Mussolini of the need to draw even closer to Germany

Domestic tensions:The alliance with Germany, the introduction of anti-semitic laws in 1938 and the prospect of war appalled many elites and some Fascists who became disillusioned with the regime. Anti-German feeling was reported among all social classes and the population was unenthusiastic and unprepared for war. The increased propaganda and military spending angered many especially after the failures in the Battle for the Lira and the Battle for Grain. Fascist squads would still violently attack those who externalised their views against the regime.

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Pact of Steel 1939

The Pact of Steel was signed in May 1939 and was a formal alliance between Germany and Italy. Hitler wanted the alliance because of his plans to invade Poland in 1939. The alliance would mean that the British and French forces were forced to remain in the Mediterranean instead of fighting in Germany.

The pact committed Germany and Italy to supporting eachother at a time of war, even if they had started the war. Therefore, Italy was effectively confined to following Germany's foreign policy. Mussolini sent Hitler a message after signing it to say that Italy were not prepared for war and Hitler ignored this and invaded Poland in September anyway. Italian neutrality 1939-40: Italy remained neutral until June 1940. She was supportive of Germany's actions but did not wish to actively participate in the war. There were reasons why she chose this:

  • The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 was a secret agreement between Germany and USSR to divide Poland between them after the invasion and avoid war for 10 years. Mussolini saw this as a sign of betrayal to the Axis Powers
  • Mussolini was playing a waiting game, he did not want to commit to the losing side in the war
  • Italy was not ready for war- Italy's economy, industry and military were all unprepared for war.
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Impact of WW2

Hitler's Blitzkrieg attack against France in May 1940 was successful and German forces made quick progress. Mussolini was frustrated by Italy's neutrality and decided that she should enter the war in June 1940:

  • He feared Italy becoming a second-rate country to Germany
  • Mussolini believed in war and violence as a way to achieve political goals and glorify Fascism
  • He became a victim of his own propaganda and needed to portray himself as a man of action
  • It appeared that the Allies were close to defeat and he wanted Italy to be on the winning side
  • Italy's entrance into the war was not welcomed domestically or by Hitler France: on 21 June 1940 France declared an armistice with Nazi Germany and Italy launched an offensive along the Alpine front. Italy's army only advanced a few miles before being pushed back by French forces. The armistice was signed on 22 June and the gains for Italy were very small- two small towns.North Africa: Mussolini was affronted by the poor gains along the French offensive. He tried to make gains in North Africa and ignored the advice of his troops and invaded British Somaliland,  Egypt and the Suez Canal in September 1940. The counter attack devestated Italian forces. British forces advanced and took Libya and Abyssinia. 125,000 Italian soldiers were taken prisonerand German forces had to retrieve the situation. 
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The Mediterranean

Mussolini's failure to act decisively in the Mediterranean highlighted the weakness of the Italian navy and the air force:

  • Gibraltar was an important choke-point for Britain, even after British forces were ejected from the region, Italy was reluctant to assert claims and take action in the colony
  • Malta posed a constant threat of a close blockade of southern Italy by British naval and air bases. Italian forces had insufficient training to launch a strong attack on the island. Malta also threatened Italy's supply lines with Libya
  • In 1940 Mussolini refused Hitler's offer of the French colony of Tunisia- fearing that Italy would be dragged into a prolonged campaign by French colonial authorities
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Greece: Mussolini decided to use Albania as a base to invade Greece and gain some more territory. He did not inform Hitler as he saw the Balkans as his sphere of influence. October 1940 Italian ambassadors presented Greece with an ultimatum- grant Italy the right to occupy Greece for Italian neutrality. Greece rejected the offer and 28 October 1940 70,000 troops invaded Greece from Albania.

Invasion did not go well, army was small, determined and knew the area well so it took longer than Mussolini expected. Many Italians surrendered and a Greek counter-attack in December 1940 drove the Italians back into Albania. A spring offensive by the Italians did very little to help them. British navy also inflicted a crushing defeat to the Italian navy at Cape Matapan in March 1941.

The Greek campaign made Italy a laughing stock around Europe and drew Hiter's disapproval. In spring 1941 Germany invaded and took over Greece and Yugoslavia. Both countries surrendered in 1941. The Balkan coast was under German control and Italy was clearly the partner in the alliance.

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War economy and military weakness

In 1940 the Italian economy and military were unprepared for war. The army was poorly equipped, undermanned and badly commanded and there were shortages of fuel and ammunition. Furthermore, Allied bombing raids into northern Italy dramatically dented industrial production.

Italy's economy was not geared towards war. The total economic proportion of Gross Domestic Product towards the war never exceeded 25% in comparision to Germany's 64%. As a result, weapons, food and clothing were in short supply which meant that smaller British forces could defeat substantial Italian armies.

Fascist Italy had failed to develop an efficient centralised economy directed towards efficient war production. The bureaucratic system was poorly led, inefficient and corrupt. There was no economic reorganisation and vital war materials had not been stockpiled until June 1940.

The Italians depended almost entirely on German coal for fuel due to a shortage in oil imports. Germany could only send Italy 1 million tonnes of coal per month, and Italian factories lacked basic raw materials. This led to a poor rate of weapon and ammunition production. Steel production fell in wartime. By 1942 better arms production was achieved, but this was then destroyed in Allied bombing.

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Military weakness

  • There were no clear lines of command during the war and the organisation was poor
  • Mussolini insisted on being in control but he had little experience or knowledge of warfare and thus he failed to achieve a coherent strategy
  • The military academies were outdated and field officers were poorly trained as a result, with poor equipment as well
  • There was an overall lack of planning and strategy
  • Lack of morale- the army were used to losing by spring 1941
  • Weapons were inadequate and there was only enough weapons to arm half of the units
  • Many were still using the same sorts of equipment which had been used in the First World War
  • Clothing an food rations were inadequate
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Political tensions by 1943

From late 1942 disullusionment with and opposition to the Fascist regime was increasing.Allied bombing raids took their toll on morale and protests turned into political and anti-fascist demonstrations. When the government restricted an evacuation allowance to the heads of the house only 100,000 workers went on strike for a week in March 1943- most significant strikes since 1925.

Workers began to protest openly about their working conditions- longer working hours- more working pressure and Allied bombing of factories. The strikes in March 1943 marked more of an organised opposition to the regime, factories were also at a standstill because of the lack of fuel and raw materials.

Declining living standards were an important reason for opposition to the fascist regime. Food shortages were endemic and prices rose to unprecedented levels. Groups which had been historically opposed to fascism such as Catholics and Socialists saw a chance to attract support and oppose the regime. Socialist and Communist groups encouraged by the extent of the Milan strikes grew in influence and numbers. The Fascist propaganda machine began to fall apart in 1943 as an increasing number of people listened to the news from trusted resources like the Vatican's radio service and Britain's world service.

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Other factors in 1943

Other factors:

  • Returning soldiers with TB brought news of the conditions on the front line adding to the disillusionment of the population.
  • The loss of 200,000 soldiers at Stalingrad infuriated many Italians who saw it as Germany's war.
  • Skilled Italian workers had been sent to work in German factories
  • Many Italians were opposed to the brutal elements of the soldiers used in Yugoslavia and Greece
  • Younger Fascists were angered by the exemption of senior PNF members from the military service

By Mid-July Italy was close to a military defeat. Allied forces had landed in Sicily and were making rapid advances against both German and Italian forces. Mussolini blamed a range of people for this, from various Italian generals to Hitler. Most Italians, however saw Mussolini as the reason for their problems. They were convinced that the war had been lost and they wanted to abandon the German alliance and remove Mussolini from power and reach a peace agreement with the Allies. By 1943 this view was even held by leading Italian Fascists as well.

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Deposition of Mussolini 1943

Allied forces landed in Sicily on 10 July 1943. They hoped the invasion would lead to the collapse of the Italian Fascist regime and the withdrawal of Italy from the war. US forces were led by Lieutenant Patton and General Montgomery led the British ground forces. The main forces landed in Sicily. British and American soldiers drove the German and Italian troops from Sicily after 38 days of fighting and the Italian mainland was now under threat from the Allied powers.

Allied troops encountered only light resistance and Hitler only had two German divisions left in Sicily and the defence was weakened by German and Italian losses in North Africa.

The Allied invasion of Sicily fatally undermined the Fascist regime and on 25 July Mussolini was deposed and arrested and the first Italian troops withdrew from Sicily. Hitler instructed German foces to make withdrawal plans but to also continue their fierce resistance to Allied attacks. Axis troops were driven back towards the north-eastern corner of Italy.

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Mussolini deposed 1943

Mussolini's removal was partly caused by Victor Emmanuel III. He was pressurised into action by fustrated Italian generals. It was also partly caused by opposition to Mussolini from within the Fascist Grand Council. This was significant since they had been selected for their loyalty to Mussolini and had never seriously threatened his position before.

In 1943, Mussolini announced his intention of holding a meeting of the Grand Council. It had not met since the beginning of the Second World War. He hoped to pressurise its members to declare their support for him and his policies.

Leading Fascists like Grandi saw this as an opportunity to depose Mussolini. The military defeats and subservient relationship to Hitler had made them lose faith in Mussolini as a leader. Grandi, Botai and Ciano aimed to persuade other Grand Council members to support Grandi's solution of having Mussolini deposed. The  King would become the new head of parliament andof the Grand Council.

The meeting was held on 24 July. The council voted 19 to 7 to support Grandi and Mussolini initially ignored the vote and met with the king on 25 July. He intended to intimidate the King into supporting him.During the meeting the King told him that he believed that the war was lost and had Mussolini replaced as Prime Minister with Badoglio and he was then arrested and taken away.

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Republic of Salo 1943

12 September 1943 Mussolini was taken from prison by German paratroopers and placed in charge of the Salo republic. Northern Italy was a scene of bitter resentment between Partisans and those who supported the regime.

The republic was established with no clear line of authority with Mussolini at its head. Hitler would not let Mussolini develop a central government in Milan because of fears he would develop an effective power base and gain support that may undermine the Germans.Rome was made the official capital even though it was not under Mussolini's control.

The republic lasted 600 days. Mussolini was both Head of State and Foreign Minister and he refused to recognise the authority of the king. Various governement departments were established under loyal Fascists and the PNF were replaced by the Republican Fascist Party- its small membership shows the unpopularity of the Fascists.

The republic had an army, navy and an air force which fought aside the German forces with around 50,000 men. Fear and oppression were used to 'encourage' participation. There was a Fascist police force and a milita who played a key role in fighting the partisans.

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Mussolini's deposition

All of those who supported Grandi's motion on 25 of July were condemned to death and 5 were executed, including Mussolini's son in law, Ciano.

The power of the Salo republic was very limited because:

  • Many Italians had lost faith within the regime and the Fascists
  • The republic depended heavily on German support
  • Mussolini was treated as a puppet leader by the German power
  • Musolini had lost his charisma and was suffering with ill health
  • By 1944 the partisans posed a serious threat to German forces and the Salo republic
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Deposition of Mussolini

The government in the south:

The part of Italy ruled by the King and the Provisional government was small. The Allies directly ruled Sicily and most of Southern Italy as the Allied Military Government. The Provisional government controlled Sardinia and four south-eastern provinces. The government had minimal influence, even after the signing of the Armistice on the 8 September 1943. It barely had an army and was led by Badoglio who was replaced by Bonomi as he was seen as being too close to the Fascist government.

Fighting in Italy was slow and bitter, with many Italians having to live in terrible conditions with an extoritionate black market and widespread corruption. This made Italians less supportive of the Allies. Gradually politics in the south returned to 'normal' - alliances of Catholics Socialists and Liberals coming together to form a government

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German surrender and Mussolini's death 1945

German surrender: in January 1944 Allied troops landed and in May the German defence line collapsed. Cassino fell into Allied hands and by April 1945 Germany was on the verge of defeat itself and her troops rapidly retreated back to the Austrian border.

At 61, Mussolini lacked the Charisma and the health to still be the 'man of action' he always was. He blamed the Italian population for the failure in the war and the vast majority of Italians were disengaged from Fascist propaganda. Mussolini hoped a new German 'miracle' could reverse the Allies' military advance. He also hoped that the USA and Britain would turn on the USSR and would need the support of Italy and Germany, but those hopes were completely unrealistic.

On 9 April 1945 the Allies launcged a final push into northern Italy and they pushed across the Po Valley in May and German forces finally surrendered on 2 May 1945.

Mussolini tried to leave Italy but was stopped by communist partisans on his way to the border of Switzerland and he was taken prisoner and killed

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Politics after the war

The Second World War had been disastous for Italy, high unemployment, high cost of living, and loss of nearly all of her foreign territories. The first post-war government consisted of Socialists, Communists and Christian Democrats- providing a show of unity. After 5 months the new government was founded in November 1945 and it was dominated by Christian Democrats.After the war the king was unable to regain his authority and he abdicated in April 1946. The Italians voted for a republic at 52% to 48%, after King hoped that his son Umberto may be able to revive support for the monarchy. North voted mainly for a republic and the south voted to keep the monarchy. A new electoral system was introduced based on proportional representation.

Elections of 1946:Christian democrats won 207 seats.Communists won 102 seats.Socialists won 115 seats and the Liberals won 41

The Senate was to be elected and the Prime Minister was to be chosen by parliament. Government was led by a cabinet of ministers who were responsible for parliament.

This goverment was anti-fascist by construction and definition. It was a weak government that would not be able to repeat the Fascist years.

Impact of WW" saw the collapse of Fascism and the emergence of democracy

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