O Level Revision : History - The  Emergence of Dictatorships in Italy and  Germany:  1918-1939

A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the Government is ruled by an individual, a dictator. In this government the power rests entirely on one person or group of people. A dictator is not restricted by law, constitution or other social and political factors within the state.

The  Emergence of Dictatorships in Italy and  Germany:  1918-1939

What is dictatorship?


  • Dictators are rulers with complete power over their states.
  • A dictatorship is a system of government where one person or one party creates a totalitarian state controlling most aspects of people’s lives.
  • Dictators do not allow opposition parties.
  • They demand extreme forms of nationalism, such as forcing members to wear uniforms.
  • Dictators do not tolerate criticism, and they spy on both friends and enemies.
  • Dictators depend on the army and the party organs to enforce their ideas.
  • Dictatorships are often very violent.

Reasons for the  rise  of dictators in Europe between 1919 and  1939

  • Italy and  Germany  dictatorships  arose  out  of opposition to the terms of the 1919-1920 Peace Settlement, especially the Versailles Treaty – loss of territories.
  • The democracies  created  after  the  First  World War were unable to form stable governments. Coalitions formed could not last long, e.g. King Victor Emmanuel of Italy was weak and failed to control various political groups which tried to run the country.
  •  In Germany, after the Kaiser there were numerous parties that could not make effective decisions.
  • People feared the rise of communism after World War  1.    
  • Democracies  allowed  parties  to  have private armies and youth movements who spread party propaganda.
  • Dictators promised people stable governments and the removal of communism.
  • Dictators  promised  an  end  to  violence  and  the revival of big, strong armies which people wanted.
  • The armies were not happy and were sympathetic to nationalistic, often militant parties.

Fascism in Italy,  1918–1939

Reasons for the  rise  of Fascists to power  in Italy

(a)  Social and Economic

  • Poverty: Italy was very poor.
  • Unemployment was high.
  • Strikes and demonstrations.
  • Hunger and starvation (food shortages).
  • War debts.
  • High inflation.
  • Crime.
  • Low wages.

(b)  Political

  • Disappointment with the Peace Settlement: Italy was not given the promised territories of Trentino, Trieste, Istria, and South Tyrol Dalmatia.
  • Growing contempt of the parliament system.
  • Mussolini and the Fascist Party offered attractive promises through propaganda.
  • Fear of communism.
  • Use of violence, force, terror and intimidation.
  • Too many political parties in Italy.
  • A weak democracy/government.
  • Mussolini was an orator (public speaker).
  • Political instability.
  • Brigandage.
  • Banditry.
  • Political parties  in  Italy  by  1922:  Communists (Red   Guards),   Socialists,   Nationalists   (Blue Shirts),           Reformists,    Fascists    (Black    Shirts), Liberal Democrats(Radicals), Christian Democrats (Popolari), Liberals (Grey Shirts), The People’s Party.

Mussolini’s domestic policy

(a)  Political policies

  • Mussolini established Fascist dictatorship between 1923 and 1930.
  • 1923, he passed the Acerbo Law in parliament.
  • 1926, Mussolini (lL Duce) passed a law enabling him to govern by decree.
  • All opposition parties were suppressed.
  • He exiled or murdered opponents, e.g. Giacomo Matteotti and Giovanni Amendola.
  • Parliament met, but all crucial decisions were made by the fascist Grand Council led by Mussolini.
  • Mussolini was worshipped as a hero.
  • Local governments run by elected mayors and town councils were abolished.
  • Fascists  believed  in  extreme  nationalism  and totalitarianism.
  • Propaganda was spread through radios, newspapers, schools and at party meetings.
  • Slogans were used, e.g. “Mussolini is always right”.
  • Mussolini killed Fascist Party opponents.
  • Signed the Lateran Treaty (1929) with the Catholic Pope – recognised the Vatican City as a sovereign state.

(b)  Social policies

  • Women were proclaimed inferior to men.
  • The Battle for Wheat improved food supplies in Italy.
  • Established   the   corporate   state   to   promote cooperation between employers and workers.
  • Strikes,    demonstrations    and    lock-outs    were forbidden.
  • Trade unions were banned and the Fascists Union regulated wages, conditions and hours of work.
  • As compensation  for  lost  freedom,  workers  got benefits as free Sundays and holidays with pay.
  • Propaganda was also used in the economic sector.
  • Mussolini created military names for projects, e.g. ‘Battle for Wheat’, ‘Battle for Grain’, ‘Battle of Births’.
  • Bachelors were taxed to encourage them to marry.

Mussolini’s foreign policy

Mussolini followed a very ambitious external policy. The aim was to make Italy look like a great power:

  • 1923, Italy attacked Greece: the Corfu Incident.
  • 1924, Italy took over Fiume Island from Yugoslavia.
  • 1925, Italy signed the Locarno Pact with Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.
  • 1928, signed the Kellog-Briand Pact (Pact of Paris)
  • Signed  the  Non-Aggression  Pact  with  Russia in1933.

There was a strict press censorship.

Radio, films and theatre were controlled.

•     1934,   Mussolini   sent   forces   against   German

seizure of Austria (The Brenner Pass Commission

Schools and universities were closely supervised.


Teachers wore uniforms, and new textbooks were

•     1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia to avenge the defeat of


re-written to glorify the Fascist system.

Italy at Adowa in 1896.

School children criticised teachers who were not

•     1936, Italy was involved in the Spanish Civil War


supporters of the Fascists.

to support General Franco.

Sports  were  brought  under  the  strict  control  of

•     1936, Italy withdrew from the League of Nations.



•     1936,  Italy  signed  the  Rome-Berlin  Axis,  an

aggressive treaty, with Germany under Hitler.


Economic policies

•     1936, Mussolini attended the Stressa Conference

Before 1935, Mussolini introduced public works later withdrew.

with Britain and France.


  • 1933,  attended  the  disarmament  conference  but later withdrew programmes to reduce unemployment: construction of roads, railways, bridges, flats, stadiums, schools and new towns.
  • Electrified main railways.
  • Built ancient buildings to encourage tourism.
  • Improved industries, e.g. by 1930 iron and steel production doubled.
  • He reclaimed land by draining marshes.
  • Started  irrigation   schemes   and   afforestation programmes.
  • 1937, Italy, Germany and Japan signed the Rome- Berlin-Tokyo Pact (the Anti-Comintern Pact).
  • 1939, Italy annexed Albania.
  • 1939, Mussolini signed the Pact of Steel, a full alliance with Germany.
  • 1940, Italy invaded France, already defeated by Germany.
  • 1943,  Italy  was  defeated  and  forced  out  of  the Second World War.
  • Signed trade agreements with Austria and Hungry.

Nazism in Germany  1918-1939

  • Dictators rose from the ranks of weak democracies that had been created at the Paris Peace Conference or came out of collapsing monarchs.
  • Countries were keen to get strong governments which would guide them to rebuild their economies.
  • Initially, dictators were popular but lost popularity when they started abusing people.
  • Political Parties in Germany: Social Democrats, Conservatives (nationalists), Catholic Centre Party, Bavarian People’s Party, National Socialist Party (Nazi).


Reasons for the  rise  of Adolf Hitler in Germany

(a)  Social and Economic

  • From 1922 there was high inflation which worsened in 1924.
  • Wages  failed  to  keep  pace  with  inflation  and workers suffered greatly.
  • From 1929, there was the Great Depression.
  • Banks and factories closed down.
  • Unemployment rose sharply.
  • Hitler and the Nazi offered attractive policies in face of the economic crisis.
  • Promised to get rid of the Communists, the Jews and overthrow the Versailles Settlement and unite all Germans.
  • As the economic crisis worsened, the Nazi grew more popular.  This crisis created Hitler, the dictator.


(b)  Political

  • The collapse of the Weimar Republic (democratic government) which failed to control violence.
  • Because government could not keep law and order, and police were powerless, people began to favour a return to some form of authoritarian system of government.
  • Germans did not appreciate democracy as a system of government. It was foreign democracy.
  • Most Germans  felt  the  Weimar  politicians  had “stabbed them in the back” by rushing to sign the treaty of Versailles.   Hence the Weimar Republic collapsed.
  • The existence of too many political parties.
  • The scheming tactics of Von Papen.
  • Hitler created a Nazi private army (the SA-Storm Troopers.)
  • He had extraordinary political ability and a gift of public speaking.
  • He acted like a saviour for the Germans.
  • Hitler eliminated opponents, created laws to give him total power and prepared for an election.

Hitler’s  steps to power

  • 1933, he prepared a military wing of the Nazi Party, the SS and the SA (Storm Troopers).
  • 1933,  before  elections,  the  Reichstag  building (Germany Parliament building) was burnt down.
  • The Nazi accused the Communists of having set the fire. The innocent communists were arrested. The Nazi had set the fire to the Reichstag building.
  • 1933,   Hitler   was   appointed   Chancellor   by Hindenburg.
  • 1933, Hitler  passed  the  Enabling  Law,  giving himself power to make laws without the Reichstag’s approval.
  • 1933, he appointed Nazi leaders to top posts in government, e.g. Herman Goering as head of the Gestapo (secret police) and Joseph Goebbels as Minister of Propaganda.
  • 1933, he banned trade unions and other political parties.
  • 1933, he legalised one-party state through a law banning the formation of new parties.
  • 1934,  President   Hindenberg   died   and   Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President as Furhrer.

Hitler’s  domestic policy

(a)  Political policies

  • Hitler turned Germany into a dictatorship by use of force.
  • Hitler used the secret police, Gestapo, to control many aspects of people’s lives.
  • Hitler’s  government  could  not  be  opposed  or criticised for fear of persecution.
  • In 1933 Germany became a one-party state.
  • All other political parties were banned except his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NAZI)
  • All elections were banned.
  • Communism was totally banned.
  • Hitler dominated all parliamentary affairs.
  • Conscription was re-introduced in 1935 through the re-armament programme:

-     He started to re-arm Germany in 1934.

-     He enlarged the army.

-     Built the navy and air-force.

  • Hitler organised mass rallies where he addressed millions of Germans.

(b)  Social policies

  • Jews were persecuted (anti-Semitism) and excluded from civil service.
  • Marriage   between   Germans   and   Jews   was prohibited.
  • Education  was  closely  monitored  and  children were indoctrinated with Nazi propaganda.
  • School textbooks were re-written to suit Nazi ideas.
  • Hitler formed  youth  movements:  Hitler  Youth Movement for boys and League of German Maidens for girls.
  • Communication  such    as    radio,    television, newspapers, magazines, books, theatre, films, music and art were controlled and supervised by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
  • Religion was put under state control. Signed the Concordat with the Catholic Pope.

(c)  Economic policies

  • Industrialists  were  told  what  to  produce  and farmers, what to grow.
  • Food prices and rents were controlled.
  • Foreign exchange rates were manipulated to control inflation.
  • Hitler introduced  public  works:  land  drainage, road construction, slum clearing, to reduce unemployment.
  • Workers  were  given  subsidised  holidays,  cheap theatre, paid holidays and insurance.
  • Between  1933    and    1935,    Hitler    reduced unemployment greatly from about six million to about two million and by 1939 had totally wiped out unemployment.

Hitler’s  foreign policy


(a)  Aims

  • To restore Germany to a great power status.
  • Destroying the Versailles Treaty’s war-guilt clause,

arms limitations and reparations.

  • Building a strong army.
  • Recovering lost territories like the Saar and Polish Corridor.

  • Annexation of Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia to bring all Germans into his empire.


(b)  Policies

  • 1933, Hitler withdrew Germany from the world Disarmament Conference.
  • 1933, withdrew from the League of Nations.
  • 1934,  he  signed  the  Non-aggression Agreement with Poland.
  • 1934, Hitler announced rearmament.
  • 1935,  he   signed   the   Anglo-German   Naval Agreement with Britain and so strengthened his army.
  • 1935, he re-militarised the Rhineland against the Versailles Treaty. Britain did not object.
  • 1936, he supported General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, with the support of Mussolini of Italy.
  • 1936, he signed the Rome-Berlin Axis (agreement)with M ussolini of Italy. 1936,  he  signed  the  Anti-Comintern  Pact  with Japan and Italy joined it in 1937. 1937, he signed the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis with Italy and Japan. 1938, he annexed Austria, against the Versailles Treaty. 1938, he attended the Munich Conference.

Trade unions were abolished and their leaders were






Trade unions were replaced by the German Labour


Forum which controlled all workers.

Hitler controlled the country’s economy to reduce


unemployment and made Germany self-sufficient

through increasing exports and reducing imports.



  • 1938, he occupied the Sudetenland.
  • 1938, he attacked the rest of Czechoslovakia.
  • 1939, he signed the Pact of Steel with Italy.
  • 1939, he signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Russia and agreed to partition Poland together.
  • On 1 September1939, he invaded Poland. Britain and France came in to support Poland and the Second World War broke out.