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In this essay, I will be arguing
that the legacy of Nazism left the German people with mixed emotions. Hitler
was seen as either a villain for ethnically cleansing six million Jewish people
or as a hero by improving the German economy and reducing unemployment. In
comparison to the legacy of Fascism, it did not disappear after the Second
World War. It left a powerful legacy which guaranteed strong continuities
between the Fascist regime and the Democratic Republic of the post-War period.
Other factors such as the Cold War and the consequent fear of Communism in
Italy, the economic ‘miracle’ of the 1950s and 1960s, contributing to the
Italian development as a modern, democratic, capitalist state in the post-War
period has been shaped by the legacy of Fascism.


By 1932 the Nazis had legally
become the strongest party in the Reichstag, although never a majority. Traditional
authoritarian conservatives and nationalists wanted them in a right-wing,
national-unity government but refused to accept the demand of their leader,
Adolf Hitler, that he head such a government. Caught in between the extremes of
right and left and overwhelmed by internal divisions, the weak democratic
middle was unable to act decisively to save the Republic. Convinced that the
Nazis could be handled, Hindenburg ultimately overcame his contempt for the
“Austrian corporal,” and on January 30th, 1933, Hitler became
chancellor. By March 1933, Hitler had removed all significant opposition in
Parliament after the Nazis pushed through an Enabling Act that essentially
granted him dictatorial powers (Conradt, 2013,

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Whereas Fascism was an
ultra-nationalist movement that believed that only a voluntarist minority could
create a great Italy. For Mussolini, ‘the Risorgimento was only the beginning’ (Foot, 2014, p.53). Italy was unfinished,
unmade, incomplete. This sense of extreme nationalism, which used violence to
impose its will, along with its symbols and its songs and uniforms, was
combined with an intense contempt for the majority of the Italian people.
Fascism tended to view Italians as a fundamentally weak people, who needed to
be continually forced and ‘tested’ from above in order to become part of an
Italian nation. As Benito Mussolini claimed, “united in a solid united
structure… war is an exam for populations… it must show the world that Italy is
able to make war, a great war… so Italians can be proud to be Italian” (Foot, 2014, p.53).  


The socialist aspect of National
Socialism and Hitler’s professed opposition to plutocracy were intended to
generate mass support for the leader. According to J. Noakes and G. Pridham,
“the Nazis’ success in creating a positive image of Hitler as ‘Führer’ …
was the result of skilful propaganda by Goebbels and his Ministry” (Collier, 2009, p.136). Nevertheless, the Nazis
implemented a variety of popular measures for the majority – including holidays
through the Kraft Durch Freude (Strength through Joy) program, goods such as
cheap radios and the ‘people’s car’ (Volkswagen), and a number of free-time
activities such as the annual Nazi Party Rally in Nuremberg and the Hitler
Youth. All these measures were used for propaganda and indoctrination purposes.
Thus, this helped portray Hitler as a national leader above politics, selfless
in his dedication to the service of the German people. Moreover, the Nazis did
reduce unemployment through public work schemes, i.e. the Autobahn, rearmament,
and remilitarisation – although it is argued that the economy would have
improved under any regime. Regardless of the party’s views of its ‘left’ wing,
whose leaders were liquidated or had fled by 1934, “a strong state and the
leadership principle were the ideas guiding Hitler’s policies on capitalism and
socialism, organisations and group interests, reform and revolution” (Conradt, 2013, p.15). 


As Hitler had promised the
elimination of Jews as the greatest threat to the German race began shortly
after he came into power. On April 1st, 1933, the Nazis started a boycott of
Jewish shops in Berlin. Over the next coming months, Jews were removed from
political positions and limited in their economic activities. In 1935 the
Nuremberg Race Laws deprived half million Jews of all political and civil
liberties. Terror and violence were used on a mass scale beginning in November
1938 when the Nazis used the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a
young Jew as an excuse to loot and burn Jewish shops and synagogues throughout
the Reich – the so-called Night of the Broken Glass (Conradt, 2013, p.15-16). The Nazi system was directed at the
total mobilisation of Germany for the purpose of running an aggressive war.
Therefore, during World War II, the territories conquered by the German armies,
witnessed the full horror of Nazism. To launch Hitler’s ‘New Order,’ millions
of European civilians and prisoners of war – men, women and children, were
systematically murdered by special Nazi extermination units and regular Germany
army personnel. Furthermore, military conquest meant the ‘final solution’ of
the ‘Jewish problem’ (Conradt, 2013, p.17).
After a period of deportation and forced ghettoization, as well as the mass
shooting of over two million Jews, large concentration camps like the
Auschwitz-Birkenau, serviced by special railway lines and selected Nazi
personnel, killed millions more. By 1945, six million European Jews had been


The legacy of Nazism left mixed reactions
within the German people. For example, in 1951, 42% of adult West Germans and
53% of those over 35 still stated that the pre-war years of the Third Reich
were ‘best’ that Germany had witnessed in the 20th century (Conradt, 2013, p.16). Those were years of
economic growth and at least a superficial prosperity. Unemployment was
practically eliminated; inflation was checked; and the economy, fuelled by
public expenditures, boomed. The fact that during these ‘good years’ thousands
of Germans were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in concentration camps, and
hundreds of thousands of German Jews were systematically persecuted, was
apparently of minor importance to most citizens in comparison with the economic
and policy successes of the regime. On the other hand, when The Third Reich
collapsed in May 1945 as American, Soviet, British, French, and their Allied
forces defeated the German armies and occupied the Reich, the future of German
politics was unclear. The destruction of the Nazi system brought military
occupation and massive uncertainty about the future of Germany as a national
community, much less a political system. The ruined country and the millions of
victims killed by the war that Nazi Germany unleashed brought Germany to ‘Zero
Hour’ (Conradt, 2013, p.18). Between 1945 and 1949, Germany’s
conquerors reduced the size of its territory, divided the remainder into four
zones of military occupation, and established two new states out of these
zones: The Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.  Simply, the absolute bottom had been reached.
As a result, the Allies had determined the post-War policy imposed on Germany.
This included that Germany was to be denazified; any traces of the Nazi system
were to be removed and its top Nazi and government officials tried as war
criminals. Germany was to be demilitarised, with its capacity to wage
aggressive war forever removed. Post-War Germany was to become a democratic
society; extensive programs of political education were to be designed and
implemented in the post-War period. Also, a complete reform of the educational
system was included under this democratisation program. Finally, the former
Reich was to be decentralised, with important political responsibilities
delegated to states (Länder) and local governments under a system of
constitutional federalism.


In the 1930s, circumstances did
change and, like any good politician, Mussolini took advantage. These changes
allowed him to pursue what he had always wanted to do; his aims remained the
same but the opportunities increased. Nonetheless, Italy’s foreign policy and
its stance on the war deeply affected the position of the country in the
post-War world, undermining its influence and authority at international level.
The evolution of the Fascist foreign policy was divided into two phases. The
first phase was between 1922-1929. Mussolini pursued a low-profile foreign
policy. Moderation and prudence were the key elements for Italy to win back the
trust of the European Great Powers after World War 1 (Villani, 2015). This low-profile foreign policy was justified
by the need for concentrating Italian political efforts on the solution of
internal problems and on the consolidation of the ‘New Born’ regime. These
circumstances distracted temporarily Mussolini’s attention from foreign affairs
(Villani, 2015). However, his ultimate
objective was to improve Italy’s influence in Europe as to integrate the
country among the European Great Powers. Italy aimed at progressively bringing
up the issue of the territorial losses it suffered as a consequence of the WW1
Treaty of Peace. Also, some indication of imperialism began to fill Italy’s
foreign policy, as the country had never stopped to look at Africa as an area
where to project its influence in order to become a great power. During this
phase, Italy opposed to the rise of Germany, as it began to perceive Germany as
a threat to its national security. Since those key elements made the Fascist
strategy appear to be the continuation of the post-Utilitarian liberal tradition,
the Italian diplomacy supported Mussolini’s foreign policy.


The second phase of the fascist
foreign policy was in 1929. Dino Grandi was appointed Minister of Foreign
Affairs. This was a turning point for the Fascist regime as moderation and
prudence were abandoned and replaced by the ‘policy of determinant weight’ (Villani, 2015). This was based on the idea
that although Italy was weak from a military perspective, its presence in the
European scenario had become essential. Grandi was positive that Italy could
act as the arbiter of the status quo in Europe, the regional equilibrium relying
on its actions and stances (Villani, 2015).
In order to fulfil this policy, Grandi promoted a strong pacifism in Italy’s
international relations. In this phase, the Italian foreign policy remained
separated from the Fascist ideology. Therefore, in 1930 Mussolini overthrew
Grandi and took control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs himself. Mussolini
believed that Grandi’s objective could only have been realised in a long-term
perspective whereas Mussolini aimed at quickly integrating Italy among the
Great Powers. Moreover, Mussolini disagreed with Grandi’s pacifism and began to
consider him as a threat to the Fascist regime. Nonetheless, Mussolini
continued to carry out Grandi’s policy of determinant of weight in order to
improve Italy’s influence in the European sphere. This allowed Mussolini to
introduce the Four-Powers Pact proposal to the UK, France and Germany. This
aimed at promoting peace maintenance and cooperation for peaceful settlement of
disputes as well as revising WW1 Peace Treaties. Italy could then play a
stronger role, balancing the interest of the four involved powers while
expanding Italian influence in the European system of states (Villani, 2015).


The memory of Fascism played an
important role in the construction of the post-War Italian political system.
First, the abolition of the monarchy by popular referendum in 1946 was partly
the result of that institution’s relationship with Fascism. Other characteristic
features of the 1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic testify to the desire
to avoid a repetition of Fascism: the creation of a weak executive, that is,
presidential and prime ministerial power, and a powerful
legislature-parliament; the return to the proportional representation voting
system; and the introduction of other constitutional checks and balances, such
as the constitutional court (Pollard, 1998,
p.136). Furthermore, the fear of the threat of Communism induced
governments in the 1940s and 1950s to delay implementing the Constitution. This
factor also ensured the survival of much repressive Fascist legislation, most
recognisably in the area of police powers and public order regulations (Pollard, 1998, p.136). Other aspects of the
legacy of Fascism constituted threats to the democratic system itself.
Particularly, the resurgence of squadrism, the use of violence for political
ends, threatened to destabilise the new Republic. Martin Clark has argued that
the phenomenon of squadrism did not die with Fascism in 1945, rather it
remained a part of the Italian political culture and practice, resurfacing on
moments of acute economic and social crisis and political tension, it’s
essential preconditions (Pollard, 1998, p.136).
Specifically, he argues that a deep fear of Communism was a major influence to
the resurgence of squadrism/right-wing political violence. However, right-wing
political violence strongly manifested itself in the late 1960s and early
1970s. This was an era of student and youth agitation, new social movements,
including women’s and gay’s liberation, widespread social unrest and trade
union militancy in Italy. Moreover, the neo-Fascist terrorist gangs of this
period were a backlash against all this left-wing activity and also against the
emergence of left-wing terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades. In comparison
to the left-wing terrorists, they tend to attack, harm and sometimes kill
individual targets, such as ex-prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978. They also
attacked the terrorists of the right, such as S.A.M (‘Mussolini Action Squad’),
by planting bombs in public places which killed dozens of innocent bystanders
and passers-by. As a result, this was part of a so-called ‘strategy of
tension’, a campaign designed to lead to a breakdown of law and order and the
following collapse of public confidence in a democratically elected government,
triggering a takeover by the army (Pollard,
1998, p.136). Certainly, in the 1960s and 1970s, there were several
unsuccessful coup attempts.


Overall, the legacy of Nazism
both deters and amuses. Back then, people considered Hitler a political
Messiah. Their descendants tried to relativize this in two directions: Hitler
as a demon for causing the death of 6 million Jews, or Hitler as the man who brought
Germany the Autobahn and removed unemployment – a man with a somewhat credible
track record (Görlach, 2014).
Furthermore, the modern German history in terms of class conflict and the
struggle for economic control made possible the rise of the Nazis to power.
Also, the Western powers were another reason who helped make Hitler’s regime
possible. For example, those Western powers, in order to protect their own
interests, pursued an anti-Soviet policy of appeasement hoping that Hitler’s
dictatorship would ultimately do their bidding; namely the destruction of the
Soviet Union (Wegner, 1992, p.475-476).
In comparison to the legacy of Fascism, Fascism did not disappear in 1945. Many
Italians remained committed fascists, often in silence, while others were still
attracted by the policies and the ideologies of the regime which had ruled the
country for 20 years. After the war, there was a re-edition of the Fascist
Party, formed by neo-fascists in 1946 and given the name of the Italian Social
Movement (MSI). The MSI had its strongholds in the south. Their policies were
anti-communist and raised the record of the fascist regime, whilst picking up
on the shift to more social policies under the Republic of Salò. Neo-fascists
developed their own version of history and their own ceremonies to fight those
of the new Republic. 

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