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Rise to Power
In October 1922, Benito Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister of Italy by Victor Emmanuel III. Following the assassination of Matteoti and banned other political parties other than the National Fascist Party by 1928, Mussolini turned his attention to conspiring to depose the frustrating conservative monarchy of the House of Savoy.
Mussolini along with other Fascist members on November 10, 1928 met in Milan and designed a conspiracy to overthrow the Savoy monarchy without alienating Italians. On December 2, 1928, major members of the Italian House of Savoy were called to meet Mussolini to discuss "issues concerning the monarchy". Upon the members including the King arriving to meet Mussolini, the meeting was stormed by Fascist Black Shirts who arrested the King and the other members of the House of Savoy on the charge of "treason against the Italian nation" and "accessory to treason against the Italian nation". Utilizing the fact that the Savoy had mixed heritage, including strong French heritage the Fascist media proclaimed that King Victor Emmanuel III after World War I, agreed to let go of Italian territorial claims on Dalmatia and imperial expansion into the Middle East in order to appease the French members of the House of Savoy who along with the French government, according to the Fascists bribed members of the House of Savoy in Italy to give up their claims. After the official declaration went out, Benito Mussolini made an emergency speech and declared "I declare with great frustration and anger to the Italian People, the devastating truth that We were betrayed by the House of Savoy in the Great War. We Fascists always had our suspicions and our original principle of republicanism was based on that. We had hoped that the King had the wisdom and the foresight of his noble knightly warrior ancestors to recognize the importance of a State led by the new knights of Fascism to restore Italy to greatness. But the evidence is clear, the House of Savoy was paid off by France to sell out Italy. (The crowd roars in denunciation of the Savoy) But with this truth, comes a new reality, a truly Fascist Italy. I take with great humility and honour the position of Duce of Italy, which shall now be known as the Italian Empire. Long Live Fascism! Long Live Italy!"
Monarchists and others deemed "irresponsible reactionaries" are purged from the Fascist regime while hardliner Fascists take power. Though the Italian Royal Army had held close ties to the monarchy, the wave of popular support for Mussolini's decision leads the new Italian Imperial Army to accept the Fascist republic but refuses to take part in any persecution of outspoken monarchists. Instead, the Fascist Blackshirts led the attack on activist monarchists.
Aftermath of coup, Industrialization of Italy, creation of the "nobility of the rifle"
With the Italian monarchy overthrown and Fascism fully entrenched as a totalitarian state in the new Italian Constitution of 1929, the Fascist regime turned to focus on industrialization and increased militarization of Italy. The Fascist regime at this time retained significant autonomy for private industries, but demanded that they more fully adhere to Fascist principles. In exchange for the industries cooperating with Fascist labour unions in increasing wages for workers, the regime gave the industries significant funding to copy the mass production industrial system of the United States.
The Fascist regime also began to entrench a system of "nobility of the rifle", a system that gave soldiers preferential treatment in Italy as Nietszchean "super-men" whose merit and honour were to be superior to the economic bourgeois and proletarian classes based on capital. This system was based on Plato's conception of a supreme class of Guardians who were experts in military and intellectual talent who would keep other classes in their place to serve society. Mussolini declared that both bourgeoisie and proletarians could advance to become these nobility through service in war, and reach the highest level of this nobility with high educational achievement and talent combined with their merit and talent as soldiers. This new class system also declared that the bourgeois knowledge and talent in capital combined with the proletariat's knowledge and talent in labour meant that neither bourgeois nor proletariat could operate without each other's cooperation. The new soldier supreme class was to oversee order over the bourgeois and proletariat to avert class conflict while keeping the Italian nation united. By 1934, the new class system had lessened disputes between workers and managers due to the threat of arrest and violence by Fascist Blackshirts who were trained as rifle nobles.
Fascist Italy from 1928 through the 1930s pursued an aggressive foreign policy. From 1928 to 1931, Italy battled and defeated Arab rebels in Libya. With the stock market crash of December 12, 1929, fascism grew in popularity throughout Europe and fascist regimes quickly seized power in Austria and Romania in 1930. Austria effectively became a puppet state of Italy. In 1932, Italy invaded and conquered Ethiopia while France and the United Kingdom could do nothing amid their severe economic condition.
With the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party to power in Germany in 1932, with Hitler elected President, Austria feared invasion by Germany. Mussolini, who was concerned about a belligerent and unreliable German ally sought to hold off German expansion until Italy's industry was up to par with that of the Rhineland. In secret, Mussolini made a deal with Hitler on Austria. Italy committed itself to opposing any German annexation of Austria until 1940 while permitting Germany to annex Austria after 1940. In the meantime, Germany would indirectly pursue its territorial aims outside of Austria proper by sending support to the Austrian government to invade the Sudetenland and Slovenia in Yugoslavia to annex German-populated territories there while Italy would annex Dalmatia from Yugoslavia. Hitler agreed to focus his territorial claims on the former territories of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II, including parts of Poland, Memel, Schleswig-Holstein of Denmark, Eupen-Malmedy of Belgium, and Alsace-Lorraine of France. Mussolini agreed that Italy would assist Germany in annexing Austria from 1940 onward while it would not interfere at in Germany's affairs concerning Poland, the Soviet Union, and Denmark. Both agreed to have a common policy on foreign policy towards Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Yugoslavia. If either party failed with this, the alliance would be nullified. This common foreign policy was created to ensure that no unwanted major conflict in Europe would occur without both of their consent. Afterwards both Hitler and Mussolini declared that their two governments were in alliance and were committed to ensuring the "national self-determination" of the German people of Austria.
In 1935, a fascist regime rose to power in Greece that declared its intention to normalize Greek-Italian relations, resolve issues over Italian control of the Dodecanese Islands, and to found a Greco-Italian alliance to be the "new torch bearers of the legacy of classical civilization of ancient Greece and Rome". Greece negotiated that it would accept Italian control over the Dodecanese and relinquish claims on Albania that Italy also had claims on in exchange for guaranteed rights for the Greeks living there, giving Greece a free hand to seize Cyprus from British control and regain land gained from Anatolia and later lost by Greece to the new Republic of Turkey. Greece and Italy agreed to allow Italian political domination over Egypt as a protectorate should war occur between Italy and Britain, in exchange for Greece annexing the city of Alexandria in the name of preservation of Orthodox Coptic Christian Egyptians and the imperial legacy of Alexander the Great, and Greek military support for Italian war efforts. Greece and Italy agreed that should Italy occupy and seize Egypt by force, Greece and Italy would cooperate to forcibly expel the Muslim Arab populations from Alexandria in exchange for Coptic Christians from across Egypt and Greeks (both Egyptian Greeks and new settlers from Greece) to concentrate in Alexandria to "Christianize" and "Grecify" Alexandria.
In 1936, Germany, Austria, and Hungary with Italy's backing declared that the borders of Czechoslovakia were senseless and that German and Hungarian minorities were being maltreated and that they would take part in a war to "liberate" these people if a solution was not created. The 1936 Czechoslovakia Crisis occurred. France and the United Kingdom did not want a war and negotiated to allow Austria to annex the Sudetenland with Germany also having a supervision responsibility for the Sudetenland region for a period of ten years. Hungary received territories as well. France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom agreed to have their military forces in Czechoslovakia for ten years to oversee "peace" in the country. However France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom had agreed to allow Germany, Austria, and Italy to utilize the industry of Czechoslovakia to produce limited military material, in exchange for Germany to not interfere in the demilitarized industrial Rhineland that bordered France.
In 1937, Germany was allowed to annex the largely German populated territories of Danzig, the Saar, and Eupen-Malmedy while negotiations between Italy, Albania, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria towards Yugoslavia forced the country to cede some territories to them, claimed by irredentists. Italy gained a number of Adriatic islands and the city of Split from Yugoslavia. In 1937, Germany with support of Italy and Japan copied Italy's feat in Ethiopia by invading the independent country of Thailand and making it a colony of Germany.
In 1938, Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria, Hungary, and Vatican City agreed to a convention that demanded the partition of Bethlehem into Christian administered zones of the dominant Christian religions autonomous from the British Mandate of Palestine. The three major zones would be divided into Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox zones. Subsections of the religions along sectarian or national lines would be defined as needed. Hitler pressed that Jews not be permitted to reside in Bethlehem, Mussolini, Hitler and the Vatican compromised by creating a statement saying "the parties in this agreement require absolutely the total Christianization of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, and that this Christianization not be impeded by intrusion of peoples adhering to Judaism and Islam who may threaten the de-Christianization of Bethlehem". Britain responded with initial strong opposition saying that it did not respect foreign intrusion into the governance of its mandate in Palestine. However Italy and Greece responded by shoring up support from the Catholic and Orthodox churches in their countries for a religious partition of Bethlehem. Britain received an unexpected and unwelcome support from the Soviet Union. Stalin declared that he supported the "unity of Bethlehem with Palestine" in the name of opposing "reactionary religious mysticism" being aroused by a partition, and called the plan a "fascist imperialist plot". In the United States, President Roosevelt supported the United Kingdom, declaring that the partition of Bethlehem would not be able to represent all Christians and that the idea of forced Christianization of Bethlehem was against the self-determination of the people residing in the British Mandate of Palestine. Following the U.S. announcement, France carefully stated that the plan was impractical, though it agreed that Christianity should be internationally represented in Bethlehem, a compromise to avoid antagonizing the Catholic Church and left-wing politicians. The strong bloc of opposition by Britain, the USA, the Soviet Union, and France caused Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, and the Vatican to back down and eventually effectively abandon the idea.