The closest one could come to putting a date on the beginning of Fascism in Italy would be to magically zip back in time to March 23, 1919, where in a Milan's Piazza San Sepolcro, the founding fathers of Fascism. As their ideas evolved, they began to be more vocal. In 1921 they developed a plan for action for the nation of Italy. That plan evolved as time progressed, but it was still complete enough to actually win the hearts and minds of the people. "While failing to outline a coherent program, fascism evolved into a new political and economic system that combined corporatism, totalitarianism, nationalism, and anti-Communism in a state designed to bind all classes together under a capitalist system....one in which the state seized control of the organization of vital industries. Under the banners of nationalism and state power, Fascism seemed to synthesize the glorious Roman past with a futuristic utopia." (Wikipedia, Fascism) in May of 1921, Mussolini's party won 35 seats in the parliamentary elections. Though it had appealed to some of labor's concerns earlier, now Fascism also appealed to the right by working to stop strikes and appease the working class. This approached increased those willing to vote for Mussolini, who in 1922 became the premiere of the right-wing cabinet. "The transition to outright dictatorship was more gradual than in Germany a decade later, though in July 1923 a new electoral law all but assured a Fascist parliamentary majority. The murder of the Socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti eleven months later showed the limits of political opposition. By 1926, opposition movements had been outlawed, and in 1928, election to parliament was restricted to fascist-approved candidates."
There are a number of reasons why Italy, of all the nations in Europe, would have been the first to embrace fascism. The return of a past history of the great race of Rome no doubt seemed particularly appealing to a people broken with "national shame and humiliation stemming from Italy's 'mutilated victory' at the hands of the World War I postwar peace treaties seemed to converge" (Wikipedia, Fascism) However, what may be just as important is the overwhelming influence which the Roman Catholic church has in Italy, for about this time Pope Leo XII had begun to preach a social message calling for governments to be much stronger and more regionalistic. This message was embodied in the document called the Rerum Novarum.
The Rerum Novarum] called for strong governments to undertake a mission to protect their people from exploitation, while continuing to uphold private property and reject socialism. It also asked Roman Catholics to apply principles of social justice in their own lives... Pope Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum anticipated much of the doctrine that became known as fascism. Forty years later, the corporatist tendencies of Rerum Novarum were underscored by Pope Pius XI's May 25, 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which restated the hostility of Rerum Novarum to both unbridled competition and class struggle." (Wikipedia, Fascism)
Not only did the Catholic church support the basic tenets of Italian Fascism, it also actively worked to place and keep Mussolini in power, and eventually benefited from that power. In the 1920s, there was in Italy a Catholic political party, the Partito Popolare, which was opposed to Mussolini and apparently aware of his projected coup and planned to deal with it. However, Pope Pieus XI sent out orders demanding that all clergy refrain from being involved with that party and that they remain neutral in politics. This very suddenly undercut the ability of that Catholic party to stop Mussolini. When the Fascist dictator finally came into his power, the traded tit-for-tat with the Catholic church, which agreed to dissolve the Partito Populare and replacing it was a program called Catholic Action, which was specifically designed not to be a threat to the incumbent. "The organization was forbidden by the Vatican to participate in politics, and thus was not permitted to oppose the fascist regime. Pius XI ordered all Catholics to join Catholic Action." (Wikipedia, Fascist)
Unlike under some fascist rulers, it appears that the people of Italy were actually relatively contented under the rule of Mussolini until such time as he began to get the nation involved in wars that were unnecessary and detrimental to the struggling populace of this country first. Of course, there was some resistance. Fascism was mostly popular with the middle and upper classes. The poor and rural individuals often were those that stood against fascism, and this was particularly true of the revolutionary and anarchist grouped that had predated fascism. Though sources tend to speak about the socialist and anarchist backgrounds that many of the Fascists came from, they also indicated that the bowing down of these groups to Fascism was not a foregone conclusion, and enforcing the background culture of Italy was not always enough to stop radical anarchists from protesting fascism. "The anarchists' will and courage were not enough to counter the fascist gangs, powerfully aided with material and arms, backed by the repressive organs of the state. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists were decisive in some areas and in some industries, but only a similar choice of direct action on the parts of the Socialist Party and the General Confederation of Labour [the reformist trade union] could have halted fascism." [Red Years, Black Years, pages 1-2] However, in the end it would not be come great external force or bottom-up revolution -- in the end, fascism would fall by its own weight.
Mussolini and the Fascist experiment eventually came to an end through the weight of his own poor choices. "[There developed] a catalogue of disasters for the ill equipped Italian Army. Mussolini, oblivious to this encouraged foray upon foray in which the Italians suffered many deaths.... At home though, the propaganda began to fail. News of mass deaths in the army, combined with extreme hardship for normal citizens ultimately had an effect. When Mussolini declared war on the Americans, senior politicians decided they had had enough." (Pagewise) Fascism ended there because the people, including Mussolini's trusted officials, decided that no national pride was worth seeing thousands of their youth slaughtered in a war.
Before concluding this section on Fascism in Italy, one would do well to take a quick look at the leader of the pack. Benito Mussolini was the charismatic leader of this movement, and much of its success and its eventually failure lay on his shoulders. On the one hand, he was an architect, who had spent his entire life looking for an answer for society. He had formerly been a leader of a radical segment of the Italian Socialist Party, and "After his turn to the right, Mussolini continued to employ much of the rhetoric of socialism, substituting the nation for social class as the basis of political loyalty." (Wikipedia, Fascist) He presented a truly inspiring image of the state needing the love and devotion of its citizens, allowing individuals to feel as if they are not obeying orders out of coercion but out of true interest in the subject. On the other hand, Mussolini was weak in that he allowed the power of his position to escape him and he got caught up in wielding that power even when it was inappropriate (such as going into battles which could not be won, or for that matter exporting Jews who had previously been supportive allies)
Fascism in Spain: Knowledge of Good and Evil
Fascism in Spain under Francisco Franco is a slightly more complex issue because historians pose some debate as to whether or not it was truly fascist. He was originally supported in his bid for power by a local Fascist group (the Falangist), but many of them were killed during the war and several others took their own leave, which those that remained were apparently relatively marginalized within Franco's camp. His ruling party is described by Wikipedia as being relatively heterogeneous, so much so that the author there suggests that it "barely qualif[ied] as a party at all, and certainly not an ideological monolith like the Fascio di Combattimento (Fascist Party)... His Spanish State was chiefly a conservative - even traditionalist - rightist regime, with emphasis on order and stability, rather than a definite political vision." (Wikipedia, Francisco Franco) However, it meets many, and possibly all of the main traits characteristics of a fascist nation. The Franco reign in Spain certainly showed disdain for human rights, seemed to claim a great supremacy of the military, displayed bonds between the religious and ruling elite, fraudulent elections and general oppression of labor, intellectuals, media, etc. Still, some disagree that Franco was a fascist. "While there was a definite fascist element during the first decade of Franco's rule, most analysts have concluded that early Francoism can more accurately be described as semifascist." (Library of Congress Country Studies) Be that as it may, Fascist or semifascist, Franco may provide a decent example of a very different way in which such a…