Author Topic: The Coinage of Fascist Italy  (Read 3070 times)

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Offline <k>

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The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« on: August 31, 2018, 04:10:25 PM »
Here is another instalment in my series of topics about Fascism and World War Two.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2018, 04:14:25 PM »

Young Mussolini.



Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio, northern Italy, in 1883. Growing up, he was strongly influenced by the socialist views of his blacksmith father. Though he was a bully at school and often badly behaved, Mussolini nevertheless qualified as a teacher in 1901. He moved to Switzerland in 1902, in order to avoid military service. There he became an active socialist and trade unionist, giving speeches and working for a socialist newspaper. In 1904 he returned to Italy to complete his military service. By 1911 he had become a leading socialist and editor of the Italian Socialist Party’s newspaper.

When the First World War broke out in July 1914, Italy remained neutral. Mussolini at first opposed the war, along with his party, but as nationalism surged throughout Europe, he argued that Italy should join the Allies, since the war would trigger anti-imperialist revolutions and liberate those Italians still under Austro-Hungarian rule. The Socialists expelled him in October 1914 for his pro-war stance, but in November Mussolini, now funded by an armaments firm, started his own pro-war newspaper, called “The People of Italy”. In a speech given in December 1914, Mussolini maintained:

“The nation has not disappeared. We used to believe that the concept was totally without substance. Instead we see the nation arise as a palpitating reality before us! Class cannot destroy the nation. Class reveals itself as a collection of interests—but the nation is a history of sentiments, traditions, language, culture, and race. Class can become an integral part of the nation, but the one cannot eclipse the other.”
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2018, 04:15:31 PM »

Fascist Blackshirts from a Fascio di Combattimento, 1920.



Though still a socialist, Mussolini was critical of dry theoretical Marxism, believing that the masses needed to be guided by a revolutionary elite and inspired by strong emotions and violent myths. Accordingly he founded the Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (Revolutionary Action Group) in December. A “fascio” (plural “fasci”), meaning literally “bundle”, was a loose political grouping. Many other pro-war “fasci” now sprang up.

Italy eventually joined the Allies in May 1915, tempted by promises of territorial gains. Mussolini entered military service in August 1915 but was invalided out with mortar injuries in February 1917. Italy initially suffered many military setbacks, but by early November 1918 it had occupied Austria-Hungary’s entire coastline, including Dalmatia. By the end of the war, however, Italy had lost 600,000 men and inflation was rampant. Italy gained the South Tyrol and part of Istria from Austria-Hungary, but the Allies gave Dalmatia, initially promised to Italy, to the new state of Yugoslavia, and furious Italian nationalists now denounced the “mutilated peace”.

In March 1919 Mussolini founded the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Group) in Milan, with around 200 members of varying political views, but all of them extreme nationalists. Some were demobilised assault troops from the war. These battle-hardened young thugs continued to wear the black-shirted uniform and became known as “Blackshirts”, or alternatively “squadristi”, members of Mussolini’s action squads. However, Mussolini’s group gained only 0.5% of the vote in the November 1919 general election. The Socialists came first, followed by the Catholic People’s Party. Their mutual distrust prevented them forming a majority government, so the corrupt and oligarchic liberal elite continued to provide a weak minority government.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2018, 04:20:31 PM »

Gabriele D’Annunzio in Fiume, Croatia, 1919.



In September 1919 Gabriele D’Annunzio - a nationalist poet and war hero - occupied the city of Fiume (now Rijeka, in Croatia) with the help of 300 supporters. He believed Fiume to be Italian, and he proclaimed himself Duce of the Regency of Carnaro.

D'Annunzio lamented that Italians, despite the unification of 1870, still did not think of themselves as a country. “We have made Italy, but we have not made Italians“.

In Fiume he developed rituals, parades, ceremonies, uniforms and a style of salute that would eventually be copied by Mussolini. He also harangued audiences from a balcony and devised a constitution based on corporatism. On 12 November 1920 the League of Nations approved the Treaty of Rapallo, which overrode D’Annunzio and made Fiume a Free State. D’Annunzio refused to recognise this, then declared war on Italy. On 24 December 1920, the Italian government bombarded the port and forced D’Annunzio and his supporters to surrender the city. Mussolini had watched the affair with interest, while keeping his distance, though it proved to be a great influence on his political style. After D’Annunzio sank into oblivion, attention switched to Mussolini as Italy’s premier nationalist.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2018, 04:23:53 PM »
Meanwhile, through 1919 and 1920, the economic crisis in Italy caused soaring industrial and agricultural unrest. Strikes proliferated and, in August and September 1920, workers occupied factories and declared workers’ councils, while landless peasants seized plots of private land. Many feared there would be a Soviet-style revolution, but a weak government backed down and made concessions to peasants and workers.

The unrest died down, but socialists still were in charge of many municipalities, having been legally elected, and frightened and vindictive landowners and industrialists now launched their fight-back. Increasingly they paid Mussolini’s squadristi to attack socialists and trade unionists and burn down their headquarters around the country. The anti-fascist Left was no match for the Blackshirts, who were better organised, better armed and far more brutal. Meanwhile, the police and military often cheerfully stood back or even supplied the Fascists with weapons, despite the government’s attempts to forbid this.



From “Mussolini the revolutionary”, by de Felice:

Between the end of 1920 and the first months of 1921, the Fasci completely changed physiognomy, character, social structure, key centres, ideology and even members. Of their leaders, only Mussolini and a very few others completely followed this change in all its phases. Many original members fell by the wayside, and a number even passed over to the opposite side, but the majority almost inadvertently found themselves at a certain point different from what they had been in the beginning, supplanted in the leadership of the movement by new elements, of diverse origin and development, tied to quite different realities.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2018, 04:32:15 PM »

The March on Rome.



Fascism, finding the political space on the left already occupied, had now found a vacant space on the right. Fascist membership surged to almost 190,000 by May 1921, and the Fascists won 35 seats in that month’s general election. Mussolini, now a deputy, renamed his movement the National Fascist Party in November 1921. He shunned the three weak coalition governments that followed, denouncing socialism and liberalism alike. Going into 1922, in northern Italy the Fascists took over yet more regional councils by force, but still the state declined to intervene. Mussolini claimed that Fascist violence was a defence against the “red menace”, and he was eagerly believed by many. In October 1922, the impatient regional Fascist bosses urged Mussolini to launch a Fascist coup, but he would agree only to a Fascist “March on Rome”, to pressurise the government.

On October 27, Fascist squads took over strategic points across northern Italy and the march began. The military and police pledged their loyalty to the King, confident they could easily defeat the roughly 30,000 lightly armed Fascists. Next day the Italian premier advised the King to declare martial law. The King hesitated and so the premier resigned in protest. A nervous Mussolini had remained in Milan, but on the evening of October 29, the King asked him by telephone to join a new government. Emboldened, Mussolini insisted on becoming Prime Minister. The King agreed. He wanted an end to weak government and to avoid a potential civil war by co-opting and taming the Fascists, who already had much support within the establishment. On October 30, Mussolini travelled to Rome by train to become premier. His marching Fascists arrived the next day, and Mussolini briefly joined them to pose for photographs. He now fronted a coalition government, but the establishment had unwittingly invited a cuckoo into the nest.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2018, 04:33:01 PM »
According to historian of Fascism, Stanley G Payne: "The total number of deaths from political violence in Italy for the four years 1919 to 1922 may have amounted to nearly 2000". This is a far greater number of deaths from political violence than occurred in Germany in the early 1930s. Furthermore, the Italian Fascists in this early period attacked institutions and the property of the State, whereas the Nazis, before they achieved power, largely confined themselves to - often deadly - street fights and beer hall fights with communists and socialists. After achieving power, the Nazis quickly eclipsed the Italian Fascists in terms of the violence they were prepared to use, however.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2018, 04:39:24 PM »

Italy, gold 20 lire coin, 1923.   Image courtesy of Goldberg Coins.



Gold 20 lire and 100 lire coins were issued in 1923 to commemorate the anniversary of the March on Rome. The coins show King Vittorio Emanuele III on the obverse and the fasces on the reverse. The Fascists had adopted the Roman fasces as their party symbol. The fasces, a bound bundle of rods enclosing an axe, was an ancient Roman symbol of state authority, which the Fascists had adopted as their party emblem. The Fascists had blasted out an ideological space for themselves by claiming to be heirs to the ancient Roman spirit, with which they would forge a modern Roman empire.

The bound rods symbolised strength through unity, reflecting the collectivist ethos of the Fascist mass movement. The fasces represented discipline and potential punishment, again reflected in the Fascist slogan of “Order, discipline, hierarchy”. The Fascists despised what they saw as the sordid compromises of democracy and its insipid egalitarianism, lauding instead strong leadership and heroic acts and maintaining they had seized power through their March on Rome. In fact, the marching Fascists had arrived in Rome only after a power-sharing deal was made. In Munich, an admiring Hitler believed the myth and attempted his own coup in October 1923, but he learned a harsh lesson when it was swiftly put down.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2018, 04:40:36 PM »

A larger view of the reverse.   Image courtesy of Goldberg Coins.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2018, 04:42:45 PM »

Italy, 2 lire, 1923.



A nickel 2 lire non-commemorative circulation coin, with a similar reverse design to the 20 lire coin, was also issued from 1923 to 1927. The 2 lire reverse was designed by Publio Morbiducci but engraved by Attilio Motti.

Morbiducci later produced some superb patterns in the competition for the Irish Free State’s first coinage. The 20 lire reverse had been designed and engraved by Motti. Curiously, he replaced the usual lion’s head, above the axe blade, with a ram’s head - this refers to the image in the previous post.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2018, 04:46:17 PM »
Over the next two decades, the fasces would become as ubiquitous in Italy as the hammer and sickle in the Soviet Union. Fascism, the bastard child of socialism, came to be seen as the mirror opposite of communism, and both were collectivist mass movements that aspired to a one-party totalitarian state. However, the royal portrait on these coins emphasises one major difference: whereas communists came to power by force and smashed the existing system, the Fascists were helped into power by the existing elites. Fascist Italy was in fact a diarchy, in which the King remained head of state, while Mussolini was head of government. Though Mussolini styled himself “Il Duce” (“The Leader”), his portrait never appeared on the coinage; by tradition, that privilege was reserved for the head of state, namely the King. But the monarchy and Fascism were now locked in an embrace that would end in their mutual destruction.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2018, 04:47:08 PM »



The fasces had appeared on many coins worldwide before the Fascist regime adopted it, most notably on the US dime, from 1916 to 1945.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2018, 04:49:22 PM »
Mussolini initially ruled by emergency decree for one year, introducing business-friendly laws, but now in July 1923 he proposed an election law that would give two-thirds of parliamentary seats to the party with the most votes, provided it gained at least 25% of the votes. Many deputies abstained but, with armed Fascist guards at the doors, the remainder was intimidated into voting for the law.

The general election was held in April 1924, amid much intimidation, and the Fascist Party duly gained 65% of the vote, so the new law made little difference. When parliament convened on May 30, socialist deputy Matteotti denounced the Fascists’ violence and electoral fraud. On June 10 he disappeared, and his body was found on August 16. He had been murdered by Fascist thugs, who were duly imprisoned. Mussolini denied involvement but remained paralysed with indecision as the scandal dragged on.

On December 31, thirty leading Fascists told Mussolini to declare a dictatorship or else they would depose him. On January 3 1925, a combative Mussolini told parliament that he accepted responsibility for Fascist errors. However, he would not resign but would continue to govern Italy – “by force, if necessary.” In a still polarised country, he retained the confidence of the King and the establishment. He now purged his violent squadristi but also took control of the Press and banned trade unions (apart from Fascist ones) and strikes.

After a failed assassination attempt against him in 1926, Mussolini banned all opposition parties, and in 1927 he created a state secret police force. For Mussolini, the state was paramount: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” In 1928 he replaced parliament with the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations.  His rule was now complete, and he was answerable only to the king.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2018, 04:51:58 PM »

Italy, 100 lire (gold), 1925.



After the commencement of Mussolini’s dictatorship, Italy predictably issued more coins with Fascist-inspired designs. A gold 100 lire coin of 1925 jointly commemorated the King’s silver jubilee and the tenth anniversary of Italy’s entry into the World War. The reverse included the fasces and showed a nude male holding a statue of the goddess of Victory, while kneeling on “The Peak of Italy” (Vetta d’Italia) and planting an Italian flag on it. This mountain stands in former Austrian territory, which was ceded to post-war Italy.

Until now, nudes on Italian coins had been female, but Fascism was a fundamentally masculine creed. The muscle-bound male projected the youth, virility and heroism to which Fascists aspired. That this distinctly propagandistic piece commemorated World War I was particularly apt, since Fascism derived all its values from that war: murderous nationalism, state-directed violence, and the militaristic values of discipline, hierarchy and camaraderie.
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Re: The Coinage of Fascist Italy
« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2018, 04:56:54 PM »




Images courtesy of Goldberg Coins.



A new silver 10 lire coin was issued in 1926. Its reverse shows an allegorical female driving a chariot. Only the fasces held by the woman identifies this as a Fascist issue.
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