The Transition from Democratic Governments to Dictatorships in European Nations

Germany
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Germany controlled most of central Europe.

The Establishment of Germany's Weimar Republic

The government of Germany suffered a slightly different fate. At the end of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate, and the Weimar Republic was established in his stead. This republic had to deal with many weaknesses, and later lost support when the economy collapsed in 1922 and 1923. This economic collapse caused people to start to look for a leader who could promise to fix Germany’s problems.

The Rise of Hitler

Germany’s change from a republic to a dictatorship revolves primarily around one man: Adolf Hitler. His rise to power is an incredible story, going from a poverty stricken family to the dictator of Germany. His rise was not connected to his education, but his way with words. Like Mussolini, he had an extraordinary ability to manipulate people, and use propaganda extremely effectively.

Hitler’s rise to power was a long process, starting when the Nazi party was formed, just after his service in World War I. The Nazi Party was Germany’s implementation of fascism. Hitler used his persuasive ability to get people to join the Nazi Party. He used some of the same tactics as Mussolini, such as using Communists as scapegoats and promising the middle class to combat the forces of communism. Other strategies differed.

Once Hitler became leader of the Nazi Party, he plotted a takeover of the German government. At first, he tried taking over through revolution, but after that landed him in jail, he decided a lawful takeover would be necessary. The time spent in jail was significant. During that time, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. This book outlined Hitler’s ideas for his reign. He detailed his plans to regain lands lost in the Treaty of Versailles, eliminate the Jews, defend Germany against Communism, and take over Austria and Czechoslovakia for living space for the German people. (Hoffman, Peter)
The opportunity for a takeover came a couple years after the failed revolution. The Great Depression that had struck Germany the year before had made life hard for many people. The German mark had undergone immense inflation, making the currency almost worthless, due to the large reparation payments Germany had to give to the Allies. In his speeches, Hitler provided the German people with encouragement, and promised economic help, political power, and glory for Germany by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles. (Rupp, Richard E.) The Treaty of Versailles was extremely unpopular, as its harsh terms humiliated Germany and forced it to pay for the war:

“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected ... The Allied and Associated Governments, however, require, and Germany undertakes, that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property...” (Duffy, Michael)

In this way, Hitler convinced the German people that he was the leader that could bring Germany out of the Great Depression and back into the international spotlight. This gained enough support with the German people to allow Hitler to be elected Chancellor of Germany. An emergency decree signed by the German President gave the Nazis the ability to prohibit assemblies, to outlaw newspapers and other publications, and to arrest people on suspicion of treason. (Hoffman, Peter) A little while after, a fire destroyed the building that housed the German congress. Hitler blamed it on the Communists, and the German President signed another decree giving the government almost limitless powers. (Hoffman, Peter) (literally, “the leader”) (Sheehan, James J.)).

Once he gained full power, he established a police force to enforce his law. They were called the Gestapo (Geheime Staats Polizei), which translated to “Secret State Police.” The police hunted down enemies and opponents of the state, and often shot or imprisoned anybody who was even remotely suspicious. Hitler also seized control of Germany’s courts, newspapers, schools, and mass media. Hitler used the mass media to glorify his regime. He also started groups for children so that he could win their loyalty from an early age. Finally, the government regulated jobs, prices, wages, and leisure activities. This complete takeover would transform Germany into an authoritarian state.

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A Young Mussolini

Italy

Italy's Government after World War I

At the end of World War I, Italy was ruled by a weak monarch: King Emmanuel III. Italians were unsatisfied with life then. Many people had no jobs. Veterans of World War I were unhappy that their sacrifice gained so little for Italy (Italy gained 9000 square miles of territory, which was far less than what the Allies promised them when Italy joined the war). The Italian election of 1919 was the first in which all adult males were allowed to vote. Two parties emerged as the main powers in the Italian Parliament. These parties constantly fought, and prevented the development of effective national leadership. Peasants demanded land, strikes took place, and the threat of revolution grew.

Collapse of the Italian Monarchy and the Rise of Mussolini

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Benito Mussolini

In 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III contacted Benito Mussolini, a prominent socialist news writer and politician, and asked him to take control. Emmanuel III and Mussolini marched upon Rome to try to take control. The standing government stepped aside and Mussolini took control.(Axelrod) At this point the Italians were looking for a strong powerful leader. Benito Mussolini was a very charismatic leader who could sway people in whichever way he wanted them to. In 1936 Mussolini made himself a fascist and made all of the Italian people believe that fascism was a very good form of politics. At that point Mussolini became an absolute dictator. As the name implies this means that he had complete control over the government, economy, and all media. Unlike these days, Mussolini was looked upon and loved even in the United States. People believed that the efficiency with which he ran Italy. Adolf Hitler of Germany looked up to him for his policies as a dictator.(Axelrod) Mussolini promised to the Italian people that the would restore Italy to its former greatness that it had when it was the center of the Roman empire. At this point Victor Emmanuel III was in the background as a figure head not making any major decisions.

Spain

Democratic Government after World War I

Spain’s government after World War I consisted of a monarch, King Alfonso XIII. Spain had profited greatly during the war by selling arms to warring nations. The war, however, caused inflation that outpaced the growth of the workers’ salaries. This caused discontent with Alfonso’s rule. Three years after World War I ended, rebels in Morocco (a Spanish country at the time) started a revolution that quickly overwhelmed the Spanish army in Morocco. Nationalist rebelled against the republic for changing there way of life and was later declared the republic in 1939 Opponents of the king and the king’s generals accused the king of being corrupt, and strikes and riots broke out all over the country. In 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera led a military movement to take over the government and restore order. Alfonso supported the general, and Primo became the dictator of Spain. However, his rule was overthrown in 1930 by the military and public, and Alfonso was pressured into allowing free elections. The people voted overwhelmingly for republican candidates, and Spain became a republic. The parliament, called the Cortes, immediately began work on a democratic constitution, and elected Niceto Alcala Zamora as the first president.

Other countries

Autocracies also took over some other European countries. In Russia, the regime of the czar was overthrown by V.I Lenin and replaced with a dictatorship headed by Lenin. In Romania, King Carol II, the heir to the newly deceased King Ferdinand created a dictatorship to protect his reign from a powerful authoritarian party. (Tismaneanu, Vladmir) Yugoslavian monarch Alexander I established a royal dictatorship instead of submitting to a military dictatorship. (Yugoslavia, (1928)) Polish Marshal Josef Pilsudski led a small army to try to get the President of Poland to listen to a complaint about an attempted assassination attempt. This snowballed into a somewhat-accidental overthrow of the government, and in 1935 Poland’s constitution was rewritten so Pilsudski would have unrestricted power. (Poland (1926)) Hungary’s post-World War I republic was overthrown by Hungarian Communists and Socialists. These revolutionaries placed Béla Kun in the position of dictator of Hungary. (Bugajski, Janusz)

What type of government replaced the old forms of government after WWI?
A. Dictatorship
B. Monarchy
C. Fascism
D. All of the above

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