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Fascism  Free Essay


The almost forgotten Mussolini decided to attempt to
revive his Fascism movement. A meeting was held in a hall in a Milan and
was attended by some fifty malcontents. From this seemingly small and
insignificant event the Fascio di Combattimento\' (Combat Group) was
born. Initially, it would seem that the Fascists were destined for
failure with none of their candidates (including Mussolini) winning a
single seat in the 1919 elections. How was it that a party with no
clear programme, save a belief in action of some sort, became a ruling
dictatorship little more than ten years later? By the end of 1919,
Mussolini possessed hardly more than 2% of the vote in Milan, less
than 5000 votes against 170,000 for the Socialists. Was this a
complete disaster? At the time it seemed so; the Socialists were so
confident of their success that they staged a mock funeral in Milan
stopping outside Mussolini\'s house to invite him to attend the burial
of his party. Incredibly, by 1921 the membership of this previously
tiny group was to rival the size of the Socialists. How was this
achieved? It was certainly by no easy means; Mussolini\'s skill and
luck played a vital role, but he was also helped by the seemingly
blind incompetence of his opponents. Mussolini\'s path towards the top
of Italian Government was hindered by many forms of opposition.
However, most of his opposition came from the Government and the rival
Socialist (PSI) party. Soon after the summer of 1920 the Fascists and
their opposition inevitably clashed. The fact that Gioletti\'s
government was faced with million workers sitting in in factories
showed that Italy was a far from stable country in 1920. Did an
opportunity present itself for Mussolini to gain ground over the
Socialist opposition? If it did, Mussolini certainly did not take it.
He was still recovering from his party\'s humiliating election defeat.
Eventually the union leaders, evidently surprised by this sudden,
spontaneous revolutionary outburst persuaded the workers to give in in
return for higher wages. Although initially it would seem that the
workers had won, the strikes had sown the seeds of fear amongst
Italy\'s Socialist opposition. The overall effect of this was that
many of the opponents of Socialism joined Mussolini\'s Fascist\' party.
The Socialist party by causing the strike had unwittingly played into
Mussolini\'s hands; although this was due to their own incompetence and
not the skill of Mussolini. Interestingly, they were later to make
exactly the same mistake again. The fact that Mussolini\'s party
benefitted greatly by offering action, showed that political gains
could be made from the weakness of the government and from the unrest
of the country. It was at this point in 1921 that Gioletti began
searching for allies against the Socialists. The Vatican had turned
against him; This was mainly due to the government\'s proposal to tax
the bonds which were a main form of Church property at the time. As a
result Gioletti decided to use Fascist support against the Socialists.
Why did Gioletti decide to use the Fascist\'s support to combat the
Socialists, when there were many other safer ways of doing so?
Principally, he believed that he could easily dominate Mussolini
and once in power again he would discard the tougher elements\' among
the Fascists. He made a grave mistake in believing this. In the winter
of 1920-21, Mussolini organized his men into squadre d\'azione\' (squads
of action) headed by local leaders ( ras\') like Balbo in Ferrara and
Grandi in Bologna. Primarily, Mussolini\'s clever planning was
demonstrated by his success: His initial campaign of violence against
the Socialists led to 200 dead and 800 wounded in the period between
December 1920 and May 1921. The government, in accordance with its
alliance with the Fascists, did little to prevent the violence, and
instead saw it as a cheap way of curbing the rise of socialism. Even
when in the spring of 1921 the clashes had reached riot proportions,
the government nonetheless decided that they had succeeded in their
aim of disrupting the progress of socialism. Later at the Socialist
party congress in January 1921 the PSI split into a revolutionary and
a reformist wing. This move was welcomed, if not actually forced by
the Fascists. With Socialist support diminishing rapidly, the Fascists
gained a vital foothold in Parliament. Primarily, this was achieved
through the election of 15 May 1921. Because his party offered action,
Mussolini gained from the weakness of the government and from the
unrest in the country. During the election the government used Fascist
support to unseat Socialist and Catholic deputies; this was mainly
done by beating up opponents. Mussolini met little opposition to his
actions; the police and prefects remained neutral or actively aided
the Fascists with transport and arms. The Fascists performed
particularly well in the elections as the figures below show:

Extreme Nationalists 10
Fascists 35 Government bloc (184)
National Bloc (Gioletti) 139
Radicals (Liberal Democrats) 68 Potential centrist
Popolari\' 107 opposition (175)
Reformists 29
Socialists 123 Left opposition (176)
Communists 15 Total seats (535)
National minorities 9

The Fascists were invited by Prime Minister Gioletti to form a
part of his right-wing electoral alliance, thereby promising them,
for the first time, some influence in the government as well as in the
streets. Gioletti had given the Fascists a chance to become an
accepted political force.

Primarily, Prime Minister Gioletti must be held responsible as
one of the main reasons for Mussolini gaining another chance to fight
for power. As Mussolini\'s Fascist Party grew, so seemingly did the
incompetence of Gioletti. He became increasingly dependent upon the
Fascists to take direct and often brutal action against the unions and
peasant leagues. His unorthodox methods were careless, unparliamentary
and were to be extremely self-destructive. It seemed that Gioletti and
his government had lost the will to govern the country and its people.
>From May to July 1921 Gioletti was to govern on the basis of this
coalition. However, within a year there were to be thirteen different
groups in Parliament. Since the parliament fell into three
approximately equal groupings, the Fascist\'s thirty-five seats were
crucial to the stability of the government. If the Fascists defected
to the opposition, government would have been very difficult. The
knowledge that the Fascists had become a powerful force in government
took Mussolini by surprise. His immediate reaction to this situation
was to become a respectable participant in government. In doing this,
he signed a peace treaty\', and a pact of pacification\' with the
Socialists to end their mutual violence. However, his lieutenants in
the provinces disliked and disagreed with his curb on their power. In
actual fact Mussolini resigned as leader for a brief period of time;
however in November he accepted their demands for continued hostility
and tore up the pact. The economic conditions of the 1920\'s did much
to encourage support for extremist parties; both the Fascists and the
Socialists benefitted greatly. This was mainly due to Italy\'s war
debts and problems of reconstruction, as well as the devaluation of
the lire. The working-class voter\'s wage remained at pre-war levels
while prices increased everywhere. This resulted in increasing support
for the left-wing parties who, the working-class voters hoped, would
press for wage claims. In some cases, they took action on their own
behalf by striking or occupying factories. It was to be Mussolini\'s
skill that was to gain him support from these actions. The strikes had
raised the spectre of revolution, and this in turn, increased the
attraction of the Fascists to the middle-class population and those
who feared socialism. It was Mussolini\'s policies of firm action to
prevent revolution that many Italians saw as the only alternative to
Bolshevism. The period from December 1921 to November 1922 was to see
the overall demise of the Socialist and government opposition to
Mussolini. During this period, Fascist thuggery became ever more
efficient, claiming 3000 lives of the Socialist supporters, with only
300 Fascist fatalities. Finally, on 26 June 1921 Gioletti\'s
incompetence caught up with him; he was forced to resign due to
Fascist opposition in Parliament. A combination of Mussolini\'s
opportunism and skill, and Gioletti\'s inadequacy to govern Italy had
resulted in Gioletti\'s resignation. His successor was to be Ivanoe
Bonomi, who was a reformist Socialist, and formed a government with
Radical and Popolari\' support. His choice of parties was rather
dangerous to his political position as one was clerical and the other
anti-clerical. He did not last long, and within four weeks the King
had asked Luigi Facta to head the new Italian government. A famous
historian, Denis Mack Smith, has described him as follows ... a timid,
ignorant provincial lawyer who had risen in politics by seniority
alone. His appointment was at first taken almost as a joke...\'.
Deserted by the Popolari\' in the summer of 1922, he lost his
Prime-ministerial position; however, he soon became Prime Minister
again on 1 August when no other could be found. Fortunately for
Mussolini, Facta did not provide any form of powerful opposition
towards him or his party\'s actions. The very day that Facta formed his
new ministry in government, the unions began a general strike. The
strike was called in an effort to force the government to halt the
Fascist violence; in particular it was a protest against Balbo\'s
actions in Romagna. Unfortunately for the Socialists, they played into
Mussolini\'s hands, for yet again the problem of a socialist revolution
was raised. Mussolini cleverly showed the public that he was the man
to restore order while in the background he made use of his disorderly
supporters. The strike collapsed after one day, and Mussolini and his
Fascists gained increasing support. The once strong socialist
opposition had disintegrated into a weak, disorganized group of
individuals; Mussolini had succeeded in removing an important part of
the opposition. There were still a number of potential obstacles to
Mussolini. The most obvious were the King and the army (who were
controlled by the government). By October 1922 the government had
virtually broken down, and much of Italy was in political disarray.
Facta suggested that the entire cabinet should resign, but when his
idea was turned down, he started to plan a coalition with the
Fascists. It is interesting to note that the troops were still loyal
to the King; there can be little doubt that a firm government could
have crushed any armed attempt against the regime. Mussolini was well
aware of this, and concentrated his efforts on political manoeuvre. He
demonstrated his perceptiveness of the political situation when he
realised that the Facta government was helpless and thinking in terms
of a coalition. Taking advantage of the situation, Mussolini met with
the leaders of the various Fascist groups. Action was planned for 28
October on lines that had been worked out earlier. Three concentration
points were selected which the groups were to reach by any means of
transport and so avoid the chance of an early clash with the army.
Such a clash was to be avoided at all costs and army units were to be
treated with courtesy and friendliness. Again this was clever
decision-making by Mussolini, who realised the potential threat
presente by the army. After a series of parades and speech-making to
gather support, Mussolini presented his demands to the government. In
essence they were simple; there was to be a new cabinet with at least
six Fascist ministers in important posts. On the 25 October Mussolini
left for Milan while the Party Congress continued to distract the
government\'s attention. In reply to Mussolini\'s demands, the Facta
cabinet responded surprisingly slowly; they were convinced that they
had plenty of time in hand. Eventually, they decided that the answer
would be in the form of a new coalition which would include a number
of Fascists. However, confusion and disorganisation reigned as members
of the cabinet continued to scheme. With this in mind, Facta decided
to resign, though his cabinet still ran the government until a new
leader could be chosen. It is difficult to find sound reasoning behind
Facta\'s resignation; his resignation can be described as little more
than a blunder. It did nothing but highlight the weakness of the
cabinet and the instability of the government. Initially, it seemed to
succeed; in view of his resignation, the Fascist leaders hesitated as
to whether or not their plans should go ahead for 28 October. However,
unfortunately for the government, the Fascist party machine could not
be halted and local units began to requisition trains and borrow arms
from friendly military units. Eventually, Facta was persuaded to
return and to declare a state of siege in Rome. Facta, now becoming
increasingly worried about the fascist threat, was reluctant to take
such action. Instead, he went to the King to ask for a proclamation
declaring a state of emergency. This would have enabled the army to
have been called out against the Fascist columns. However, the King
rightly feared civil war, and doubted Facta\'s ability to control the
situation. He was approached twice, but both times he refused to sign
a proclamation. Facta\'s reputation had been damaged so much, that
even the King had little trust left for him. Mussolini having realised
that there would be an armed clash, increased his demands. Again, this
turned out to be a well considered and successful plan. On 29 October
Rachele Mussolini received a telephone message from Rome, requesting
the presence of Mussolini at the palace. At noon, Mussolini received a
telegram; Mussolini was to form a government. It was not long before
Mussolini had formed a moderate cabinet containing only four Fascist
ministers. He was secure in the knowledge that he had the nations
support for a government which was prepared to act. In addition, he
knew that he had virtually no opposition, and had the support of the
King, the army, and the industrialists as well as the loyalty of his
Fascist followers. In conclusion, then, to what extent can we
attribute Mussolini\'s seizure of power to his own skill or the
incompetence of his opponents? In view of his own skill, Mussolini\'s
career has been presented as one of blunder and bluff\'. However, the
1920\'s was a period in which bluff\' was more suited to success. It is
also true to say that undoubtedly Mussolini helped the Fascist party
into power through his own skill. Although initially, the Fascist
party had widespread but unorganised support, Mussolini brought a
certain national structure and identity to the party. His first
contribution was the organisation of the party, making it a movement
as well as a party, and therefore making it a viable choice in an
election. Secondly, Mussolini brought home the importance of
opportunism and action as opposed to inactivity and fixed ideologies.
As S. Lee argues, Mussolini was strongly inclined to intuitive
behaviour and projected himself as a flexible pragmatist. This allowed
him to make full use of the chaotic conditions in Italy, and
considerably increased the Fascist party\'s fortunes. However, we
must also consider that to a certain extent, the opposition\'s
continued failures and misjudgments almost pushed Mussolini into
power. We must also take account of the fact that Mussolini certainly
had his fair share of luck - a prime example is the King\'s refusal to
declare a state of emergency, which would have allowed the army to
attack the Fascists. However, it was his ability to act out the role
of the Italian people\'s dream leader that gave him the most success.
He played upon the post-war crisis, and made it appear that Fascism
was the only way in which socialism would be smashed, and Italy\'s
society and status would be rebuilt. To the Italian people, Mussolini
was the great leader they had been desperately searching for - the
leader who was going to make Italy a great power, and a respected
force in the world.


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