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Benito Mussolini: Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall Part 2: Seize of Power

Updated on October 24, 2009

Mussolini Creates the Italian Fascist Party

In part 1 of this topic ( my very first Hub!) I looked at Benito Mussolini's family of origin, education, early occupation as a Socialist Journalist, and the creation of the Italian Fascist Party. Now we get into the depth of how fascism gained support within the Italian populace of the early 20th century.

To begin let's recall that Mussolini had been brought up as an avid socialist. After a brief stint in the Italian Military, he wrote extensively in Socialist newspapers about the great evils of Imperialism and Capitalism as it oppressed the masses. Then came WWI and he joined the Italian Army again to fight against what he considered as the great evils overtaking Europe. Sissolussioned with Socialism after the war, he joins a group of about 200 like minded individuals together and forms the Italian Fascist Party. He is just 35 years old, and an extremely charismatic leader.

The Black Flag of the Italian Fascist Party

What is Fascism?

Fascism is defined in many modern dictionaries as “A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.” 

Mussolini hi thought of it differently. “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”. 

It was his belief that only by a strong unified government controlling the corporate greed, which of course met controlling most id not all business, could the average people see relief from the oppressive economic hardship that that engulfed Italy in the early 20th century. At this time, Italy had seen decades of recession, and economic depression, had been sliced and diced by foreign powers. The populace was crushed under the rule of a monarchy that lived in great opulence, while they sunk lower and lower. Garibaldi's great Unification movement had been successful and had promised reform sixty years before, but it had not been realized.

Hard as it is to believe in modern times, Fascism was well received and promoted by the Italian populace into the early 20th century.

Mussolini in Early years of the Italian Fascist Party

Fascism Gains Support

An important factor in fascism gaining support in its earliest stages was that it claimed to oppose discrimination based on social class and was strongly opposed to all forms of class war. This was of particular interest to the Jewish community that had long felt a sense of disenfranchisement from the rest of the Italian people, as classism and racism went hand in hand for centuries under the various monarchies of the Italian states. Fascism supported nationalist sentiments of a strong unity, regardless of class, in the hopes of raising Italy up to the levels of its great Roman past.

Unlike the great ideals of Plato that he so loved, Mussolini’s fascists were focused on achieving political goals. One group of close confidants of Mussolini, formed armed squads of war veterans called “The Blackshirts” who openly clashed with communists, socialists and anarchists at parades and demonstrations. Due to a fear of a communist revolution, the government rarely interfered with the black shirts.

In 1921, Mussolini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies of the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome. Within a year he led a coup d'état known as the March on Rome. During this coup, King Victor Emmanuel III handed over power to Mussolini. Mussolini was supported by the military, the business class, and the liberal right-wing. He retained the title of Prime Minister of Italy from 1922-1943.

Mussolini and his Black Shirts March on Rome

October 27-29, 1922 Mussolini's Fascist Blackshirts March on Rome and take over government.
October 27-29, 1922 Mussolini's Fascist Blackshirts March on Rome and take over government.

The Seize of Power Begins

In June 1923, the government passed the Acerbo Law, transforming Italy into a single national constituency. This law granted a two-thirds majority of the seats in Parliament to any party, or group of parties banned together, that could garner a minimum of 25% of the votes. In the elections of April 1924, the "national alliance", consisting of Fascists, most of the old Liberals and others, won 64% of the vote, placing them firmly in power through what was termed a vote of the people. Their overwhelming victory however, was largely due to the use of violence and voter intimidation. These tactics were especially prevalent in the south where support of the Fascist was the lowest.

Mussolini progressively dismantled all real constitutional and conventional restraints on his power between 1925 and 1927, thereby creating a police state. A little published law passed on Christmas Eve 1925 changed Mussolini's formal title from "president of the Council of Ministers" to "Head of the Government” After taking this power, Mussolini often wore military uniform in public.

After taking power, Mussolini was often seen in military uniform
After taking power, Mussolini was often seen in military uniform

As Prime Minister, the first years of Mussolini's rule were characterized by a right-wing coalition government with a relatively small minority of Fascist Party members. However his eventual goal was the establishment of a totalitarian state with himself as supreme leader. This was achieved by the establishment of a series of laws granting more and more power to his party and by the use of “Squadristri”, political violence and intimidation squads.

By 1928, Mussolini outlawed all other political parties, and announced himself as First Marshal of the Empire, a military rank giving him supreme command of the nation’s military forces. He claimed marshal law , although this had been in effect for all intents and purposes since his rise to power. Still at this time, the vast majority of Italian citizens were in favor of Mussolini and his government due to his economic policies.

The next hub in this series on Benito Mussolini : Italian Fascist, His Racial Laws, and Ultimate Downfall,  will focus on the economic changes Mussolini implemented to save Italy from complete economic collapse.  Was he successful, did the people still love him? Check back for Part 3 of the series!  As always, I would love to read your thoughts on this most intriguing of political despots.


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