Fascism was born with an ambiguous face, surging from socialist ideas developed in a strong nationalistic way, embracing monarchy and free-trade; it also had expansionist policies. Mussolini himself was in fact socialist, but as his party was not getting as many votes as he expected he shifted to fascism, but reluctantly breaking his links with socialism. The rise and the consolidation of power was done in a superficially legal manner, but a party led by a dictator needs a harsh rule to stay in power and be to some extent ruthless to bring order – something Europe needed, specially after the mess created by World War One.
By 1900 the process of unification in Italy, the Risorgimento, had largely been completed territorially, but not in any other respect. The vast majority of the population still felt no real attachment to Italy at all, as a result of “Italy’s continuing weakness as a cultural, industrial, military, and colonial power compared to older European states”. This resulted in a deepening national inferiority complex and led to various projects for the renewal of nationalism, both from the extreme left and the extreme right.
Italy was promised land in the war and joined at the side of the Allies, but in the end it did not gained what it was promised and this was known as the “mutilated victory”. The political sphere indicated the government in power was vulnerable, the Italians blamed the government for it did not take a stronger stand. Economically, Italy was in a great (fake, as it was believed it was about to collapse) boom. The North seemed to be booming more than the south.
The fear of a communist revolution seemed to have given Mussolini an increasing amount of supporters such as the wealthy (who were afraid of the end of private property), the ‘agrari’ fascists, richer peasants, estate managers and urban professionals joined the communists in a struggle against the revolution. Fascism survived the 1919 crisis due to the Wealthy Milanese help and the unsuccessful anti-fascist general strike in 1922 launched by the socialists. Still, the PNF (Partio Nazionale Fascista) was not able to win power legally so it was decided to promote the ‘March on Rome”, ill armed (they could have easily smashed). The King feared the fascist bonds with the army would drive the country into a civil war and gave Mussolini the Prime Minister post.
After 1922 Mussolini’s role was to consolidate his power. In the beginning, however, he decided to slowly ensure his power rather than start a complete political revolution, so not to lose the power he now had. To make fascism stronger a combination of elements was necessary: The ras (headed extensive fascist organizations), the fascist ‘left'(ex-syndicalists seeking popular enthusiasm through a national syndicalistic state), the fascist ‘technocrats (who saw fascism as an “elitist, modernizing force”, nationalists (pushed fascism to a more pro-capitalist and imperialist way) and the conservatives (wanted the party to gain power as well and defended the social-political status-quo). These pressured Mussolini for a complete fascist takeover. It meant Mussolini had to tighten control over the ras and other rebellious supporters. To do so he created the Fascist Grand Council, what strengthened even more the party’s position.
In the 1923, in an electoral reform, the Acerbo Law was designed. This would give the leading party at the general election two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. At the April 1924 elections fascism led the way. The Acerbo Law proved to be useless as the fascist party “legally” got the two-thirds seats. It is believed, however that many of the votes were gotten with the use of violence and bribery from the fascist side. This same year a scandal about the Matteotti murder involving fascist came to public notice. It consisted the murder of a socialist murdered by fascists, increasing the anti-fascist movements and making Mussolini more vulnerable. Many boycotted the parliament – Aventine Cexxession (what in the end was, in the end, positive for Mussolini)
The ras (at this point made consuls), threatened to take Mussolini’s position if a move towards dictatorship was not made and it was in 1925 that Mussolini made clear to the parliament (or what remained of it)his intentions as a dictator (the Fundamental Law was created). Even after the Matteotti crisis the King did not ask Mussolini to resign (willingness of conservatives to abandon the fascist movement fearing a left-wing revival). With his own words, Mussolini affirmed in 1925 that to go against him was to go against the State, aiming at a totalitarian state.
In 1927 a circular status that provisional prefects must obey, even by fascist was created and In 1928 the new Electoral Law was applied while the boycotting of the parliament was taking place. It meant that if one wished to become a member of the parliament, this person should first be accepted by the fascists. By 1929 Mussolini had an accumulation of offices – 8 ministries. This is known as the Cult of the Duce (cult of leadership) and was given a major importance in the indoctrination process, in giving Italy a national identity.
The educational system had a vital change – text books became a state monopoly by 1936. two years later racism was thought in classrooms and one year later a fascist School Charter was created. Youth groups were created outside the school sector – it was necessary to keep the young ones as far from the older generation as possible. The older generation had more experience and could represent a threat to the regime.
Culture was also controlled by the government. In 1925 a film institute was set up. In 1934 an office to Cinematography was established. The control of the press symbolized the major oppression – freedom of expression was taken away from the Italians by 1926, when the Exceptional Decrees suppressed many papers. Two years later compulsory registration of all journalists with the Fascist Journalist Association became obligatory.
Linked to the indoctrination process it is possible to see the coercion, the use of force. In 1926 the OVRA was set up and a Special Tribunal for the Defense of the State. The OVRA was the secret police, responsible to eliminate “party traitors” and enemies.
Furthermore, Mussolini’s image was essential for the party to maintain control and popularity over Italy. In 1929 the Lateran Pact would establish relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian State, securing wider acceptance of Mussolini’s ruling. By this date the fascist dictatorship was reinforced by supporting a repressive legislation and this treaty would be significant to increase Mussolini’s popularity and the support for his regime thus securing his power. Mussolini promised to bring peace to Italy “if possible by love, but if necessary by force” as he said in a speech in parliament, which made clear the methods he used for consolidation.
To conclude, Mussolini was undoubtedly a great speaker, and the Italians believed he would de the one to bring respect and importance to Italy in a world wide manner. Nevertheless, up to 1926 Mussolini was seeking power through aggressive ways to consolidate his power as quickly as possible, as his fellow communists pressured him to do. From this date onwards, he felt more secure and based himself on persuasive methods to stay in power. Squadristi violence was the most common among the fascists, but censorship can also be considered as an aggression towards the Italian people. Other parties were outlawed, alarming people of the danger to stand up against the party.
Courtney from Study Moose
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