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“The rise of Fascism was due more to the personality of Mussolini than the failures of Liberal Italy”. Discuss.
The statement that the rise of Fascism was due more to the personality of Mussolini than the failures of Liberal Italy is, to some extent, incorrect. This is because it is in fact the other way around. Liberal Italy was extremely weak before and after the war, economically, politically and socially. Each factor in some way widened Mussolini’s opportunity of seizing power either by force or strategically, but evidently, not only this could have led to the rise of Fascism, if Mussolini had not taken advantage of the situation and exploited the establishments weaknesses then there would have been no Italian dictatorship.
Benito Mussolini’s personality was both simple and complex at the same time. Simple because what one saw was a decided man, who knew when and how to act. But complex because there are many different opinions on whether what he did was strategically planned or if he was simply an opportunist. As the analysis goes on further, one can see that his beliefs and tactics changed drastically in less then ten years. When he first started off in politics he was a radical left and joined the Italian Socialist Party, then becoming editor of the Socialist newspaper ‘Avanti’ and used it to revolutionary ideas; while at the same time enter Italian politics legally, this was already quite contradictory.
When issues of the war began in 1914, he claimed he was against the war, but already in 1915, a radical change surged, Mussolini now openly claimed to be in favour of Italy joining the war. This may be seen as an extremely unusual change, but for Mussolini it was not so. He switched to be on the side that was of his best convenience, no matter what the ideas of this side consisted of. Obviously he was fired from his post and expelled from the Socialist party, but he then created his own movement called ‘Il Popolo d’Italia’. To some degree this shows us that he was organized and capable of rallying and uniting people under his leadership.
The birth of Fascio di Combattimiento in 1919 still did not win Mussolini any seats in the parliament, leading to his second drastic change. In 1921 he abandoned his revolutionary ideas and set up the Partito Nazionale Fascista. This is why historian A.J.P Taylor called him “a vain, blundering boaster without either ideas or aims”. According to the situation Mussolini would change from one extreme ideology to the other without the most minimum concern.
He did not have a firm belief, since he would believe in what ever was best for him at the time. Still this is not necessarily a negative feature; he was capable of making full use of the hectic circumstances in Italy at the time, despite the constant changes. If he had not been capable of this, it may have been difficult for him to gain such broad support, though it can also be seen as a sign of doubt and uncertainness towards what his real ideals are. Mussolini projected himself to be a flexible pragmatic, this way he managed to cover up erratic or contradictory views. In his own defence Mussolini stated that: “Only maniacs never change. New facts can call for new positions”. He is trying to justify his radical adjustment of ideologies and views by suggesting that he changes because facts around him change.
Mussolini needed to gain general support, therefore did so by targeting two common enemies, communism and capitalism, which immediately won him seats in the parliament. Although it was only around 6.5% of the parliamentary seats, he needed no more to reach his position of Prime Minister later on. One of the only ideas that he did not abandon was violence, the Blackshirts performed many violent acts against the Socialist, to the point where they appealed for a general strike in protest of Fascist violence. Though it may have seen like a negative move against Mussolini, it was not. This gave the Fascists the opportunity to crash the threat and become known as the protectors of industrial disturbance. The Socialist were not being heard since Mussolini could be violent to please those who wanted positive action, but at the same time make Fascism moderate in parliament for the approval of the Government.
Now support was not enough for Mussolini, he needed a larger part in the Government, therefore demanded at least five chairs in the cabinet, threatening to prepare a march on Rome, in October 1922. The King invited Mussolini to form part of the coalition government, but he refused in fear of total submission. This demonstrates that Mussolini was careful and did not do things without thinking it through first, though he was seen unsure whether or not to go through with the March on Rome and it reached the point in which Balbo said to Mussolini “We are going, either with you or without you. Make up your mind”.
This may lead to the questioning of whether Mussolini was actually a good leader or simply knew how to apply all his journalistic skills and tricks, to create the view of him being a good leader. The King eventually called Mussolini to form his own government and appointed him Prime Minister. Mussolini some way managed to make it appear as though Fascism was strong enough to smash socialism and remould society, and that it could easily disturb the functioning of parliamentary politics. In the words of Giacinto Serrati, a Socialist in the year 1919, Mussolini was “A rabbit; a phenomenal rabbit; he roars. Observers who do not know him mistake him for a lion”. What he was trying to say was that Mussolini’s career was a one of bullying and bluffing. He talked about positive activism and taking action, but never implemented himself, therefore he only seemed dangerous but truly was not, which got him more respect for his strength then he disserved.
The failures of Liberal Italy can be traced back up to around the 1870’s and the pre-war years. Since the year 1860 the number of ministries was decreasing rapidly, the parliament consisted of different parties which were not clearly defined, and the Government depended on an agreement reached between the different groups, known as ‘Transformismo’. It was therefore extremely hard to reach a consensus since the different political parties did not have the same ideas, the only way to maintain this was to distribute favours and offices, making the system corrupt and in the hands of a certain group. There were attempts to achieve stability, one by Crispi in the 1890’s, he was a conservative politician and wanted to convert the state into a more authoritarian regime, based on Bismarck’s Germany.
Giolitti tried a more liberal approach, trying to reform the whole process of co-operation of the Catholic Church and the Socialists, but Italian politics had never been able to adjust to mass participation. Most of the reasons for Mussolini’s success will lead back to these years, in which the base for the Italian Government was weakened and there is no doubt that Giolitti failed to build up a system to prevent his success. Ibid states that “it is no exaggeration to say that Giolitti’s failure to launch Italy on the path of representative, mass democracy in the pre-war years helped open the way for Mussolini and Fascism in the post-war period”. Italians were left with two choices for a possible Government, liberal, which was moderate but corrupt and uncertain, and authoritarian, which was substantial and secure. To achieve an authoritarian government major disorder was needed to turn a possibility into a certainty.
The First World War was said by De Grand to have “marked a rupture in the course of Italian political development”. Italy was no longer instable, but was in crisis. The traditional governing groups were now split over their opinions of the war, some thought Italy should take part in it while other opposed it completely. This resulted in the paralysis of parliamentary government. To worsen economic matters in Italy, its military was defeated by the Austrians in 1917, only later to defeat the Austrians in 1918 but with a large economic cost. The economy was weakened by huge budget deficits, and unstable trade and industrial production.
Leading to inflation and unemployment throughout Italy. Different social classes began to worry, the urban and rural working classes were anxious to prevent any further decline in their standard of living, while the industrialist and landowners feared the workers would demand higher wages and employment protection, which would raise costs and put in danger efficiency and profits. The middle class took a more assertive and radical approach, rioting and holding out strikes. In 1920 Giolitti, now Prime Minister, tried to save the last hopes of a liberal approach, but there was no possibility of reaching a consensus anymore. As a last resort it was wanted to try and unite the Italian Popular Party and the Socialist in a Government, but they were too different to do so.
While trying to deal with an inefficient Government, the communists were creating even more problems, the possibility of their popularity expanding was greatly feared, therefore, unable to control anything, the Government allowed the Fascists to take direct and brutal action against unions and peasant leagues, this was their last resort. Giolitti, Bonomi and Facta ended up depending on the Fascists in a way, since they were their best weapon to fight off communism.
When Mussolini threatened the King with the March on Rome, Facta tried to convince the King to declare a martial law, but the King had different concerns. Not only did he not fully count on the armies support, since many were followers of Fascism, but even if they were willing to fight there was a risk of a civil war or the army could retreat and in both cases he would be forced to abdicate. This may have probably not been the case since the March on Rome simply consisted on a few Fascists with poor weapons walking the streets, but at the time the Fascists strength had been enlarged in disproportional manners. Since the King did not know this, he preferred having Mussolini as Prime Minister then taking the risk, thus appointing him.
To conclude, both Mussolini’s personality and the failures of Liberal Italy led to the rise of Fascism, but it was the weaknesses of the Government since the years 1970’s which gave the future government an unstable and uncertain base, then leading to many economic, social and political problems. Still it would not have enough for Fascism to rise to power, without Mussolini’s ability to manipulate propaganda in such a way that Fascism was seen as such a powerful party, and distress for changing ideas at the most convenient times to gain general support.