Why was Mussolini able to consolidate power between 1922 and 1929? Essay
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Once Mussolini had taken power in 1922 he still had to continue balancing the liberals who had placed him in power and the PNF. His party expected his premiership to mean the start of a complete fascist revolution, while the elites wanted to have the threat of the left removed and have Mussolini’s party defused as well as wanting to stay in power. To have this done they were willing to let Mussolini abolish the constitution. Despite the fact that during these years there were some crisis which could have lead to Mussolini’s downfall he managed to stay in power by turning problems to his advantage.
Once Mussolini took power he was able to get twelve months emergency powers from parliament and his coalition government. He was able to get them to do this by arguing that the country needed a strong, stable government which could take strong measures against the (in reality non-existent) threat of Bolshevik revolution, which many of the senators believed to be a real threat despite the fact that most of the violence was the result of fascists. He also argued that emergency powers were the only way to get the country back on its feat and restore law and order.
As well as emergency powers to strengthen his position he strengthened it by setting up the grand council of fascism, which was the highest fascist body where proposals for the government would be debated. By making himself the only one able to appoint people to the fascist council, he was able to make sure that he controlled fascist policy. He also turned the black shirts into a militia, which meant that he had 30,000 men as his own personal army to do with what he wished (which was a reminder to parliament that if he wanted to he could seize power). He strengthened his position by gaining support from industrialists and Catholics; he was able to do this by getting rid of Giolittis proposed crack down on income tax evasion, for the industrialists, and banning contraceptives for Catholics.
Mussolini needed to find a way to bypass parliament. The reason he needed to bypass parliament was because he had a tiny minority in parliament even when the fascists joined with the nationalists they still only had 45 out of a possible 535 seats in the senate, which meant that when emergency powers ended he couldn’t be sure of passing the legislation he wanted.
The way he got past this problem was electoral reform; In July 1923 the Acerbo Law was passed. This meant that the whole country was now one large constituency, where the party winning the most seats (as long as it was more than 25%) would get two thirds of the seats. To the fascists Mussolini said this was the first step to a dictatorship and to the liberals he said it was a way to stabilise government after the previous years of chaos. However the liberals had little choice but to pass it as if they didn’t they new Mussolini would abolish parliament. With this law it meant Mussolini could pass any bill he wanted.
Mussolini’s first major crisis was the Matteoti Crisis. Matteoti was the leader of the PSU (reformist socialist) and a severe critic of Mussolini and the fascists, and it was well known that Mussolini hated him. On the 10th June 1924 he was kidnapped, witnesses saw him pushed into a car by Rossi, Finzi and Maninelli all of whom were advisors to Mussolini, this meant that he was implicated in what became a murder when the body was discoverv on 16th August. In June the opposition senators walked out of the senate. The anti-fascist press increased in popularity and a new anti-fascist party was formed, the Italia Libra. The scandal was at its worst for Mussolini during the winter of 1924-25 when a paper published evidence that showed he was connected to the crime. Mussolini was now under pressure from both the PNF and the establishment.
Mussolini’s response to the crisis was a flight into dictatorship. This was fine by the elite who saw it as a return to a 19th century liberal regime and the fascists who believed it was a step closer to a complete fascist state. On the 3rd of January that year he gave a speech to parliament. In the speech he accepted “historical responsibility” for “all that had happened”, but blamed the left for undermining the state with subversive activity.
He challenged the Parliament to have him arrested using Article 47 of the constitution, which allowed ministers to be arrested, however no one all believing the king would remove him from office. The king didn’t, as he didn’t feel there was any acceptable replacement for Mussolini. He also brought the Liberals round by saying he would return to mass democracy by reintroducing FPTP. By getting his timing just right Mussolini was able to strengthen his position whilst weakening oppositions, between 1925 and 1928 he established his “personal dictatorship”.
He was able to establish his dictatorship because he had the support of the elite who saw it as a return to elitist politics, and because he strengthened key institutions. Mussolini managed to pass many legislations which increased his power most of which were written by Alfredo Rocco.