Fascist movement, Italy

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Benito Mussolini (1883—1945) Italian Fascist statesman, Prime Minister 1922–43

March on Rome



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In 1919, Mussolini founded the Fasci di Combattimento, a movement which combined militant nationalism with vociferous demands for political and social renewal. In particular, it demanded progressive taxation, an eight‐hour working day, and workers' councils. Despite a slow take‐off, the movement was helped by official toleration of its strident anti‐socialist actions (including street fights against socialists). In consequence, it gained the support of bureaucrats, journalists, and industrialists. It also managed to extend its social base from just the petty bourgeoisie to attract rural support, mainly in northern Italy. In the elections of April 1921 it gained 35 out of 535 parliamentary seats. To improve the movement's organization Mussolini founded the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF), which had attracted 320,000 members by May 1922. The growing strength of the movement, as well as Mussolini's assurances of respect for the Church and the monarchy, gave it added weight in a frail political system riven by party divisions and weak leadership. With his March on Rome Mussolini presented a fait accompli to a political establishment more unwilling than unable to stop him.

Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister on 30 October 1922 in a coalition government dominated by non‐Fascists. An enabling law of 2 December 1922, the creation of the Fascist Grand Council, and the institutionalization of the Fascist militia began the erosion of the liberal state. Following changes in the electoral laws, the PNF and its allies won the elections of 1924 with a two‐thirds majority. The murder of Matteotti resulted in a crisis within the movement, which was torn between its radical and moderate elements. Mussolini responded with the establishment of a totalitarian Fascist state, in which power was concentrated in his hands, and where the Fascist movement came to dominate virtually all aspects of Italian life. All other political parties were banned, while the Fascist party attempted to control society through outlawing all other social organizations except its own (such as the dopolavoro and the balilla). Trade unions were banned, and the judiciary came under Fascist control.

By contrast with Nazi Germany, the effectiveness of Italian Fascism and its organizations was significantly limited because of (a) the power of the Roman Catholic Church, with which Mussolini dared not interfere too much, (b) the relative autonomy of the army, and (c) the institution of the monarchy. The latter, bestowed legitimacy on him while in office, but in withdrawing its support the monarchy was ultimately responsible for Mussolini's fall in 1943.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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