Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Explore Mussolini's rise to power

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On the March 11 after a series of Communist demonstrations, the almost forgotten Mussolini decided to attempt to revive his Fascist movement. A meeting was held in a hall in a Milan and was attended by some fifty malcontents. From this seemingly small and insignificant event the Fascio di Combattimento (Combat Group) was born. Initially, it would seem that the Fasci were destined for failure with none of their candidates including Mussolini winning a single seat in the 11 elections. Amazingly, in a little over ten years, this party would be ruling Italy. By the end of 11, Mussolini possessed just over % of the vote in Milan, less than 5000 votes against 170,000 for the Socialists(Hoyt 4). It seemed as though the fascist party was dead; the Socialists were so confident of their success that they staged a mock funeral in Milan stopping outside Mussolinis house to invite him to attend the burial of his party. Incredibly, by 11 the membership of this previously tiny group was to rival the size of the Socialists. How was this achieved? It was certainly by no easy means; Mussolinis skill and luck played a vital role, but he was also helped by the seemingly blind incompetence of his opponents. Mussolinis path towards the top of Italian Government was hindered by many forms of opposition. However, most of his opposition came from the Government and the rival Socialist (PSI) party. Soon after the summer of 10 the Fascists and their opposition clashed. A huge worker sit-in showed that the country wasn’t stable, and this presented an opportunity for Mussolini to gain ground over the Soviet Opposition. Mussolini did not use this opportunity though. He was still recovering from his partys humiliating election defeat. Eventually the union leaders, evidently surprised by this sudden, spontaneous revolutionary outburst persuaded the workers to return for higher wages. Although initially it would seem that the workers had won, the strikes had sown the seeds of fear amongst Italys Socialist opposition. The overall effect of this was that many of the opponents of Socialism joined Mussolinis Fascist party. The Socialist party by causing the strike had unwittingly played into Mussolinis hands; although this was due to their own incompetence and not the skill of Mussolini. In the winter of 10-1, Mussolini organized his men into squadre dazione (squads of action) headed by local leaders like Balbo in Ferrara and Grandi in Bologna. Primarily, Mussolinis clever planning was demonstrated by his success His initial campaign of violence against the Socialists led to 00 dead and 800 wounded in the period between December 10 and May 11 (Hoyt 50). The government, in accordance with its alliance with the Fascists, did little to prevent the violence, and instead saw it as a cheap way of curbing the rise of socialism. Even when in the spring of 11 the clashes had reached riot proportions, the government nonetheless decided that they had succeeded in their aim of disrupting the progress of socialism. With Socialist support diminishing rapidly, the Fascists gained a vital foothold in Parliament. Primarily, this was achieved through the election of 15 May 11. Because his party offered action, Mussolini gained from the weakness of the government and from the unrest in the country. During the election the government used Fascist support to unseat Socialist and Catholic deputies. Allied with the government, the Fascists did well in the elections, and gained a lot of power in the parliament. The Fascists were invited by Prime Minister Gioletti to form a part of his right-wing electoral alliance, thereby promising them, for the first time, some influence in the government as well as in the streets. This gave the fascists a chance to be accepted as a political force. Primarily, Prime Minister Gioletti must be held responsible as one of the main reasons for Mussolini gaining another chance to fight for power. As Mussolinis Fascist Party grew, so seemingly did the incompetence of Gioletti. He became increasingly dependent upon the Fascists to take direct and often brutal action against the unions and peasant leagues. His unorthodox methods were careless, unparliamentary and were to be extremely self-destructive. It seemed that Gioletti and his government had lost the will to govern the country and its people. The knowledge that the Fascists had become a powerful force in government took Mussolini by surprise. His immediate reaction to this situation was to become a respectable participant in government. In doing this, he signed a peace treaty, and a pact of pacification with the Socialists to end their mutual violence. However, his lieutenants in the provinces disliked and disagreed with his curb on their power. In actual fact Mussolini resigned as leader for a brief period of time; however in November he accepted their demands for continued hostility and tore up the pact. The economic conditions of the 10s did much to encourage support for extremist parties; both the Fascists and the Socialists benefited greatly. This was mainly due to Italys war debts and problems of reconstruction, as well as the devaluation of the lire. The working-class voters wage remained at prewar levels while prices increased everywhere. This resulted in increasing support for the left-wing parties who, the working-class voters hoped, would press for wage claims. In some cases, they took action on their own behalf by striking or occupying factories. It was to be Mussolinis skill that was to gain him support from these actions. “The strikes had raised the spectra of revolution, and this in turn, increased the attraction of the Fascists to the middle-class population and those who feared socialism. It was Mussolinis policies of firm action to prevent revolution that many Italians saw as the only alternative to Bolshevism. “(Smith 45) The period from December 11 to November 1 was to see the overall demise of the Socialist and government opposition to Mussolini. During this period, Fascist thuggery became ever more efficient, claiming 000 lives of the Socialist supporters, with only 00 Fascist fatalities (Hoyt 6). Finally, on 6 June 11 Giolettis incompetence caught up with him; he was forced to resign due to Fascist opposition in Parliament. A combination of Mussolinis opportunism and skill, and Giolettis inadequacy to govern Italy had resulted in Giolettis resignation. His successor was to be Ivanoe Bonomi, who was a reformist Socialist, and formed a government with Radical and Popolari support. His choice of parties was rather dangerous to his political position as one was clerical and the other anti-clerical. He did not last long, and within four weeks the King had asked Luigi Facta to head the new Italian government. Deserted by the Popolari in the summer of 1, Facta lost his Prime-ministerial position; however, he soon became Prime Minister again on 1 August when no other could be found. Fortunately for Mussolini, Facta did not provide any form of powerful opposition towards him or his partys actions(Hoyt 80). The very day that Facta formed his new ministry in government, the unions began a general strike. The strike was called in an effort to force the government to halt the Fascist violence; in particular it was a protest against Balbos actions in Romagna. Unfortunately for the Socialists, they played into Mussolinis hands, for yet again the problem of a socialist revolution was raised. Mussolini cleverly showed the public that he was the man to restore order while in the background he made use of his disorderly supporters. The strike collapsed after one day, and Mussolini and his Fascists gained increasing support. The once strong socialist opposition had disintegrated into a weak, disorganized group of individuals; Mussolini had succeeded in removing an important part of the opposition. There were still a number of potential obstacles to Mussolini. The most obvious were the King and the army who were controlled by the government. By October 1 the government had virtually broken down, and much of Italy was in political disarray. Facta suggested that the entire cabinet should resign, but when his idea was turned down, he started to plan a coalition with the Fascists. It is interesting to note that the troops were still loyal to the King; there can be little doubt that a firm government could have crushed any armed attempt against the regime. Mussolini was well aware of this, and concentrated his efforts on political maneuvering. He demonstrated his perceptiveness of the political situation when he realized that the Facta government was helpless and thinking in terms of a coalition. Taking advantage of the situation, Mussolini met with the leaders of the various Fascist groups. Action was planned for 8 October on lines that had been worked out earlier. Three concentration points were selected which the groups were to reach by any means of transportation to avoid the chance of an early clash with the army. Such a clash was to be avoided at all costs and army units were to be treated with courtesy and friendliness. Again this was clever decision-making by Mussolini, who realized the potential threat presented by the army. After a series of parades and speeches to gather support, Mussolini presented his demands to the government. In essence they were simple; there was to be a new cabinet with at least six Fascist ministers in important posts. On the 5 October Mussolini left for Milan while the Party Congress continued to distract the governments attention(Smith 47). In reply to Mussolinis demands, the Facta cabinet responded surprisingly slowly; they were convinced that they had plenty of time in hand. Eventually, they decided that the answer would be in the form of a new coalition which would include a number of Fascists. However, confusion and disorganization reigned as members of the cabinet continued to scheme. With this in mind, Facta decided to resign, though his cabinet still ran the government until a new leader could be chosen. It is difficult to find sound reasoning behind Factas resignation; his resignation can be described as little more than a blunder. It did nothing but highlight the weakness of the cabinet and the instability of the government. Initially, it seemed to succeed; in view of his resignation, the Fascist leaders hesitated as to whether or not their plans should go ahead for 8 October. However, unfortunately for the government, the Fascist party machine could not be halted and local units began to requisition trains and borrow arms from friendly military units. Eventually, Facta was persuaded to return and to declare a state of siege in Rome. Facta, now becoming increasingly worried about the fascist threat, was reluctant to take such action. Instead, he went to the King to ask for a proclamation declaring a state of emergency. This would have enabled the army to have been called out against the Fascist columns. However, the King rightly feared civil war, and doubted Factas ability to control the situation. He was approached twice, but both times he refused to sign a proclamation. Factas reputation had been damaged so much, that even the King had little trust left for him. Mussolini having realized that there would be an armed clash, increased his demands. Again, this turned out to be a well considered and successful plan. On October Rachele Mussolini received a telephone message from Rome, requesting the presence of Mussolini at the palace. At noon, Mussolini received a telegram; Mussolini was to form a government. It was not long before Mussolini had formed a moderate cabinet containing only four Fascist ministers. He was secure in the knowledge that he had the nations support for a government which was prepared to act. In addition, he knew that he had virtually no opposition, and had the support of the King, the army, and the industrialists as well as the loyalty of his Fascist followers. In conclusion, to what extent can we attribute Mussolinis seizure of power to his own skill or the incompetence of his opponents? “In view of his own skill, Mussolinis career has been presented as one of blunder and bluff. However, the 10s was a period in which bluff was more suited to success”. It is also true to say that undoubtedly Mussolini helped the Fascist party into power through his own skill. Although initially, the Fascist party had widespread but unorganized support, Mussolini brought a certain national structure and identity to the party. His first contribution was the organization of the party, making it a movement as well as a party, and therefore making it a viable choice in an election. Secondly, Mussolini brought home the importance of opportunism and action as opposed to inactivity and fixed ideologies. However, we must also consider that to a certain extent, the oppositions continued failures and misjudgments almost pushed Mussolini into power. We must also take account of the fact that Mussolini certainly had his fair share of luck. A prime example is the Kings refusal to declare a state of emergency, which would have allowed the army to attack the Fascists. However, it was his ability to act out the role of the Italian peoples dream leader that gave him the most success. He played upon the post-war crisis, and made it appear that Fascism was the only way in which socialism would be smashed, and Italys society and status would be rebuilt. To the Italian people, Mussolini was the great leader they had been desperately searching for. The leader who was going to make Italy a great power, and a respected force in the world.





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