Problems he faced:
- One of only four Fascists in Cabinet
- Only 35 Fascists of 535 deputies in the Chamber of Deputies
- Fascism had only support of 7% of voters-achieving power through threats and violence
- Previous Italian governments had lasted on average just 2 years-this new coalition government faced similar hurdles
- Mussolini had no detailed policies and the only thing he had ever run previously was a newspaper
- Fascist support was divided between radicals and moderates
Survival for Mussolini was going to be down to his own attributes, and the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. Another key problem was the radicals within Fascism who wanted revolutionary change and the moderates who wanted ‘normalisation’ (strengthening the authority of the state and restoring public order) Mussolini needed to be able to keep both sides happy somehow.
- Speech refers to intimidation and to legality also. An example of Mussolini’s ambiguity with regard to government. It is not really clear whether he came to power due to the March on Rome or was he constitutionally chosen by the King to form a government. He kept this vagueness for the first 3 years of his rule.
- The moderates in the PNF (Fascist Party) were strengthened when the Nationalists joined the party. 2 notable Nationalists, Rocco and Federzoni (later implicated in the Matteotti crisis) were to become important figures creating the new state
- Mussolini realised that the support of the elites was more important to him than the support of the radicals within the PNF. He could now use the state machinery to deal with enemies; he did not need to rely on the squads any more. However he could not completely ignore the Fascists as his power base was not that strong and he also had not achieved total support in the past from the ras.
- In Nov 1922 parliament granted him emergency powers to deal with the countries problems. The powers would stretch for a period of one year. Although his first political actions were a move toward authoritarianism (rule by a despot or tyrant) he was neither tightening the existing system or embarking on a revolution. He was keen to strengthen his own position.
- He gave concessions to the Church, he renounced or pretended to renounce the atheism of his youth and the anti-clerical programme of early fascism, he tried to convince journalists that he was profoundly religious and that fascism was fundamentally a religious phenomena. He passed measures that were favourable to both industrialists and agrarians. Italy was also benefiting from a general economic recovery in Europe.
- He also took account of the Fascist movement. He created two new Fascist bodies
- The Fascist Grand Council (like an alternative to the Cabinet) that was designed to discuss general policy, in opposition almost to the Chamber of Deputies. Mussolini chose its members and also decided on what was to be discussed and when the sessions would take place. An instrument designed to evoke his primacy. It was useful at first but later he just ignored the discussions and advice.
- A new Fascist militia, paid for by the state recruitment fro the squads
- Historians have argued that this was more to do with taking control of the PNF and the Fascist movement more than fascistising the state.
- Mussolini’s overall position was weak. He knew that the King could replace him at any moment, and any successor would probably get support from the Chamber of Deputies, especially as there were only 35 Fascist deputies.
- He needed a Fascist majority so he could obstruct any successor that the King may throw up. His idea was to change the electoral system. He argued for the scrapping of proportional representation, as it had been responsible for the string of weak coalition governments. In July 1923 the Acerbo Law (named after the Fascist deputy who introduced it) was passed (303 to 40) (the vote was taken with armed fascists within the chamber itself) whereby PR was abolished and a new system was introduced; the party who gained the most votes in the election providing they received at least 25% of the vote would be given 2 thirds of the available seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Effectively this was the end of parliamentary democracy. The idea was to produce governments of increased strength to enable Italy to develop to her full potential.
- This electoral reform was put into action in the election of April 1924. The government drew up a list of approved candidates, (3,000 had applied, in effect the chosen candidate had a safe seat and would become a member of parliament) including many non-Fascists who were eager to be included; (ironically of course Mussolini had nothing but contempt for the institution of a parliament) in Sicily 60% of govt list were ex-Liberals. Fortunately for Mussolini the opposition remained split, the Communists rejected a proposal by the PSI to form a united front against the Fascists.
- The voting showed some of the traditional features of Italian voting behaviour. This was reinforced by militia violence, and government influence was very apparent:
- One Socialist candidate was killed, 100’s of other people were killed or wounded, suddenly a very large increase in the number of public assaults (Dumini (Matteotti crisis) and Volpi very much implicated). In many areas voting took place in a climate of terror.
- Meetings were stopped and hostile voters were intimidated, many candidates withdrew from the elections.
- Opposition publications were suspended by the police for being a danger to the public; while 10’s of thousands of newspapers were destroyed by the squads. The Corriere della Sera the most read paper in Italy was cowed into political silence during the election
- Some Fascist voters were allowed to vote more than once! In some areas over 100% of the population had voted! Opposition votes were destroyed by fascists, who had been allowed to remove the ballot boxes themselves.
- The usual bribery and corruption was apparent-lavish grants offered to local authorities for example
The police took little action and many foreign journalists who had been reporting events were flogged and expelled from the country.
- Mussolini played the innocent amongst the violence and intimidation, he commented that he would not have wished to ‘stain with blood the essentially spiritual movement that I led to victory’.
- The government list of candidates won 66% of the vote, with over 80% in the south, while attracting less than 40% in the industrial areas such as Milan and Turin.
- The Fascists now had 275 deputies with another 100 supporters while the Socialists and Catholics were reduced to fewer than 50.
- So by 1924 Mussolini found himself in a much stronger position. The Socialists had been weakened by not finding common ground to fight the Fascists. The Fascists now had the power of the state behind them.
- Squad violence continued against the Socialists both official and unofficial. Individuals, meetings were all attacked, along with hostile newspapers. At least 3 Socialist deputies were murdered. But a full scale Fascist revolution had not occurred, and Fascist violence could not solve all of Mussolini’s problems.