Mussolini Coming to Power

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Italy in WWI

War divided Italy and created the circumstances under which Mussolini was able to lead the Fascists into power. 

Shitaly fought the Austrians in WWI, on the northern border of Italy, in the Alpine areas.

October 1917: After three years of stalemate, the Italians suffer a major defeat at Caporetto.Government promises reforms, so expectations are raised.

October 1918: Italians win a minor victory at Vittorio Veneto. Italians remember this victory and so expect major rewards. 

The soldiers were mostly southern peasant conscripts, on low rations and low pay.In the factories, so stayed home on better pay while soldiers died. Many of those to stay home were socialists. this would cause a lot of bitterness after the war. 

600,000 italians were killed, 1,000,000 wounded.

Clark: "by November 1919 they [the Italians] were more divided that ever"

Mack Smith "it had been one of the great disasters of her history."

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Impact of WWI

600,000 Italians killed, 1,000,000 wounded

Economic Effect - State spent 148 Billion Lire

1914 National debt: 16 billion lire..............1919: 85 billion lire

Huge inflation

Returning fighters were angry at the 'shirkers'  who had gotten rich while they were risking their lives for their country. 

It greatly increased dissillusionment with the liberal state; the country was so divided no government could suit them all.

It increased alienation and anger from the liberal state whilst also increasing expectations of transforming it. This social situation is what would lead to the turbulent post war years, and eventually Mussolini coming to power.

Mack Smith "[As a result] Italy suffered 25 years of revolution and tyranny"

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Turbulent Post-War years

Mutilated Victory - post-war, Italy was not given some of the territories that were promised in the 1915 Treaty of London, because of the entrance of America into the war and Wilson's fourteen points. 

The peace treaty involved was not versailles, but the Treaty of St. Germain, 1919. 

Italian nationalists had claims to Italia Irredenta. These were all met, and actually succeeded. 200,000 Austrians lived in land belonging to Italy, as did 250,000 Slavs in Istria.

Italy was not given Dalmatia, or any Colonies. However it did recieve South Tyrol, Trentino and Istria. It was not really a mutilated victory, especially considering Italy's contribution. 

Liberal government was saddled with the blame for mishandling the war and then losing the peace.

Italians were angry at limited gains for huge losses, massive debts and a giant increase in the cost of living. 

So in reality Italy was not ripped off, but what matters is what people believed. And people believed Italy had been short changed, but more than that, it was the liberal's fault.

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Italy had claimed the major adriatic port city of Fiume, but had not been given it at St. Germain. 

In September 1919 Gabriele d'Aunnunzio, a nationalist poet and ex-pilot, at the head of 300 ex-soldiers, siezed control of the city. Allied troops occupying the city, although of those, some Italians stayed with d'Annunzio. 

Fiume quickly became the symbol of Italian Nationalism. The Liberal Government did nothing, reinforcing their image of weakness and willingness to submit to violence. 

December 1920: Giolitti's new government sends in troops. d'Annunzio and his army flee.

Fiume showed that force could be used to effect in post war Italy. It also showed government inadequacy, and contrasted d-Annunzio's action to the failure of the liberal's at the negotiating table after WWI. 

d'Annunzio inspired much of Fascism; balcony speeches, war cries, blackshirts, the salute, the Fascist song, plans for the corporate state, march on Rome inspiration. 

As a potential rival to Mussolini he 'fell from a balcony' in October 1922. He was made President of the Royal academy of arts in 1937. 

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Problems of Post-war Italy 1

Amongst the people there was:

ANGER - over the mutilated victory, weak governments, war profiteers, pacifist socialists etc.

FEARS of socialist revolution

EXPECTATIONS of a new, dynamic Italy (reforms promised by liberals after Caporetto), Workers Power, land reform, and an enlarged, greater Italy.

other problems were: 

Unemployment (demobilised soldiers), civil unrest, government debt, inflation, and a discredited parliamentary system. 

ex-soldiers missed the Trincerismo (comradeship) of the trenches, and these would be drawn into fascist squads.

The government would implement one policy to pleaseone group, and in doing so would alienate another group. 

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Problems of Post-war Italy 2

The liberal regime was under attack from the left as well. Socialists, inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution, began launching strikes, and returning soldiers occupied land. 

A key future group was the petty bourgeoisie, basically the middle class; shopkeepers, professionals, civil servants, artisans etc. They had no muscle to press for higher incomes unlike the unions. their savings were hit by inflation, as were their real wages, and so they became increasingly bitter, and because of this a natural recruiting ground for the fascists.

There were 5 weak liberal governments between 1918 and 1922. their reaction to problems showed them to be very weak:

Modest gains at st. germain - walked out of negotiations

d'Annunzio and Fiume - did nothing (intitially)

Land occupations - legalised them

Factory occupations - promised reforms

This behaviour infuriated people who wanted a strong government.  

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1919 Elections

In 1918 Full universal male suffrage was introduced, along with Proportional representation. This system created problems for the liberals as it could not lead to strong governments, only weak coalitions with little real power. 

Popolari (PPI), independent of the church but representing Catholics, was set up.

The PSI and the PPI did well in the 1919 elections:

PSI 156 deputies elected out of 508

PPI 101 deputies elected out of 508

However they could not cooperate (which would have given them a majority). The Popolari were split reformers/conservatives, and the PSI reformers/revolutionaries. 

This meant that the Liberals remained in power. The five governments formed (Orlando,Nitti,Giolitti,Bonomi,Facta) were unrepresentative of the opinion of the country. 

The succession of governments failed to solve Italy's socialm economic and political problems. The stage was set for radicals on either side to gather mass popular support. 

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The Biennio Rosso 1919-1920 2

PSI posed the greatest threat after the 1919 elections, but could not cooperate or plan a strategy.

Many Italians were frightened by the Socialists and felt under attack from 'the dictatorship of the proletariat'. Ex-soldiers felt bitter towards socialists who had stayed at home on better pay.

Strategies: PSI was weak in the south but land occupations were taking place.

Agricultural Unions of the Fedeterra were becoming ever more powerful, attempting to gain monopoly control over the labour supply, to force employers to employ workers. Socialists used violence against blackleg labour, and intimidated peasants and worker who did not cooperate with them. These victims would later support fascism.

September 1920: 500,000 workers respond to a lockout threat by occupying 300 factories in Turin and Milan and running them for a month. Red flags flew, armed workers protected 'their' factories.

Giolitti took a conicliatory position, and both sides withdrew eventually. After 1920 the number of strikes fell, and mass employment. Unrest fell and the threat fizzled out. All it achieved was a traumatic fear of Bolshevism, to be skillfully exploited by Mussolini.

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The Biennio Rosso 1919-1920 1

Between 1918-1920 Union membership rose from 250,000 to 2,000,000. The labour unrest caused by huge unemployment (2million) and high inflation meant Italy was swept with a wave of strikes.

1920: The PSI won many local elections, and so controlled local taxes and services.

The PSI programme was uncompromising; it was hardline, and not willing to compromise whatsoever. However, while the party seemed united behind their manifesto, it was deeply split between:

Maximalists: radicals who wanted revolution to enact the full programme and overthrow the system. Minimalists wanted peaceful reforms, believing full socialism would come naturally.  

In Janruary 1921 an even more extreme groups than the maximalists broke away and formed the PCI, communist party.

There was an industrial wing, with unions combined in the CGL (General confederation of labour), and local Socialist councils. The CGL was challenged by Catholic Unions, organised in the CIL (Italian confederation of Workers).  

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  • Son of a schoolmistress and a blacksmith
  • Worked as a teacher, a soldier, a journalist and a strike organiser
  • Was originally a socialist. and the editor of the newspaper Avanti!

Angelica Balabanoff, a socialist who had a strong influence on Mussolini: "Mussolini's radicalism and anti-clericalism were more the reflection of... his own rebellious egoism than the product of understanding and conviction."

Was firmly established on the revolutionary wing of the socialist party. However he was expelled for promoting intervention into the war. He set up Il Popolo d'Italia in 1914, advocating a strange mix of socialist and other political ideas.

He was conscripted into the army in August 1915 and enjoyed the 'trincerismo' of the trenches.

Personally he was disobedient, quarellsome, moody annd self-willed. Easily losing his temper, he was also restless, ambitious, and a dreamer. He once said to his mother 'I shall astonish the world'. 

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Fascism 1919-1922 Key points

  • Fascism began as a broadly left-wing, nationalist movement.
  • Attacks on socialists attracted support from elites afraid of socialism, many peasants, bourgeoisie, and those who had been victims of socialist violence.
  • It gradually moved to the right where it's support was coming from, and Mussolini exploited the preparedness of liberal politicians to co-operate.
  • Mussolini's relations with the Ras were sometimes very tense.
  • Mussolini used the threat of violence to become the legally appointed Prime Minister.
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The Beginnings of Fascism

In Milan, March 1919, Mussolini made a speech to around a hundred men (and a handful of women) establishing the creation of the Fascist movement. These early joiners would become known as 'Fascists of the first hour'.

The principal aim was clearly to gain power. However early Fascism still had some socialist characteristics, such as republicanism and opposition to the church. He declared war on socialism 'not because it is socialist, but because it has opposed nationalism."

Facism remained a small group with barely over a 1000 memberrs. This is because it was seen as a left wing group, and left-wingers supported the PSI. In the 1919 elections in Milan Fascism gained only 5000 votes, a tiny amount.

Fascism seemed doomed to fail, however in only a few years time it would control all of Italy. Mussolini's great skill was to exploit the fear of socialism of the upper and middle classes, and move Fascism to the right during the Biennio Rosso, losing some early supporters but gaining the support of younger, lower middle class students, the civil service and the bourgeoisie.

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Who supported Fascism?

  • Pety bourgeoisie - upper working, lower middle, middle class. Insecure about their position; scared of falling back into the proletariat - aiming for bourgeois elite status. Many ex-soldiers humiliated by not recieving their 'due'.
  • Rural lower middle class support - farmers who had improved their position and affluency - these gains were threatened by socialism. Also, considerable resentment over the power of socialist organisations controlling the labour markets.
  • Agrari - large landowners - welcomed Fascists, those who would fight against socialism. Also attracted were the industrialists who had been scared by socialism, whilst also concerned that liberal governments were making far too many concessions.
  • Fascsim always appealed to students and youth; it's focus on action and violence was very attractive to them. Eager for adventure and action they were embittered about the rising wages of unpatriotic workers, and their own lack of prospects. They detested the boring routine of their lives, and were bitter that they had missed out on the chance to get glory in the war. many joined the fascist squads.
  • Finally fascism attracted some of the semi criminal elements of large towns.
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