How did Mussolini gain power in 1922?
By 1922 many Fascists believed that their time had come. The question was not when but how they should take control of the nation.
Mussolini became under increasing pressure from the ras to seize power but he was still thinking about a legal route, and was discussing government formations with the other important politicians, but he certainly had no wish to be absorbed into Liberalism, or to be a junior partner in a coalition.
- On 29th October 1922 Rachele Mussolini received a phone call. The King wanted to see Mussolini immediately in Rome, in order to discuss a new government. Mussolini asked for the offer in writing. Mussolini’s strategy had worked. The King was offering the job of PM even though the Fascists only had 35 MP’s.
- So how and why did this offer come? For a while the Fascists had been slowly taking over local governments. Squads had been expelling Socialist councils and seizing power. Also since September rumours had been rife that the fascists were planning a march on Rome to seize power. Many politicians were considering Mussolini to form a government along with a few other prominent Fascists.
- On 16th Oct Mussolini and other leading Fascists met in Milan and decided that the time was right. On the 24th of Oct a Fascist Congress was held in Naples, 40,000 Blackshirts chanted ‘A Roma’ (To Rome). The leaders intimated that a march was imminent
- They drew up plans. First Fascist squads would seize public buildings in Northern and Central Italy. Others would assemble outside Rome on 27th October, ready to march the following day. Mussolini proclaimed, ‘Either the government will be given to us or we shall take it, descending upon Rome. It is now a question of days, perhaps hours.’
- Mussolini however was having doubts about the March idea. He still hoped that he would be appointed legally; he was under the influence of the other Fascist leaders. He had the idea that the threat of the march may be enough to get himself appointed as PM.
- And so it proved. About 10,000 of the planned 50,000 squadristi began to assemble at the 3 designated points 20 miles outside Rome. On the night of the 27th Fascists across northern Italy had been taking public buildings with a mixed success, but reports began to filter through to Rome from frightened prefects
- Many of the squadristi failed to arrive at their designated start points due to sabotage of railway lines. Those that did arrive were poorly armed, soaked through and had poor morale. Hardly an invincible force.
- PM Facta for so long one of the Liberal politicians who had ignored the Fascist threat now finally had to decide what to do. Whether to fight or capitulate? His government resigned but he was asked to stay on, he asked for Martial Law so he could send the army to face the Fascists.
- King Victor Emmanuel now had the fate of Italy in his hands. He has been described as a weak man incapable of firm decision making. The historian Lyttleton has said, ‘the only man who could do anything was convinced of his impotence.’
- The King like many others in the elite overestimated the power of the Fascists. His mother was a fan so too his cousin the Duke Of Aosta. The King feared in fact that they would replace him with Aosta. He also got mixed messages from the army generals as to the attitude of the army to considering fighting the Fascists. He was facing civil war
- He hesitated and then at 2am accepted Facta’s request for martial law. 12,000 troops in Rome began to surround themselves around key public buildings waiting for the Fascists. But 8 hours later the King changed his mind. He wanted to try and compromise with Mussolini.
- Facta resigned and the King persuaded ex- PM Salandra to head a government including Mussolini. Salandra failed to gain support and Mussolini refused to join. He (Mussolini) said he would only be in government as PM or nothing. The King had run out of options and sent the telegram to Mussolini, on the advice of Salandra, who wanted to avoid his rival Giolitti becoming PM again.
- Mussolini who had been prepared to flee to Switzerland if the march failed (which he thought it would) had won. He took the overnight train to Rome and arrived at 10.42 am on 30th October, wearing his black shirt he was taken to his audience with the King. He said, ‘I have come straight from the battle, which fortunately, was won without bloodshed.’