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History - Mussolini's Rise to Power

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To what extent was Mussolini's rise to power due to the weakness of opposition groups between 1918 and 1922? From 1861, a liberal monarchy gradually arose after the unification of Italy's constituent states. Parliamentary democracy swiftly became the dominant practice by government; but by 1922 a new form of government had been established under Mussolini and the Fascist Party. This study will examine the grounds by which the Fascists emerged, with specific focus on the weaknesses of the opposition groups that posed a potential threat, yet, ultimately failed to deliver. In doing this Mussolini's ability in prioritising these weaknesses, along with his strength and appeal, must also be investigated. One opposition group capable of posing a potent threat to Mussolini was the political left. However, as was common among Fascism's opponents, the left-wing was divided both internally (splits) and externally (from other forms of opposition). Within the PSI (socialist party) there were clear differences between the Maximalist niche, who urged revolution, and the Minimalists, who were intent on coming to power by legal means. These differences led to the PSI splitting in January 1921, also forming the PCI (Communist Party). Despite the PSI having 200,000 members, 123 parliamentary deputies elected (1921 election) and 300,000 Avanti! (newspaper) readers, it never seriously threatened revolution, resulting in disillusion and loss of confidence. The PSI also had three internally divided main wings; the national PSI, socialist unions and socialist councils. Arguably their unwillingness to cooperate contributed to their ineffectuality and a perceived inability to achieve proletarian revolution. Though union membership rose from 250,000 to 2,000,000 after the First World War, it could still be said that the inadequacies of the established workers' organisation, the PSI, made their presence extraneous. It is debatable whether these inadequacies were down to a submissive mentality or ineffectual leadership. Denis Mack Smith states that 'the only constant factor among the socialists was their association of violent language with a timid uncertainty in deed' (1 pg. ...read more.


This was, however, followed by a momentous victory at Vittorio Veneto, after which an 'overdue' propaganda campaign was initiated, increasing public optimism. The sequential fear and rejuvenation of the two conflicts, combined with the impact of the war - 500,000 Italians dead, over 1 million wounded, around 450,000 permanently disabled and around 600,000 captured - further contributed to the rise in post-war expectation. However, this was successively shattered, Blinkhorn stressing the sincerity of the post-war condition and the growing ideal of a 'mutilated victory', 'Italy's post-war condition soon made a nonsense of any optimism generated by official propaganda during 1918 [Vittorio Veneto]' (3 pg. 14). The initial idea of a 'mutilated victory' was that of the nationalist poet, Gabriel D'Annunzio. It signified the failure of the Italian government to gain the expected rewards promised by the Treaty of London. Italy was refused the Dalmatia coast and Fiume at Versailles, humiliating its 'destiny' for world power status. Prime Minister Orlando and the Italian delegation walked out after the decision, which further emphasises, and somewhat epitomises, the government's feebleness. The Fascist stance was that 'the government mishandled the war and then lost the peace', maintaining a similar mindset to the majority of the Italian populace and the conservative elite (where evidently the majority of their support transpired from). Gabriel D'Annunzio was a patriotic poet who glorified and romanticized Italy's past. He was hugely disillusioned with the liberal parliamentary democracy and in 1919, after the result of the Versailles peace conference (and 'mutilated victory'), he seized the island of Fiume with 2,000 nationalists. It has been commonly debated as to whether the newly formed country of Yugoslavia contributed to the disappointing results of the peace conference, but despite this D'Annunzio went ahead. Prime Minister Giolitti subsequently negotiated with Yugoslavia that Fiume was to remain a free city and that D'Annunzio would be expelled. He fled after the assault by the Italian army began. ...read more.


65). It could, however, be said that the threat of civil war and the strengths of the Fascist movement were too great for there not to be change. It could alternately be suggested that the King overestimated the strength of Fascism at the time and could have delayed its assumption to power. The threat of civil war and the possibility that he could be replaced by his cousin, the Fascist sympathiser, the Duke of Aosta, were there to be a coup, ignited his compromise with Mussolini. Interestingly, the King later removed Mussolini from power, implying that he did have the strength to oppose him. It is possible that the desperate situation governed his reason. Lyttleton supports this stance, believing that 'the only man who could do anything was convinced of his impotence'. The Blackshirts benignly marched on Rome to celebrate their victory. In conclusion, the problem was ultimately rooted in both ideology and priority. Not only was the problem ingrained in the upper echelons but also in support, with the First World War radically influencing the mindset of the masses. Growing unemployment, discontent and obscure loyalties simply compounded the strongly evident weaknesses of Fascism's opponents. Yet, these were arguably still extraneous without taking into account Mussolini's character and assertive opportunism, which was key to his growing support. This was guided by both his and the party's appeal, and, to a lesser extent, violence. The expectations from Versailles, the 'mutilated victory' and consequent discontent, along with the war's economic impact, all emphasised the inadequacies of democracy. The methods Mussolini used to manipulate this situation were rooted in policy and, in parallel with National Socialism, their status as a 'catch-all party'. We also cannot rule out circumstance. The course of events did seemingly fall favourably for Mussolini; the war, mass discontent and government incompetence all working against the opposition and in his favour. The potential 'March on Rome' and the resultant feebleness of the King all but completed the process. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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