How far was Mussolini’s ability to secure and increase his power in the period 1919-28 due mainly to the weaknesses of his political opponents?
In accordance with the rise of fascism, as the official party leader and representative of the ideology Mussolini sought to secure his position as prime minister, and the move towards a personal dictatorship. Key factors that explain Mussolini’s ability to secure and increase his power include the weaknesses of his political opponents, Mussolini’s own character, the use of violence and terror, as well as the personal actions, or inactions of the King.
The weakness of Mussolini’s political opponents is a key factor in explaining his ability to secure power. Notably, the PSI which was by far the largest and most substantial opponent lacked the support of the middle class and elite; these two groups characterised Italy’s government power hierarchy, and support from these two sectors of society was needed in order to gain mass support, presenting a key weakness which Mussolini was able to use for himself, promoting his own fascist ideology as a viable alternative to socialism, and thus helping him secure his power. Another weakness of the socialist party was the lack of foresight in decision making, in one instance of the general strike Bienno Rosso, culminating a two year period of socialist strikes; inadvertently the thousands of socialist workers striking only caused stronger sympathy for Mussolini’s own fascist movement, who were seen as efficient and effectively replacing the need for a socialist workforce. This in turn helped secure Mussolini’s PNF as a party of credibility, of which he was at the forefront as party leader. Earlier failures in WWI also helped secure Mussolini his position as prime minister; the Liberal State who had advocated joining the war had effectively failed to gain the lands promised in the Treaty of London, instead resorting to the Treaty of St Germaine, allowing Italy to receive lands including Tyrol and Trentino. It was a far cry from the lands such as Northern Dalmatia and various parts of Fiume which were originally promised, sparking outcry as the war became labelled Italy’s ‘mutilated victory’. With the socialist party also out of the question, effectively the weaknesses of opposition parties meant that the only party that was credible for forming an effective government fell to the PNF, headed by Mussolini. Failures in WWI also helped promote Mussolini’s party as one that would create a stronger Italy, rather than resulting in the 600,000 soldiers killed in WWI; Mussolini gained a reputation for heading a party that was effective and decisive. Wishing to secure his power further, Mussolini pushed forward the Acerbo Law in 1923, resulting in the Socialist party showing further signs of weakness; it could not agree with any terms or incriminate Mussolini as the instigator of the Matteotti murder, resulting in the Aventine Secession, a fatal error: members of the Socialist left the Italian Chamber in masses, only to create more space for PNF party members, sympathisers of Mussolini, further securing his power and allowing an advancement in the route to his eventual dictatorship which would eventually ban all opposition parties. However, while a significant factor, it does not fully explain the rise of Mussolini to a fully-fledged dictatorship, to which we must look at Mussolini’s own personal character.