Italian fascism: path towards seizure of power


Violence against political competitors, as well as mass public campaigns — rallies, marches, holidays of cohorts of blackshirts were at the heart of  the activity of fascists. Elitism and deep contempt towards liberalism, socialism, democracy were present in all aspects of fascist activity.


Editor’s note: Fascism, and Mussolini, saw socialists as their main enemies. Liberals were nothing more than an annoying distraction to them, doomed either way. The year 1922 proved this: the liberals surrendered the country to the fascists without a fight. The only major force opposing fascists were socialists. But socialists were too disorganized. They didn’t manage to convince the masses to follow them. Fascists, in the absence of strong socialists, quickly took over Italy: Mussolini’s fascist party had 150 thousand members in 1923 and almost a million members a year later. Soon fascists were strong enough to use their main problem-solving weapon: violence.


After the decision of the Rapallo conference and the fall of the “free city of Fiume”, Mussolini (quite in the spirit of Machiavelli and Le Bon) once again drastically changes his position. Earlier he supported D’Annunzio by his articles in his party periodical Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy), proclaiming the motto “Fiume or death”; now he writes “Fascism cannot be uncompromising in questions of foreign policy. The treaty regarding Fiume and the eastern border is acceptable.

When bourgeois property started getting seized on a large scale under the socialist motto “Factories to the workers, land to the peasants” in summer 1920, Mussolini approvingly claimed in his “Popolo” that this is how “the revolution which started in 1915 continues“. Mussolini yet again drastically changed his position when the government (again headed by Giolitti) made a deal with the workers in September 1920. The deal assumed an increase in wages, social benefits, eight-hour workday and worker’s control of enterprises.

Industrialists and latifundists were categorically dissatisfied with this deal. The deal, with the continuing crisis, meant a sharp decrease in profits.

Civil servants and intelligentsia were dissatisfied with this deal — it turned out that the victorious proletariat was earning several times what a teacher or municipal official did.

Most peasants to whom this deal didn’t apply were dissatisfied with it.

Finally, the “left-wing” of the Socialist party thought that this is the right time to increase the pressure on the conceding government and turn the mass riots into a Russian-type revolution was dissatisfied with this deal.

As a result, almost everyone united against the “Reds” — from major and minor urban and rural bourgeoisie to intelligentsia and Catholics who were outraged by left-wing anti-religious propaganda.

And the Socialist party itself was divided — and, naturally, got sharply weaker in the Parliament, in the factories and fields, and in the streets. Which was immediately noted by the Executive Committee of Comintern: “All necessary conditions for a victorious revolution are present in Italy, except for one — except for a well-organized working class“.

This is where the fascists became active. What caused their activity was the murder of a popular right-wing lawyer Giordani by left-wing radicals in Bologna on November 21, 1920.

Under Mussolini’s new slogan, “fight back the red chaos”, squads of blackshirts first clashed with socialists, communists and anarchists during rallies and demonstrations. Next they launched fierce mass terror operations all over Italy. Fascist commanders composed — quite in the spirit of ancient Rome — proscription lists of top-priority targets for “rightful vengeance”. Fascists devastated and burned offices of “Red” newspapers, buildings of left-wing party organizations and clubs, attacked the apartments of left-wing leaders in cities. In villages they attacked “Red” syndicates, leagues and cooperatives.

Giolitti asked the king to dissolve the Parliament. In April 1921 the king did so and scheduled new elections. The government hoped to weaken left-wing and Popolare Catholic Parliament groups. Giolitti announced that he is running in the elections together with the “bloc of parties of order”, including fascists.

Less “Reds” and more liberals ended up winning the seats in the Parliament after May 15 elections. At the same time — for the first time — 38 fascists, including Mussolini, were elected. Popolare were in the majority, but fascists were the political winners: not only they gained more popularity, but also achieved Parliamentary legitimacy.

By summer 1921 fascist terror spread all over the country. More and more often innocent people became victims of fascist terror, including local civil servants and Catholic priests.

Mussolini held a congress in November 1921 during which he renamed his “Fasci of Combat” to Partito Nazionale Fascista, National Fascist Party (PNF) and conferred the official title of “Duce” on the leader. He also announced the political platform of the party, which declared the state to be a “legal manifestation of the Nation”, proclaimed an eight-hour workday, recognized the participation of workers in running the enterprises, the wide-scale social legislation, etc. “Concerns for development of the national army”, activity aimed at solving the problem of colonies and support of the youth were also proclaimed. Fascism declared itself to be “the party of youth” and its cause “an attempt to rejuvenate the nation”.

But after the adoption of PNF political platform Mussolini emphasized that the platform is not a dogma: “Fascism is not an arsenal of abstract doctrines, for every system is a trick, every theory is a prison… A political platform is something that needs to be constantly reworked“.

The party, which had over 150 thousand members by the time of the congress, started growing even faster. But organizational problems increased together with the number of members. Regional leaders of PNF, a major part of whom earlier swore allegiance to D’Annunzio in Fiume (and who were called, unlike Duce, the Ethiopian title of the leader, “Rasas”), didn’t always obey Mussolini and often conflicted with one another.

In addition, “Rasas” could not firmly control their “fasci” — young, predominantly peasant masses, whose socialization mostly happened in the trenches of the World War. These masses often smashed and killed not only socialists and communists, but the liberal-republicans, Popolare, petty bourgeoisie, Duce’s “allies”. They set the broad masses of the population, whose support Mussolini needed, against fascists.

Mussolini set the task of sharply improving the party discipline. He militarized the party, declared it to be fascist militia, and stated in its manual: “The fascist warrior has a moral code of his own. When it comes to family, public politics — the laws of universal moral principles are alien to him… His code of honor is linked to the devotion to his order, to the highest fascist idea… his obedience… must be blind, unconditional and reverential — up to the highest step of the hierarchy, the top leader and the executive committee of the party…” Mussolini’s goal is fully obvious here: to create a cult of the leader in the party — quite according to the concepts of Moska and Le Bon — and to avoid D’Annunzio’s lack of discipline.

Fascist personnel started to get drilled like an army, as well as get seriously armed. Their weapons by the beginning of 1922 were not sticks and stones anymore, but rifles and machine guns (supposedly from robbed warehouses) which were distributed to fascists by the commanders of some of the regional garrisons. By spring 1922 PNF included approximately 280 thousand peasants and workers of agriculture and over 70 thousand city workers, out of a total of 470 thousand members. The number of PNF members approached a million men by autumn 1922. Mussolini declared in his party newspaper “Popolo”: “Fascism is already victorious, for socialism is already defeated everywhere“.

Besides a strict hierarchy (it is worth noting that Mussolini launches, in addition to “Popolo”, his party magazine “Hierarchy”), PNF created military headquarters, a strike army (consisting mainly of “arditi”) and a reserve (“squadre”) army, secret mobilization plans and instructions, as well as divided Italy into 12 control zones, subordinate to regional commanders.

Both the militarization of the fascist party, and its acts of terrorism, were followed by intensive, but at the same time very simply propaganda.

At the heart of their propaganda — the ancient Roman myth, in a major part borrowed from D’Annunzio, to which details, symbols and rituals were being added. But Mussolini gradually connected this myth with the modern times by including mythology of great Italian deeds of different ages into the fascist history and rituals.

Christianity was being included into the myth, even though Mussolini lashed it throughout all of his former political life (cartoons appeared in his “Popolo” depicting fasci instead of a cross over St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican). Now he couldn’t repel the Catholic masses from his party, and Mussolini makes another 180 degrees turn. He emphasized that Christianity, having taken up the torch of Roman glory, successfully carried it for two thousand years, and declared in his first Parliamentary speech: “I… claim that the only universal idea of modern Rome is the one that comes from Vatican…” The formula “I serve to God and Fatherland” appears in the manual of the fascist militia.

The glory of Renaissance Italy was included in the fascist myth — as being successive to Rome. Italian victories in Medieval wars and the victory over Austria-Hungary in the recent World War were included in it as well.

Mussolini marching to Rome with the blackshirts
Mussolini marching to Rome with the blackshirts

At the heart of the activity of fascists was violence against political competitors, as well as mass public campaigns — rallies, marches, holidays of cohorts of blackshirts. Mussolini was moving exactly according to Sorel’s concept: created an integral myth by means of pervasive propaganda plus used violent “direct action”.

And elitism and deep contempt towards liberalism, socialism, democracy (again, in the spirit of Sorel’s and Le Bon’s works) were present in all aspects of fascists’ activity. Mussolini declared in February 1922: “XIX century was full of the motto “everything”, this war cry of democracy. Now it is time to say: the few and the chosen ones!

When, on the eve of May 1, 1922, the government decided to declare this day a national holiday, Mussolini reacted with an outraged article in “Popolo” and “Hierarchy”: “The highest goal of fascism is the destruction of the liberal state… The Italian democracy will come to an end either by the means of an external enemy, or by the means by an internal revolt. Patriotism insists on the second scenario.

Such a message sent by the fascists, and, all the more so, their unbridled campaigns of mass terror, during which fascist “squadre” seized large cities (Bologna, Genoa, Ferrara, Ravenna) for long periods of time, seriously concerned the Parliament, the government, the king. The elites started talking about the need to “restrain fascism”. Mussolini started to hastily prepare a coup d’état.

The raid of fascists on the house of Miglioli, the leader of left-wing Catholics, in July 1922 was the first sign. Popolare declared that they are leaving the majority government as a sign of protest. Mussolini declared in the Parliament on July 19: “We have large, organized and disciplined forces in the country. If a government of anti-fascist reaction will come to power — beware, we will act with… stern resolve: we will start a rebellion.

The second sign was yet another schism (after the communists left) and demarche of socialists: their left-wing group expelled from the party those who tried to compromise with the government, after which decided to counter fascists and the government with a general “Great Strike”. Since the Socialist party didn’t even coordinate with the trade unions, fascists took full advantage of the discontent of the government, bourgeoisie and ordinary people through yet another explosion of political and economic chaos.

On August 1, the first day of the strike, Mussolini made a statement: “If the government won’t stop the strike in 48 hours, fascists will.” Fascists had instantly sent their strikebreakers to the workplaces of the transport, post offices, critical factories strikers. On the third day fascists engaged in armed combat with the strikers.

The strike came to an end on August 3, with fascists appropriating an image of “rescuers from the Red rampage” among the population. At the same time they had sharply accelerated — in technical, organizational and propaganda aspects — the preparation of a coup d’état.

Mussolini ceaselessly made public appearances and wrote articles. He smashed the “cowardly Parliament”, the liberals, the authorities in general. Finally, during his September 20, 1922 speech Duce put all of his cards on the table. Mussolini announced the slogan “Rome or death” (let us note that it was a direct copy of the recent “Fiume or death”) and declared: “We want to rule Italy. This is… what we strive to. There is no, and there never was, any lack of rescue packages in Italy. But Italy lacks real people and willpower. We are the new people and we will be able to rule the new Italy. Fascism, thus, will bear great responsibility… If… someone will be left dissatisfied — it won’t matter: perfection only lives in the abstract theories of philosophers”.

During the opening sitting of the PNF congress on October 24, 1922, Mussolini essentially issued an ultimatum to the government: “We want the current Chamber to be dissolved, an electoral reform and new elections… We demand a number of serious actions in the area of finance… Finally, we… demand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Defense Ministry, Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Public Works to ourselves… If the government will not cede to the wishes of those who represent the nation, black shirts will march on Rome.” On the next day the congress was closed and a fascist “March on Rome” (again, copying D’Annunzio’s “March on Fiume”) begun. Over 100 thousand armed “squadre” gathered around Rome by October 27.

Fascists parading near the residence of the king of Italy
Fascists parading near the residence of the king of Italy

Prime Minister Luigi Facta declared a state of siege over Italy, but the king refused to sign the decree and sent an invitation to Mussolini to “consult” with him. The government resigned. Mussolini replied to the monarch that consultations is not something worth bothering about. Then the king sent Duce a telegram with an offer to compose the government. On October 29 Mussolini arrived to Rome for an audience with the king and stated: “Your Majesty, I ask forgiveness for coming to you in a black shirt, in the spirit of these days, the days which, fortunately, did not turn out to be bloody. I bring you the Italy of Vittorio Veneto (Yury Byaly: this is the city near which the Austro-Hungarian army surrendered in the end of World War I), blessed by victory. I am a loyal servant of Your Majesty.”

Having returned to his hotel, Mussolini shouted from the balcony, accompanied by the applause of the crowd: “Fascists! Citizens! Fascism is fully victorious. I have been called to Rome — to rule!


Source (for copy):


This is the translation of the sixth article (first published in “Essence of Time” newspaper issue 58 on December 11th, 2013) by Yury Byaly of a series on essence, birth and rise of fascism. Part 1: Marxism, imperialism and the justification of inequality. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.


We encourage republishing of our translations and articles, but ONLY with mentioning the original article page at (link above).


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