How and why did Mussolini come to power in 1922?
The tumultuous era preceding Mussolini’s rise to power was marked by post-war grievances and prolonged economic instability; both of these factors resulted in popular dissatisfaction with liberalism and created an opportune atmosphere for his accession to power. The years following Italy’s unification in 1871 were blighted by poverty, a lack of nationalism and most devastatingly involvement in the First World War, resulting in national humiliation and the diminishing of the liberal government’s authority. This was signified by the marked political instability from 1919 to 1922, where 5 weak governments were elected in quick succession. The “mutilated victory” of Versailles, where Italy was given meagre quantities of land, was a cataclysmic blow to the popularity of liberalism and allowed for more radical parties such as the Fascists to enter the political spectrum. Threats to the government’s power came from both the far right and left, with the Fascist party gaining 35 seats in 1921 and membership for the Partito Socialista Italiano rising from 50,000 to 200,000 during the Bienno Rosso. However, circumstance was not the sole determinant of Mussolini’s success. Mussolini himself was a highly influential orator and was able to make his Fascist party appeal to all social classes. His newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, crucially allowed him to propagate his party’s ideology and convince disillusioned voters to support the National Fascist party. Activism and pragmatism were also key elements of his personality which allowed him to complete his rise to power, and were particularly evident in his march on Rome. Continued liberal unpopularity, World War One and Mussolini’s charismatic leadership were the most significant factors contributing to Mussolini’s rise to power in October 1922. Probably the most fundamental event contributing to the decline of Italy’s liberal governments’ popularity and functionality was the First World War, which created serious economic, social and political problems for post-war Italy. Italy’s legacy in the First World War was both demoralising and ignominious. The war cost Italy 600,000 dead and major territorial losses against the Austrians and Germans at Caporetto. Moreover, Versailles or the “mutilated victory” was a serious hindrance to the popularity of the Liberal government in 1919, where Italy received a small and relatively insignificant portion of European land after a huge commitment of 5 million soldiers to the war. Italian nationalists were enraged by the insufficient granting of Tyrol and Istria rather than the strategically important Fiume or Dalmatia. Dalmatia was guaranteed to Italy by the Treaty of London in 1915 in return for Italy’s involvement in war and the liberal government’s passive concordance. Many of the soldiers returning were middle class and turned to politics to voice their discontent with the interventionist liberal government, further widening the divisions within the government and weakening their grip on power. The political crisis was mirrored by an equally severe economic one; wartime production rates had created inflation, unemployment and food shortages due to a 400% increase in food prices. Italy borrowed greatly to finance the war, spending 148,000 million lire, more than twice the amount of government expenditure from 1861-1914, The working class was hit hard by the economic crisis, resulting in the expansion of trade union membership and a growth in activity with a concomitant growth of the PSI’s influence in politics. In 1918-20 prices increased by 50% which was financially ruinous for those on fixed incomes or with savings. By 1919 social unrest was rife and unemployment peaked at 2 million. Radical socialists capitalised upon the widespread discontent with the liberal government to instigate a Bolshevik style revolution and seize power. The “Bienno Rosso” or “Red Years” had begun. The Red Years were...
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