Mussolini's seizure of power, to 1925

Mussolini’s seizure of power, to 1925

Fascist Party Foundation and Growth

  • In 1919, Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in Italy. Originally a socialist, Mussolini’s stance changed during WWI, and he started favouring a more radical nationalist political agenda.

  • Fascism was attractive to many Italians who were disillusioned with the existing political system and economic stasis in post-WWI Italy. Those who felt threatened by the rise of left-wing politics, especially socialism and communism, were especially drawn to Fascism.

  • Mussolini was immensely charismatic and he used this to his advantage to win support. He used black-shirted paramilitaries known as the Blackshirts to suppress opposition violently.

The March on Rome and Mussolini’s Appointment as Prime Minister

  • In October 1922, Mussolini organised the March on Rome. An estimated 30,000 Blackshirts participated, demanding the resignation of the existing government and appointment of Mussolini.

  • King Victor Emmanuel III refused to declare a state of siege, fearing civil war. Instead, he asked Mussolini to form a government. Mussolini became Italy’s youngest Prime Minister.

  • Mussolini at this point did not have full control but initiated a series of manoeuvres to consolidate his power into a dictatorship.

Restructuring Italian Politics

  • Mussolini initially led a coalition government, but he changed the electoral system to favour the Fascist Party in 1923 with the Acerbo Law. This law declared that the party with the most votes (as long as they had at least 25%) would be granted two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.

  • He used this rigged system in the general elections of April 1924 to gain a strong majority in Parliament.

  • Opposition politician Giacomo Matteotti was murdered in June 1924, most likely by Mussolini’s Blackshirt thugs. This increased opposition to Mussolini, but he responded aggressively by stating that he would assume full responsibility and dictatorial powers to quell any dissidence - this is known as his ‘I am the State’ speech.

Radicalisation of the Regime

  • In 1925-26, Mussolini dismantled all checks and balances on his power. Multiple laws were passed to make Italy a single-party state and to protect the dictatorship from legal challenges.

  • The press was heavily censored, free trade unions were abolished and a secret police, the OVRA, was established to silence opposition.

  • Political parties besides Fascist Party were banned, including the popular Catholic party named Popolari. Anyone who opposed the regime was labelled an ‘anti-fascist’ and often faced violent repercussions.

  • By the end of 1925, Mussolini was effectively the dictator of Italy with no viable opposition or constraints on his power.