Unlike previous governments, which had been unable to hold onto power, Mussolini's coalition government lasted through the whole of 1923 and beyond. As head of a coalition government since November 1922, Mussolini was committed to an ambitious modernization program: draining swamps, developing hydroelectricity and improving the railways. And Italy's economy began making impressive gains. Italy was still basically a nation of small farmers, forty percent of its gross national product being small-scale agriculture, which employed half of its labor force. But, under Mussolini, Italy's economy was growing 2 percent annually. Its automobile production was increasing and its aeronautical industry was advancing.
On February 1, 1923, Mussolini's Black Shirt street fighters became his regime's "Volunteer Militia for National Security." In November 1923, Mussolini and his Fascist Party moved to strengthen their hold on power by passing a law that bent parliamentary elections in their favor — the Acerbo Law. According to this law, if a political party received 25 percent or greater of the votes cast it would be awarded 66 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Parliament). The law diminished all but the most powerful party, and it passed with those described as armed fascists applying pressure here and there. The elections in April 1924 increased Fascist Party seats in Parliament from 40 to 374 – total seats, 535. The Communist Party won 19 seats, the Socialist Party 46, and 39 seats went to the reformist anti-fascist Catholic party, the Popular Party.
Mussolini had his own police force he affectionately called the Cheka. It attacked those it considered especially obnoxious. On the 30th of May, a Socialist member of Parliament, Giacomo Matteotti, accused the Fascists of committing fraud in the recent elections, and he denounced their violence. Eleven days later he was kidnapped and murdered. Members of Parliament protested by quitting Parliament. There were public demonstrations and attacks on Mussolini in the press. The protesters demanded that King Victor Emmanuel III dismiss Mussolini, but the king is said to have disliked the protesters whom he looked upon as too hostile toward the monarchy.
In September among the anti-fascists was someone naive enough to assassinate a fascist member of Parliament, which intensified matters. Mussolini had been interested in respectability and had expressed opposition to the Matteotti assassination. Now, from within his party came threat of a coup against him. His party and his government appeared to be falling apart. In early January (1925) he fought back. He resumed his pose as a man of strength and spoke proudly of the "passion of the best youth of Italy." He proclaimed "all of the violence" as his responsibility and explained that Italy needed stability and that Fascism would assure that stability with violence if necessary ("any manner necessary"). It was, some would believe, the beginning of Mussolini's dictatorship.
Mussolini began to dismantle the constitutional and conventional restraints on his power. With a Fascist majority in Parliament, on 24 December a law was passed that gave Mussolini the formal title as "Head of the Government." The law formalized Mussolini as no longer responsible to Parliament and capable of being removed from his power only by the King.
In 1926 there were attempts to assassinate Mussolini. The second attempt was by a fifteen-year-girl, who was lynched on the spot. This was followed by the outlawing of all political parties other than the Fascist Party and another law that abolished parliamentary elections. Instead, a Grand Council of Fascism was to select a single list of candidates to be approved by plebiscite. On paper, the Grand Council had the power to recommend Mussolini's removal from office — theoretically the only check on his power.
Mussolini strengthened support for his regime by signing an agreement with industrialists, assuring them control over their own industries, and he made a similar agreement with the large employers in agriculture and commerce. The agreements were fortified by the outlawing of strikes and labor unions denied the right to leaders of their own choice.
Mussolini was creating what was called a corporate state. In the new corporate state, employers, managers and workers were supposed to be united in purpose. The monarchy, the army, government bureaucracy, the Church and the middle class were supposed to play a role in strengthening state power, with the state as arbiter of the nation's interest. Mussolini was interested in supporting devotion to his government with censorship and propaganda. In the spring of 1929, he established a High Commission for the press, insisting that the Commission would not interfere with the freedom of the press. Like all other professions, journalists were encouraged to see their occupation as a service to the nation.
Mussolini associated his regime with the glory of ancient Rome and its empire. And, like other devotions to empire, Mussoloni's had its racially chauvinistic element. He spoke of Italians as being of "the Aryan and Mediterranean race" (with an emphasis on Mediterranean rather than Aryan and Nordic, although northern Italy had its Nordics). Apparently the public accepted the association. At any rate, many in Italy followed the invitation to be proud, and Mussolini was becoming an object of adulation. Many admired Mussolini for having saved Italy from Bolshevism. In many households across Italy, people pasted his picture, cut out of a newspaper, onto a wall. His birthplace became a place of pilgrimage. The old habit of belief in miracles was expressed in the rumor among at least a few that the blind could see again after Mussolini embraced them and that those who kissed his hands would die in peace.
In June 1929, Mussolini's agreement with the Catholic Church, the Lateran Pact, went into effect. The papacy recognized the state of Italy, with Rome as its capital, and the state of Italy in return recognized papal sovereignty over the Vatican City. The Pope was pledged to perpetual neutrality in Italy's international relations. Crucifixes were to be displayed in the courts of law. Vatican's privileged position in matters of education was to be maintained. Article 34 of the agreement held that the Italian state recognized the validity of Catholic marriage and its subjection to the provisions of canon law; nullity cases were reserved to the ecclesiastical courts, and there could be no divorce. Article 36 conceded to the bishops the right to appoint or dismiss educators in public primary and secondary schools and to approve the textbooks that they used.
PBS television: The Dictator's Playbook: Benito Mussolini.
CONTINUE READING: Hitler to Power in Germany
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.