Mussolini’s rise to power
To the majority of Italians, the Versailles settlement was a bitter disappointment. Although Italy gained some territories, it was ignored. It seemed that other countries, particularly Yugoslavia, had gained at Italy’s expense. The territories that Italy gained were Trentino, South Tyrol, Istria, and Trieste.
Italy had borrowed heavily to finance its involvement in the First World War, leading to soaring inflation. In addition to this massive increase in the cost of living, Italians faced high unemployment as industry reduced production. The number of people seeking jobs increased with the return of the soldiers. Italy's parliamentary system was based on proportional representation, with more than nine political parties. It was impossible for any of the parties to gain an overall majority. Between 1919 and 1922, Italy had five different coalition governments, none of which could afford to address the post-war problems.
The circumstances inevitably led to disorder. Strikes were organized by trade unions, workers began to occupy their factories, and farmers established their own cooperatives. Factory councils, similar to the Russian soviets, appeared in many industrial cities. With the formation of the Communist Party, a revolution seemed imminent.
It was primarily the threat of communism that provided Benito Mussolini with the opportunity to gain power in Italy. On 23 March 1919, he formed a facsio de combattimento, a fighting group in Milan, marking the origins of his fascist party. Initially, the party's failure to win any seats in the 1919 elections made Mussolini realize the need to attract financial support from wealthy businessmen and landowners. The fascist party emerged as the defender of private enterprise and property, with its black shirt group regularly attacking communist headquarters and newspaper offices. The fascist party rapidly gained the support of those sections of Italian society that had the most reason to fear communism: industrialists, landowners, middle-class property owners, the Roman Catholic Church, and the king.
In 1922, the communists called for a general strike. Mussolini boldly announced that if the government did not put a stop to this, then his own men would. In October 1922, it became the march on Rome, with 50,000 fascists involved. The prime minister wanted to use the army, but the king refused, and instead invited Mussolini to form a new government.
Far from the great battle portrayed in Mussolini’s subsequent propaganda, the march on Rome had been an enormous bluff. The fascist group could easily have been held back by the army, and Mussolini was in Milan instead of leading his men to battle. The threat of violence alone led to the creation of the first fascist state.
Main characteristics of Mussolini’s style of government
Lack of democracy: Italy became a one-party state. Totalitarianism: the interest of the state was more important than the interest of individuals. Autarky: Italy should become economically self-sufficient. Extreme nationalism: Mussolini was determined to restore Italy to its former glory. The use of violence: Mussolini had seen how the mere threat of violence had enabled him to gain power.
In line with the aggressive nationalism that characterized fascism, the main aim of Mussolini's foreign policy was to make Italy great, respected, and feared. In 1922, Italy had been neither great, respected, nor feared. Then, after the Paris settlement, the Italians felt humiliated, and Mussolini was determined to establish Italy's credibility.
Italy claimed the port of Fiume and its surrounding area, based on the fact that the majority of its population was Italian. This claim was rejected by the Paris peacemakers, and Fiume was declared a free city. In 1919, 300 ex-soldiers were forced to enter Fiume and it was declared part of Italy. The relations with other countries were damaged, so Italy left the city, and the government renounced its claim to Fiume.
It was a conflict between Albania and Greece that was an aborder dispute. The League of Nations sent a commission in which Italians, the commission's representatives, were killed. Mussolini blamed Greece and entered Corfu, but Greece paid the amount of money that the League demanded, and Mussolini had to leave Corfu.
He attended the Locarno conference in 1925, where he forged an effective working relationship with representatives from Britain, France, Germany, and Belgium. Italy played a key role in many of the agreements that emerged from the conference. Mussolini established friendly relations with Greece, Hungary, and Albania. He was especially keen to establish good relations with Britain and supported their demands to Turkey. Italy became the second country to officially recognize the USSR.
More aggressive foreign policy
In October, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Abyssinia, the only remaining independent state in Africa. Abyssinia and their emperor Haile Selassie did all they could to resist, but they didn’t have European modern weapons. An Italian victory was inevitable from the outset. Economic sanctions were applied to Italy, but they had no effect on the Italian economy. The League made Mussolini closer to Hitler. In 1936, Mussolini formed the Rome-Berlin-Axis with Hitler. The following year, he joined the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany and Japan.