Fascism up close!

D’Amato discusses the rule of the Fascist Party in Italy and draws parallels to American politics.

Following World War I, Mussolini’s power and prominence in Italian politics increased at a rapid pace. Fascism’s blend of socialism and fervid, militaristic nationalism proved appealing to a large and growing segment of the Italian populace. With strongholds in northern and central Italy, Mussolini, keen to cultivate his myth, declared that he and three hundred thousand Fascist partisans were prepared to March on Rome. The Fascists’ 1922 March on Rome arguably marks the start of Mussolini’s regime, though initially the existing parliamentary system of government remained intact and functioning. The number was, in fact, much smaller, and the “march” itself consisted mostly of several train rides on October 28, 1922. To successfully paint the picture of an imposing military force, prepared to assume power through strength of arms, was enormously important to Mussolini and his political goals. Fascism as an ideology sought to inspire the confidence of the Italian people by stressing heroism and valor. But for an authoritarian system such as Mussolini’s Fascism to take hold and function, it is imperative that the people also be afraid, overawed by the formidability of the machine. Masterful in the use of theatrics and propaganda, Mussolini understood the political environment in which he found himself and shrewdly crafted the message of Fascism. Reflecting his contempt of liberalism and democratic government, Mussolini called parliament a “dull and grey hall” that would better serve as a camp for his soldiers. Fascist propaganda quite consciously characterized the government and its institutions as old, decayed, and behind the times, Fascism being the “young, virile, new” alternative.1 Mussolini became prime minister at the request of Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III shortly after the march. And from his first days in office, he dedicated himself to the task of the overhaul of the Italian government, to transforming it from a parliamentary democracy to a dictatorship. Still, forced by circumstances to play the political game, Mussolini used every tool at his disposal to secure advantages for his Fascists in the elections of 1924; he used his clout to alter electoral rules, giving an automatic two-thirds of parliament’s seats to the party with the largest share of the votes, provided that this share amounted to over one quarter of the votes. The new law (known as the Acerbo Law) in place, the Fascists and politically aligned parties dominated the election, gaining 374 seats. Later, by the second half of the decade, Mussolini and his Fascist Party would abolish all opposition parties and, with them, parliamentary elections. From 1922, when the King had fatefully invited him to form a government, Mussolini had managed to consolidate his power in an unprecedented drive toward total dictatorship.

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