How many fascists are ex-liberals

Background current

90 years ago (October 30, 1922) King Victor Emmanuel III appointed the leader of the fascist party, Benito Mussolini, as the new Italian Prime Minister. Before that, Mussolini had paved the way to power for the fascists with his "March on Rome".

Benito Mussolini, framed by members of the Fascist Party, shortly after the "March on Rome". (& copy picture-alliance / Judaica-Sammlung Richter)

In the years after the First World War, the political conditions in Italy were similar to those in the Weimar Republic. Italy, too, cannot look back on any democratic tradition, inflation continues to reach new highs due to the high national debt, the economy is on the bottom after the end of the World War and unemployment is high: between December 1920 and the turn of the year 1921/22 it rose from 100,000 to over 100,000 500,000 at.

The economic and social crisis soon turns into a political one - the old ruling class is unable to improve the situation. The opposition, the socialists, are also divided and politically paralyzed - they only share their negative attitude towards the bourgeois state.

Founding meeting of the fascist fighting units

In this climate of political and economic instability, nationalist groups that are politically very heterogeneous are founded nationwide. With the participation of Benito Mussolini, these splinter groups met on March 23, 1919 for the founding meeting of the fascist combat units ("fasci di combattimento"). The right-wing associations of those involved in the war are united by the demand for an authoritarian order and a revision of the peace treaties in favor of Italy. Mussolini's National Fascist Party (Italian: Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF) will emerge from the combat units.

The slow rise of the fascists in power

At the beginning - but also in later years - the fascists are politically very heterogeneous, the early fascism is more "belief than program", as the historian Sven Reichardt states: "It was neither a common economic interest nor a consistent ideology, but rather above all a feeling-based unity. " The fascists owe their success to several factors: At first they live mainly from the terror of their fighting units, the squadren (black shirts) who fight against the socialists on the side of the landowners. The fascists soon brought entire regions of Italy under their control and tested their totalitarian order there.

Mussolini himself is also an important success factor. He acts as a bracket for the heterogeneous spectrum of parties in that he is able to bind the various interests. Over the years, the personality cult around the "Duce", who was a member of the Socialist Party of Italy (PSI) before World War I, has been professionalized. The mass media are also used specifically as a propaganda instrument to stage the myth and glorification of Mussolini's person.

Politically, the former journalist and elementary school teacher knows how not to turn the bourgeois parties against the fascists. This is not least because the liberal-conservative parties and the fascists have a common political opponent: the socialists. On May 15, 1921, the fascists won the elections for the first time in parliament, where they are now represented by 35 members. The then Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti made this possible for them by including the fascist candidates on the government list - Giolitti hopes to integrate the "prodigal sons" into the bourgeois camp. Since then the fascists have become more and more successful. Mussolini has meanwhile risen to become the leading politician of the fascists and transforms the "fasci" into the National Fascist Party. Overall, it is making a clear shift to the right.

The "March on Rome"

In the summer of 1922, the socialists called for a general strike to ward off fascism, but it failed. Many see the fascists as the lesser evil compared to the "red" danger of the socialists. Mussolini uses this ideologically charged mood and threatens to take power, which will go down in the history books as the "March on Rome": "Either the government will be transferred to us or we will take it by attacking Rome: it is now the matter of days , perhaps for hours, "said Mussolini. On October 27th he mobilized his black shirts and announced that he would take over the Italian government by force if necessary. The incumbent government wants to stop Mussolini and his squadrons. But King Victor Emmanuel III. considers the fascists' admission to the government to be necessary in order not to risk civil war. On the evening of October 29, 1922, he summoned Mussolini to Rome to appoint him prime minister. Just one day later, Mussolini presented his government.

The legendary "March on Rome" never took place. Mussolini's troops have taken position in front of the city and have not fired a single shot. And the "Duce" did not arrive in Rome until the morning of October 30, 1922 on the night train from Milan.

Italy on the way to dictatorship

In the following years the Fascist Party radicalized and established a totalitarian dictatorship with Mussolini at its head. An important step on this path is the creation of the fascist Grand Council in December 1922. The body headed by Mussolini defines the guidelines of politics and thus undermines the parliamentary system in the long term. In July 1923, the so-called Acerbo election law was passed: According to this, the party with the highest vote can now claim two thirds of the parliamentary seats. The law first came into effect in the 1924 elections - the fascists achieved a two-thirds majority. In 1926 another stage of radicalization begins, which finally turns Italy into a dictatorship: all parties with the exception of the fascists are banned, and elections are accordingly a purely formality. The freedom of the press is restricted and political opponents, above all socialists and communists, are persecuted - flanked by the terror of the squadren.

Historian Hans Woller sees the "March on Rome" and the subsequent seizure of power by Mussolini as a turning point: "It ends the era of liberal Italy, which had made great strides especially since the turn of the century and was closer to Western Europe in terms of industrialization, modernization and democratization. and Central Europe was approaching. "

Approaching National Socialist Germany and Italy entering the war

With the conquest of Abyssinia (today's territory of Ethiopia and Eritrea) in May 1936, Mussolini proclaims the Italian "empire", which is supposed to establish Italy's supremacy in the Mediterranean region. At the same time there is a rapprochement between Italy and National Socialist Germany. Up to this point in time, the relationship between Mussolini and Hitler was contradictory, despite similar ideologies, especially with regard to foreign policy interests. On November 1, 1936, Mussolini first mentioned the Rome-Berlin axis in a speech, which initiated close German-Italian relations. On June 10, 1940, fascist Italy declared war on Great Britain and France and fought alongside Germany.

With the landing of Allied troops in Sicily on July 10, 1943, the end of fascist rule was ushered in. Mussolini was deposed a few weeks later by the "Great Fascist Council" and on July 11, 1943, on the orders of King Viktor Emanuel III. arrested. The new Italian Prime Minister will be Pietro Badoglio, who dissolves the fascist party. German parachute troops liberate Mussolini from his captivity and take him to Hitler's "Wolfsschanze" headquarters. With German help, Mussolini tried one last time to seize power in northern and central Italy: In a radio address in Munich, he proclaimed the "Social Republic of Italy" in Salò, northern Italy. As a result, the southern Italian government under Badoglio declares war on the German Reich on October 13th. The western powers then recognize Italy as an ally. Mussolini tries to negotiate with the anti-fascist resistance movement (Resistancea), but fails. On April 28, 1945, while fleeing to Germany, the "Duce" was shot by partisans together with his lover Clara Petacci in Giuliano di Mezzegra (Lake Como). Italy ended the war on the Allied side in May 1945.

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