March on Rome, meaning the political miracle of 28 October, 1922
Why? In order to fully comprehend it we must go back to the end of the World War I. Approximately 600 thousand Italian soldiers perished on its fronts, yet during the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, although Italy was part of the winning coalition, it did not receive as much territory of the now defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire as it was initially promised by the allies. The disappointment was strengthened by the post-war crisis – inflation, difficult situation of peasants, often migrating to cities or across the ocean in search of bread, worker strikes (only in 1919 there were 1860 of them), unemployment, and finally the fate of war veterans (combatants), left to languish in poverty and not given any respect. Such conditions provided fertile ground for Socialism, which caused the lower class to look with distrust upon the ruling Conservatives, while the landowners feared the possibility of a workers’ revolution, which had just recently taken place in Russia.
Social unrest and sense of injustice also fueled the growth of the Fascist Party created in 1921, which had a program of anti-Liberal and national renewal, and which ideologically and by force fought against Socialists and Communists. Fascists wanted to implement a new order – just and filled with patriotism. In times of inept and constantly changing governments, Italians desired authority – a man who would act efficiently and would set out clear goals putting them into effect. In 1922 Benito Mussolini was simply the leader of the Fascist Party, which slowly gathered popularity. In the parliament the Socialists were the main force, while right behind them was the National Bloc which also included the Fascists. A failed attempt to create the government out of these opposing factions had to lead to political chaos and thus to the paralysis of the parliament, which was experienced in 1922. At the end of October of that year, Mussolini informed the government that Fascist forces (the Blackshirts), from all parts of Italy, until then known mainly from street brawls with Socialists and Communists, were marching on Rome, in order to take power, restore order and stabilize the political situation in Italy. On 28 October, 1922, the Fascists took over some public institutions, occupied train stations as well as army barracks and in several places obtained firearms from military deposits. Badly armed and tired, numbering approximately 20 thousand , they stopped near Rome, awaiting news from Mussolini, who was at that time in Milan. The Eternal City, which was well-armed, with an army which was faithful to the government, would have most likely without any great difficulty, defeated the exhausted, freezing and badly armed Fascists. A state of emergency was declared in Rome, while the army prepared to drive back the Blackshirts, when the Commander-in-chief of the Italian Armed Forces, King Victor Emmanuel III joined the fray. And what did he do? What would we have done in his place? Mussolini’s propagandists estimated that the forces waiting on the outskirts of the city numbered around 100 thousand, while panic spread throughout the city. The king did not want bloodshed, feared the outbreak of a civil war, and as a result decided not to sign the decree allowing the army to fight off the rebels. At that moment Prime Minister Luigi Facta resigned, while the king called Mussolini, who on the 29th of October got onto a train and arrived in Rome the next day. Victor Emmanuel entrusted him with creating the new government, while the Fascist forces enthusiastically entered the “fallen” city. On the 31st of October a veritable parade of the Blackshirts and their supporters took place – a fifty thousand strong crowd directed its steps to the Altar of the Fatherland, to the residence of the king on Quirinal Hill (Palazzo del Quirinale). The brutal, albeit legal (sanctioned by the king’s entrustment of the creation of a new government) taking of power took place in kid gloves, hands were shaken and smiles flashed all around.
A year and a half later, the efficiency with which Mussolini took over power was on full display. The Fascist Party won three-fourths of the seats in the parliament, which allowed Duce to move towards a dictatorship with the acceptance of the king and Pope Pius XI. These three most important people of the then Italy had common enemies: Bolshevism and atheism, as well as common values – they were skeptical of parliamentarianism and democracy, while valuing order, authority and discipline.
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