Mussolini's Italy

Italian Fascism (1922-1939)

Five years on from the events in St Petersburg and the subsequent establishment  of the USSR, Europe had begun to appreciate the threat this socialist authoritarian state posed to its borders, traditions and values.  The first manifestation of this fear of the      'Bolshevik hordes' can be seen in the rise to power of Benito Mussolini in 1922 as leader of the Fascist Party in Italy. 


His message of anti-Communism, Italian cultural superiority, need for self sufficiency and right to Empire was backed up by indiscriminate use of violence against anyone in his party's way.  Once in power, he created a totalitarian state centred upon himself as Il Duce and which attempted to create an autarkic (self sufficient) state at the heart of a modern-day Roman Empire.

Emergence of authoritarian states

  • Conditions in which authoritarian states emerged: economic factors; social division; impact of war; weakness of political system

  • Methods used to establish authoritarian states: persuasion and coercion; the role of leaders; ideology; the use of force; propaganda


Consolidation and maintenance of power

  • Use of legal methods; use of force; charismatic leadership; dissemination of propaganda

  • Nature, extent and treatment of opposition

  • The impact of the success and/or failure of foreign policy on the maintenance of power


Aims and results of policies

  • Aims and impact of domestic economic, political, cultural and social policies

  • The impact of policies on women and minorities

  • Authoritarian control and the extent to which it was achieved

italian fascism gaetano salvemino.jpeg
Gaetano Salvemini (1938)

Italian anti-fascist politician, historian and writer. Born in a family of modest means, he became an acclaimed historian both in Italy and abroad, in particular in the United States where he was a professor at Harvard from 1934 onwards, after he was forced into exile by Mussolini's Fascist regime

1-28 - Fascist political power and control

28-60 - Fascist economic policy

60-94 - Fascist foreign policy

What is fascism?

The Bolshevik state created by the October Revolution was based around central economic planning, Lenin was determined to create from scratch a modern socialist state in a backward agrarian society. 


His success arrived at the same time as Europe was attempting to recover from the apocalypse of WWI. 


As a result, capitalist states in Europe felt vulnerable not only to a growing threat from the East, but also to the danger of internal revolution from their own population seeking to recreate the success of the Russian Communists

In this climate of fear and anger, a new political ideology arose in direct opposition to the threat seen to be posed by Soviet socialism.....

This History Today article by Roger Easton explores how we can define fascism.....

Lecture at LUMS based on Richard Wolin's book "The Seduction of Unreason" on how counter-enlightenment ideas formed the basis of the fascist reaction to modernity

How did Mussolini rise to power?

Benito Mussolini did not arrive out of nowhere.  He emerged from an Italy ravaged by war and whose people were seeing the attractions of new ideas in how their recently unified nation was to be organised + managed.

One of the key influences on his ideology was Gabriele d'Annunzio - a flamboyant and infamous soldier poet, nationalist and war hero.  Using the text on the left + your knowledge of fascism, identify a list of ideas and concepts that can be traced from d'Annunzio to Italian Fascism...

In 1902, after leaving school, Mussolini escaped to Switzerland in order to avoid military service; this was a crime that later in his life he would have people shot for. Mussolini continued in socialist politics and was arrested several times by the Swiss police for ‘political agitation’. At this stage of his life Mussolini was hardly recognisable in his political values. He preached against the church, the king and the exploitation of the people. However characteristics were clearly developing that would enable him to seize power for himself in 1922. He was a vocal and radical member of the unions; many feared and admired him and his ideas. Mussolini often openly spoke out about the need for a revolution with such conviction that shocked many of the more moderate socialists.

The Socialist party in Italy saw Mussolini as an influential figure and as a result he was rewarded with the position of editor of the leading socialist newspaper Avanti! Mussolini has been seen as one of the first political leaders to see the true value of media in controlling the population. Under his leadership the amount of people that read Avanti rose from 20,000 to 100,000.

Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party in 1914 after coming in to dispute with leaders of the party over their view that Italy should remain neutral, whereas his increasingly nationalist stance saw him embrace the prospect of war. He then joined the army in 1915 and was injured in 1917. This was an extremely important stage in Mussolini’s political and personal development. He later described it as ‘the most beautiful moment of my life.’ It was to be incorporated heavily into the cult of personality myth he created when in power as he created an image as a modern Julius Caesar .

After the war he returned to journalism and began to champion the many grievances of soldiers. He described his writing as ‘the finger on the pulse of the masses.’ In 1919 Italy was on the brink of civil war with high unemployment helping fuel an increasingly popular communist movement amongst many workers in both cities and the countryside. There was fear in the middle class that there would be a revolution similar to that seen in Russia. Mussolini saw that this was his chance, and promised that he would destroy the communists and restore law and order to Italy......

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Excerpted from Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy by Michael R. Ebner.


Mussolini had by 1922 succeeded in creating his own unique post-war political ideology which had helped him acquire power.  However, as always with RTP investigations, how much of this success was by his own hands, and how much was the result of favourable conditions and forces?

Using the reading and research already completed, compile a list on the left-hand  document of decisions, tactics, ideas, events, forces, conditions etc that allow Mussolini to become Prime Minister of Italy by the end of 1922

Now practise your OPCVL skills on the sources below using this exam style Q2...

With clear reference to the origin, purpose and content of the source, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses to the historian studying the rise to power of Benito Mussolini

'Never before have the peoples thirsted for authority, direction, order, as they do now. If each age has its doctrine, then innumerable symptoms indicate that the doctrine of our age is the Fascist. That it is vital is shown by the fact that it has aroused a faith; that this faith has conquered souls is shown by the fact that Fascism can point to its fallen heroes and its martyrs.


Fascism has now acquired throughout the world that universally which belongs to all doctrines which by achieving self-expression represent a moment in the history of human thought.'

- Benito Mussolini 'The Doctrine of Fascism' (1932)

'Why did Fascism break through in Italy but nowhere else during the post-war crisis?  Crucial to Mussolini's success were the existing, and rapidly worsening, crisis of legitimacy of the liberal state, the impact of the war, and the perceived revolutionary threat.  Nowhere else but Spain was the crisis of legitimacy so profound in the immediate post-war years.  The impact of the war in Italy, by contrast, can scarcely be exaggerated.  Millions of Italians had been mobilized to fight - many were now open to political mobilization.  The belief that, in the eyes of countless thousands of ex-servicemen and many others, that victory had been 'mutilated', that Italy had been cheated out of promises of national glory and imperial expansion, that all the sacrifices had not been worth it, fed a vitriolic rejection of the existing state.  Big electoral gains for a Socialist Part preaching the need for a violent seizure of power made the threat of revolution, so soon after the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, seem very real.'

- Ian Kershaw ' To Hell & Back: Europe 1914-1949' (Allen Lane Publishers; 2015)

'At the beginning of October 1922, Mussolini increased the pressure by starting to organise a Facist March on Rome.  The Fascist squads were organised into a militia and plans were drawn up to seize the major towns and cities of northern and central Italy.  Around 30 000 Fascists would then converge on the capital and install themselves in power.  If they met resistance, they would crush it.  Many Fascists genuinely believed that their coup was finally at hand.  However, their leader saw the march much more as the ultimate piece of political blackmail.  Given the alternatives, he was sure they would hand over power.'

Mark Robson 'Italy: The Rise of Fascism' (Hodder Education; 2008)

Giovinezza in Marcia

Children’s school notebooks, 1935.


Children were required to use these notebooks with colored Fascist cartoons and quotations from Mussolini on the front and back.

Benito Mussolini May 9, 1936 Rome, following the capture of Addis Ababa

How did Mussolini consolidate power?

How did Mussolini use Fascist ideology to consolidate power?

  • What problems did Mussolini face as leader?

  • How were these problems addressed?

  • Which aspects of Fascism helped him deal with these problems?

  • Which aspects of Fascism were part of the problems he faced?

The nature of Fascist ideology was vague and multifaceted.  Mussolini managed to manipulate the competing aspects of the movement to consolidate the position of himself and the Party.  How was he able to manage this + what arose within Fascist Italy as a result?

How total was Mussolini's control?
- use the resources left and right to research opposition to Mussolini during the 1920s and 1930s....

How successful were Mussolini's ec policies?

  • What were his economic aims + policies?

  • How close did his policies get to those aims?

  • What was the Corporate State?

  • TWE did the CS reflect the nature of Fascist rule?

It is easy to dismiss Mussolini's policies as all style no substance, but how accurate is this judgement? 

To what degree and where were these policies lacking?

Mussolini's Foreign Policy 1933- 40

Italian expansion (1933–1940)


This newly forged Fascist Italy was continually involved in military expansion from 1933 to 1940 in search of Empire...

The focus of this section therefore is on the causes of expansion, key events, and international responses to that expansion.


Discussion of domestic and ideological issues should therefore be considered in terms of the extent to which they contributed to this expansion, for example, economic issues, such as the long-term impact of the Great Depression, should be assessed in terms of their role in shaping more aggressive foreign policy.

Causes of expansion

  • Impact of fascism on the foreign policy of Italy 

  • Impact of domestic economic issues on the foreign policy of Italy 

  • Changing diplomatic alignments in Europe; the end of collective security; appeasement


  • Italian expansion: Abyssinia (1935–1936); Albania; Pact of Steel; entry into the Second World War  


  • International response to Italian aggression 1935–1936 & 1940

email -; password - jcormick


TWE did the WSC + Great Depression create a crisis in European diplomacy?

Italy had several aims for its foreign policy:

- Empire - resources + prestige

- Autarky - self-sufficient independence

- Access - control of Mediterranean

However, given its recent history, it would need to involve itself in diplomatic circles in order to achieve these goals - it simply wasn't strong enough to get them alone.  The 1920s and early 30s therefore were characterised by on-off cordial relations with UK and France as Italy sought to obtain a chair at the top table of European diplomacy - it got there by the 1930s, but TWE was the WSC + GD responsible?

- access googledoc left for class answers..

What was the Wall St Crash?
Haile Selassie speech to LON 1937ile 
Mussolini's Foreign Policy in 1920s and 30s
Mussolini, Armed Forces + War 1922-40