Mussolini & Italy


Italian society

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 1896

For agricultural workers the standard of living was generally poor; peasants regularly lived in mud huts that they had built themselves, very few houses had clean running water. Epidemic diseases such as Cholera were common. Malaria was particularly prevalent in the South.
After 1887 emigration increased and by 1900 half a million Italians were leaving each year. Despite this the Italian population still increased annually keeping living conditions low.
Riots became popular and effective method for expressing discontent, in rural areas these were usually a reaction to taxation whereas in the city it was provoked by bread shortages and rising prices. Strikes also became common in the 1880's, although these were rarely successful they contributed to the spread and development of socialism in the 1890's.

North South divide

1870 - 1896

The North was far more urban while the South remained rural. Northern and central Italy were dominated by towns whereas in the south people lived scattered in the counrtyside. When the voting age was lowered by 1895 the educational qualification meant that 56% of the electorate lived in the North.
-Agriculture underwent revolutionary changes between 1890-1910 with new crops like sugar beet.
-Mechanisation, fertilisers and irrigation made farming more efficient.
-larger farms run by capitalist landowners became more common.
-Agriculture was still desperately backward, poverty was widespread and the land controlled by a small number of landowners.
-Incomes in the south were perhaps half of what they were in the north.
-Government schemes to improve the southern economy (transpirt improvements and industrial subsidies) had little effect.

Economic weaknesses

1870 - 1896

Before 1887 Italy had little capital, few skilled workers, few energy resources and no major new industries, factories were few and small. Silk, cotton and textiles were important industries but production increased at a slow rate and Italy still relied heavily on imports, Growth in the north was artificial and the south was neglected.
Agricultural industry was low, in the late 1870's the national average was 1/3 of Britain's. in an average year Italy had to import 150'000 tonnes from turkey and Russia to meet demands. In the !880's and 1890's a tariff war with France had a major impact on the economic development of Italy; Trade with France halved, wine, Olive oil, and vegetable exports fell as new markets could not be found and whole regions of Italy were ruined.

Foreign policy

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 1896

This was not a priority after 1870, Italy had many problems at home and little money. There was disagreement as to whether Italy's interests lay in North Africa or becoming a great European power.
Italy's main policy concerns were the reaction of Catholic powers to the occupation of Rome and the threat posed by France. The triple alliance boosted Italy's status in Europe and ensured they were not alone.

Hostility from the Catholic Church

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 1896

-A lay education was set up to prevent the church from influencing the young and civil marriages were introduced.
-In 1871 the Law of guarantees aimed to placate Pius IX, he rejected.
- 1886 Catholics were forbidden to stand or vote in parliamentary elections.
-'Prisoner in the Vatican'
In practice it was impossible for the Church not to co-operate with the government but underlying hostility increased the problems of the state and divided opinion throughout Italy.

Political Weakness and instability

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 1896

The Italian Constitution was the Statuto of 1848. Government was centralised and run by the Liberal Piedmontese Establishment, centralisation led to an inefficient and slow decision making process. By the late 1870's there were complaints about fixed elections and corrupt deputies. Governments were short lived and unstable with no fixed political parties. PM's therefore found themselves holding together unstable coalitions of deputies.
Local Governments (Comuuni) were responsible for issues such as taxation, education, policing, public works and hospitals. The Communi were generally controlled by leading families and therefore corruption was common.

Lack of Italian Identity - Campanilismo

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 1896

In 1870 Italy was disillusioned, many were disappointed by the 'lost battles' of the Risorgimento.
-Identity was hampered by economic backwardness and illiteracy.
-In the 1870's and 1880's newspapers were usually provincial and read by the elite.
-Primary education was not made compulsory until 1877 and even then only for two years (3 in 1888) - attendance was not enforced.

The Law of Guarantees

Approx. 1871

This aimed to placate Pope Pius XI. It allowed him:
-Ownership of the Vatican
-Annual payment over £120'000
-Right to make all religious placements in Italy.
Pius formerly rejected the payment and declared himself a prisoner in the Vatican.

Voting age lowered

Approx. 1882

The voting age was lowered to 21 although the literacy qualification remained. This meant that 2 million people had the vote (less than 7% of the population). (see N/S divide)

The Triple Alliance

Approx. May 1882

Italy signed the triple alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany. This ensured that Italy was not isolated and guaranteed her foreign support in the event of an attack from France, the association with the other powers boosted Italy's status and prestige.

Catholics banned from politics

Approx. 1886

Catholics were formerly banned by Pope Leo XIII to vote or stand as candidates in parliamentary elections.

Giovanni Giolitti

Approx. 1892 - Approx. 1922

-Giovanni Giolitti was Prime Minister five times between 1892 and 1922.
-His government of 1903-1914 was the most successful and stable for a number of years
- Social reforms e.g. working hours.
- Laws for agricultural improvement
- Improved literacy rates in the north


Approx. 1894 - Approx. 1914

The 20 years before the first world war saw impressive industrial growth, based on a dramatic expansion in hydroelectric power and new engineering industries developing in the north. Steel production increased by large amounts of coal, steel and iron still had to be imported.
-Government pressure was put on banks to provide money for hydroelectricity schemes and setting up electricity companies.
-State subsidies were provided for industries regarded as politically important, notably shipbuilding.
-Other industries were protected by tariffs on competing foreign imports.
-In 1905 the financially fragile railway system was nationalised.
Compared with other European nations though Italy was still a agrarian country but industrialisation did lead to a significant urban working class.

The Italian Political system

Approx. 1896 - Approx. 1914

-The constitution was the Statuto
- Strict qualifications on property and literacy limiting the
- Left the king with many powers, Supreme head of state,
control of foreign and military policy.

-The parliamentary system was based on that of Britain
- Senate, lifetime members appointed by the King.
- Chamber of deputies, elected every five years.
-The prime minister needed the support of a majority of deputies in order to form a government , this was difficult as there were no political parties.
-Government was dominated by liberal politicians representing the opinions of the wealthy middle class.
-Huge corruption

Deputies created factions centred around prominent politicians, these then joined together to form coalitions. These were usually maintained by bribery and were easily broken.
-Between 1870 and 1922 Italy had 29 different prime ministers.
-The system did little for Italy's socio-economic problems - politics was more about power than policies.

Nationalist critisisms of Italy

Approx. 1900 - Approx. 1914

The Liberals had failed to make Italy a major power, and liberal incompetence had led to a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Ethiopians in 1896 (the only event in colonial history that the would-be colonisers were beaten). Emigration was viewed as a national disgrace and the state had neither crushed socialism or provided something else for the workers to believe in.

Catholic critisisms of liberal Italy

Approx. 1900 - Approx. 1914

Many found it difficult to support a regime that in 1870 trampled over the Pope's territorial rights. The introduction of wider suffrage led to the emergence of catholic groups dedicated to helping the poor Catholic peasantry. On the other hand Liberalism was preferable to socialism.

Socialist critisisms of Liberal Italy

Approx. 1900 - Approx. 1914

Socialists condemned the regime as a cover for capitalist exploitation of the working classes - wages and hours were still very low and long compared to other European countries, welfare benefits also compared unfavourably. The wealth of the country had been squandered on imperialist adventures in East Africa and Libya. The immigration of 5 million Italians to America proved the liberal inability to deal with poverty.

Catholics allowed to vote

Approx. 1905

In 1905, Pope Pius X allowed Catholics to vote when they were "help[ing] the maintenance of social order" by voting for deputies who were not socialist.

War With Libya

Approx. 1911

Giolitti's decision to go to war with Libya in 1911 cost him socialist support, socialists were internationalists, opposed to war.

Electoral Reform - extension of the franchise

Approx. 1912

Giolitti extended the electorate to all men over thirty. the electorate increased from under three million to nearly eight and a half million. The new electorate 70% of whom were illiterate was not easily bribed or manipulated.

1913 elections

Approx. 1913

These elections saw an increase in the number of socialist and Catholic deputies, the policies of transformismo were under threat in a new age of mass politics.
Finding it increasingly difficult to appeal to both in March 1914 his parliamentary coalition broke up and Gioitti resigned.


Approx. 1914 - Approx. 1918

The outbreak of war caused problems for Italy, it had been part of the triple alliance but it could make territorial gains with the triple entente.
In 1914 they treated Austria as an aggressor and so did not enter the war.

1915 - In May Antonio Salandra (PM) denounced the Austro-german alliance and entered the war on the Franco-British side, continuing neutrality could have brought no gains. Joining the war divided Italy's politicians, Giolitti and many Italians wished to stay out of the war:
-The Nationalists strongly favoured intervention, as did radicals and republicans.
-The leaders of the Catholic church were often against intervention but kept quiet and helped out with the war effort.
-Benito Mussolini abandoned the socialist pacifist stand and passionately wrote in favour of intervention and was sacked from the socialist newspaper (Avanti) and went on to found the strongly pro-war paper Popolo d'Italia.

The War
-Conscription was implemented in this Total War
-Companies such as fiat received cheap loans to re-equip factories for the war effort , yet this led industry to be too dependant on the war.
-Industrial workers were placed under military discipline with men no longer free to move jobs or strike
-The national post-war debt stood at 85 billion lira (a 5x increase on 1914)
-With inflation prices were four times higher what they had been in 1914.

The end of the war with the overwhelming victory at Vittorio Venito was followed by the swift demobilisation of 5 million conscripts and 160'000 junior officers. There were 1.3 million casualties.

Electoral changes

Approx. 1918 - Approx. 1919
  • In December 1918 Vittorio Orlando (PM 1917-19) anxious to win the support of those who had won the war introduced universal male suffrage. -In 1919 Fancisco Nitti seeking to block the extremest parties altered the arrangements for electing the chamber of deputies by introducing proportional representation, based on party lists of candidates in 54 giant constituencies.

The Battle Of Vittorio Veneto

Approx. 1918

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which saw the Italians destroy the vestiges of the Austro-Hungarian army, heralded the wartime defeat of Austria-Hungary and an end to its Empire. It was the final action fought on the Italian Front.
It was turned into a propaganda great Italian victory.

The Popolari are founded

Approx. January 1919

Strengthened by its role in the war the Catholic church founded the Popolari. This embraced Catholics of different political views and was more an uneasy alliance than a formal party. It was however, likely to command mass support from a Catholic country.

The Biennio Rosso

Approx. 1919 - Approx. 1920

The “Biennio Rosso” (Two Red Years) identifies the period between 1919 and 1920 when Italy seemed to be on the verge of a revolution. Social and industrial protests of unprecedented intensity and scale broke out all over the country. The failure of this insurrectionist movement and the subsequent reaction of industrial and landowner elites with the use of fascist violence, and the support of a middle class frightened by the spectre of “Bolshevism,” have long been regarded as crucial factors in determining the failure of the liberal state and Mussolini's rise to power. After World War I discontent was widespread. The population was confronted with rising inflation and a dramatic increase in the price of basic goods, whilst extensive unemployment was exacerbated by mass demobilization. Concurrently, affiliation to the trade unions, the Socialist Party (PSI) , and the anarchist movement increased dramatically. The PSI grew to a membership of 250,000, and the major trade union, the General Confederation of Labour (Confederazione Generale del Lavoro, CGL), reached two million members, while the anarchist led Italian Syndicalist Union (Unione Sindacale Italiana, USI) ranged between 300,000 and 500,000 affiliates. The vitality of the anarchist movement was bolstered by the return from exile of the anarchist leader Errico Malatesta , welcomed as the “Lenin of Italy.”

1919 election

Approx. 1919

These held under Nitti, were a disaster for the Liberals:
-The Socialist party and its bitter enemy the Catholic popolari were both capable of gaining the votes of the recently enfranchised, became the two dominant parties in the chamber ( Catholics 100 seats, socialist with 156 and the liberals with 180) but with no chance of the two parties working together there was no government formed.
- The Liberal groups, on whom any hope of a stable coalition rested had been reduced in size and were fragmented due to wartime differences.
- Liberals like Giolitti found it difficult to gain support as the socialists had emerged as more extreme, inspired by the revolution in Russia and were committed to radical change. The Popolari extracted a high price for their co-operation, especially with the Roman question.

Mussolini himself failed to become a deputy and not a single seat was won for his party with only perhaps 4000 declared fascist supporters in Italy.

The First Fascist meeting and creation of movement

Approx. 1919

About 100 people came to the Fasci di Combattimento, in Milan; they represented a wide range of political views including nationalists, republicans, anarchists and radical poets and painters having little in common except a hatred of the liberal state. The political programme they drew up:
-A new national assembly
-Proclamation of an Italian Republic
-Abolition of all titles of Nobility
-Suppression of all major companies
-Control and taxation of private wealth.
-Workers to have a significant share of the profits of the businesses they worked in.
Many people were attracted to the movement by Mussolini's aggressive journalism in Il Popolo D'Italia.

Factors in the rise of Italian Fascism

Approx. 1919 - Approx. 1922

The Middle class:
-Property owners, professionals, business owners, commercial farmers etc.
-They were threatened by the rise of socialism that threatened their property and values.
-They supported the Fascists as they appeared to be the only political group willing to defend against the Socialists.

Economic Instability:
-This was more worrying to the middle than the lower classes who had little to lose.
-Analysis of Fascist party membership shows young and educated individuals who would be most likely to have blocked opportunities by economic depression

Political instability:
-In Italy forming a stable parliamentary majority had proved impossible since 1919 and making Mussolini PM provided an end to the deadlock.
-Giolitti was unable to form a lasting coalition without the support of fascist deputies.
-The Popolari withdrew their support from a lasting coalition following tax reforms that would have a negative effect on the church.
-The March on Rome gave VE II an excuse to make Mussolini PM.
-Ironically the inability of the socialists to work with the liberals was a major factor in the rise of Fascism.

-Mutilated victory
-Sharp economic recessions
-Inflation and unemployment led to strikes and other industrial protests.
-Since liberalism had 'caused' the bloodbath, many thought that a change of ideas was needed.

Police & Military:
-These would not long tolerate an inefficient and incompetent government.
-Willing to 'look the other way' at fascist anti-socialist violence.

Flexible policies;
-Fascist ideology was vague and capable of adaptation.
-E.G change from 1919 left agenda.
-Fascists tried to focus ideology in slogans (like all popular movements) rather than fixed ideas - "Believe, obey, fight".

Emotionally appealing:
-It was observed that fascism was a matter of the gut rather than head.
-Notion that there was hope of a resolution to long standing problems - this set it apart.

Fascist Violence:
-This throughout Italy contributed to the loss of law and order, socialists were targeted but the violence was also geared towards gaining control.
-Mussolini encouraged the squadristi whilst disassociating himself from the worst excesses.

The Fiume Crisis

Approx. 1919

Italy initiated a blockade of Fiume while demanding that the plotters surrender. D'Annunzio then declared Fiume an independent state and occupied it for 18 months. He demonstrated that actions could be more effective than the words of politicians. D'Annuzio was never out of the public Italian eye.

The results of the Fiume crisis added to the general dissatisfaction with the parliamentary political leaders like the 'cowardly' Nitti and 'unpatriotic' Giolitti. It encouraged Italians to turn to one or the other extreme political parties for a solution to the pressing political problems. D'Annunzio remained an inspiration to Mussolini with whom he continued to keep in touch, in 1922 he welcomed Mussolini coming to power.

The Paris Peace Conference and the resulting TREATY OF VERSAILLES & MUTILATED VICTORY

Approx. 1919
  • Italy gained the regions of Trentino, South Tryol, Istria, Noth Dalmatia and Trieste. Its claim to Fiume was rejected and it received none of the ex-German colonies. Despite being dissatisfied, Italy made the most territorial gains of any of the allied countries. Many Italians were unsatisfied with the peace terms the Italian diplomats had secured, and it was seen as a betrayal of the victory of Vittorio Veneto and not what had been promised at the 1915 Treaty of London. This discontentment was to be an enduring part of fascist appeal.

Somalia and Eritrea

Approx. 1920

In the Early 1920's Italy took full control of the North of Somalia but like Eritrea, a colony since 1889, it proved of little benefit.

Socialist occupation of the factories

Approx. September 1920

Engineering workers, engaged in a dispute over wages, occupied their factories to prevent employers from locking them out. within days 400'000 workers from the northern cities were involved. The employers demanded that the government intervene but Giolitti, maintaining his policy of neutrality stood aloof. When it became obvious that a number of factories were using used to produce weapons for the workers, conservatives feared that a revolution was at hand. Again the Liberal government was failing.

Election of a new Pope

Approx. 1921

The election of a new Pope Pius XI who was strongly anti-communist.

May 1921 elections

Approx. may 1921

Mussolini's opportunity to place candidates on Giolitti's government list made Fascism more respectable. These gave Mussolini and the Fascists a foothold in government with 35 seats. (there were 3 governments between 1921 and October 1922)

The Foundation of The Fascist Party

Approx. october 1921 - Approx. 1922

The Fascist party was formerly established on a national basis (Partito Nazionale Fascista PNF), this was a key step in keeping control over the Squadristi. It also attracted many new recruits to the party and with 300'000 largely middle class members by mid-1922 quickly became a valuable base for Mussolini.

The main elements of Fascism's appeal by 1922 were:
-Its vigorous anti-socialism campaign.
-Its stress on Patriotism as contrasted to the liberal failures to protect Italian interests.
-Its emphasis on Mussolini's leadership as the Duce.

Libya struggles

Approx. 1922 - Approx. 1925

The Italian army worked to control Libya, taken in 1912 from the Turks. The country was finally pacified in 1932 but proved of little benefit.

General Strike

Approx. July 1922

-The socialists called a general strike in an attempt to force the government to act against the fascists.
-Mussolini used the opportunity to highlight the continuing threat of socialism, arguing that only the fascists could deal with it, having fascists ensure that the railway and postal services etc. were still working.
-Within days the strike collapsed and the Fascists' actions won them further support.

March on Rome

Approx. 24 october 1922 - Approx. 28 october 1922

24th October 1922 - Mussolini threatened a 'March on Rome' and began preparations for a seizure of power.
-He hoped that the threat of revolution would lead to the liberal politicians agreeing to his appointment as Prime Minister.

27th October 1922 - Fascist squads seized town halls, telephone exchanges and railway stations.

28th October 1922 - at 5am Facta decided to act and asked the King to declare Martial law. Victor Emmanuel initially agreed but by 9am had changed his mind.

Mussolini Becomes Prime Minister

Approx. 30 october 1922

-Facta resigned as PM following VE's refusal to back his plans.
-Salandra was appointed PM and Mussolini and the Fascists were offered 4 places in the Cabinet.
-Mussolini rejected the offer and Salandra informed the king he would be unable to form a government.
-The King had no choice but to approach Mussolini.
-On 30th October 1922 he was formerly asked to be PM.

Emergency powers - Rule by decree

Approx. november 1922

With a speech to the chamber, that included a threat of the fascists closing parliament and praise of VE for not imposing martial law, Mussolini demanded that he be given full powers to rule alone for 12 months.
-Several leading politicians like Giolitti, Orlando and Salandra all supported him.
-It is clear that they and many others welcomed the the opportunity to sweep away the corruption of the old transformismo system and provide a more effective defence against the left-wing anarchy.
-In the senate he was given a majority of 196 to 16.

National Government

Approx. november 1922

With only 32 out of 535 fascists in the Chamber of Deputies, Mussolini had no choice but to form a government largely from non-fascists. He therefore created a coalition of right-wing elements that he called a National Government.

The Fascist Grand Council

Approx. December 1922

This decided on all fascist party policies and all of its members were hand-picked by Mussolini.

Fascist Militia (MSVN)

Approx. january 1923

Mussolini knew that he owed a lot to the squadristi and that they would not support him for long without reward; he created the Fascist Militia (MSVN) in January 1923:
-Its membership was made up of the 300'000 Blackshirts who were paid out of state funds and were directly answerable to Mussolini.
-Ex-army officers were put in control of the local units to undermine the local Ras, this helped remove over 200 of the most quarrelsome Ras.
-The movement provided jobs to keep provincial fascists busy.
-They were all put into uniform and encouraged to have a high public profile, with many ceremonial duties.
-Initially their oath of loyalty was to the Duce but in August 1924 (Matteoti crisis) this changed to the King.

The Cheka

Approx. January 1923

Mussolini created a personal bodyguard of fascist thugs, who terrorised opponents whether fascist or non fascist.

Relations With the Church - Fascist agreements

Approx. 1923

From the start Mussolini recognised the enormous influence that the Church exerted Italy and he worked hard to reassure church leaders that they had nothing to fear from Fascism, he was helped in this by his attack on the Freemasons.

In 1923 he introduced a number of measures that pleased the church (he also hoped to weaken support for the Popolari):
-A state grant to improve clergy salaries
-The introduction of religious education into schools and universities.
-Making the distribution of contraceptives and the promotion of birth control illegal.
-A ban on the number of anti-clerical journals
-Dropping liberal proposals to tax church property.

Mussolini has his children baptised

Approx. 1923

To increase his own credibility with the church Mussolini had his own children baptised.

Fascists are banned to be Freemasons

Approx. february 1923

Freemason - An international male secret society organised in 'lodges' to provide mutual help for its members

The Freemasons were treated with deep suspicion as a secret society and in February 1923 fascists were forbidden to be members, though many ignored this instruction.

Nationalist party merges

Approx. february 1923

The Nationalists closed down their own organisation and joined the PNF with their parliamentary organisation, the 'blue-shirts' merging into the fascist militia. This was the largest addition to the Fascist party.

Press censorship

Approx. June 1923

Mussolini obtained for himself the power to control the work of the press by decree. This was vital in the Matteotti crisis.


Approx. july 1923

Mussolini used the press and propaganda to turn the seizure and forced retreat of the Greek island of Corfu into a great Italian Victory - setting a pattern for the exploitation of foreign policy 'triumphs' in order to promote the regimes popularity at home.

The Acerbo Law

Approx. November 1923

Passes Nov 1923
This was a law to modify the current system of proportional representation:
-The votes across the constituencies would be totalled and the party list that had gained the most votes would receive 2/3 of the seats in the chamber, provided in had obtained 25% of the votes cast, the remaining third of the seats would then be allocated to the other lists in proportion to what the other votes had gained.

-They were supported by many prominent liberals who believed the Acerbo law would end the political instability.
-Many liberals thought it would damage the prospects of many left-wing parties.
-Deputies were threatened that if it was Not passed, parliament would be abolished and Mussolini rule through his emergency powers.
-The three best known liberals, Giolitti, Salandra and Orlando all voted in favour, the popolari abstained and only the communists and socialists opposed the measure which was carried by 235 votes to 139.

1924 election

Approx. 1924

The fascists for electoral purposes formed party groupings with the liberals, former nationalists and some Popolari members,
-374 government supporters
-39 poplari
-46 socialists
-19 communists
Naturally the Fascists won and were particularly successful in the south as the old southern elites used fascism for their own purposes.
Systematic violence to intimidate opponents had still been used.

Fiume Becomes part of Italy

Approx. 1924

Mussolini persuades Yugoslavia to accept Fiume as part of Italy, this boosted his popularity as Italians were still bitter about the Fiume crisis.

Mafia are targeted

Approx. June 1924

The Mafia were pursued by legal and illegal means, even in its heartland of Sicily. The Drama of this 'war' against organised crime provided favourable publicity in the newspapers.

Matteoti Crisis

Approx. august 1924 - Approx. December 1924

Matteoti - A socialist member of the chamber of deputies who accused Mussolini and the squadristi of winning the election by terror.

-When parliament reassembled on May 30th 1924, Matteotti made passionate speeches on the corruption of the election, this infuriated Mussolini.
-10th June 1924 Matteotti was kidnapped while on his way to parliament and beaten to death. His body was not found until august. Mussolini was implicated.

In an attempt to disassociate himself with his supposed crime Mussolini:
-Gave up his post as interior minister that controlled the police that were investigating.
-Issued a decree to have the fascist militia amalgamated with the army; militia members would now swear an oath of allegiance to the King rather than Mussolini.
-Promised to introduce single member constituencies, which the liberals were pressing for.

-AVENTINE SECESSION - about 150 of the opposition deputies walked out of parliament and they hoped that their dramatic gesture and the suspicions around Mussolini would influence the King.
-The King refused to withdraw his support for Mussolini, fearing civil war.
-In July 1924 the pope intervened to end negotiations between the PPI and the Aventine secession, he still saw the left as a greater threat than Fascism.
-The Ras were agitated and were angered and threatened by the concessions to the army, by December there were rumours of a proposed coup.

Taming the fascists

Approx. 1925

The provincial Ras had long been a problem for Mussolini and he appoints Roberti Farinacci (The most extreme of the squadristi ras) as the party secretary to emphasise his own moderation and to alarm the other ras that he would take action against them. Farinacci was dismissed in 1926 as his speeches were becoming more inadequate and violent and he was a potential threat to Mussolini's leadership.

Censorship of the press - Press law

Approx. 1925

Required that Journalists had to be on a n official register before they were allowed to work ,this was controlled by the fascists.

The Declaration of Dictatorship

Approx. January 1925

-3rd January 1925 Mussolini boldly told the chamber of deputies that he accepted responsibility for Fascism and fascist actions.
-He did not accept responsibility for Matteotti's murder and blamed the opposition for the breakdown of constitutional rule.
-Both the chamber and King backed Mussolini and over the next few months further repression followed as Mussolini's dictatorship became firmly established.

The Dopolavaro

Approx. 1925

In an attempt to link people to the fascist regime, a systematic plan was developed to provide adult leisure programmes and facilities and to introduce welfare programmes, these were known as the Dopolavaro and were administered by the Opera Nazionale Dopolavaro (OND).
-By 1939 4 million people were members
-Emphasis was placed on sport provision, heavily subsidised day trips and seaside holidays, summer camps and cheap railway fares.
-Propaganda and cinema reels encourages support for the regime, especially to foreign visitors.

The Locarno Pact

Approx. 1925

Offering international guarantees of European borders, Mussolini was able to portray Italy as a major European power.

The Battle for Grain

Approx. 1925

-The aim was to reduce the volume of foreign wheat imports.
-The policies proved to benefit the grain farmers of the Po valley.
-The state produced storage and training courses and publicity campaigns in new methods.
-Sometimes new areas of land were bought into production , sometimes on unsuitable hilly areas in the north.
-In the late 1930's wheat production was double what it had been in the era before Mussolini and 40% higher than in the early 1920's yet compared to other European countries Wheat yields remained low.
-Much of the wheat land was in the hot south and could have better been used in olive production or pasture land. Cattle, sheep and olive production consequently declined.

Popolari disintergrates

Approx. 1925

Denied any support by the Vatican, the popolari, disintegrated early in 1925 and many right-wing deputies, ex-nationalists and liberals came to terms with the vicious government.

The Legge Fascistissime

Approx. December 1925

This greatly strengthened the Fascist central government political control, it:
-Banned all opposition political parties and Trade unions.
-Created the new post of 'Head of Government' for Mussolini.
-Strengthened control over the press.
-Set up a new secret police service (the OVRA) and special courts to try political offences.
-In local government replaced elected mayors with government-appointed officials, the Podista.

Mussolini has religious marriage


Mussolini had a religious marriage ceremony to his wife Rachele (their first marriage had been a civil ceremony in 1915) to bookst his credibility with the Catholic church.

Corporate State


-Mussolini and the fascists believed in the corporate state as the third way between communism and capitalism. In theory this was a state in which all economic and political activity was controlled by the state yet it existed more in theory than in practice.
-Under laws passed by 1926 and 1928 Alfredo Rocco set up each major area of the ecconomy separate corporations of workers and employers each with state appointed officials on its commitee.
-The corporations would simply negotiate with each other about labour relations, including wage-rates. In 1926 a Ministry of Corporations was set up to control the working of the system.
In reality, the corportations had only limited use and were Mussolini failed to back them, as late as 1934 they existed in only 22 areas of the ecconomy.

Revaluations of the Lira

Approx. 1926

Mussolini pushed through a revaluation of the lira from 150 to 90 against the British pound.
-A strong lira was symbolic of a strong Italy but as a consequence the Italian currency was overvalued against other countries.
-The free market was abandoned and the state intervened more rapidly in the economy.

Special Tribunal for the Defence of the State

Approx. 1926

This was set up to try cases involving anti-fascist activity. The tribunal was run by the militia and the judges were from the military and they tried political offences. In 17 years they sentenced 26 people who were later executed.
The government withdrew all passports and reissued them only to suitable applicants.
Mussolini used the police and the courts to round up known opponents of the regime and many were banished to remote villages (known as Confino) or to the prison camps in the Mediterranean.
There was little opposition to these measures as they were seen as essential for law and order.


Approx. 1926

The Opera Nazionale Balilla, the fascist youth movement was set up with branches for different age groups for boys and girls. From 1929 it was directed by the Ministry of National Education and emphasised the importance of sport, Gymnastics and military drilling.
Its motto was "Believe, obey, Fight".

Law by decree

January 1926

Mussolini was given the power to issue laws by personal decree.

Albania - Italian Protectorate

Approx. 1926

Mussolini established an Italian protectorate over Albania - the first step in Italian Colonial expansion.


Approx. 1927

The Secret police were called the OVRA and although they were less feared than Hitler's Blackshirts they did maintain an iron rule and was set up in 1927 under Arturo Bocchini. The Death penalty was reinstated by Mussolini for serious offences but only 4000 people were arrested by the OVRA.

Battle For births

Approx. 1927

In 1927 the Battle for births was introduced to increase the population as without this Italy could not be a power in Europe. Mussolini wanted Italy to have a population of 60 million by 1950.
-Women were encouraged to have children and the more children brought better tax benefits but bachelors were given harsh taxation.
-Families were given a target of five children.
It was actually a failure; between 1927 and 1934 the birth rate actually fell.

Battle for Land


In 1928 under the 'Mussolini Law' the government began a policy of land reclaimation, a battle to clear marshland so that it could be used for farming.
-The Pontine marshes near Rome were a good propaganda opportunity for Mussolini. By 1935 they were providing land for settlement.
-The schemes were labour intensive and employed many people; many saw the battle as a success.
-However it was abandoned in 1940 and most projects were a failiure.
-Fascism did little to change traditional patterns of land-ownership.

The Kellog-Briand pact

Approx. 1928

Signed by 61 countries and renounced war. Mussolini was able to portray Italy as a major European power.

The Lateran Treaties

Approx. 1929

These restored relations between the Catholic church and the Italian state.
- They set up the Vatican city as a separate state within Rome with the Pope as its head who was given 109 acres of land; allowed a small army; police force and railway station and a country retreat at Castel Gandolfo.
-The state gave the church compensation for land taken at unification - the church received 750 million lira and 1 billion lira in state bonds.
-The Concordat part of the treaties made Catholicism the state religion.
- The Pope appointed Bishops but they had to have a blessing from the government.
-Religion had to be taught in both primary and secondary schools.
-The Church was given full control of Marriage.
These were signed in 1929 when Mussolini's popularity was at its height.

The Great Depression

Approx. october 1929

The world trade depression of the 1930's hit Italian banks particularly badly - the banks had too much money tied up in long term loans to depressed industries.
-Through the Insttituto Mobilare Italiano (IMI) founded in 1931 and the Institute of Industrial Reconstruction (IRI) founded in 1933, the government bought the industrial securities deposited with the banks as security for loans and went on to but shares as well.
-Banks were prevented from long-term lending.
-Most historians agree that Italy survived the depression fairly well; that was due in part to the IRI but also in comparison to other western economies Italy was more agricultural.


Approx. 1930 - Approx. 1943

Self-sufficiency was the most important economic policy, after 1935 its importance increased.
-This need dominated economic policy, as a result imports were reduced and living standards were lower for workers and peasants than in the 1920's.
-The propaganda machine insisted that this was in preparation for war.
-After the Economic sanctions of 1935 this became more important after Ethiopia and especially as between 1/3 and 1/2 of government spending went on the military.
-In reality this could never be achieved in key areas such as coal, oil and raw materials.
-The only real chance of making up these shortages came from Italy's ally of Germany.
-However with state subsidies the shipbuilding industry developed as did road building programmes.

Mussolini takes charge of foreign policy

Approx. 1932

Mussolini took personal charge of Italian foreign policy. He prepared to attack Abyssinia.

Troops to Austrian Border

Approx. 1934

Mussolini sent troops to the Austrian border to discourage Hitler from pursuing his ambitions against Austria.

Mussolini and Hitler meet in Venice

Approx. 1934

Mussolini met Hitler in Venice and the meeting went badly, Mussolini found Hitler boring and referred to him as a 'silly little monkey'. Relationships between the dictators reached a low when Austrian Nazis murdered Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria.

Stresa Conference

Approx. 1935

In Stresa the Italian lakes region, Italy, Britain and France formed the Stresa front. They issued a joint protest at German rearmament and pledged themselves to maintain the peace treaties of WW1
By associating with Britain and France (and by arriving by speed boat) Mussolini could be portrayed as a figure of increasing national importance.

War with Abyssinia (Ethiopia)

Approx. 1935 - Approx. 1936

-This increased international tension in Europe. It brought Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy together and highlighted the weaknesses of the League of Nations.
-The desire to display to the world Italian power was the main motivation for Mussolini
-In December 1934 Mussolini accused the Abyssinians of aggression at Wal Wal on the border with Italian Somaliland, several Italian soldiers were killed.
-At the Stresa Conference Mussolini had formed the impression that Britain and France would not oppose the attack as they appeared to accept North Eastern Africa as under Italian influence.
-In October 1934 the Italians invaded Abyssinia with 400'000 men. The Abyssinians could not stand up to a modern army, being equipped with pre WW1 rifles and little else. The Italians used tanks and eve Mustard gas in the attack.
-Although there was military incompetence on the Italian side the capital Addis Ababa fell in May 1936. Haile Selassie was removed from the throne and replaced with Victor Emmanuel.
-Haile Selassie appealed to the League of Nations who condemned the attack and imposed economic sanctions. It took six weeks for these to be organised and they did not include vital materials such as oil. Germany, the USA and Japan did not impose any sanctions and Britain did not close the Suez canal.
- The Hoare-Lavale pact aimed to give half of Abyssinia to Italy as a compromise but protests caused the plans to be dropped.
-Ciano launched a massive propaganda campaign to convince Italians that this was a victory for Italy and Mussolini
-The Sanctions brought mass support in Italy for the War.
-Haile Selassie fled to Britain and all forms of protest stopped.
-Victor Emanuel was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia.
-The Country remained under Italian control until 1941 often with brutality encouraged by Mussolini and it proved to be of little benefit to Italy.

The Success of the invasion encouraged the cult of Il Duce and the development of the Fascist state.
The sanctions encouraged the pursuit of Autarky.
The great expense forced government spending up and was a key factor of the poor economy in later years; a deficit of 2'195 million lira.

Inadequete preparations for war

Approx. 1935 - Approx. 1940

-Pre-war claims that the Italian army was between 8 and 9 million were unfounded, it actually numbered under 3 million well below WW1 figures.
- All branches of the Italian forces were poorly supplied, the army had too few tanks; the navy had large numbers of battle ships but no aircraft carriers and the air force had too many bombers (647) but too few fighters (191), it had no knowledge of radar.
-There was no co-ordination in ordering military supplies and no standardisation of equipment.
-No proper defence system against bombing.
-Abyssinia and Spain had sapped all of Italy's military strength.
-The economy was not strong enough to support a major military campaign; it was not self sufficient and relied heavily on imports; the imports of essential oils was damaged severely by the war.
-The propaganda machine was removed from reality with no questioning of facts or figures.
-Mussolini was involved on all policy decisions and this became a bottleneck as things were constantly delayed.

Anglo-German Naval agreement

Approx. June 1935

The Anglo-German Naval agreement led to the collapse of the stresa front.

Geleazzo Ciano

Approx. 1936 - Approx. 1943

Mussolini's Son in law was a second rate foreign minister who simply carried out the orders of the Duce.

Spanish Civil war

Approx. 1936 - Approx. 1939

A civil war broke out in Spain between the Republicans and the Nationalists (led by general Franco). The Republicans received support from groups throughout Europe, Stalin sent 'volunteers', troops so called to not offend the League of Nations.

-This communist support tended to condemn the Republicans in the eyes of many in Europe; Mussolini and Hitler sent volunteers to Franco.
-Franco did not believe in parliamentary government or democracy , he was not a dictator yet in 1936 as he did not yet have power but this was planned.
-Mussolini saw Italian intervention in Spain as a way to expand his power and influence. He was attracted by the prospect of military glory and the chance of a new Mediterranean ally.
-Mussolini sent 70'000 men, 700 aircraft, and 1'000 tanks to fight in Spain, it was the largest contribution from any country.
-Not all Italian supported Franco. Some who had moved abroad formed the Garibaldi brigade and fought on the republican side. At the Battle of Guadalajara Italians fought Italians; the republicans won and Mussolini blamed the Garibaldi brigade.
- Three month later the leader of the brigade, Carlos Roselli was found murdered, apparently by Mussolini's secret agents.
-Involvement in the war was unpopular in Italy - it was not a success. It damaged public finances, made relations with Britain and France more difficult and drew relations with Germany closer, yet in intervention Germany and Italy had different aims.

The Rome-Berlin axis

october 1936

The new foreign minister Ciano visited Berlin, her recieved a warm welcome and assurance that the Nazis had no territorial ambitions in the Mediterranean. In return Italy aknowledged the German right to rearm and to influence in Austria.
In September 1937, Mussolini visited Germany and recieved an impressive military display; he was soon convinced that Germany was the power that he must ally with.

Italy leaves the LofN


In response to the ecconomic sanctions set over Abyssinia, Italy left the League of Nations.

The Anti-Comitern Pact

november 1937

Italy joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.



Germany occupied Austria in the Anscluss; Mussolini recieved no warning and could do nothing to prevent it - it was clear thet he was the minor partner in the Axis.

Charter of Race

Approx. July 1938

This took from Jews their nationality,
-They were forbidden to teach or have state jobs.
-They were forbidden membership of the fascist party and no Jew could work in a bank or insurance company.
-They were forbidden to marry non-Jewish Italians and could not join the army.
These laws were so unpopular that the Pope sent a letter of protest to Mussolini and individual priests began to speak out against the government.

The Munich Agreement

Approx. september 1938

Mussolini received considerable praise for the part he played in the Munich agreement of September 1938. In the autumn of 1938 war seemed a real possibility and the leading powers took the opportunity of meeting in Munich at the suggestion of Mussolini.
The outcome was a 'piece of paper' which seemed to safeguard European peace. Mussolini's reputation as a statesman was at its height.

Key features of strategy (inc Egypt and Greece)

Approx. 1939 - Approx. 1943

-Italy was unprepared for war.
-They failed to make any move to capture the strategically important island of Malta, by 1942 British submarines and aeroplanes based on Malta were inflicting heavy damage on Italian convoys taking supplies to North Africa.
-Without any aircraft carriers Italy could not take control of the west Mediterranean.
-If the Italian army in Libya had been able to drive British forces out of Egypt and gain control of the Suez Canal, isolated Italian colonies in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somaliland would have been opened up through the Red Sea. The Italians simply did not allocate sufficient military resources for this to be achieved.
-There was no assault of the British base of Gibraltar that commanded the western entrance to the Mediterranean.
-Mussolini failed to take up the German offer to occupy the defeated French colony of Tunisia along with its naval base at Bizerta.
-Mussolini himself made a number of key mistakes. In the summer on 1940 he was determined to play a full part of the invasion of Britain and sent 300 aircraft to Belgium but they lacked the range and speed to be of any use but could have been invaluable attacking British targets in the Mediterranean.
-His decision to invade Greece in 1940 had serious consequences. The Greek army counter attacked and invaded Albania; no account was taken by the Italians of the winter temperatures in the winter passes.
-The size of the Greek army was underestimated. The Italian army was defeated in March 1941 at Cape Matapan.
-In June 1941 against German wishes (determined to his share in the spoils of war) Mussolini declared war on the Soviet union and sent a large force to the eastern front. Short of tanks and motor transport this was completely ineffective and particularly annoying to the Germans who wanted Italian forces in the Balkans or Africa.
-The rout of the Italians by British forces out of Libya - 30'000 British soldiers made prisoners of the majority of the Italian army numbering 200'000.
-Attempts in North Africa to take the Suez Canal failed, the Italians refused the German's help but it was later the Germans who had to step in to help them.
-Early defeats in the war had a serious impact on Italian Military morale and Italian contribution to the war became less and less significant.

Albania Annexed

Approx. Mar 1, 1939

Albania was formerly annexed in response to Germany in Czechoslovakia. Victor Emmanuel was offered the title of King of Albania. Italian propaganda suggested this was a great victory but Albania had been under Italian influence for years.

German Invasion of Czechoslovakia

March 1939

This angred Mussolini as it seemed that Germany was carving out its own Empire with no regard for Italy.

Pact of Steel

Approx. May 1939

Both countries seemed to support the other if one of them became involved in war. Ciano believed the pact to be potentially damaging but Mussolini enjoyed the prestige he thought he thought it gave him. He also though that Hitler's Non-aggression pact with the soviet union somehow involved Italy even though he did not sign 'it was against fascism'.


Approx. 3 september 1939 - Approx. June 10 1940

The Italians were offended at the German 'Treachery' of invading Poland that they declared that they used this to say that they didn't need to follow the pact of steel and said that Italy would be a 'non-belligerent' force in the war that had broken out in Europe.
-Having to do this offend Mussolini greatly, he resented his own and Italy's unheroic actions but made some efforts to mediate between the two sides.
-Italian industrialists made good money selling arms to both sides of the war.
-Mussolini fretted constantly about not being involved in the war.

-In April 1940 the German forces made some decisive victories in Western Europe; Mussolini could no longer stall, he wanted his share of the spoils of victory and was equally concerned of the retribution from an angered Germany.
-On June 10th 1940 Mussolini declared war on Britain and a France already on the point of surrender.

Italian WW2 on the Home Front

Approx. 1940 - Approx. 1943

-For Italy it was not a total war.
-No conscription.
-The economy was not on a war footing and many non-essential goods continued to be produced. It was 1942 before armaments exceeded pre war levels.
-With shortages began to be felt peasant farmers began to hoard food resulting in a Black market.
-Bad shortages of fuel and raw materials.
-Insufficient power sources - Hydroelectric power could not be expanded enough and coal could only be got from Germany who needed all they had ffor their own forces.
-In October 1941, bread was rationed at 200 grammes per week for most people - it was reduced to 150 grammes in March 1942 Potatoes, beans, lentils, milk, cheese, and eggs were also subsequently rationed.
-Savage punishments were introduced for those hoarding food.
-In the second year food shortages were worse following the conscription of farm labourers and peasants to the army.
-German demands that Italy continued to export food worsened the situation.
-Industrial workers in Turin, Genoa and Milan suffered worst from the allied bombing attacks.
-Punishments for listening to enemy broadcasts trebled to a max of 18 months imprisonment.
-1943, a series of short strikes protesting not only about wage levels but living conditions generally.
-Mussolini never faced the reality of war.

Italy fights in World War 2

June 1940 - september 1943

Morale slumps

Approx. 1942

With the Military defeats there was a severe loss of civilian morale as the propaganda machine became less and less convincing. Many lost faith and turned to the Vatican or even BBC radio.


Approx. 1943

1943, a series of short strikes protesting not only about wage levels but living conditions generals.

Meeting of the Fascist Grand Council

Approx. 24 July 1943 - Approx. 25 July 1943

Mussolini was persuaded by leading fascists to call a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council - the first since 1939. They voted 19 to 7 to ask Victor Emmanuel to return to parliament all the powers that Mussolini had taken.

Mussolini's dismissal

Approx. 25 July 1943

Mussolini tried to override the decision to remove his powers but the King had gained confidence and Mussolini was arrested and replaced with an aged soldier Marshal Badoglio.