March on Rome

   In Fascist myth-building, few events were as exalted as the March on Rome. In fact, the March on Rome was less a coup d’etat than a capitulation by the Italian political elite, a capitulation, moreover, in which Benito Mussolini played only a minor part.
   The failure of successive governments after World War I to combat the reign of terror imposed by Fascist squadrismoled the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI) to proclaim a general strike in August 1922. This move played directly into Mussolini’s hands. He was now able to announce that the Fascist squads stood ready to break the strike if the government did nothing; the squads could thus be presented as forces of law and order. On 3 August 1922, the Fascist blackshirts took over many cities in the North, most conspicuously Milan, where they burned the buildings of the socialist newspaper Avanti! and smashed its presses. Mussolini subsequently asserted that “in 48 hours of systematic, warlike violence, we won what we would never have won in 48 years of preaching and propaganda.” The credibility of the PSI was shattered, as was the authority of the state. The PSI split in early October 1922, with the expulsion of Filippo Turati and the reformists willing to back a government that would fight the Fascist menace. In early October, the Fascist squads invaded Trentino and Alto Adige, pledged to “de-Austrianize” the local inhabitants. The nationalist Right now began openly to position itself for cooperation with the Fascists, should Mussolini take power.
   Christopher Seton-Watson has written that three obstacles now stood in Mussolini’s way: the king, the army, and Gabriele D’Annunzio, the hero of the occupation of Fiume. King Victor Emmanuel III was personally skeptical of Mussolini’s movement but feared for his throne if he came out openly against Fascism. The army was full of Fascist sympathizers but would not break its oath to serve the king. D’Annunzio, who was friendly with Facta, might emerge as the dictator who forestalled the Fascists’triumphal march. Premier Luigi Facta and Giovanni Giolitti planned a patriotic rally for 4 November 1922, that would have launched a new party, incorporating the Partito Popolare Italiano/Italian Popular Party (PPI) and the reformist socialists and that would have had D’Annunzio’s support. Mussolini feared that such a government would use authoritarian means to repress the squads. On 22 October 1922, at a Fascist congress in Naples, he said that he merely wanted to regenerate the Italian state and would take part in a new government if he received five ministerial portfolios, including foreign affairs. On 25 October 1922, however, D’Annunzio announced that he would not attend the patriotic rally.
   Mussolini decided to act. On the night of 28 October 1922, while Mussolini himself remained barricaded in the offices of his newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, Fascist squads took over most of north and central Italy. Civil authority crumbled. Operating from the town of Perugia, Mussolini’s chief henchmen, the quadrumvirate, mobilized squads from provincial cities to proceed in “columns” upon Rome. Loyal troops were waiting for them at the gates of Rome. Premier Facta asked the king to declare a state of siege on 28 October 1922. The king at first acquiesced, then changed his mind. The king’s refusal to make good on that undertaking reflected the repugnance he felt for civil war. He was also concerned lest his dashing cousin, the Duke of Aosta, who was on good terms with the Fascists, might plot to depose him. On the evening of 29 October 1922, the king sent for Mussolini, who arrived by train on the morning of 30 October. He formed a government of Fascists and nationalists later the same day. The Fascists were allowed to march through Rome. There was some fighting between workers and the Fascists, but this was the only bloodshed of Mussolini’s extraordinary coup. The London Times spoke of a “salutary” response to Bolshevism and the New York Tribune hailed the victory of the “Garibaldi in a Black Shirt.”

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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