Partito Nazionale Fascista

National Fascist Party (PNF).
   The PNF was formed in November 1921 as a way of unifying and strengthening the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento/Italian Combat Veterans’Associations, the original Fascists who had joined Benito Mussolini at the March 1919 rally in Milan’s Piazza San Sepolcro. From 1926 onward, the PNF was the only legal political party in Italy.
   Organizationally, the PNF became progressively more hierarchical. The party’s first statute (December 1921) provided for a degree of party democracy, but later revisions eliminated the democratic principle and strengthened the role of the Duce himself. In the 1929 statute, the power to choose the party secretary, who himself had sweeping patronage powers over the whole gamut of associations, institutions, cultural bodies, and youth organizations, was taken from the Fascist Grand Council and given to Mussolini. The secretary’s decisions on appointments had to be ratified by Mussolini himself, who thus found himself at the head of a sprawling organization. Indeed, managing the PNF was one of Mussolini’s main tasks. Party membership, which was reduced by a purge in 1924–1925 under the leadership of Roberto Farinacci, expanded in the late 1920s under Augusto Turati to almost a million and then vastly increased as the regime consolidated its hold on power. By the beginning of World War II, there were 2.5 million party members, and membership was a necessity for anybody who wished to make a career in public administration. The PNF and the state overlapped confusingly. From 1926 onward, elected mayors were abolished and local government was carried on by local Podesta, who were, of course, senior party members. The party’s youth organizations duplicated and shadowed the work of the education ministry. The Opera Volontaria per la Repression Antifascista (OVRA), or secret police, was effectively the Fascist police, secret and unaccountable to anyone other than Mussolini himself, who allegedly took pleasure in having devised these initials with no publicized meaning, hoping thereby to inspire fear. The Fascist militia, like Hitler’s SS, was the party’s private army (and, as such, was much resented by the regular army). These parallel structures put the party on the same level as the state, which was apparently Mussolini’s design. So successful was he in realizing his design that the chief concern of the Allies after the surrender of Italy on 8 September 1943, was the disbanding of all the institutions and instruments of the PNF.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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