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Describe the circumstances in which Mussolini came to power and what did he achieve in Italy between 1922 – 1935

Mussolini founded Fascism in Italy and ruled for almost 21 years. During these 21 years, Mussolini made crucial mistakes, which harmed the people and economy of Italy, but he did also achieve things that helped benefit Italy.After World War 1, Italy was in a state of despair. They had suffered a huge shock at the end of the war and had were left with a very weak army. The Dual Monarchy collapsed and Italy had a severely fragile economy.There was also Nationalist resentment towards President Wilson (of America) as they felt that they should have obtained more from the Treaty of Versailles. Extremists were also rising, for example, in protest to Yugoslavia whom they disliked.Due to the weakened economy there was the huge problem of inflation, between 1914 and 1918, index prices rose by 250%. There were also strikes in industry and agriculture as a result of this.All of this shows a situation of depression, violence and lawlessness – the perfect situation for an extremist to be admired and voted for.It was at this time of decline that Mussolini rose to power. He was at first a Socialist, but later converted to a Fascist. He became a prominent leader due to his stand against the Libyan War, his editorship to the Avanti! and his division of the party. He supported the First World War against the principles of the Socialists and as a result was expelled from the party. Mussolini was very much discontented with society and later became involved with a group of Milanese idealists that supported a mixture of socialist and nationalist policies. He once wrote that ‘the national flag is for us a rag to plant on a dunghill’. Against the socialists, he founded the Il Popolo d’Italia (Italian People), a newspaper that was subsidized by industrialists who stood to gain from the war.In 1919, Mussolini founded the Fasci di Combattimento (Combat Groups). This movement appealed to war veterans with a program that supported government ownership of national resources. In 1921, he transformed this group the Fasci to National Fascist Party, adopting a more conservative program to gain the support of property-owning Italians.Mussolini realised the importance of getting Fascists into power and so in 1923 Mussolini passed the ‘The Acerbo Law’. And this meant that any political party that was the largest in elections automatically got two-thirds of the parliamentary deputies. By intimidation and clever manipulation the Fascists won 65% of the votes that year and controlled the Chamber of deputies. This meant any law that Mussolini needed to strengthen his power would be passed.The Black Shirts, armed squads who supported Mussolini, used violence to combat anti-Fascist groups. In 1922, the Black Shirts armed a March on Rome and forced King Victor Emmanuel 3rd to appoint Mussolini Prime Minister.This party was supported on the whole by Nationalists, unsettled ex-soldiers, landowners (they wanted an end to the strikes and lawlessness) and Industrialists – such as Pirreli (makers in tyres) and Fiat (car producers). By 1921, the membership had risen to 152,000 people. He felt that to appeal to as many people as possible would work for his benefit, explaining why he called fascism ‘a road for all adventurers’In 1925, Mussolini declared a dictatorship by removing any power that could be held in order to form a constitution. He abolished other political parties and imposed government control on industry, schools, press and police. He later called himself Il Duce (the Leader).Once in total control, Mussolini began to exercise his totalitarian rule. Although in many ways he failed to make Italy a stronger nation, he did improve it through a number of domestic policies. Mussolini used his strength and energy to get through to the people and soon the strikes had vanished and production started to pick up once again.Mussolini felt that by banning other political parties January 1925, he would have total control. Mussolini banned all political parties by law. Communists were arrested and there was censorship of Italian newspapers. It was now very difficult to oppose Mussolini’s power in Italy.Also in 1925, the King was stripped of his power to appoint and dismiss members of the Government, which had become the Grand Council of Fascism anyway.Then the Prime Minister (Mussolini) was made Head of State as well as Government by law. The King was only a symbolic leader of Italy with no legal or political powers.Mussolini now had dictatorial powers, there was no person or organisation in Italy which could block his decisions / laws.He was very successful in his propaganda methods as he effectively revealed himself as a person who worked alongside the people. There were a number of youth movements such as the ‘sons of the she-wolf’ for children of the age 4 or up. In general, there was considerable emphasis on the glorious past of Italy and Rome. He once remarked that to govern Italy, ‘you needed two things: policemen, and bands playing in the streets’. Mussolini was also fully aware of the importance of being attractive to the mass of people, thus the reason why he declared the ‘the crowd loves strong men. The crowd is like a woman’ – he felt that he could easily manipulate them into supporting him.The economy was rather desperate under Mussolini as can be seen when he once remarked in his autobiography that “The financial situation was then…desperately serious. I knew what difficult inheritance I had received …Finance, then, was one of the most delicate and urgent problems to be solved, if I wanted to rebuild and elevate our credit abroad and home.”. But he did also comment that he would ‘defend the Italian lira to my last breath’.He also improved the living standards. There was a general increase in the electric supply across the country and there was a double in wheat production, thus aiding the economy. There was also an improvement in road and rail communications (and this made excellent propaganda material).Mussolini’s drive for self-sufficiency or “autarky” in grain production was intended to improve Italy’s position in trade as compared to the rest of Europe and North America. Mussolini introduced a campaign baptized the ‘Battle for Grain’ in order to increase grain production. The purpose of these ‘Battles’ was to make Italy self-sufficient so that its rising population could be fed in times of war. As a result there was an increase in home-grown wheat of 30%. Several hundred thousand acres of marshland was reclaimed for fields on housing projects. But there were some cutbacks, now, due to the increase of self-sufficient wheat production, grains imports could be cut, which was a benefit, but the Italians were paying 50%more for their wheat than the Americans paid for theirs.And so, in conclusion, it can be said that Mussolini got to power through means of force and the effective removal of any opposition. But, once in power, it can be said that he did more harm than good and as a result, Italy was rather unprepared when World War 2 hit. But it should be remembered that he did improve the living standards of the people (better communications and a widespread electricity supply) and improved the agricultural production.

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