How Benito Mussolini Took Power


Stalin biographer Stephen Kotkin spends several pages of his book discussing the lessons to be learned from Mussolini’s seizure of power in Italy in the early 1920s.  It was something that happened gradually, in stages, when institutions that should have been able to bring him to heel did nothing, either due to their own lack of resolution or tacit support of his power grab.

Italy after the First World War was, like many European countries, rife with instability and factionalism.  Mussolini’s “fascist” party in 1922 had collected only 35 out of 500 seats in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies; despite this apparent lack of popular support he was still asking to be appointed prime minister.  He threatened to march on Rome himself with his private militia (squadristi) and take power with or without official permission.  He had some support from the established institutions of the day:  the monarchy, the army, the church, and big business.  In the wake of the Bolshevist radicalism that was threatening Europe, the establishment was looking for a charismatic figure who might be able to restore order and bring the county some measure of stability.

In the end, these temptations proved too attractive to resist.  King Vittorio Emanuele III asked Mussolini to become prime minister.  He thought that by making him part of a coalition, he would be able to restrain the worst of Mussolini’s excesses.  The so-called “March on Rome” took place only after he had been appointed prime minister.  Arriving in Rome by train–not marching along with his men–Mussolini then had his 20,000 blackshirts parade around the city like conquerors.  This was the origin of the myth of his “seizure” of power: but there was no seizure.  The myth was another of Il Duce‘s shabby lies, designed to glorify himself and his movement; in fact, he was appointed by the existing powers, who thought they could use him for their own ends.  In this they were only partially correct.

Besides being favored by the powerful institutions of the country, Mussolini was also aided at critical junctures by the ineptitude of his political opponents.  In the elections of April 1924, Mussolini’s party won 374 seats out of 535; this amounted to 66.3% of the popular vote.  There then occurred an event that proved to be of great advantage to him.  Giacomo Matteotti, a law professor at Bologna and the son of wealthy family from the Veneto, publicly denounced the fascists in strident terms, calling the vote a fraud and the result of intimidation and squadristi violence.  With this step, he had signed his death warrant.  He was abducted eleven days later, bundled into the boot of a car, and stabbed repeatedly; his body was found two months later, dumped on the outskirts of Rome.

It was never established whether Mussolini was involved or knew anything about the plot beforehand.  He was certainly not above using violence, or encouraging its use, against political opponents; but such a reckless step probably was taken without his knowledge or approval.  Despite this, he was able to use the crisis that the murder generated to consolidate his hold on power.  Anti-fascist demonstrations escalated in the streets, general strikes were declared, and it seems that Mussolini would have to resign.

But the king did not call for him to step down.  His political opponents then committed a grievous error:  they left the field of political conflict and walked out of the Chamber of Deputies.  Trying to imitate the ancient Roman plebian practice of going to the Aventine Hill to protest measures taken by the nobility, the anti-fascist deputies probably thought that by walking out of the chamber they could pressure Mussolini to resign.  In this they were sorely mistaken.  The situation was getting more and more dangerous by the hour, until finally Mussolini (on January 3, 1925) threw down the gauntlet.  In a dramatic speech, he “assumed responsibility” (whatever that meant) for the crisis and dared those present to remove him or indict him.

But nothing happened.  By exposing his opponents as all talk and no action, he successfully called their bluff.  He also refused to permit the deputies who had boycotted the session to return to the Chamber.  By the middle of January, it was clear he had won;  all political parties except the fascists were outlawed and Italy was on its way to becoming a dictatorship.  This was how he consolidated his hold on power.  In retrospect we can see how this happened:  (1) the established institutions of the country (monarchy, church, army, and big business) more or less supported Mussolini and thought he was preferable to the communist alternatives; and (2) at the critical moment, his opponents failed to muster the requisite will to call his bluff.  The institutions that should have acted as checks and balances on his power failed.  And failed miserably.

Readers will draw their own conclusions and lessons from this narrative of events.  We may note also that this same “walking out” mistake was made by the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, when they thought that by boycotting the United Nations sessions on Korea, they could somehow prevent US military intervention in that country.  This also turned out to be a delusion; for what the Americans did was simply to take advantage of the Soviet absence to vote for intervention in Korea under the flag of the United Nations.

On the political scene today, it is clear that some power elites believe that they can use unscrupulous, amoral demagogues for their own ends.  They know very well that such demagogues are venal, lacking in restraint, and totally unsuited for office.  Yet they do not care; they believe they can use the arrogance and stupidity of the demagogue for their own selfish ends, and for the ends of those who support them.  In this they are mistaken.  By putting partisan, factional considerations ahead of the national interest, they reveal themselves to be men without moral courage.  They will find out, all too soon, just how serious was the mistake they have made.  Institutions in a democratic republic cannot long survive a coordinated attack from those who inhabit them.  When long periods of wealth, affluence, and ease condition a population for moral corruption, the citizenry is unable to see what is right before its eyes.  It is unable or unwilling to call corruption and evil by their true names.  It mistakes stupidity and arrogance for strength and tenacity; it more wishes to be entertained than to be informed and provided for; and it uses the nascent dictator as the secret mouthpiece of its dreams and malicious fantasies.

And it is the public that will suffer, just as it was the Italian people of the 1940s who suffered for the venality and crimes of their leaders.  Mussolini was a con artist, a fraud, and a liar, but he would never have taken power had not the powerful elites in Italy looked the other way and collaborated with him for their own selfish purposes.  Political factionalism and its associated moral cowardice, plutocratic control of economic life, the concentration of wealth in the hands of too few, and public ignorance combine to produce one outcome:  the slide into authoritarianism.

When in doubt, one should never leave the playing field until the last hand has been dealt, and the final card played.


Read more about the results of hubris and political factionalism in the groundbreaking new translation of Sallust, which includes notes, maps, charts, and much more:

18 thoughts on “How Benito Mussolini Took Power

  1. Hindenberg also seemed to think he could control Hitler and saddle him with traditional conservative cabinet members for the most part. That didn’t work either.

    It’s also eerily reminiscent of the little social justice warriors who their creators began to lose control over a couple of years ago and we’re seeing the results. It’s also fairly reminiscent of how the left thinks it can make nice with Islamism and all these front organizations for the Muslim Brotherhood.

    If you read Scott Adams, he wrote about the cognitive dissonance of the modern Bolsheviks over Trump eventually turning him into the thing they’re hallucinating about. To most, Trump probably does seem the better alternative to the SJW-Islamist axis, and when they get more violent, then what?

    Unless Trump and AG Sessions crack down on these antifa groups fast (I’m hoping for some nice RICO charges), I think it’s fairly certain that we’re going to be seeing Weimar-style street battles this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris Cantwell made an interesting point last week: fascism always rises in response to communism. Not sure what to make of that; but there are historical patterns.

    The 1920s were very turbulent for Europe. Communism was a constant threat. The King of Italy’s father was murdered by the reds, and it’s possible he was willing to appoint Mussolini in an attempt to keep the Communists from gaining more power.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascism was in effect a nationalist form of Socialism. Mussolini was until his dying day a leftist. He often said, “I always have been and always will be a man of the left.” The Fascists, and for that matter the German National Socialists were as hostile to capitalism as the Bolsheviks in Russia. Recall Mussolini coined the term “plutocracy”. They simply attacked it differently Mussolini established the corporate state, The party and government would work in hand with big business and trade unions, In fact the Fascists in Italy took over more of the state apparatus that the National Socialists in Germany, especially after 1943 under the so called Italian Social Republic the regime propped up by the Germans in northern Italy. This idea of the corporate state or state capitalism (oligarchy) was quite popular from the 1920’s into the 1950’s. Many nations around the globe, Japan, Nationalist and Communist China, South and North Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Iraq, Syria, and Israel used various forms of this system, and many still do if you observe carefully.

    Even in the Soviet era under Stalin there was a movement in the Comintern (Communist International Committee to spread world revolution) led by a man named Karl Radek (Sobelsohn) while in Germany he attended several meetings of the National Socialists in Munich and liked much of what he heard, the idea of socialism combined with nationalism. (Radek was a Polish Jew I assume he kept that to himself while attending the meetings!). He thought the idea could be used in the budding USSR (this was in the early 1920’s) and he developed his own ideology called National Bolshevism. The party and Comintern debated over this and took it seriously. After Stalin’s rise in 1927, the idea like the NEP, was pushed aside, and ultimately Radek was arrested during the great purge in 1937 and was imprisoned and executed.

    Ultimately what must be understood is that big business (fortune 500 companies) have no problem working hand in hand with government so long as it is to their benefit. In face contrary to popular beliefs they want regulations, as they do not hurt the big giants the oligarchies, but wreck medium and small businesses causing them to either sell out to the oligarchies or go bankrupt. Hence Wall Streets support for Hillary and not Turmp. Much of this was genuinely popular with the people, and regardless of the fecklessness of the political parties in Italy, and Wiemar Germany, both Fascism, and National Socialism were for quite some time genuinely popular movements.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quintus hello. Thank you for reading my comments. I’m pleased you found them illuminating. I was using a lap top so forgive the typo’s I prefer desk top keyboards. The origins and ideologies of totalitarian regimes was one of my areas of study in graduate school. I’m always dismayed by the lack of knowledge in today’s trying times. Last night I watched Tucker Carlson interview the ringleader of the anti-Milo riots at Berkeley. She kept using the word “fascist” when it was quite obvious to even the most imperceptive perceiver that she had zero idea or understanding of what Fascism was or is. Anyone who was not a hard left cultural Marxist was a “fascist” to her, and she made it very clear that she had the right to “shut him down” by any means necessary.

      The bottom line is that the oligarchy elites in the USA want total control which is why throughout the 20th Century corporate oligarchs and Marxists worked together (and still do) their goals are the same oligarchy, when the many work for the few. The difference is in the “means” to get there the “end game is the same.”
      Corporate oligarchs want privately controlled oligarchies via joint stock companies and conglomerates. Marxists want state controlled oligarchies held by government trusts. Different routes to the same destination.

      I enjoy your website. I too am an author and I look forward to dialogue with you, and I look forward to your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The basic split may always boil down to universalism vs particularism. In political economy this can express itself as internationalism vs nationalism. Large scale international capitalism wants no borders or barriers to their business, but they have no qualms about erecting local barriers to entry for smaller scale reproductions of what they do. Nationalists have interests closer to hearth and home, blood and soil, and their economic preferences follow suit.
    There’s an interesting book published in 1969 by Emil Lengyel called Nationalism the Last Stage of Communism, which outlines the ideological beginnings of the fall of international communism writing twenty years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He traces it back to the conflict between the Jew Trotsky and the Panslav (he did not use this term, I’m inserting it because I think it appropriate) Georgian Stalin. Trotsky wanted to maintain an outward focus while Stalin wanted to concentrate on solidifying gains in the USSR and making socialism work “in one country”, keeping most of the effort in the immediate region. Trotsky losing meant less of an international focus. It also meant a communism that was a reflection of the fascist regimes of western Europe, prompting the equivalence declared by Hayek in The Road to Serfdom. Both totalitarian.
    The pro-Russian tilt was quickly picked up on by the other Eastern bloc countries after the war leading to a lack of cooperation in Comecon, and other economic initiatives led by Russia. Unable to duplicate the large scale markets of the European Economic Community and other western trading blocs, the economies of the East faltered and the Russian Empire broke up.
    Now for my theory about events in light of Lengyel.
    The inward turn of Stalin was nationalist and Russian. Making things Russian meant making communism less Jewish. This antagonism led to Russian Jews being disenchanted with Russian communism and perhaps some persecution that may have been deserved ( who can say for sure?). This disenchantment led some Jews, both in and out of Russia to question whether communism was the best vehicle for advancing their interests and many abandoned it. Having done so they needed places to put down the temporary roots that have been the characteristic of the Jewish diaspora since the fall of Jerusalem. Some set up shop in western communist movements, some in liberalism, and some in western conservatism, in which they called themselves neoconservatives.
    The establishment of the Jewish state of Israel also played into this. Note that the original plan for Israel was a socialist state based on kibbutsim. Russian communists, once given permission to go, flocked there in droves. And quickly found out that communism didn’t work. This aided the neocon movement, as well as the Israeli and diaspora Jew interest in international capitalism. Since then reversion to the old ways of money changing and international trade was an easy transition.
    In a way, we are back to the way things were in the late middle ages, and the Shylock of Venice is saying, “Am I not a man? Do I not bleed?” all the while demanding his pound of flesh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I knew more about the specifics of history to weigh on your comment, but it was nonetheless very interesting to read. I have to confess as I’ve aged I’ve become ever more sensitive to the phrase “qui bono?” and while I don’t ascribe to every counter theory I read, I also don’t immediately discount it as well. We often forget about the power of incentive, and how players will mercilessly use any moral them of nationalism, security, etc… to rally people for their own interests. This was certainly the case in the Iraq war, and I was 100% guilty of falling for it. I would like to think people are more skeptical these days, but the intervention in Libya showed me otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I fell for it as well. I think we know what conflicts to avoid in the near future based on who promotes the interventions, but even great men (Churchill comes to mind) are subject to influence under the right conditions. When the media stops attacking the president unreasonably I think we can assume that he has turned.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Could it be that Mussolini- like Hitler who is known to have had them – had death squads clearing out the people in the army and bureaucracy who were staunchly opposed to his rise?

    Hitler neutralised the Wehrmacht’s officer class by strategically terminating generals who who were adamantly opposed to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I ,as an under educated,yet not oblivious american; read this and see more of the clintons as being facists . How does america not see this.
    I have no higher education, most of history bores me. But living in the 21st century has illuminated my brain. I see most politicians ,past and present, as selfish .

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dinesh D’sousa points out that Hitler acquired ideas from the Democrats of America during the 1930’s and that these Democrats were the only slave holders prior to 1870’s. Also, he points out how the Democrats, the real Left of American politics is trying to paint the Right and Trump as Fascists. D’sousa makes the point that Fascism has always been the offspring of the Left. Again, deception and lies is used by the Left leaning Democrats to seduce the people into a false narrative to support end goal of power and control over the masses. In this case, the Globalist agenda where the world becomes one big state with no boundaries with a hive of slaves. Trump, it appears is outing the real fascists and exposing The Big Lie for all Americans.


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