In this lesson we’re going to deal with history, more precisely we’re going to study one of the darkest, most delicate and most dramatic periods of Italian history: the twenty years of Fascism. In fact, we’ll see how the fascist movement began, we’ll analyze the figure of Benito Mussolini, leader of the movement, and we’ll also explore all the events that led Italy to being held in a totalitarian dictatorship and subsequently to take part in the World War II!
The twenty years of Fascism: dates and events
The crisis of the “Biennio Rosso” (Two Red Years) period
Let’s start by saying that Word War I had left Italy in a state of total devastation, due to the fighting, and dealing with a deep economic and social crisis, especially due to the rising unemployment and inflation that affected employees, peasants and workers.
– 1919 and 1920: in Italy, all the aforementioned events led to a series of protests, strikes and riots (including occupation of factories) in order to get a wage increase and measures to combat the price increase, in a period known as “biennio rosso” (Two Red Years).
The rise of Fascism
– 1919/1921: Benito Mussolini founded the “Fasci di Combattimento” (named after the sticks that were used by the ancient lictors, namely the “bodyguards” of the Roman magistrates), the political movement that would give rise to the fascist movement in the two following years, a movement that was characterized mainly by the violence against the political opponents.
In fact, fascists used to band together in groups recognizable by their typical black shirts with the purpose of terrorizing and humiliating the opponents.
Soon after, many people became convinced that Fascism could quell the rioting caused by the lower classes and restore order to the country, so much that fascist, for the first time, were able to enter parliament with 35 members.
The march to Rome and the accession to power of Mussolini
– 1922: the Fascists, driven by a growing thirst of power, organized the renowned march to Rome: an event in which 25 thousands fascists occupied stations and streets of the capital in an attempt to get the resignation of the Prime Minister Luigi Facta and and the political relationship of the kingdom. Therefore, Facta asked Vittorio Emanuele III to stop the advance of the fascists with the support of the army, but the king, in order to avoid risks causing violent clashes, summoned Benito Mussolini to Rome (as he was in Milan) and gave him the task of forming a new government, despite having only a few members.
Thus, in 1922 Benito Mussolini rose in power, leading the Kingdom of Italy until 1943 with the title of “Duce”. The fascist regime soon began to rule Italy with an iron fist, by eliminating all those who stood in their way.
– 1924: the fascists won the new election, by changing the results in their favor, but some people became aware of the fraudulent practice, including the anti-Fascist Congressman Giacomo Matteotti who spoke out against the violent acts and the abuses.
The murdering of Giacomo Matteotti, the “fascistissime” (very fascist) laws and the use of the propaganda
– (June 10th): Giacomo Matteotti was murdered. His murder would go down in history as one of the darkest moments of the history of Italy: the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the most sensational murder of all those committed by the fascists. Matteotti’s speech, that was full of accusations against the regime, went down in the history of Italy, in particular for the last sentence spoken to his companions at the end of it: “Io, il mio discorso l’ho fatto. Ora voi preparate il discorso funebre per me” (I did my speech. Now, it’s up to you to prepare the funeral speech for me).
– 1925: Mussolini decided to establish a dictatorship, by emanating the so-called “leggi fascistissime” (very fascist laws), establishing that:
1) the National Fascist Party was the only one to be admitted.
2) the head of government had to answer for its work to the king of Italy and no longer to the Parliament;
3) the Grand Council of Fascism, chaired by Mussolini, was the supreme authority of the State;
4) all citizens’ associations had to be placed under police control;
5) the only trade unions officially recognized were the fascist ones and going on strike was forbidden;
6) all the press had to be subject to control and any content against Fascism had to be censored;
7) all the public officials who weren’t loyal to the regime had to be removed.
One of the most distinctive traits of Fascism was obtaining the consent and the endorsement of the people through an intense and pushed propaganda (at work, at school, on television, on radio, in theaters ecc.), which was aimed at exalting the regime and the figure of Mussolini, recalling the ancient glory of the Roman Empire and creating on of the first examples of totalitarian regime.
– 1929: Mussolini, who aimed at obtaining the support of the Catholic Church, signed the so-called Lateran Treaty with the Holy See, according to which the Catholic religion would become the State religion and, at the same time, matter of teaching in schools, also granting the Pope control over the area around the Saint Peter’s Basilica.
The attack on Etiopia, the alliance with Hitler and the entry into war
– 1935: Mussolini, with the purpose of bringing Italy back to the former glory of the great Roman Empire, attacked Etiopia, without ever declaring war…
– 1936: The army, albeit with some difficulties, managed to take the capital.
Etiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, formed the Italian East Africa.
-1936/1939: Mussolini allied himself with the German dictator Adolf Hitler, since Nazis and Fascists shared the same the same idealistic political views, and together signed the agreement know as the Rome-Berlin axis first and then, three years later, the Pact of Steel.
– 1938: Mussolini established the racial laws (signed by Vittorio Emanuele III who wanted to keep his role as constitutional king), which led Jewish people to be excluded from society (they weren’t allowed to frequent public places and attend Italian schools, marry Italian people ecc.). Furthermore Italy had a major role in the Holocaust, by deporting many Jewish people to concentration camps.
– 1940: Italy entered the war on the side of Germany and Japan, fighting in the conflict that would cause the highest recorded death roll in the history of mankind (more than 50 millions of people)
– 1943 (July 25th): the fascist movement came to an end, leaving the country in a situation of complete chaos.
– 1945 (April 28th): Mussolini was captured and killed and his corpse was then hung by his heels in the public square Piazzale Loreto, in Milan.
Well, that is what happened during those dark years. We hope you found this lesson useful to know a bit of history of Italy! But, if you still want to learn more, maybe something about characters like Vittorio Emanuele III, don’t miss our video on the history of the Italian Unification!