November 29, 2016

1922. Benito Mussolini Seizes Power in Italy

The Fascists Descend Upon Rome
A poster featuring the visage of Benito Mussolini on display in Rome at the Palazzo Braschi in 1934 (source)
From The New York Times, November 1, 1922:

100,000 Fascisti March Through the City as Mussolini Becomes Premier
King Receives Them Warmly and Comments Upon Their Arduous Task
Premier Says Pacification is First Task—French and Swiss Are Apprehensive

ROME, Oct. 31 — The new Cabinet of Premier Mussolini took the oath of office today before the King, thereby becoming the official Government of Italy, and the Fascisti army, the Black Shirts, commanded by Mussolini, which has surrounded Rome, paraded through the city, 100,000 strong.

A fact which is everywhere favorably commented upon is that Mussolini and his Ministers all wore frock coats and silk hats at the ceremony of taking the oath. It was recalled in this connection that when the Socialists, Turati and Bissolati, visited the King recently they wore soft hats and rough sporting jackets. Mussolini's action is considered all the more interesting when it is remembered that up to a few years ago he also was a Socialist and a rabid revolutionary. He, however, decided that as he had accepted the monarchy the King should be treated with all the pomp appertaining to the office.

The scene when the ex-Socialist and ex-idol of the revolutionary masses took the oath of allegiance to the King was dramatic. The King greeted each Minister, saying: "I feel that I can hardly congratulate you, as you have a stiff, arduous task before you, but I congratulate the country for having you as Ministers."

Sonorously Accepts Oath

The King read the formula of the oath as follows:

"I swear to be faithful to my King and his legal descendants. I swear to be true to the Constitution and fundamental laws of the State for the inseparable welfare of my King and my country."

Mussolini, who was standing with the Ministers in a group around him, immediately stepped forward and, raising his outstretched arms, said with a booming voice:

"Your Majesty, I swear it."

The King was so deeply moved that he embraced Mussolini. Afterward each Minister went through the formality. When all had taken the oath the King remained for a few moments in conversation with Mussolini, who afterward drove back to his office at the Ministry of the Interior. The Fascisti militia had a hard task of restraining an enthusiastic crowd which wished to carry him in triumph through the streets.

"Double Hat" System Ended

Mussolini was early at his office this morning. Exactly at 8 o'clock, the hour at which all Government clerks are supposed to be at their posts, he telephoned all his Ministers instructing them to have a roll call. Anyone who was not at his desk was severely reprimanded and warned that he would be dismissed at the next offense.

This is the first foretaste of a regime of strict discipline which Mussolini intends to institute throughout Italy. Up to the present time most of the Government offices have been worked on the "double hat" system, whereby each clerk possesses two hats, one which remains permanently hung on a nail in his office, the other being worn going to and from the office. Whenever any one went into a Government office in search of a clerk, even two or three hours after the regular opening time, an usher would point out the hat hanging on a nail and say: "He is obviously in the office somewhere because his hat is here. You would better wait." The authorities have winked at this practice, but Mussolini does not propose to tolerate it. He said to The New York Times correspondent today:

"Italy must wake up to the fact that only hard work can save us from financial and economic ruin. I propose that the Government should begin in showing a good example, and Government clerks will be treated just like any clerk working for a private concern would be treated. If they work and do their duty they will be well treated, but if they are not ready to do what is expected of them they will be dismissed. This new regime will be hard for many of them, but they must realize that times have changed."

Mussolini also outlined the main points of his policy. As to internal affairs, it may be summed up in three words: "Discipline, economy, sacrifice," Mussolini said.

"I have not reached my present position by holding forth visions of an easy paradise, as the Socialists did. All will be ruled with an iron hand. It must be a wonderful testimonial to the patriotism and common sense of Italians that the Fascisti with such a program have the backing of an overwhelming majority of the country. Of course, they will be better off in the end, but our policy will not bear fruit for some time, and in the meanwhile there is going to be suffering."

On being asked by The New York Times correspondent what were the more specific points in his policy, he answered:

"First of all, the country must be pacified. The people must be made to understand that laws are passed in order to be observed. Lawlessness has reigned such a long time in Italy that the task will be difficult.

"Either the people will understand the need for pacification of their own accord or (here flash came into his eye) I will make them understand it.

"The second most important need is to balance the budget. The country must be placed on a paying basis. We are now paying billions yearly for running the railroads, posts, telegraph and telephone and we are paying these huge sums for running them badly. This must cease. Either the Government can run them well and show a profit, or the Government must give them up.

"Besides, by throwing all the youthful enthusiasm of the Fascisti, which has hitherto been used in fighting the Communists, into the paths of peace, we hope to inject so much pep into the country that there will be increased prosperity.

"The country had got tired. It had been running in a groove too long. We are going to shake it up, wake itmake it realize that it is alive."
Legions Enter in Triumph
Mussolini declares the establishment of an Italian Empire in a speech to a crowd before Palazzo Venezia in Rome, 1936 (source)
ROME, Oct. 31 (Associated Press) One hundred thousand well disciplined Fascisti marched through Rome from north to south today to the plaudits of a million Italian citizens gathered in the capital from all parts of the kingdom.

Their commander, Mussolini, was the central figure of the procession. Like the others who walked behind, the leader wore the black shirt of the organization. He was bare-headed and in a buttonhole was the Fascisti badge, while on his sleeve were several stripes showing that he had been wounded in the war.

Mussolini was surrounded by his general staff, including Signor Bianchi, de Vecchi, a number of generals and several Fascisti Deputies. He walked with a firm step the entire four miles to the disbanding point.

The day broke clear and fine, with one of Italy's brightest suns lighting the way to Borghese Park as the Fascisti troops, abroad early, proceeded up the Pincian Hill, from Tivoli, Santa Marinella and other places on the outskirts of the city, where they had been camping the last three days.

Big Parade Forms in Park

"It is a Fascismo sun," said a sturdy young black-shirted peasant from the plains of Piedmont as he led the Piedmont contingent into Borghese Park, where 15,000 Fascist, representing all the provinces of the Kingdom, from Northern Venetia and Lombardy to Southern Calabria and Sicily, assembled.

With military precision they formed and automatically fell into the places assigned to them—dark-visaged youths, with set, determined faces, upon which shone the light of victory, all wearing the black shirt. The rest of their equipment varied from skull caps to soft felt hats and steel helmets—some of them were without hats—and non-descript trousers, multi-colored socks and shoes that ranged from topboots to dancing pumps. They were armed only with riding crops and bludgeons, one man from Ancona swinging a baseball bat.

Briskly they swung into line to the tunes of innumerable bands, the Roman contingent leading the way along the Pincian Hill Road to the Piazza del Popolo and to the Porta del Popolo, through the Gate of the People into the People's Square, then marched down the Corso Umberto, Rome's main street, lined with flags.

Every window was filled with Romans cheering, some showering flowers upon the passing blackshirts, while those in the streets saluted straight-armed from the shoulder, with hands extended toward the west.

Through the heart of the city the procession continued, the youths never looking to the right or left, and acknowledging the acclamations and cheers only by singing Fascisti marching songs. Thus they reached the monument of Victor Emmanuel and the tomb of the unknown soldier.

At the tomb of each contingent, with banners flying, halted before the imposing monument; then two men from each contingent, one bearing a huge palm, the other a bouquet of flowers, ascended the steps leading to the tomb and deposited them upon it until it was lost to the sight beneath the mass of bloom. The first wreath placed on the tomb was carried by a veteran Garibaldian, nearly a hundred years old, who was assisted up the steps by two youths whose combined ages totaled less than half his own.

Paraded Before the King

On departing from the tomb the Fascisti proceeded at double-quick up the steep Cesare Battisti Hill to the Quirinal, where the King appeared on the balcony. He stood at salute, as each contingent arrived the flag was dipped, as before the tomb of the unknown soldier. The King received a great ovation from the assembled multitude.

The Fascisti reformed and marched directly to the station, where fifty trains, capable of transporting from 500 to 1,000 soldiers each, had been held in readiness since morning in accordance with the demobilization order that "every soldier must be on his way home before nightfall."

A feature of the day was the absence of speeches, the Fascisti leaders having decided, as one of them put it, they they are men of action, not words.

The crush around the tomb of the unknown soldier was so great that many women and some soldiers fainted. They were attended promptly by Fascisti ambulances.

Fully a million people lined the concourse from Borghese Park to the railroad station, or nearly twice the population of Rome, many of them coming from as far north as Venice and others from Sicily. Airplanes hovered overhead for most of the day, dropping Fascisti manifestos. Frequently the crowds were stampeded in efforts to pick up the pamphlets.

Groups of Fascisti today invaded the homes of former Premier Nitti, Count Volpi, Deputy Nicola Bombacci, the Communist leader, and Arturo Labriola, the Socialist ex-Minister. Socialist literature and other pamphlets were confiscated. Signor Nitti is absent in Southern Italy.

A band of Ancona Fascisti, led by Cesare Rossi, broke into the home of Deputy Mingrino, commander of the Communist Red Guards, last night. The invaders seized all the documents they could find, sequestered forty hand grenades and threw the furniture into the street. Then they set fire to the furniture.

Eight Killed, Twenty-five Wounded

Clashes occurred in several parts of the city between groups of Fascisti and isolated bands of Communists. Early tonight the casualties were placed at eight killed and about twenty-five wounded. One fight, in which several shots were exchanged, took place near the Vatican. Some of the bullets went over the Vatican wall, but no damage was reported.

A communiqué issued by the Commander of the Roman Legion announces that by Premier Mussolini's instructions any action taken by the Fascisti, either collectively or individually, which is directed against Communists or persons presumed to be Communists will be repressed with the utmost severity and the responsible leaders prosecuted and punished in an exemplary manner.

Mussolini had sent a message to the British Prime Minister, Bonar Law, and the French Premier, M. Poincaré, announcing his accession to the Premiership as "the representative of Italian ideals born at Vittoria Veneto." The message conveys cordial greetings and assurances of solidarity among the allied nations, which, Mussolini says, "I regard as indispensable for the effectiveness of their political action."

Stands For Policy of Expansion

Whatever the outcome may be when the new Cabinet goes before the Chamber of Deputies, there is general agreement that the new Premier has gathered about him a Cabinet exceptionally strong from the Nationalist standpoint, comprising a body of men who were leaders of Italy in the great war and the outstanding protagonists for Italy's territorial claims in the peace.

Mussolini brings with his Ministry a well-defined foreign policy, the cornerstone of which is expansion. The Fascisti Party, ever since its inception a year ago, has preached the extension of Italy's territorial aims. When former Premier Giolitti ordered the evacuation of Albania by Italian troops the Fascisti sent up a cry of protest against the veteran statesman, burning him in effigy and hurling stinging epithets against him in hostile demonstrations.

The new Premier himself has declared that the Mediterranean is an Italian lake, and he advocates complete control of that waterway by Italy. The claim of Greece for the Dodecanese Islands was always bitterly contested in Fascisti councils.

Total repudiation of all Soviets has been a constant cry among Fascisti. When the Russian commercial mission arrived in Rome in 1921 their rooms were broken into and their baggage ransacked by Fascisti, who contended for no negotiations in any form with the Soviets.

Domestic Policy in Doubt

In their domestic policy the aims of the Fascisti have not been so clearly defined. Indeed, it has been constantly maintained by their opponents that they had no domestic policy. One thing, however, has stood preeminent in all their domestic actions, namely, their hostility to the Extreme Socialists and Communists.

They have defiantly fought the strike in any form. Wherever and whenever strikes have been declared they have strained every effort to keep industry going.

Communism has been rendered almost helpless in Italy by the onslaught of the Fascisti. The militant Nationalists have carried their battle into the labor temples and meeting places of their antagonists. They have seized the records and rosters and burned them, and on many occasions even set fire to the buildings. The Fascisti, however, have manifested strong friendship for the laborers, provided the latter became Nationalists and embraced the Fascisti principles.

Besides the strength which comes to the government with the appointment of General Diaz and Admiral Thaon di Revel to Cabinet positions there is an accompanying assurance of stability with the other appointments. Professor Einaudi, the Minister of the Treasury, is distinguished for being one of the foremost Italian economists. Signor Rossi, the Minister of Industry, is a manufacturer and has held Cabinet positions previously. He was one of the chief advisers to the Italian Government in the Genoa Conference.

D'Annunzio Aid in Cabinet

Another member who gives considerable weight to the new Cabinet is Deputy Giuriati. He was Gabriele d'Annunzio's Chief of Cabinet during the poet's occupation of Fiume, and previously distinguished himself during the World War. He has been a staunch supporter of Mussolini since the inauguration of the Fascisti Party.

While the Cabinet is composed of strong personalities, there is always the question of support in the Chamber. It remains for the Catholics to announce their program when the Chamber opens next week. If they are pleased with the selections and will give their support, it would seem that sufficient strength could be counted on from the various other constitutional parties to render the Ministry stable.

In taking the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and the Interior in addition to the Premiership Mussolini occupies the posts which mean most for the Fascisti sphere of action. By occupying the Foreign Office he can put forth the policy which has again and again been enunciated by his party—that of expansion. By being Minister of the Interior he controls the police force and will be able to manoeuvre the various public instruments for the maintenance of order in accordance with the program of his party.

Moderate Socialists Barred

It appears that the original plan attributed to Mussolini to have two Moderate Socialists in the Cabinet was strongly opposed by other Fascisti leaders, so that Gino Baldesi and Bruno Buozzi, two of the leading figures in the cooperative movement in Italy, were not included in the new government.

With Signor Mussolini, the new Ministry, according to the last classification, comprises five Fascisti, two Catholics, three Democrats, one Nationalist and one Liberal, with the addition of General Diaz and Vice Admiral Thaon di Revel, who, being Senators, and also belonging, respectively, to the army and the navy, are not assigned to any special party.

Commenting on the situation the Giornale di Roma says:

"Italy has now a Government of national concentration under a strong man who has shown he can keep wonderful control over himself and who possesses a sense of moderation, which is an essential quality in a statesman. The new Government has a prestige such as no former Government ever had."

The newspaper favorably mentions the manifesto of the Federation of Industry supporting the Fascisti Government and concludes with an exhortation to all Italians to return to work.

The Messaggero in its comment says:

"Fascism is an affirmation of life, and a revival, and foreigners must recognize this elementary truth if they wish to judge Italy rightly. We are glad to see such eminent men in the Cabinet and expect to witness the reorganization of all branches of national life."