(MUSSOLINI and FASCISM in ITALY – continued)

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1920: a Failed Revolution and a good year for Mussolini

By spring in 1920, d'Annunzio's support in Italy was waning. The Italian government of Francesco Nitti, with an uncertain majority in parliament, chose not to use force against d'Annunzio, hoping that d'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume would wear itself out. Of greater significance was Italy's slide deeper into economic depression.

In June 1920, Nitti resigned. In August and September came a wave of strikes. A sit down strike in Milan spread to the city of Turin (100 kilometers to the west) and to factories in other cities. In rural areas, especially in the Po Valley and in Tuscany, land seizures were on the rise. Mobs of demobilized peasant soldiers were overrunning estates. In these rural areas, socialist and populist leagues, cooperatives and trade unions were active, and local elections in November gave socialists and populists control in many rural town councils. Landowners felt threatened by dispossession. They and other farmers and shopkeepers resented demands that they pay more in wages. They resented what they saw as Leftist authoritarianism. Property owners joined together to defend themselves. With the sympathy of the new government of Giovanni Giolitti, landlords hired groups of Fascists to protect their lands against land-grabbing peasants. Violence was employed. Leftist town councils there were forcibly dissolved, and buildings owned by socialists were wrecked or burned to the ground.

The conflict between management and labor remained, with factory owners resenting worker demands, including the creation of worker councils (soviets) within their factories. Prime Minister Giolitti was for compromise between management and labor, and his government pressured employers to make concessions to the workers. The strikes ended, but the owners were resentful and felt humiliated, and they looked elsewhere than the government for help – including the fascists.

Mussolini had already been receiving financial support from a few wealthy admirers, and in the 1920s that support increased substantially, mainly from industrialists and landowners. Mussolini abandoned his leftist programs. He abandoned his stands against the Church, which he realized had not helped his movement. He faced accusations of being a tool of the capitalists from the anti-capitalists within his movement, but he could afford to ignore or turn against his movement's Left – as Hitler would in Germany – in exchange for increased power. Coming into the Fascist movement in the place of anti-capitalists were young men from the lower middle class, from civil service, from respectable bourgeois families, and students from the universities – some who had been junior officers during the war.

The wave of strikes had ended and the threat of revolution appeared to have subsided, but Mussolini continued to speak against the threat of Bolshevism and to attack the Socialists. He saw his challenge as separating industrial workers from their socialist, Marxist, union leaders. His street fighters destroyed newspapers and occupied the headquarters of the Socialists, justifying their violence on the grounds that it was the only way to combat Communism.

In the streets the Socialists were intimidated and were losing. The fascist squads were better armed than the Socialist Party squads, and more willing to attack with violence. The homes of socialists, their printing presses and party headquarters were pillaged at will. Trade union organization was being crushed piecemeal, while conservatives in government stood aside as if pleased to see the fall of their political opponents.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Giolitti signed the Treaty of Rapallo. Fiume was to be an independent city contiguous with Italian territory, and Yugoslavia received Dalmatia. D'Annunzio refused to recognize the treaty, and styling himself as the dictator of Fiume he declared war on Italy. In December 1920, Giolitti sent an army to Fiume, and after a few hours of fighting it overwhelmed d'Annunzio's forces. D'Annunzio's army dispersed, many of them joining Mussolini's force, which by the end of 1920 was around 20,000 and growing.


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