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Video transcript
Narrator: Benito Musssolini's rise to power in the early 1920s in Italy is a fairly rapid, and from historical perspective, fairly surprising one. To give some context, as late as 1915, (writing) 1915, he had recently been ousted from the Italian Socialist Party based on his decent over whether Italy should enter the war. The official stance of the party is that World War I is an imperialist war, that Italy had no business entering it, that Italy should stay neutral, but you had more nationalist elements in the party and Mussolini was one of them. He says, no this is Italy's chance for glory, this is Italy's chance to build its empire. So, in 1915 he's ousted from the Socialist Party and he decides to start his own group called the Fasci d'azione rivoluzionaria and I talk about that in the video on fascism, but it was often referred to as the Milan fascio (writing) the Milan fascio which was a group that was strongly nationalist that was pro entering the war. Italy does eventually enter the war, not necessarily because of these guys, this was still a fairly insignificant organization. The reason why I'm mentioning it is it shows Mussolini even before the war was showing these very strong nationalistic tendencies and this tendency to start organizations that were pro-nationalist and he tended to call them fasci. He get's this notion of fasci ... The term had been used well before Mussolini for a kind of league of revolutionaries, league of people who are looking to take action on something. Then he enters into the war as a soldier and then exiting the war in 1919, he decides to reorganize or to start leading a group again. This time he calls it the Fasci di Combattimento. (writing) Fasci di Combattimento, battimento which could literally be translated as the league of combatants. This isn't even a formal party at this point of time, it's really a collection of a couple of hundred people. The estimates I've seen is about 200 individuals who group together. What unifies them is a strongly anti-socialist ideology. There's an irony here because Mussolini was in the socialist party before the war, but is a strongly anti-socialist ideology and a strongly nationalist ideology. To understand where this strong anti-socialist or anti-Bolshevik ideology came from you have to understand the context of Italy and Europe of that time. You have to remember that the Russian Empire fell during World War I, it was now run by the communists. You have a fear that that is going to spread throughout Europe. You have the leading party in Italy at the time is the Italian Socialist Party, you have a left-leaning government. There is a desire to react against that seeming spread of socialism or of communism. These guys don't view it as hey let's meet together and talk about and maybe try to run for elections. They want to actively coerce people. They want to actively intimidate people and these groups that would rise out of this, that would be strongly anti-socialist and the anti left-leaning government they would wear these black shirts and they were often called The Black Shirts. Which I wont write in black because then you wouldn't see it, so I'll write in this blue color. (writing) These Black Shirts. These were very loosely organized bands, they were often called fasci, it would often be young men who would gather together in towns throughout Italy and say we believe in this anti-socialist ideology, we want to take up arms and intimidate socialist, intimidate people on the left. So, you have these Black Shirts, this paramilitary group starting to arise. In 1919, I want to emphasize, very small, very, very small, very, very insignificant, but their influence grows. You have more and more of these fasci forming throughout Europe. Not through Europe, throughout Italy. This is very appealing to, especially young boys in Italy. Mussolini, himself, is a very inspiring orator. He's kind of this larger than life personality. Sometimes what he says didn't necessarily make complete logical sense, but it really appealed to people's emotions, that he was a strong leader, that someone that they would actually want to follow. In two short years you forward to 1921, (writing) 1921. This Fasci di Combattimento had now morphed into a real national party, it's now ... and they renamed themselves the nationalist or the National Fascist Party. (writing) Fascist Party. Obviously it wasn't called that in Italian. In Italian it was the Partito Nazionale Fascista and Mussolini is the leading figure here. He gets elected to the Chamber of Deputes. (writing) Chamber of Deputes along with several other fascists, but they're still a fairly small party. Although they've already now they're gaining steam, they're becoming mainstream, but even though they're becoming more mainstream they still haven't given up their use of force and their use of intimidation. Then we forward to 1922 and all of this is happening quite rapidly, but by 1922 Italy is not in a good situation. People aren't happy with the left-leaning government, they feel that it's weak, that it's not able to turn the economy around, that it's not able to bring order, that the extreme left is having too much power, that they're too many strikes, that the country isn't being run properly; the middle class and the elite aren't happy with this. So, the fascists are getting more and more and more followers. One, kind of you could say civilian followers, but they're also getting more and more fasci that are forming. They're showing that their use of violence actually can sometimes get goals that the weaker government couldn't get, they were able to break strikes in 1922 with the perception that that was helping to bring order. So, by October of 1922, (writing) by October of 1922, you have Mussolini at this head, he has this conference of 40,000 fascists and they essentially come to the idea that they need to march on Rome, to bring order to Italy, that they should demand, they should demand a stronger government. (writing) So, in October you have a march on Rome and I've seen several accounts of the size of this march on Rome, but the numbers that I've seen is on the order of 200,000. (writing) 200,000 fascists march on Rome. This essentially causes the current government to be ... the Prime Minister to be ousted and the King appoints Mussolini as Prime Minister. (writing)So, Mussolini, Mussolini is now the Prime Minister. So this is a super rapid ascend, really based on peoples' unhappiness with the left-leaning government, peoples' desire for a strong leader, Mussolini's kind of charisma. Every picture you see of him he has these really stern looks, he has this impression of a really strong figure. Not only did he become Prime Minister, but he's able to get dictatorial powers. The legislator actually gives him dictatorial powers for a year. (writing) Dictata-, dictatorial powers for one year, so you can't, at this point call him the dictator. We'll see that that's going to come in a few years, but he's granted, essentially, absolute control. He can pass laws at will and it's an interesting question of history of why at this point the legislator was willing to give him dictatorial powers and why the King was fine with this fairly strong character being Prime Minister with dictatorial powers. My understanding is, and I'm curious to see what you guys say in the message boards, is that it really was around ... people were desire ... on one level there was a desire especially amongst the middle class and the elite, of having this strong leader, of maybe someone who could bring order and pride to the country. Then on top of that he was backed up by these, he was backed up by the Black Shirts, this paramilitary group that was dispersed throughout Italy that could intimidate his opponents. You could imagine some legislators were actually keen to support a strong leader after many years of weak leadership, but on top of that they probably felt intimidated into giving Mussolini these absolute powers.