Who Really Ruled Italy in 1926-40?

Mussolini is considered as one of the most important European dictators of the twenties century. If he is a dictator he would be the absolute ruler of Italy, but a man can not do everything himself. So how important were the other protagonists: the fascist party and the establishment? Their strength would be measured in power.
Mussolini through his political situation was the most powerful man in Italy. He was Prime Minister and held up to 8 ministries at once. The parliament had very restrained powers, Mussolini decided and the parliament could only agree as the members all belonged to Mussolini’s party. It was used as a security valve. He would give tasks to the independent members such as Farinacci to keep them occupied and on is side. Even if the members of the parliament and of the government were members of the fascist party their influence and power was limited.
Not only was Mussolini the leader of the country he was also from 1926 the chairman of the Fascist party. This meant that he had much more power over the party than he had before when he was representing the party in the Government. Mussolini was also able to appoint people whilst before for candidates to take posts the party had to vote for them. Mussolini by being the chairman absorbed a main part of the fascist party power. The symbiosis of the Mussolini’s power as Prime minister and as leader of the Fascist party diminished the influence of all other powers.


Unlike Russia, the party did not take the state over. It was Mussolini who took over the country and the fascist party almost followed him. Mussolini was chosen Prime Minister and by his reforms he increased the importance of the Fascist political party. The party was still Mussolini accessory.

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Mussolini over-centralised Italy in Rome to limit the power and independence of the raj. Mussolini acted like a 17th century king; he kept everyone under his eyes. Mussolini wanted to be able to rule the whole of Italy from Rome. This increased his importance in the towns of Italy. It was almost as if he was the mayor of each town.


The corporate State increased his control of the workers and employers. Mussolini was aware that even if he had banned all trade unions strikes were possible. His solution was to install twenty-two corporations, which acted as mediator between the workers, who thought that this was in their favour, and the industrials. This seemed to have saved Mussolini from major strikes, which could have been the end of his quite fragile party. Mussolini even if he was the leader of the party he still needed it to keep him in power. When he was forced to leave in 1941 it was not the fascist party that put him back in power but the Nazi army.


The fascist party had many important roles in the Italian social life. Mussolini relied on this party for the propaganda. Propaganda was and is very important in a dictatorship; it had to create the illusion of a strong Italy. An example of the role of the fascist party would be the numerous military displays. Organising the propaganda was in actual fact quite easy since a strict censorship had been installed and Italy became more isolated. The fascist party failed in understanding the need of a scapegoat.


The fascist party was also responsible for organising the fascist parallel powers, which were the OVRA (secret fascist police) and its militia. With these two tools the fascist party increased its’ role and also Mussolini’s dependence of the party. Mussolini would rely on the party through the militia to keep him in place. But these organisations were only parallel to the more independent police and army.


The fascist party organised the education and the indoctrination of the Italian youth. This was important for the future of the fascist and Mussolini’s regime. The fascist party decided of the programme, wrote out new textbooks to glorify Mussolini and the fascist party and also obliged teachers to support Mussolini.


The fascist party even with the mild purges increased, it reached 2,5 million members. The sheer size of the party greatened its influence but it also diluted its essence. It also turned middle class because it was believed that a fascist party member would have a pay or social situation increase. The Fascist Party was divided and breaches appeared. As there were no other parties, some non-fascist politicians joined the fascist party but still had their previous beliefs, and most of all they did not have the same ambition for the party. This situation was in favour of Mussolini because a weaker party meant that Mussolini would be stronger.


Constitutionally Mussolini was not the highest ranked person in Italy. The King appointed him and could also appoint someone else. Of course this was not a real threat to Mussolini since the royal family was supporting the fascist party, the royal party had more a figurative role and it would be risky for a king to dismiss a poplar prime minister specially if the prime minister had is militia.
The army and Police stayed independent even if the fascist party had infiltrated them. Mussolini knew that they did not conflict with his power or rule. If anything the army would be pleased to have a Prime Minister wanting to develop their profession. As Mussolini’s propaganda made people believe that he has developed this army, they would be more critical in case of a defeat. The police on the other hand was put in competition with the militia. On the whole between the army police and Mussolini there was more a relationship of complaisance.
The church wasn’t after the Lateran accords opposed to the fascist party. From then on the Pope and the Catholic Church concentrated more on the religious than on the politics. Mussolini managed to corrupt the Pope by handing back some land taken in the Italian unification so that there could be a papal state and Mussolini also granted indemnities for the land kept. After this agreement Mussolini was sure that the Catholic Church, which was the religion of a vast majority of Italians, would no longer criticise the fascist regime Also the Catholic Church was almost a political party, the last one to not have been banned by the fascists. This is probably Mussolini’s greatest accomplishment. He managed to calm down the opposition of the only institution he could not destroy.


Mussolini’s ambition was to make Italy an autarky. His failure meant that Italy suffered the 1929 crisis in a much more dramatical way than a country, which had almost reached total autarky like Russia. Mussolini then couldn’t rule Italy as he wanted he had to rule accordingly to Italian economy influenced by the world’s economy. Mussolini from 1935 was also relying on Hitler for coal, steel and petrol. Hitler’s importance in the Italian political life increase and reached its apex in 1942 when he was maintaining Mussolini in power and dictating to the dictator what he should do.


The Mafia had strong influence in the south; it almost ruled it. Even if Mussolini did a lot to destroy this organisation it still existed under cover. The Mafia did not accompany Mussolini and the fascist party’s power but it replaced it. Indeed the south of Italy remained mainly in rural area independent of Fascist influence. This independence was nevertheless unimportant because the southern part of Italy was poor, lightly populated and not industrialised. Mussolini neglected the south in his efforts to dynamise the industry and economy of the country.
We can say that Mussolini had ultimate power but not absolute power. He really ruled Italy from 1926-37 when Hitler’s influence was increasingly important. Mussolini never had the power of Hitler or Stalin. His strength is only in comparison with the other weak political parties in Italy. One could almost say that he is only a violent Prime Minister who didn’t respect the democratic rules.

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