Mussolini’s March on Rome

MussoliniContrary to a popular misconception, Benito Mussolini was not a role model for Adolf Hitler. Not even an inspiration (let alone a teacher). They were simply way too different – and so were Italy and Germany.

For starters, Italy was one of the victors in the Great War and a predator (a criminal) in Versailles. Germany was one of the Central Powers who lost the World War I – and a prey (i.e., the victim of international criminals) in Versailles.

Although like Hitler, he did serve in the Great War, was wounded and was promoted to the rank of corporal, he was nowhere near a war hero that Adolf Hitler was.

Interestingly enough, they both dodged the military draft in their native countries, albeit for different reasons. Hitler did not want to serve the Austro-Hungarian monarchy that he deeply hated while Mussolini did not want to serve at all.

But the most fundamental difference was that Il Duce never obtained the absolute power that Hitler got after the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act in March of 1933. Unlike the Weimar Republic, Italy was a monarchy that Mussolini was never able to abolish.

Which ultimately led to his downfall when Italian king Victor Emmanuel III who had no desire to see his country destroyed and occupied by the victorious Allies (which now were the enemies of Italy), simply fired Il Duce and placed him under arrest.

He was rescued by Hitler’s commandos and became the leader of the Italian Social Republic – a puppet regime established by the Germans who occupied Northern Italy.

Which turned out to be a fatal mistake on his part. In late April 1945, in the wake of inevitable occupation of all Italy by advancing Allied troops, Mussolini and his latest mistress Clara Petacci attempted to flee to neutral Switzerland, but were identifies and captured by Italian communist partisans.

They were summarily executed by firing squad on 28 April 1945 near Lake Como. His body was then taken to Milan, where it was hung upside down at a service station to publicly confirm his demise. This humiliation possibly contributed to Hitler’s decision to commit suicide and ordered his body to be cremated.

However, Mussolini came to power in Italy almost 11 years before Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and was building and then running a totalitarian state in many ways similar to the one that Adolf Hitler wanted to turn Germany into.

Consequently, Hitler closely followed decisions and actions of Benito Mussolini – starting with the events that made Italian king appoint him prime minister of Italy. The youngest prime minister in Italian history.

The (in)famous March on Rome.

Contrary to a popular misconception, the march itself was but a relatively small (albeit a highly visible) part of the putsch that catapulted Mussolini and his Fascist party to power in Italy. They made no secret of their plans – on 24 October 1922, Mussolini openly declared before 60,000 participants of the Fascist Congress in Naples:

Our program is simple: we want to rule Italy

By that time, the Blackshirts (the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party) had already occupied the Po Valley (one of the most important industrial and agricultural areas in Europe) and took control of just about all strategic points of the country.

And Mussolini secured the support of the military, the business elite, and the right-wing politicians. Who were fed up with three years of political and social turmoil, had no desire to allow the Reds to take over the country (a very real possibility at that time) and believed (correctly) that Mussolini was exactly what the doctor ordered to remedy both of these vital problems.

Luigi Facta (then-prime minister of Italy) predictably was not happy with the situation (and its development) and on October 26th put together a decree that will declare the martial law and send the Italian army to stop the fascists right then and there.

However, to take effect (i.e., to become legal), the decree had to be co-signed by the monarch. Having had previous conversations with the King about the need for ruthless suppression of fascist violence, he was sure the King would agree.

To his greatest surprise, Victor Emmanuel III did not. He flatly refused to sign the decree and instead… ordered Facta and his government to resign. They obliged (what else could they do?) and three days later asked Mussolini to form a new cabinet, thus making him a new prime minister of Italy.

Apparently, the King agreed with the country elites and the military that Mussolini’s Fascists were not a threat to the country while the Reds definitely were. And because the Blackshirts had already taken control of the whole Po valley and most strategic posts in the country, he justifiably feared that the declaration and enforcement of the martial law would result in a full-fledged civil war – which no one wanted.

Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch was (at least unconsciously) supposed to be a German reincarnation of the March on Rome. However, Bavaria (and Germany) was not Italy; Friedrich Ebert (President of Weimar Republic) was no King Victor Emmanuel, Brownshirts were no Blackshirts and Adolf Hitler was yet no Benito Mussolini.

So Hitler’s putsch failed – and failed miserably. However, for Adolf Hitler it turned out to become a major blessing in disguise as it (and the subsequent trial) transformed him (at that time still a very much regional politician) into a national (and even international) political celebrity.

Thus radically increasing his outreach – and consequently his political power.

 

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