While Hitler had a relatively quick journey to a dictatorship, Mussolini’s journey to the same point took far longer, although he achieved a semblance of power early on in his career when he was appointed Italy’s Prime Minister in 1922.
Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 and his path to a dictatorship happened soon afterwards, with his power skyrocketing over the next few months. Mussolini’s path to a dictatorship, however, took far longer.
Just three months after Hitler had become Chancellor, his power was so strong that, despite Hindenburg being President of Germany, Hitler was in control in everything but name. After the Enabling Act, he was seen as the dictator of Nazi Germany, while Mussolini had only managed to obtain dictatorial powers following the Lateran Treaty. As a result, it was essential that Mussolini created a good relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, as the Church’s power over the Italian people was so strong.
Following the 1922 March on Rome and his appointment to Prime Minister, Mussolini did indeed achieve an element of power, but a dictatorship remained a long way off. His Government was also divided rather than being a unified powerhouse, as many of its members had differing political beliefs. Another reason that his power was held back was the murder of Italian socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti in 1924, at which point many Italians were deeply unhappy with his Government. Propaganda condemned Mussolini and, at one point, it looked likely that he would be forced to resign from his position.
He began working to boost his power across the country, first by making changes for the working class and promising them an eight hour day. He also looked for the support from industrial heavyweights, ending an investigation into the profits they had made during World War One. Meanwhile, the wealthy Italians also saw benefits in that death duties were reduced and the Roman Catholic Church was pleased with the fact that religious education was included on the curriculum of all primary schools.
It is thought that Mussolini’s attempts to win over these groups of people were inspired by Hitler’s bid to do the same. Hitler rolled out bank holidays in Germany in 1933, which were immediately very popular and increased his sway amongst the working classes. However, he also banned trade unions, making workers far more vulnerable to his decisions and rendering them unable to protest due to the Enabling Act. To this end, Hitler’s control over Germany was becoming more absolute while Mussolini’s remained lacking.
Mussolini rolled out a Fascist Grand Council which was tasked with setting out policy for Italy without first asking the non-fascists in the Government. This council introduced the Acerbo Law in February of 1923, which altered the results of elections. This meant that if one party won a quarter or more of the votes cast, they would achieve two thirds of the seats in parliament. Many political figures voted in the law despite the fact that they may not have agreed with it due to feeling threatened if they were to vote against Mussolini’s plans. Indeed, “a good beating did not hurt anyone,” Mussolini said.
The Fascist Party won 65 per cent of the votes in the March election immediately following the introduction of the Acerbo Law, therefore winning the vast majority of seats and cementing its power within the Government.
Despite having the majority of seats and the Acerbo Law under their belts, Mussolini and his fascists were still openly disliked by some Italians, highlighting the fact that, while fear was rampant among some, it had not yet held the entire nation in its grip as it had in Hitler’s Germany. Several non-fascist politicians had resigned following their disagreements with Mussolini’s plans, but this suited him perfectly as it removed further opposition from Parliament. Mussolini was supported by the king, Victor Emmanuel, and, with royalty behind him, he felt strong enough to rise to the top, pushing out opposition on the way. “I declare….in front of the Italian people……that I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary,” he said in early 1925.
In late 1926, all rival political parties and propaganda were banned in Italy, taking Mussolini’s ever closer towards a true dictatorship. His new secret police force, the OVRA, was set up in 1927 and acted as a threat to those who disagreed with or went against Mussolini and his party. However, while the OVRA may have been a threat, it did not sentence nearly so many people to death for their political offences as the equivalent force in Germany did. Between 1927 and 1940, just ten were sentenced to death.
Another attempt to create his dictatorship was a major change to the constitution of the country, with the roll out of a diarchy, which meant that Italy was controlled politically by both Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel. As of 1928, all constitutional issues had to be signed off by Mussolini’s Fascist Grand Council and he made further changes to the election system that same year, saying: “Any possibility of choice is eliminated…..I never dreamed of a chamber like yours.” The names of people the workers and employment unions wanted to see in Parliament could be drawn up before the Grand Council selected those names that they approved of. The general public could then vote either for or against the entire agreed list, rather than for each individual name on the list. By 1929, the vast majority – 90 per cent – of the people voted in favour of the list, rising to 97 per cent by 1934. Five years later, in 1939, Parliament was abolished, ending any suggestion, no matter how false, that the general public of Italy had any say in the governing of their country. Even the local mayors, who had previously held great sway in their own areas, were replaced by magistrates who took their orders only from Mussolini, therefore spreading the power of the Fascists ever wider.
See also: The March on Rome
"Mussolini's Dictatorship". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.